In a recent speech, Ed Ayers suggested that “the enemy of Civil War history is everything people think they know about the conflict.” We could just as easily point to what people don’t know as that enemy. I am not going to say anything new about this most recent case of a slave being honored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for his “service” to the Confederacy. You may even wonder why I bother to bring it up. I believe it matters that the descendants of a slave have been duped into believing that their ancestor somehow served as a soldier or was acknowledged in some official capacity within the army.
I have a copy of Aaron Perry’s pension and as it states in the article he was a slave. The jump from acknowledging Perry’s status as a slave to honoring him for his service in the Confederate army, however, suggests that some people have a very limited grasp of the institution. Let me break this down for you:
Perry was legally tied to his master’s family. He left home as the legal extension of the man who owned him. His master likely took Perry to many places in addition to the army during the period of his life in which he was property.
Only citizens of the Confederacy were eligible to volunteer or be drafted into the army.
At no point did Perry’s status as a slave change while with the army. He was there to serve his master and not the Confederate cause.
The extent of Perry’s movements while with the army were legally dictated by his master and not by military regulations.
Perry’s pension was given for his service as a slave and not as a soldier in the 37th NC. In fact, the unit is irrelevant.
As the military extension of a government that was pledged to protect the institution of slavery it seems to me that a more fitting ceremony for the SCV would include an apology rather than an honor that has absolutely no basis in history. After all, if the Confederate army had proven to be successful, Perry would still have been a slave.