From Enslaved Cook to Food Service Specialist

As I noted in the proposal for my black Confederates book, there are a small number of vanity or self-published books on the subject that have managed to garner a certain amount of attention and approval. The best examples are the volumes published by Pelican Press. One of the books that I am currently wading through is a self-published book by Greg Eanes. Eanes is a retired Air Force Colonel who holds an M.A. in Military History from American Military University.

I purchase these books for a couple of reasons. First, many of them offer a treasure trove of primary sources, including wartime letters, newspaper articles and pension records. But I am also interested in how people conceptualize this subject. There are a number of Confederate apologists who actively frame this subject in a way that they hope will make this history more palatable to the general public. The best examples include The South Was Right! by the Kennedy brothers and books by the current Sons of Confederate Veterans commander, Kelly Barrow.

Eanes, however, is just downright confused about the larger issues. Here is how he defines the term, ‘Black Confederate’:

Persons of color, free or slave, who performed work or rendered service in support of the Confederate war effort. Work may have been performed as a volunteer, as a contractor or as a voluntary conscript (draftee, free or slave). Work may have been performed in or out of uniform, but had to be performed at the direction of, under or in support of Confederate authority. The term includes men, women and children (p. 2)

According to Eanes these individuals were “soldiers in all but name.” As an analytical device this doesn’t help one bit. It runs rough shod over important distinctions between, for example, body servants (camp slaves) and impressed slaves and tells us nothing about how Confederates understood the presence of these men within the army over the course of the war..

Even more disappointing and strange is Eanes’s comparison of roles performed by free and enslaved blacks with today’s military roles.

  • Body Servant (valet) = Enlisted Aide on personal staff to General officers
  • Cook = Food Service Specialist (MOS 92G)
  • Teamser = Motor Transport Operator (88M); Cargo Specialist (88H)
  • Laborer-Breastworks = Combat Engineer (12B); Carpentry/Masonry Specialist (12W)
  • Laborer-Railroad = Railway Section Repairer (88T); Railway Operation Crewmember (88J) and Railway Equipment Repair
  • Laborer-Burial Details = Mortuary Affairs Specialist (92M)
  • Hostler = Animal Care Specialist (68T)
  • Hospital Steward/Nurse = Health Care Specialist (68W)
  • Musician = Bandperson (42R)
  • Blacksmith = Allied Trade Specialist (91E)
  • Mechanic = MOS 91 series; Ammunition Specialist (89B)
  • Carpenter = Carpentry and Masonry Specialist (12W)
  • Boatman = Watercraft Operator (88K)
  • Laundress = Shower/Laundry & Clothing Repair Specialist (92S)
  • Preacher = Chaplain Assistant (56M
  • Scouts/Spies  = Cavalry Scout (19D)

I assume I don’t need to explain what is problematic with such a comparison. To his credit the author did extensive research in a number of collections related to black Virginians (free and enslaved) who ended up performing various roles in the Confederate army. It certainly is saving me a good deal of time having it so easily accessible, but it does serve as a useful reminder.

It doesn’t matter how deeply you dig into the archives if you have no idea what you are looking at.

22 comments… add one
  • Jerry Sudduth Sep 6, 2016

    The valid point the good Colonel misses is that in the “equivalent” MOS fields of today’s military is those are all filled by SOLDIERS/SAILORS/AIRMEN/MARINES. They are filled by those who enlisted to serve in the military in those positions and have received combat and job training. In a pinch they’d be expected to shoulder a weapon and perform the duties of the combat arms.

    People of African descent who served the Confederacy didn’t do so as soldiers and most didn’t do it voluntarily, the history makes that very clear. They weren’t equipped, drilled, or uniformed by the confederate government as soldiers, they wouldn’t be expected to man the front line with a weapon when things got tight. It’s really embarrassing that a field grade officer would suggest this.

    They did the work and were a military asset the the rebels by freeing up white men who’d be doing manual labor to go to the front line but just because they did that work didn’t make them soldiers. They didn’t enlist into the Confederate forces nor did the Confederates accept them as soldiers.

  • TFSmith Sep 6, 2016

    In terms of agency, the author is suggesting that the rebels’ unarmed human slave labor – in the final analysis, the equivalent of livestock, just like Traveller and Little Sorrel – in the 1860s is in the same category as an armed and willing volunteer in the US military in the Twentieth or Twenty-first Century.

    Thanks, colonel; that’s truly inspiring… (Needs an eyeroll)

    Best,

  • Andy Hall Sep 6, 2016

    The valid point the good Colonel misses is that in the ‘equivalent’ MOS fields of today’s military is those are all filled by SOLDIERS/SAILORS/AIRMEN/MARINES. They are filled by those who enlisted to serve in the military in those positions and have received combat and job training. In a pinch they’d be expected to shoulder a weapon and perform the duties of the combat arms.

    Quite right, but there’s more to it still. Colonel Eanes is undoubtedly aware that the modern equivalent of many of the jobs performed by African Americans in support of the Confederate Army frequently aren’t done by military personnel at all, but by civilian contractors. Cooks, construction workers, truck drivers — sometimes these jobs are done by military personnel, but very often they’re not, even on overseas deployment. If I recall correctly a decade ago, around the time of the “Surge” in Iraq, there were more civilian contractors working there, many of them in direct support of U.S. military operations, than actual Soldiers, Marines and Airmen.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 6, 2016

      The comparison is absurd, but it speaks to the inability to engage in anything approaching historical analysis of the various roles and what they tell us about larger questions related to the Confederate war effort and the role of race in its evolution.

  • Al Mackey Sep 6, 2016

    Speaking as a retired Air Force colonel, I’m embarrassed. This is what happens when one does research in order to prove a preconceived point.

  • HankC Sep 6, 2016

    The attempt to ‘honor’ enslaved African-American ‘service’ from 1861-1865 seems to ignore the same duties performed from 1620-1860. Why the emphasis on digging trenches in 1863 and not on chopping cotton in 1853?

    • Kevin Levin Sep 6, 2016

      This is an excellent point that I have raised before. Most of these men were slaves, who were forced to engage in these activities. Nothing changed in their legal status. They still functioned as the legal extension of their masters even if Confederate authorities were pulling the strings.

  • Jimmy Dick Sep 6, 2016

    As a former Army mess sergeant, I can tell everyone that today’s military cook is nothing like a cook in the Civil War. My own experiences involved doing practically everything a regular soldier had to do plus my own job skills. I had as much combat training as any other MOS with the exception of the ones like the infantry and armored troops who specialized in it. Even then I was in an artillery unit and spent more time in the field than I did the garrison when I was in the National Guard. I handled all the personal weapons an infantryman did and qualified with them annually, had to do my own land navigation, and filled other roles at various times as a soldier and a NCO.

    Cooks in the Civil War generally did not do those things. They cooked and that’s it. Most of them were not considered soldiers even in the Union Army even though they were enlisted in units, but designated as cooks. In the Confederate Army, blacks filled the roles of support people, but not as troops. The Confederacy made an extremely sharp distinction about this as Kevin has documented quite well.

    As for American Military University, it is a fine institution. The problem is that some people come through and refuse to change their minds about anything such as the Lost Cause. They parrot what they have to, get their degree, and then do some really shoddy work. I argued with a few in some of the history courses who were diehard Lost Causers and it was no use. They failed to support their claims with primary sources in the discussions and refused to accept facts. Fortunately these individuals were extremely rare. I have no idea what kind of grades they got, but I did notice they didn’t appear on the Honor Rolls or on the APUS Historical Studies Honor Society rolls.

    In the end, a degree is really only as good as the effort one puts into earning it. Sad to say, but a 3.95 GPA and a 2.1 GPA both earn the same degree on paper.

  • Shoshana Bee Sep 6, 2016

    Quote: There are a number of Confederate apologists who actively frame this subject in a way that they hope will make this history more palatable to the general public.

    One of the things that bothers me is that this topic is so new that there is a risk that the first thing the uninitiated reads on it, sticks. Most people are not nearly as informed as the folks on the blogs/forums, so the intellectual filter is not going to be as fine. Even worse is when ugly facts of history become palatable by means of repackaging a la fancy new labels/designations. It makes everyone feel good, except those who know the truth. I mentioned this in the past: Whilst engaging in ancestry discussions amongst other Native Americans, suddenly everyone’s ancestor was a “scout”. Ten years ago, the same person was a prisoner who was interrogated and shipped off to Oklahoma. The folks who cling to this distortion find some sort of comfort in their “history”, whilst I envision my ancestors shuffling off to Fort Sill with their heads hung low. I am hoping that continued repetition of the same misinformation/delusions/lies does not imprint as the new narrative.

    • James Simcoe Sep 7, 2016

      Shoshanna, This is an aside, but an old friend of my wife’s is historian and novelist Patricia Winter. She has written novels on the travels of Welsh Lord Madoc in America of the 13th (?) century. also, A series of novels of life in Aztecan/Mississipian America. drenched in the cultural life of those peoples – you might like them. She is also working on a project on U.S. Grant. Her website fills in the details.

      • Shoshana Bee Sep 7, 2016

        Thank you for the recommendation, James. I will look into the writings of Ms. Winter.

    • David Doggett Sep 7, 2016

      When I was growing up in segregated Mississippi in the ’50s and ’60s, every white person’s ancestors owned 100 slaves. Now suddenly only a few percent did, and nobody admits to being one of those. In fact, half the white families in Mississippi owned slaves, which of course were technically owned only by the heads of the household. And non-slave owning whites rented slaves from those who owned them. The entire economy of the state was built on slave labor. As for the War, I have seen estimates that there were five supporting slaves for every white Confederate soldier.

  • Patrick Jennings Sep 7, 2016

    I find very little merit in the idea that a slave can be a conscript (draftee) except through the most unusual situation or twisted logic. In short, if the state (the Confederacy) conscripted a slave from a citizen, it would no different than the state impounding a horse for military service – or any other “property.” In short, a citizen can be compelled to serve the state in times of emergency, but a slave has no voice in the matter so conscription is simply another layer of bondage.

  • Patrick Jennings Sep 7, 2016

    Above, Shoshana Bee wrote: “Even worse is when ugly facts of history become palatable by means of repackaging a la fancy new labels/designations. It makes everyone feel good, except those who know the truth.”

    “Truth” is made malleable by contemporary morality. It is a tremendous mistake, too often made by modern historians, to layer our morality over the past. It can simply never fit. “Facts” are fixed, finite and often quite dull, truth is not. It is a “fact” that on July 1st, 1863, two great armies collided at Gettysburg. The “truth” as to why each soldier there fought for or against something will likely never be known. Flaggers and Lost Cause types tell you one “truth,” others, trying to sell a modern morality tale offer another “truth.”

    History is an act of discovery and is therefore always being reevaluated using fact as a foundation. History is a debate and should be discussed in order to learn and understand. I disagree with Mr. Eanes’ thesis and find his analysis misplaced, but he has staked an honest claim in the historical discussion and debating it will only make history better – but never the “truth.”

    • Shoshana Bee Sep 7, 2016

      You are correct, Patrick: I inserted the malleable ‘truth’, where I should have used ‘fact’. This is not the first time I have been admonished for this blunder, and unfortunately, it probably will not be the last. I think a sticky note here and there is in order, because the two words are as you have well illustrated, not interchangeable, and fact is indeed what I meant by definition. Thanks for the reminder.

      • Patrick Jennings Sep 8, 2016

        Oh, Shoshana…I am just as guilty of the same error. As an historian it is far too easy to assume full vision of the past. You, specifically, don’t need a reminder..we all do from time to time.

  • James Simcoe Sep 7, 2016

    In Guelzo’s ‘The Last Invasion’ concerning Gettysburg, he takes some time with the workings of Meade’s command system and their efforts to determine the size of Lee’s army. Part and parcel is the fairly accurate estimate in miles, which mandated @10,000 to as many as 30,000 enslaved teamsters, cooks, smiths, laborers, etc. As a companion, the chapter on Gettysburg in Fishel’s, ‘The Secret War for the Union,’ fills in detail on their efforts through scouts, civilian reports, etc.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 7, 2016

      I suspect Guelzo referenced Kent Masterson Brown’s excellent study on Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg. He references roughly the same number.

  • Andy Hall Sep 7, 2016

    Eanes:

    . . . as a contractor or as a voluntary conscript (draftee, free or slave).

    I don’t know if Col. Eanes intended to suggest that slave labor in Confederate service was “voluntary,” but it’s an unfortunate phrasing that suggests a good bit of fuzziness in the basic concept of chattel bondage.

    • Ken Noe Sep 7, 2016

      “Voluntary conscript” is such an odd oxymoron that I wonder if he meant “involuntary conscript.” Self-publishing = no editors.

  • bob carey Sep 7, 2016

    I believe we all concur that the Colonels’ comparison between the Confederate Army and todays’ modern armed forces is both amusing and ludicrous. What Col. Eanes fails to mention, and I have not seen it mentioned by any advocate of black confederate soldiers, are the building blocks of the Confederate Army, the local and state militias.
    To my knowledge the Louisiana State Guard is the only militia unit formed that included Blacks, and they were denied inclusion into the Confederate Army. If there are others who were they?
    The only large gathering of militia units, that I can think of before the war, were the units that showed up at the hanging of John Brown and I doubt if there were any armed Blacks at this gathering.

  • James Simcoe Sep 7, 2016

    I would like to add a comparison idea…not a metaphor? that I think might help to flesh out how white Southerners experienced Black presence in their society. Pardon the use of inanimate objects as the counterpart to Black human beings, but I think it ‘works.’ Many counties had anywhere from 25% to more than 50% Black population. Winding ones way through daily life, traveling to town once a month to tend to legal matters, accompanying a wagon train of lumber, cotton, farm produce and forage, visiting another farm or ‘industrial scale’ cotton plantation, it was common to travel with or encounter more Black people than white, even though the state ratio might be 60 % White/ 40% Black. It was Northerners who exclaimed at this amazing phenomenon.
    Well, 100 years ago cars were virtually unknown. Now, when we drive to the Mall or downtown shopping center, we don’t panic when we see a lake of cars. Few people, mainly automobiles. Although there are actually more people than cars, (There were more white folks than black) they have arrived over hours as employees, families, single humans…but cars, cars, cars wall to wall in the parking lot – its only natural. It takes all those cars to deploy many more people to this beehive of activity. As our society filled with cars there was ‘exclamation’ at the change, but once accomplished it became instantly normal. We encounter large streams of humans only in our largest cities. THIS causes visitors from small towns and rural areas to shout, ‘ALL these people!’ as if its weird. We ignore the jam of cars; they are ‘natural.’ We don’t even think this except to wonder if there’s a parking place.
    Just so in the South, It took so many black folks to ‘deploy’ Southern White farm and social society. But remark on this? How silly.
    During the Civil war, white Southerners exclaimed initially at ALL THE WHITE PEOPLE (Of course as ‘Southerners’ or ‘real men’) as the armies assembled. It was transforming; now they understood the power of their society! In the big marching columns, to see a 3 to 1 to 4 to 1 ratio of white to black, even it meant 5,000, 7,000, 10,000 enslaved men and women as a total was anywhere from normal to less than usual, seen as a ratio. The soldiers didn’t write home taking up precious room in letters about what, why, where, concerning enslaved persons just as we don’t call home to check in and spend most of the time ranting about all the cars…red! blue! There are so many BIG TAN CARS… not so many small green ones! And they roll on black things that are made form the same oil that lubricates the engine! Incredible! Our friend or family member would call the doctor if we went on and on about this.
    If there were hundreds of Union journals, for instance, about how that ‘Negro Company in the 10th Tenn. attacked us again,’ if there was a wave of exclamation, 1861 to 1862 at their first encounter with such outfits, then maybe there’s a case to be made for Black Confederates. Its not like Yankees missed a chance to write about it when it did happen for the first, second, third, time.
    Southerners became seriously irked to angry that Union soldier, officers, and journalists did go on and on about The Negro, just as we would want to ‘shake off’ someone who babbled about cars when we sat down to our latte and muffin. Unless we have a ‘peculiar’ interest in cars, when we are a salesman or collector for example; then we engage. White Southerners were generally furious that Black people became the center of social and political discourse; it felt so bizarre to one who grew up in slave-owning society.
    Reading about Reconstruction I am struck at the very public sigh of relief at the imposition of Jim Crow, @ 1900; now, Southerners (white) could get back to normal. Once again, it was a white man’s country, the standard headline (in caps) Not that Black people went anywhere, but they weren’t ‘there’ anymore.

Leave a Comment