I wasn’t going to say anything when this story first appeared. How many black Confederate induction ceremonies are necessary to share. This is the first one to appear in the news in some time. Last week the United Daughters of the Confederacy welcomed Georgia Benton into the fold based on her great-grandfather’s, presence in the army as the slave/body servant of Lt. Alex McQueen.
As in so many other cases the reporting is so incredibly frustrating as it clumsily moves back and forth between referring to George W. Washington as a slave and soldier. He was a slave. The UDC’s membership guidelines are somewhat vague:
Those eligible for membership are women at least 16 years of age who are lineal or collateral blood descendants of men and women who served honorably in the Army, Navy, or Civil Service of the Confederate States of America, or who gave Material Aid to the Cause.
Where do slaves fit? And if the UDC would like to increase its black membership why not revise these guidelines to make it clear that the descendants of slaves are also eligible. Perhaps they would like to include descendants of body servants and impressed slaves who constructed earthworks throughout the Confederacy.
The problem is that both the UDC chapter president and Benton herself seem to be confused about who it is they inducted.
Elizabeth Piechocinski. “But what they don’t realize is that there were a large number of African-Americans who served in the confederacy. Some were musicians or body servants, but some also fought.”
“If you eliminate the history of the black Confederate soldier, than you eliminate the history of the south. And if you eliminate the history of the south, you eliminate the history of the United States,” Benton said. Benton says her great-grandfather served in numerous battles including the battle of Sharpsburg and the battle of Gettysburg. He survived the war and later died in 1911.
It’s a subtle shift, but one that makes all the difference and can help descendants like Benton and groups like the UDC steer clear of fundamental historical inaccuracies. Washington’s story is more closely aligned with that of Solomon Northup than a Confederate soldier. This is not to say that Washington experienced the level of violence as did Northup, but that their world was defined by their legal status as slaves. If slavery had ended in 1860 than we would say that that Washington survived slavery, just as Northup had done, but the war came and for various reasons he found himself with his master in the ranks.
The five year difference, however, doesn’t change the fact that George W. Washington survived slavery.