R.E. Lee Soldiers’ Home Rejects Black Confederate

R.E. Lee Soldiers' Home Black ConfederateI came across this little gem this morning while perusing the SHPG’s Facebook page.  It’s a photo of a page from what I believe is the Minutes of the R.E. Lee Soldiers’ Home in Richmond.  In it is a brief reference to a black man, who was present in the Confederate army as a blacksmith.  His application for admission to the home was rejected based on what should be obvious.  It was recommended that the “Board act in accordance with their rules in reference to admitting only those who were enlisted soldiers.”

While it would be a mistake to read too much into this brief reference, what I find interesting is that there is no indication of an investigation into this individual’s status.  In other words, there is no implicit assumption that it might be possible to admit a black man into the soldiers’ home.  The other photo of older black Virginians on the grounds of the home doesn’t add much to the issue at hand.  They are not identified.  A few appear to be wearing pieces of old uniforms as well as what I believe are reunion ribbons.

The author of the post titled it, “Negro Soldier – Rejected for Admission at the Soldiers’ Home in Richmond.” It’s an awkward title given that the institution in question concluded that he was not a soldier.  Later he says, “I believe in their hearts, they wanted to belong to those they served, although – not allowed to Enlist.”  I assume this is a reference to the application in 1887.  There is likely a certain amount of truth to this statement depending on the nature of his experience during the war, but that doesn’t get us very far at all.  In fact, I would suggest it tells us more about what the poster hopes to believe about this individual.  What you need to believe is ultimately irrelevant to what we can know through a careful examination of the available evidence.

For me, it raises a host of questions.  If we could identify the individual in question it would help to know a bit about his economic situation by this point in time. Did he have a family and a job?  Was he homeless or soon to be?  Was he familiar with the men already living in the home?  Did he attend reunions?  What this individual thought about his war experience and what he felt about the men around him (then and now) is anybody’s guess.

To conclude that he applied simply because he “wanted to belong” not only reflects a lack of imagination, but a lack of understanding of what is involved in serious (or even not so serious) research.

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11 comments… add one

  • Andy Hall (was AndyinTexas) Feb 7, 2013

    Expect a counter-post about Bill Yopp in three, two, one. . . .

    Bill Yopp was indeed admitted to the Confederate Veterans’ home in Atlanta in his last years, and subsequently was buried in a veterans’ plot. But it’s important to understand that (1) Yopp’s admission to the home was done by special resolution of the home’s board (i.e., outside the normal application process), and (2) his admission was in recognition of Yopp’s many years, while he was still active and healthy, of raising funds and donating his time and effort to the home’s residents. It was what he did decades after the war, not during it, that earned him a place there in the eyes of the white veterans. Yopp’s case is important to remember not because it was somehow typical, but because it was distinctly atypical of the norm.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 7, 2013

      You are right on about Bill Yopp.

      I’ve said it before, but what I find so striking is that in the end it’s not really about whether the individual in question was a soldier, but that they were loyal to the cause and the men around them. It’s blatantly reductionist position that presents individuals as dangerously one-dimensional.

  • bummer Feb 7, 2013

    Bummer’s grandparents had two elderly African-American ladies that visited their home every day, cooked and cleaned, watched over them both, like they were their own parents. These ladies were both from Tennessee and had known the family for years. All had moved to California in the 1930’s. The parents of these ladies had been slaves and I’ll never forget their care and unselfish ways. Could never understand how they could care for a couple of old white folks like they did. They both showed up at the funerals of my grand folks and I eventually showed up at theirs.
    Bummer

  • Bobby Edwards Aug 5, 2014

    Kevin, as I am the researcher involved in this issue, and I would hope to add clarity to the general assumptions and conclusions you made about my comments, if possible.

    First these are the records of the R. E. Lee Camp No. 1 Confederate Veterans, and not their ‘Soldiers’ Home’ records kept on the grounds. You could not be a patient at the Soldier’s Home, and be a member of The R. E. Lee Camp.

    The Soldiers’ Home was one of the major project goals of the Lee Camp. Fund raising began in 1883, and April 1884 – Gen. John B. Gordon and Camp Adjutant, Arthur A. Spitzer made a presentation April 9th, to the G.A.R. reunion at Coopers Union in N.Y. City. Gordon received a rousing approval of the concept of the ‘Southern Soldiers’ Home’, and the members of the G.A.R. would sent contributions from around the country. General Grant, would write a letter of endorsement for the cause of the Soldiers’ Home, and out of borrowed money – write a check for $500 to help in the cause.

    The Spring 1884 Richmond Fair saw dignitaries from North and South come together in a massive fund-raising project. A New York Veteran, Corporal James Tanner, who had lost both legs at the battle of Bull Run, would present an emotional speech to all the dignitaries at the Richmond ‘North / South’ Fair. Corporal Tanner would later become the Commander of the G.A.R., and was instrumental in the New York Soldiers’ Home.

    A Col. of the 7th N.Y. would contribute money for a cottage. William Corcoran, of the D.C. Art Gallery gave a check for $5,000. More than $24,000 was raised at the Richmond Fair. Property was purchased in November of 1884, and in January of 1885 – the R. E. Lee Camp Soldiers’ Home opened.

    The R. E. Lee Camp No. 1 Confederate Veterans organization would grow to more than 700 of Richmond’s outstanding citizens, which would touch almost every aspect of post-war Confederate memory in the south. From their 1884 Commonwealth of Virginia Corporate Charter, the Camp No. 1 C.V. would, under their Charter, approve more than 500 Confederate Veterans Camps, under the by-laws and constitution of the Lee Camp.

    The Ladies Auxiliary of Lee Camp participated in the same projects with the Lee Camp, and together they were responsible for: (1) R. E. Lee Monument and other monuments on Monument Ave. (2) Soldiers’ Home, (3) The Chartering of Other Confederate Veteran Camps,

    (3) Grant Deed Titles, from Soldiers’ Home property to these Institutions:
    – Confederate Memorial Institute (Battle Abbey),
    – Confederate Home for Women,
    – Virginia Arts Association (VMFA),
    – UDC Headquarters. Building.

    (4) Opened Confederate Museums in Richmond:
    – at the Soldiers’ Home beginning in 1886,
    – In 1890 worked with the Ladies Auxiliary of the Camp to help launch the Confederate Memorial Literary Society (AKA Museum of the Confederacy),
    – Museum at the Lee Camp Assembly Hall
    – In 1910 by an ACT of the Commonwealth of Virginia – joined the Commonwealth in the granting of 25 acres of the Soldiers’ Home grounds for the ‘Battle Abbey’ also known as the ‘Confederate Memorial Institute’.

    When the Battle Abbey opened for the Confederate reunion in 1922, the ‘R. E. Lee Camp Gallery featured their greatest collection of Commissioned Confederate Portraits in the world. You will now find this gallery room in the Virginia Historical Society, who took over the Battle Abbey in 1946.

    Back to the Confederate Blacksmith, who submitted an application to be admitted in the Soldiers’ Home. A Confederate Veteran Camp organization or Officer had to recommend a soldier first for admission. This was done in Prince Edward county for a negro soldier (penciled in column) . Records Checks were made by sending forms to Washington, D. C. to the National Archives, to verify veteran’s service records. A substantial amount of paperwork was involved, and the final review was done by the Lee Camp Board of Visitors. There ruling of this application as listed in the Journal records is very clear – the blacksmith was not in the ‘Enlisted’ ranks. According to my knowledge, this was against the laws drawn up by the Confederate government.

    In 1887 no more than 55 were admitted that year out of hundreds of applications, and by the end of 1887 approximately 240 veterans were inmates at the Soldiers’ Home. The Issue here is that Admission of a Blacksmith was not possible, because he was support staff to the Army and not Enlisted. That category of blacks with the Confederate Army were paid, and received money accounted for, on a pay slip.

    The Library of Virginia has the Soldier’s Home records in digital files, available under a search index of – R. E. Lee Camp No. 1 Soldiers’ Home, or R. E. Lee Camp No. 1 Confederate Veterans. Perhaps the application for the blacksmith may be available. Back to the rejection of the application. My point in posting that comment was simple, and that was in reference to blacks not serving in the Confederate Army as “Enlisted”. If this individual was there during the bivouac, the march, and maybe the battle, and if he attempted to enter the Soldiers’ Home with other Confederate Soldiers, I would assume that he considered himself simply – A Soldier. The evidence is compelling.

    The Blacks in front of the Confederate Memorial grounds, you mentioned, are from a 1922 photo of the U.C.V. and S.C.V. reunion in Richmond. From reading Dr. Douglas S. Freeman’s notes on the 1922 Confederate Parade, at the end of the Parade – all of the Confederates in the Parade, marched down Monument Ave., and at the end of the Parade – found themselves at the Soldiers’ Home grounds, where lemonade was served. They could have been there for the lemonade. But, once again, those blacks were where they wanted to be, and they were doing what they wanted to do at a Confederate reunion – the largest ever in Richmond, Oh, and yes – many had medals pinned to their chest.

    I just received a notice the other day, another reunion of my Vietnam friends. They are dying off fast, and many of them are no longer with us. Those who were there still define their lives by the tragedy of the battlefields. They have a sense of the ‘Band of Brothers’. And, there’s no way to get into the head of the blacksmith, who when he submitted an application – considered himself to be a soldier. He wanted to be there in the cottages, mess hall, and drill with the other Confederate Veterans on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home. This was his application and his desire to be with Soldiers – I will let the journal evidence speak for itself.

    Bobby Edwards
    Past Lt. Commander of the Lee-Jackson Camp No. 1 C.V.
    (descendant Camp of R. E. Lee Camp No. 1 C.V. and S.C.V.)

    .

    • Kevin Levin Aug 5, 2014

      Mr. Edwards,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I don’t make any claim as to why the individual in question submitted an application and I assume that there is not much of a paper trail with which to explore this individual’s thoughts. That’s unfortunate. That said, I could imagine any number of reasons as to why the application was submitted.

      If this individual was there during the bivouac, the march, and maybe the battle, and if he attempted to enter the Soldiers’ Home with other Confederate Soldiers, I would assume that he considered himself simply – A Soldier. The evidence is compelling.

      Well, he was apparently mistaken, but I don’t doubt that he may have had a strong connection with those that were enlisted. He may have needed medical treatment and it is likely that he was experiencing hard economic times.

      • Bobby Edwards Aug 5, 2014

        According to a report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on R. E. Lee Camp Ladies Auxiliary, Treasurer – Janet V. Randolph, the Soldiers’ Home could only address the needs of a limited number of Confederate soldiers. The Ladies Auxiliary addressed many of those needs, just many current VFW / American Legion / DAV veterans groups do, with the best resources they had available.

        Of interest in this discussion, the blacksmith’s application had to go before a Confederate Camp process or R. E. Lee Camp No. 1 C.V. member first. Someone thought enough to place his name on the very, very long list of candidates. Although the Soldiers’ Home opened in January of 1885, it would take until 1887 before the Hospital was opened for business. It’s my understanding from reading Journals, and Soldiers’ Home annual reports that soldiers would go to the hospital for treatment, although not an ‘Inmate’ or resident at the home. That’s similar to the VA Veterans Hospital, which has many visitors every day, but clients are living there also.

        Here’s a couple of Newspaper articles explaining the selection process that the Blacksmith went through, before being sent to the Review Board of the Soldiers’ Home, made up of in 1887 – Lee Camp Members, and after 1892 – members of the Commonwealth, Richmond judiciary, legislators.

        “JEFFERSON RANDOLPH RUFFIN – Dies at Soldiers’ Home
        Grandson of Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson Randolph Ruffin, a grand-son of President Thomas Jefferson, was found dead in bed in the Confederate Soldiers’ Home in Richmond yesterday. He was sixty-six years old. Mr. Ruffin served throughout the war with the Rockbridge Artillery, and made an excellent record. He was buried at Charlottesville, today. (Alexandria Gazette, Dec 11, 1907, Image 2)

        MEMBER FOR SOLDIERS’ HOME – SELECTED, At R.E. LEE Camp Meeting, other Business of Camp. –The regular monthly meeting of R. E. Lee Camp, Confederate Veterans, was held last night at Colross, with Commander P. F. Gorman presiding. One new member was elected and one recommended for admission to Soldiers’ Home at Richmond.
        (Alexandria Gazette)

        VMI Professor, and Gen. Raleigh Colston was a Patient at the Soldiers’ Home. Colston’s wife was very active in the Ladies Auxiliary, and one of the important ladies in the formation of the ‘Confederate Memorial Literary Society’. Colston would die at the Soldiers’ Home, still suffering from a fall from a Camel in Egypt. His funeral was one of 1,700 held in the Confederate Memorial Chapel.

        Concerning the Want to Belong – Stolen Valor Claims have been an Issue since the beginning of time, when men have gone to war, and those who wished they were part of the action – claim that they were part of the action. There’s a psychological wanting to belong, so false claims are made. The other day, I approached someone with a Vietnam hat, and I asked, when were you there and where. I got back from him that he served during the time, and was an “Era” Veteran.

        For the hundreds if not thousands of the blacks, who served in various capacities with the Confederate Army – there were many at the Reunions. Soldiers, desire to affiliate and belong, after the war – in Reunions, Gatherings, and Events. There’s some very haunting questions as to why so many blacks showed up at Confederate reunions, events, and gatherings after the war. I think I have a feel for why after being at the Vietnam Veterans Wall several times, with Vietnamese, and Native Ethnic Groups that continue to appear.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 6, 2014

          Of interest in this discussion, the blacksmith’s application had to go before a Confederate Camp process or R. E. Lee Camp No. 1 C.V. member first. Someone thought enough to place his name on the very, very long list of candidates.

          So it would be very interesting to know something about the individual who placed the blacksmith’s name on the list.

          For the hundreds if not thousands of the blacks, who served in various capacities with the Confederate Army – there were many at the Reunions. Soldiers, desire to affiliate and belong, after the war – in Reunions, Gatherings, and Events.

          I don’t disagree with this claim, but it needs to be thoroughly researched before you can draw any conclusions. It’s a fascinating topic that has gone largely unexplored. In my book on the Crater I discuss the fact that a former camp servant led Confederate veterans through the streets of Petersburg during the 1903 Crater reenactment/reunion. Newspaper accounts make it clear that he was not considered a soldier, but was there as a symbol of the loyal slave, who stood by his master through the worst of the war. That it took place the same year that Virginia revised its state constitution disenfranchising the largest number of blacks is quite telling.

    • Andy Hall Aug 6, 2014

      “Oh, and yes – many had medals pinned to their chest.”

      I believe you mean reunion badges. Not the same thing as implied by the term “medals.”

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Aug 7, 2014

    Interesting that for as many claims there are for this or that person to have been a Black Confederate soldier, there are plenty of things like this that show clearly that thisor that person was never a soldier.

    That’s all, carry on…

    • Kevin Levin Aug 7, 2014

      Mr. Edwards might have an interesting little research project if he could just get beyond the issue of whether the individual in question was a soldier. Apparently, somebody thought enough of this individual to help him apply for admission into the home. That’s worth looking into.

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