A Black Confederate Soldier Who Served Two Masters

Update: No surprise that this story was picked up by a local news station. This is a wonderful example of why this myth will not die.

searcyThe vast majority of people who come into contact with the Myth of the Black Confederate Soldier so do through stories such as this one out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This one is particularly useful. It’s brief and any discerning reader can easily pick out the contradictions.

Let’s start at the beginning:

Shaderick Searcy was a black Confederate soldier. He was a bonded servant of Dr. John Searcy of Talbotton, Ga. When the Civil War began, Dr. Searcy, knowing that both his sons James and Kitchen would become pawns in this great struggle for states rights, dedicated Shaderick to become body servant to his two boys.

In the first two sentences we learn that Searcy was both a soldier and a servant (slave) to two Confederate soldiers. No reporter is listed, but whoever is responsible for this piece clearly does not understand the difference between the two or how Confederates at the time understood the difference.

He received a pension for his Confederate service and died at the age of 91 in Chattanooga.

Searcy likely received a pension for his time in the army as a slave and not as a solider. The state legislature, like many other former Confederate states, awarded former slaves pensions, who could demonstrate fidelity to their masters.

Finally, there is the headstone itself, which clearly indicates that Searcy “served under masters J.D. and W.K. Searcy.” How much clearer does it have to be that Searcy was not a soldier? I would love to know what year the marker was placed. While the Confederate battle flag etched on the marker might be confusing, the legal status of this individual and his role in the war is crystal clear.

35 comments add yours

  1. You left out the best part, Kevin: “‘Now as Sons of Confederate Veterans we too can honor the memory and the service of this Confederate soldier,’ said John A. Campbell, N.B. Forrest Camp 3, Sons of Confederate Veterans.” These guys just won’t give up. The sad thing is that the writer of this post relayed the story to his readers like it was the gospel truth, rather than analyze its historical accuracy. I guess that is asking too much for an online “news” source. Or, perhaps, there is an agenda lurking in the background?

    • Unfortunately, this is how most of these stories are reported in local newspapers. Reporters typically pass on verbatim what they are told or get seduced by sharing with their readers a story that has a certain shock value attached to it.

    • I have written an email to the Chattanooogan to see if they will reveal the name of the author.

      We don’t even know if this was written by a staff member, do we? Is this a reader submission I wonder?

      • The lack of a byline indicates this is a story provided to the paper, rather than one actively reported by them. It’s a very widespread practice in this day when print media is struggling to pay the bills, and simply doesn’t have the personnel (either staff or stringers) to go around. Providing usable news copy to the local paper is one of the most effective ways to get information out to a wider audience with minimal (or no) editing.

          • John Wilson at The Chattanoogan wrote me back. He says the author is one John Campbell.

            • Campbell is identified in the article as being with the local SCV. It’s not a reported story; it’s a press release. Newspapers do this all the time. For them, items like this help fill column inches.

            • I’m having an email exchange with Donnie Ashley at the SCV camp about this now.

  2. I wonder why Mr. Searcy chose to be buried in the Confederate cemetery, or indeed whether it was his choice at all, or if someone else made that decision after his death? I’d like to know more about the man’s life, and if during the war he freely chose to remain with the 46th after both brothers died rather than return to the father, or if he was given no choice in the matter. There’s a lot we just don’t know.

      • “I wonder if he took the surname Searcy by choice?”

        Probably impossible to say. If he stayed in the same area postwar, adopting his former owners’ surname might have been a practical consideration. But I’ve also profiled two men, Crockett Davis and Steve Perry, who used their former owners’ surnames when involved with veterans’ groups and events, and a completely different name for more official purposes (e.g., the census).

    • He may have been involved in veterans activities after the war. That would have been sufficient for inclusion in the cemetery, but keep in mind that they did not describe him as a soldier.

  3. What was the mindset of those responsible for Southern states giving pensions to former slaves who served the CSA army? It is a time period when the South rarely gave blacks anything better than a hard time.

    • It helps strengthen their belief in the “loyal slave” narrative. One of my Tennessee ancestors bitched and moaned in his memoirs about the Yankees “stealing” all of his slaves but two. Hell, in reality they probably took off as soon as the Union Army came within view. But to admit that would be to admit to himself that he held people against their will. But if they were “stolen” then he could keep insisting slavery was a good thing, ruined by ignorant northern interlopers. Same with the grave. “See, they were happy and loyal in slavery!”

  4. Searcy’s Tennessee pension file (17MB PDF) can be downloaded here:

    https://deadconfederates.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/searcypensionfile.pdf

    As usual there is no ambiguity in the pension file about Searcy’s status during the war. One thing interesting to note, though, is that after his death the adjutant of the local UCV camp in Chattanooga sought to have a standard Confederate marker for Searcy’s grave site, writing, “out last Confederate Negro Servant Pensioner is being buried today, Shadrick Searcy.” The pension board examiner turned him down, replying, “just Confederate soldiers (White) are permitted to have these.” That probably explains that unusual headstone recently found.

    • This news report says that the marker (not the one that was buried) was placed in 1999.

      • That sounds about right. The heritage folks have been working for years to put up VA-supplied markers for “black Confederates,” often (as in this case) inscribed with a military rank that the man never actually held. Then they point to the market they put up as evidence that the man was, in fact, an enlisted soldier.

        In Searcy’s case, the members of the local UCV camp who actually knew him and sought a headstone for him made no pretensions about his wartime status. It’s their descendants today who play make-believe.

  5. As a native Chattanoogan, and a former employee of the Chattanooga Regional History Museum, I have to admit this is pretty depressing. But, perusing the Channel 9 FB page, there seems to be a surprising push against the use of the term “soldier”.

    • But, perusing the Channel 9 FB page, there seems to be a surprising push against the use of the term “soldier”.

      As it should be given the fact that he was not a soldier.

      • I just meant it was surprising to me there wasn’t a much stronger defense of the term. But, thankfully, there were so many that wanted to see this man portrayed correctly so as not to give credence to the “black confederate” myth.

        Mr. Levin, in your experience, have you come across well-intentioned people that are ignorant of the larger issue of “black confederates”, but in an effort to see right done by those African Americans, were supportive of the term?

        (I hope that makes the same sense it does in my head.)

        • Hi Scott,

          Thanks for clarifying.

          Yes, in fact, I think the largest group of people who believe this nonsense do so because they do no fully understand the relevant history.

  6. Yep. It’s just like my great-great-grandfather’s slave who got a pension. I’ve told that story already, so I won’t repeat it again. Suffice to say that the 55th NC records clearly state that he “served his Master” not “joined the Confederate Army as a soldier.”

    It takes a special kind of stupid to misread such clear language.

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