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.