Commemorating a False Past in Union County, North Carolina

Here is something that is sure to make a rainy Boston Monday look just a bit more bleak.  It’s the first local news report from Charlotte, NC from this weekend’s event in which nine slaves and one free black man were remembered for their service as soldiers in the Confederate army.  You can’t really blame WBTV 3 for this report since all they can do is share what took place.  Between the ceremony and this report it does give one the sense of just how woefully misinformed some people are about the institution of slavery and Confederate policy about arming black men as soldiers.  The report begins: “Ten black military soldiers finally got the honor they deserve 150 years later.”  Not one of these men served as a soldier.

On the brighter side, this morning I am heading over to Boston University to give a guest lecture in Nina Silber’s Civil War class.  I am going to talk about my book and the broader topic of how black soldiers have been remembered in recent years.  Part of the talk will focus on how the Internet has helped to spread and give legitimacy to the myth of the black Confederate soldier.  All we can do is educate.

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28 comments… add one
  • TFSmith1 Jan 12, 2013 @ 14:24

    “In other news, nine slave laborers and one forced laborer were commemorated by some yahoos for their work while be held a gunpoint for a group of racist traitors. Said yahoos also memorialized several horses, mules, and oxen for their work, and some women forced into sexual slavery.”
    Fixed it.

  • London John Dec 15, 2012 @ 3:59

    WEll if they’re now calling them “pensioners” rather than “soldiers” that’s a step. I think you’re winning, Kevin.

    I read some years ago that some Black re-enactors wanted to be Confederates because cConfederate re-enactors were more “hard-core” than Union ones. I think this meant they wore period underwear. Weird.

    • Andy Hall (was AndyinTexas) Dec 18, 2012 @ 11:19

      “Pensioners” is perhaps a little more accurate, but it has its own pitfalls. Pensions were not automatic, like Social Security or military retirement are today, but stringently “means-tested.” The specific rules varied from state to state, but generally one had to be indigent, or nearly so, even to qualify. People with an income, or significant property holdings, didn’t qualify. So for those who have bothered to look closely at the pension programs, identifying an individual as a “pensioner” says as much about their then-current economic status as their role during the war. I’m not sure that the pensioners themselves would have considered that a designation to boast about.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 18, 2012 @ 11:32

        Thanks Andy. That’s an incredibly important point and points to the possibilities of further analysis centered on context of the relevant legislation itself. It’s a story that has not been told.

        • Andy Hall (was AndyinTexas) Dec 18, 2012 @ 11:51

          Look at just about any pension application and half of it is defining the applicant’s wartime service, and the other half is documenting their income, property holdings, means of supporting themselves, and so on. Confederate (and Union) applications were part of what we today call the “safety net,” although obviously such programs today are much more expansive, and not (in most cases) tied to military service. Celebrating “Confederate pensioners” is a little like holding a ceremony is a little like holding a ceremony today honoring “Veterans Living in Public Housing.” It’s really awkward.

  • Veritas Dec 12, 2012 @ 14:48

    Another fantastic hate mongering dispatch from Kevin Levin.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2012 @ 14:52

      Why am I not surprised to find that you would characterize a post concerned with historical accuracy as “hate mongering.” Must be nice to be able to go on the attack without divulging your real name. Don’t worry as this is likely your last post on this site. There are plenty of other blogs/websites out there that will welcome your empty rhetoric.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2012 @ 8:40

    The newspaper article has been slightly amended.

  • Will Stoutamire Dec 10, 2012 @ 8:25

    Confederate **Pensioners** of Color. Well, if that isn’t a euphemism, I don’t know what is…

    What’s interesting to me is that this monument is being erected near Union County’s Confederate memorial, which seems almost a tacit (but likely accidental) acknowledgement of the fact that these black men, nine enslaved and one free, were not originally included in the memory of the latter.

    I guess the veterans themselves just forgot about their black Confederate companions from the old war days… just like they forgot to offer them pensions until fifty years after the fact. Some amazing collective amnesia on their part, given how much they supposedly valued the service of their black “comrades.”

    • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2012 @ 8:29

      Hi Will,

      If you look closely this was not so much a commemoration of ten individuals, but a celebration of the Confederacy. If they are going to mythologize these men they could at least just refer to them as loyal slaves.

      • Will Stoutamire Dec 10, 2012 @ 8:47

        Fair enough, though I think, for the descendants at least, it must somewhat relate to how we choose to remember these particular individuals. For Givens and the SCV? I wouldn’t disagree. I think we have at least a couple levels of memory at work here.

        I’d be really interested to see a transcript of the speeches given during the ceremony. I know some of the media coverage beforehand mentioned specifically that nine these men were slaves, though the sponsors chose to engrave “pensioners” in stone. I’d like to see how the speakers dealt (or not) with that issue.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2012 @ 9:01

          My guess is they steered clear of emphasizing that they were slaves. The news report linked to above no doubt reflects this.

          The place of the descendants is a tough one. On the one hand they must appreciate the attention that both they and their ancestors have received. It may to some extent even reflect some of the stories that have been passed down. Unfortunately, they are now mixed up with people who either have no interest in honest history or are simply ignorant of the facts. I suspect it’s a little bit of both.

        • Andy Hall (was AndyinTexas) Dec 10, 2012 @ 9:14

          My guess is that most of these descendants, like most Americans in the early 21st century, don’t know a great deal of specifics about their ancestors five or six generations back. So when someone from the SCV shows up with a stack of photocopied pension records and a lot of smooth talk about patriotism and defending hearth and home, and honoring their memory — well, that’s got to be a very appealing thing. But it doesn’t make it any truer that they believe it.

    • Andy Hall (was AndyinTexas) Dec 10, 2012 @ 9:10

      The Confederate Veteran, then (as now) the official publication of the SCV, in 1913 endorsed provision of pensions for former slaves who had been personal servants during the war. I doubt much of their reasoning from a century ago was repeated by any of the speakers in Union County this past weekend.

      Spend some time with documents that were written by real Confederates, for real Confederates, and you get a much clearer picture of how those men were viewed by former Confederate soldiers. It’s not pretty, nor is it particularly respectful. At its best it’s patronizing and paternalistic. When it comes to the subject of “Colored Confederates” — “colored, really? — the make-believe Confederates of the present-day SCV and other heritage groups are putting forward an image of the South in 1861-65 that they might as well dress up as furries or anime characters — those have about as much connection to reality as their historical narrative does.

      • Guest Dec 16, 2012 @ 4:28

        Spending time with letters, diaries, and documents of Union Soldiers reveals a much clearer picture also, of how their feelings emulated Confederate Soldiers. Statistically they were not any different in their sentiments in numerous ways. Not really sure why Andy puts so much emphasis on the term Colored Confederates, it is after all no different in context than how it was used within United States Colored Troops. It was for identifying them ethnically from the white troops of either side and was what they were considered by many to be at the time. Kevin, Brooks, Andy and their cohorts here have a double standard when interpreting history, which is something the group is known for in their chiding of Confederate History, Heritage groups, and Black Confederates. They fail to see the similarities of bigotry they are disseminating by their actions in associating it with Confederate preservationist and descendants. The thing is all they are doing, is the same thing that they accuse others of doing. Muddying the water, distorting, embellishing history to suit their agendas and their own self-gratification. Like many academics today, they can’t reason what truth is, because it doesn’t fit in with their anti-Confederate agenda. It’s more important for them to distort history, as a means for their own gains and control. Thankfully there are those with an unbiased desire to be objective in order to learn why a good portion of Slaves had loyalties, the subject certainly needs to be further acknowledged and questioned. You can’t do that if your motives are preconceived with hate mongering against eitherside. On one hand they are alumni of an ennobled profession, which they have been lauded for in preserving the past in certain aspects of historical study. On the other hand there are their blogs, and articles such as this, where they revel in boasting about their degrees, engaging in attacks mixed with facts, against Confederate descendants. They indulge in personal attacks upon other Americans seeking to preserve Confederate American history. Which many academics decidedly brush aside as false history, as they do in this article. These types of academics are absolutely prejudicial, hostile and share the same propensity of malice imparted by Communist, Nazis, the Taliban, etc. . .. They revel in the destruction of Confederate monuments, the distortion of others history that doesn’t agree with them, as well as the persecution of Confederate Americans past and present. As they demonstrate here.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 16, 2012 @ 4:54

          You said: “They indulge in personal attacks upon other Americans seeking to preserve Confederate American history. Which many academics decidedly brush aside as false history, as they do in this article. These types of academics are absolutely prejudicial, hostile and share the same
          propensity of malice imparted by Communist, Nazis, the Taliban, etc.”

          Well, it’s comforting to know that you don’t engage in such tactics. 🙂 I have no idea what historical point you are trying to make here. All you do is engage in the very same tactic you claim to abhor. And on top of that you don’t even have the courage to post under your name.

          • Veritas Dec 16, 2012 @ 22:05

            It’s not personal Kevin this is business. I also so noted and commended you for your efforts. However, the anti-Confederate activism you and the latter mentioned in my above post have maintained, does nothing to advance historical method, enlightenment, tolerance or understanding. Your bigotry doesn’t motivate Confederate Activist to broaden their scope of reason, it just makes them dig their heels in further. These Civil War Blog, Facebook, internet Wars are not ethically presenting historical discussion, as much as they are bigotry by inciting further ignorance and you are an instigator of much of it. I certainly commend all the bigots on both sides for furthering another chapter of Civil War historiography, though be it one of distortion, aggression, hate and intolerance.

            • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2012 @ 2:54

              Honestly, I don’t really care about what someone who doesn’t have the courage to post under his real name thinks about my efforts on this site.

              • Kevin Levin Dec 18, 2012 @ 8:09

                There is no double standard. If you want to engage in personal insults you better be prepared to use your own name. This is my site and you are a guest. I set the rules. There are plenty of sites that you can visit that would be happy to publish your little rants about me. You are nothing more than a coward. Good day.

  • Ben Railton Dec 10, 2012 @ 6:01

    If you get this in time, you can pass along to Dr. Silber just how important her work was as I was writing my dissertation/first book. One of the most influential scholars I encountered during that process. Have a great time!

    • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2012 @ 8:22

      Just got your email. I was perusing through The Romance of Reunion and was struck by the fact that it was published in the early 1990s before Blight’s Race and Reunion. I think we tend to see much of what is out there in the field as coming after R&R.

      I had a good time with her class, but I think I babbled on a bit too long. 🙂

  • bummer Dec 10, 2012 @ 5:55

    Body Guards? No soldiers of color in the re-enactors. Kevin, Bummer wonders how long it will take folks that teach as you do, to spread the reality of truth, that has taken this “old guy” so long to understand. Don’t waver in your committment.


    • Billy Bearden Dec 10, 2012 @ 13:33

      Yes, there are Confederate Black Reenactors. Met one at the Battle of Atlnta reenactment in Conyers a few years ago, and there were 2 at the Battle of Big Bethel 150th at Endview Plantation in Newport News. History shows of 1 Black Confederate at Bethel in the NC troops.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2012 @ 13:40

        But in the story at hand we have ten black men and not one was a soldier. Isn’t it funny that you appear to have nothing to say about this.

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