Quoted in AP Article About Mattie Clyburn Rice

Update: “You Sir are No Gentlemen; as a matter of fact you are the definition of a Northern Yankee Son of a Bitch! The South will Rise Again!” Definitely not happy.

Tomorrow Mattie Clyburn Rice’s ashes will be laid to rest in her father’s grave. A color guard from the Sons of Confederate Veterans will be there because they believe (as did Ms. Rice until the end of her life) that her father was a Confederate soldier. He wasn’t and even a cursory glance at the relevant documents confirms it. Yesterday I spent about 30 minutes chatting with AP Reporter, Martha Waggoner, about the myth of the black Confederate soldier and Weary Clyburn specifically.

Given how many times this story has been butchered by reporters I kept it as simple as possible and provided the necessary documents via email. Usually I don’t get quoted, but this time around my comments were used throughout the story.

“There’s really no debate about the question of whether African-Americans fought for the Confederacy. We know they didn’t,” said author and historian Kevin Levin of Boston, who blogs about the rise of the belief in black Confederates.

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t remember these men for who and what they were,” said Levin, the historian. “They lived through the end of slavery. Now imagine being dragged into war. Because they were enslaved, they were forced to deal with the horrors of war. These were men forced to comply with their master’s wishes as they had always been forced to do.”

“This is not a story about the Confederacy as a progressive nation in terms of [race] relations” he added. “If they had won the war, they would have furthered slavery and extended it. Thank God they lost.”

Waggoner pretty much nailed it, which is nice to see. No doubt, my presence will generate a good deal of nasty comments from the usual suspects: three, two, one…

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

35 comments… add one
  • Terry Klima Oct 23, 2014 @ 4:09

    Regarding your comments on Weary Clyburn and your focus on the issues of slavery and race, would you care to comment on the fact that Blacks were not permitted to serve in the US Army during the war, that Lincoln was willing to extend slavery in perpetuity with the passage of the Corwin amendment, and that Commanding General Ulysses S, Grant allowed his wife to visit him in the field accompanied by her slaves?

    • Kevin Levin Oct 23, 2014 @ 4:12

      …would you care to comment on the fact that Blacks were not permitted to serve in the US Army during the war…

      African Americans served as soldiers from 1863 onward. I have written extensively about USCTs on this blog. I fail to see what the Corwin Amendment or Grant and his wife has to do with the subject of Weary Clyburn. Stick to the subject.

  • Gene Oct 21, 2014 @ 13:01

    Isn’t amazing how many people are incapable of viewing the past as it was. To look back over 150 years through rose-colored eye-shades of modern day political correctness, without taking into consideration the conventions of the time, is quite mindless. Why argue with Levin since his mind is made up, he is thoroughly infused with viciousness and sectional-hate and his hobby is to irritate and agitate. Levin would not believe the truth if he was hit upside the head with it. I wonder if Levin has visited Faneuil Hall, you know, the famed Boston marketplace and meeting hall where the original hall was built with profits provided by the slave traders of Boston. Perhaps Levin will write of the slave trader that flew the flag of the New Your Yacht Club. Just wondering.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2014 @ 13:38

      I wonder if Levin has visited Faneuil Hall, you know, the famed Boston marketplace and meeting hall where the original hall was built with profits provided by the slave traders of Boston.

      Just returned from Faneuil Hall with a group of students.

    • Andy Hall Oct 21, 2014 @ 14:40

      Perhaps Levin will write of the slave trader that flew the flag of the New Your Yacht Club.

      If you mean Wanderer, she was purchased from a NYYC member by William C. Corrie of Charleston and Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar of Savannah to use in an illegal importation of slaves, who were subsequently landed at Jekyll Island, Georgia. Corrie and Lamar continued to display the NYYC pennant to disguise her intent, but that organization had no involvement in their slaving enterprise.

    • Jimmy Dick Oct 21, 2014 @ 15:01

      Yes, it is amazing. It is amazing to see people whine about political correctness while ignoring that is is really historical correctness. That’s what historians do with facts. They set history straight. Unfortunately, some people do not like it when the facts conflict with the fiction they prefer to believe in. Like black confederates that do not exist. Or the fact that slave owners in the South decided that secession was a great idea even though it was unconstitutional and all about slavery.
      What I find amazing is that some people seem to think history teachers don’t know history when in fact they do. They can be found teaching that slavery existed in the northern states and what the effects of it were. Or discussing Faneuil Hall or Brown University. Or discussing why slavery died out in the northern states and why it was being objected to by people. Or discussing why slave owners panicked over the idea that a party with a platform set against slavery had just won the presidential election. Or discussing why slavery was the reason for the secession of the Lower South and what the consequences of that action were.

      You won’t find them bringing up the tariff as the cause of the CW because it wasn’t, but they will address why it wasn’t the cause of the conflict. You won’t find them talking about a bunch of non-existent black confederates fighting for the confederacy, but you will find them talking about how free blacks and slaves were forced to work for the confederacy. You will also find teachers talking about how 180,000 black men fought for the Union. And you will find them talking about how many Southern men went north and fought for the Union because they opposed slavery and the confederacy.

      They do not teach that because it is politically correct. They teach it because it is what actually happened in history.

    • R M Jeffers Oct 21, 2014 @ 15:36

      Wrong they teach politically correct history every day. By the way I had relatives that fought on both sides of the civil war and it had nothing to do with slavery. It was because they didn’t like being told what to do by either side. Oh those black men that fought for the Union some of them were good men but others killed blacks, raped black and white women and how about the Union officer from Maryland that had slaves. I agree with the person earlier that said you wouldn’t know the truth if it hit you.

      • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2014 @ 15:39

        What exactly do you think I teach in my American history course?

        …and it had nothing to do with slavery. It was because they didn’t like being told what to do by either side.

        This isn’t politically correct or incorrect. It’s just downright stupid.

      • Jimmy Dick Oct 21, 2014 @ 17:31

        Don’t forget those wonderful southern men who murdered women after they gang raped them. Don’t forget those wonderful southern men who murdered blacks for being uppity. Don’t forget all those wonderful slave owners who started a bloody war, but conscripted those who didn’t want to fight so the slave owners wouldn’t get their hands dirty. You obviously don’t know much history and that is why you don’t teach it. The truth is slapping you upside your head and you know it, but refuse to acknowledge it because it would destroy the fiction you prefer.

        • R M Jeffers Oct 22, 2014 @ 4:56

          I don’t deal in fiction as you put it and neither side were angels. I know what happens in war very well. Our family has been involved with all the major wars here and both world wars etc.
          There is famous quote “That war is hell” sort of like this site.

  • Marian Latimer Oct 18, 2014 @ 18:36

    I had sort of considered attending the memorial for Mrs. Clyburn-Rice, but even with gas below $3/gallon, I’m not sure I’m up to the whiff of hypocrisy, even for educational purposes.

    In other news, the memorial for Thomas Eric Duncan, the gentleman who died of Ebola in TX, was held right here in Salisbury, NC, because many of his friends and relatives are in this area, so if I was going to attend a memorial, I’d have opted for that one but my health is kind of iffy these days with vertigo and who wants to come off as a drunk at a funeral at 10 AM? At any rate, that might have been the more important service to attend if one wanted to make a statement.

  • R M Jeffers Oct 18, 2014 @ 11:38

    PVT. Clark Lee 1848-1928, fought with the 1st Confederate Infantry at these battles, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain and Bentonville to name a few. By the way he was black.
    Remember history books are usually wrote by the ones who won the war.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 18, 2014 @ 11:56

      Thanks for the reference. Perhaps when you have a chance you can also provide some…you know…evidence.

    • Woodrowfan Oct 18, 2014 @ 17:49

      Assuming this is true (a huge assumption) you found one! good job! Only 178,894 more to go before you found as many African-American troops who fought for the CSA as fought for the US!!

    • Brad Oct 18, 2014 @ 20:42

      Although the word “fought” is not normally open to interpretation, when it comes to this issue, it is. Please describe how he fought.

      • R M Jeffers Oct 19, 2014 @ 18:48

        He was in these battles fighting along side white men.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Oct 19, 2014 @ 18:37
      • Kevin Levin Oct 20, 2014 @ 1:03

        I was going to link to this post, but I wanted to give some time for a response. Thanks.

    • John Betts Oct 19, 2014 @ 20:26

      I searched for this gentleman online and found a few interesting things. The neo-Confederate hagiography at FindAGrave.com was disturbing, although if you read closely even there Lee is referred to as having been a slave:

      “Clark was born to a fifteen year old enslaved African woman named Emelin in January, 1848. He was born and grew up in one of six two-room brick slave houses on the Gordon Plantation in what is now the town of Chickamauga, Ga. […]

      …Clark Lee was probably named for the master’s son, and may have grown up as the companion and personal slave of the older white boy.”

      Next look at the listing for Lee found at the Tenn. State Library & Archives:


      Notice the legend for the pension numbers? Lee’s pension number is C107. From the legend that means he received a “Colored pension”. If his pension number had of been S107, it would have been instead a “Soldier’s pension”. Rather interesting that they separate the two like this, wouldn’t you say?

      I have to say though that the coup de grace for this particular claim I found thanks to Andy Hall at Dead Confederates, who had already refuted this claim last year:


      Note the pdf of Lee’s pension application with all the supporting documentation. In it, Lee is clearly referred to as having been a slave during the conflict. He himself gives the name of his then-master (something it should be noted as standard on the form for “Colored” applicants) and elsewhere in the documentation he is clearly referred to as having been a slave. Bravo to those who helped this man during his time of need in old age, despite perhaps not exactly the purest of motives, but nothing here shows that he was anything but a slave during the war. Why you and others are insisting otherwise is beyond me.

  • Michael C Williams Oct 18, 2014 @ 9:50

    February 16, 1865.

    Maj. Gen. J. B. KERSHAW,
    Commanding Division:

    It is deemed desirable, and a request is made through General Lee, that the several corps of this army give an expression of opinion on the subject of putting negroes, who for the boon of freedom would volunteer as soldiers, into the field. The effect of such a measure on this army is doubted, and consequently the matter is submitted to your discretion for obtaining the sense of your division on the subject. It may not be amiss to say that the opinion of the lieutenant-general commanding is that the adoption of such a measure will involve the necessity of abolishing slavery entirely in the future, and that, too, without materially aiding us in the present.

    Respectfully, your obedient servant, –

    0. LATROBE, Assistant Adjutant- General.
    (Same to Generals G. E. Pickett and H. L. Benning.)…..”

    • Kevin Levin Oct 18, 2014 @ 9:55

      Yes, between mid-1864 and the end of the war a vigorous debate took place throughout the Confederacy over the arming of slaves. That said, when Patrick Cleburne first broached the subject with his own command in early 1864 he was told by President Davis to discontinue any discussion of the matter. It wasn’t until mid-March that the Confederate Congress finally authorized the enlistment of slaves that had been freed by their masters. Of course, this came way too late in the war to have any impact. At no time during this debate did a Confederate general or politician acknowledge that slaves were already serving as soldiers in the army.

      The best book on this late debate in the Confederacy is Bruce Levine’s book, Confederate Emancipation (Oxford University Press).
      I pointed this out to my interviewer, but it didn’t make the final version of the article.

    • Jimmy Dick Oct 18, 2014 @ 11:01

      If anything, that document shows the link between slavery and the war. If black men were to be armed to fight the Union, that would mean slavery was to be ended. If slavery were to be ended, then slavery would be wrong. We come right back to why slaves were not fighting for the confederacy.

      • Kevin Levin Oct 18, 2014 @ 11:04

        If slavery were to be ended, then slavery would be wrong.

        Right. Or more specifically it is the acknowledgment that the status of soldier and slave are contradictory.

  • Suzanne Townsend Oct 18, 2014 @ 6:08

    Mr. Levin, you are the one living in a fantasy land. You most definitely do not know anything about the blacks who fought for the Confederacy. There were a lot of free blacks who fought because they were defending their homes and property alongside their white brethren. A lot of the slaves who fought were paid the same wages as the whites who fought. The Union did not have “equal” pay. You just want to keep the myth alive that blacks would not have fought for the Confederacy. Hang your head in shame and get your facts straight before you make an even bigger fool of yourself!

    • Kevin Levin Oct 18, 2014 @ 6:21

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      The Union did not have “equal” pay.

      This was certainly the case through June 1864 before Congress passed legislation for equal pay. I am currently working on a regimental history of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. They went for over a year without equal pay.

    • Jimmy Dick Oct 18, 2014 @ 7:36

      List the free blacks who fought for the Confederacy. Provide the proof.
      Do the same for the slaves who fought for the Confederacy. Provide the proof.

      That’s all you have to do. Show us the facts. You can’t do it.

      • Kevin Levin Oct 18, 2014 @ 7:39


        This isn’t about proof or evidence. In fact, it’s not even really about history. It’s about memory or what people (for whatever reason) have an interest in remembering.

        • Jimmy Dick Oct 18, 2014 @ 10:48

          One cannot remember what did not take place. Of course it isn’t about history. It is about a deliberate attempt to make a myth become history in order to validate either their ancestor’s choice to rebel against the United States in order to protect slavery or their own modern ideology or a combination of both.
          Basically, many of these people prefer to create history in order to make their beliefs a reality instead of basing their beliefs on what actually happened in history.

          They’re desperate and desperate people are perfectly willing to lie to get their way.

          • Kevin Levin Oct 18, 2014 @ 10:52

            I don’t see it this way. Surely there are people who intend to distort the past, but the vast majority of people simply do not understand the relevant history nor do they even seem to know how to engage in a historical discussion. Such is the case with the commenter in question. She is not interested in talking about history as interpretation. In fact, she may not even be interested in history at all. Reading some of the comments on various sites I am struck by how many people focus on the fact that I am “from” Boston. That alone is sufficient to set people off for whatever reason. I currently live in Boston, but any true Bostonian would consider me to be an outsider.

  • Spelunker Oct 18, 2014 @ 3:18

    Just curious if you had ever given any thought to writing a book on the subject of the Black Confederate myth?

  • Spelunker Oct 17, 2014 @ 15:10

    Good job. Many will likely wince upon hearing the truth.

  • Yulanda Burgess Oct 17, 2014 @ 13:13

    A chapter is closed but another will probably be opened. Mrs. Rice’s ancestral claim will definitely NOT lay to rest with her. I wish her and her family peace and eventual realization of the truth. I do, however, find it ironically sad to again see the picture of Mrs. Rice with the Society of the Order of the Black Rose holding their black roses. Alternatively there is another organization called the White Carnation League who honored African American Civil War veterans. Today, many dedications and remembrances for USCT soldiers continue the tradition of having white carnations at these ceremonies.

    I am glad you were quoted.

    Best regards,
    Yulanda Burgess

    • Kevin Levin Oct 17, 2014 @ 13:25

      I do, however, find it ironically sad to again see the picture of Mrs. Rice with the Society of the Order of the Black Rose holding their black roses.

      They are living in a fantasy land.

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