The First Female Black Confederate?

I’ve said many times that the vast majority of people who believe or even push the black Confederate narrative do not do so for nefarious reasons. They are not promoting history in support of a Lost Cause agenda. In most cases they simply do not understand how to interpret the available evidence and/or the larger historical context.

This is another wonderful example. The South Carolina state senate has apparently seen fit to honor a supposed “female African-American Confederate veteran” by the name of Lavinia Corley Thompson. The details of the story are familiar. Local “historians” did a bit of research and discovered the name of a former slave on the state’s pension rolls. Notice that not once is Thompson referred to as a slave in this article. In fact, no one involved in this story, including the reporter, seems to understand that the pensions in question were given to former slaves and not soldiers.

According to Tonya Guy of the Edgefield District Genealogical Society, “Thompson served as a cook for the Confederacy under Sam Webb, who was in Company A, 1st Regiment of the Reserves.” I have come across very few stories of female slaves accompanying their masters or another soldier into the army as a camp slave. That in and of itself is worth acknowledging, but this article does nothing but confuse Thompson’s legal status.

Guy goes on to say: “We’re actively collecting information about all of the African-Americans we can find that served in the war in any capacity, because we consider them to be Confederate veterans. We have all these fabulous stories that come out of the war. It is an unsung part of our heritage that we would really like to explore and make known that these people are heroes in our eyes.” Of course, the only problem with this statement is that the state of South Carolina did not consider these people to be veterans because they were never considered to be anything other than a slave. All you have to do is look at the actual pensions forms.

In the end the real victims are the descendants of Thompson, who have been given a fundamentally flawed historical account of their ancestor by local historians and now certified by the state.

This could have been an encouraging story about how a female slave survived the Confederacy and lived through the postwar period as a sharecropper, but instead this article does little more than further spread one of the most persistent myths of the Civil War.

25 comments… add one
  • gdbrasher Mar 2, 2017

    Good lord. This fight is never going to end. Hurry up with that book, Levin.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2017

      It’s sad given that this could have been a much more interesting story. Next we will hear that the Confederacy recruited entire regiments of female soldiers. 🙂

      • woodrowfan Mar 3, 2017

        Well, we already had a regiment of Cooks if you remember Andy’s story..

      • rexandrews Mar 16, 2017

        a regiment of pissed off black women? that truly would have been a most frightening site to behold!~

  • Annette Jackson Mar 2, 2017

    Oy gevalt! Just when you think this nonsense might disappear, it comes up again. It actually seems to be increasing

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2017

      The sad thing is that I believe all the parties involved, including the reporter, are African American. As you know this myth first appeared to counter the increased focus on the history of slavery and emancipation in the 1970s by arguing that the goals of the Confederacy had nothing to do with protecting slavery and white supremacy.

    • Andy Hall Mar 3, 2017

      The challenge for historians in this business is a daunting one. News stories like this have been common for years now. They’re largely all similar, with different names and locations attached, but through repetition over and over they become part of the landscape of what the general public “knows” about the war, even if they cannot cite specific examples. The idea gradually and insidiously works its way into the landscape of popular memory, regardless of the factual truth of it.

      • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2017

        Once in a while a reporter is smart enough to contact a university historian to help clarify or add context to the story.

  • Annette Jackson Mar 2, 2017

    I remember that the centennial was all about the glorification of Lee! I was a mere child then (actually just in my teens) and Grant got barely a mention. Things seem to just come and go, only to repeat again.

  • Barbara Gannon Mar 2, 2017

    Yes, the Gray Valkyries, a gallant band of black women warriors.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2017

      Oh Barbara. 🙂

  • Michael Mar 2, 2017

    Where in the article does it say that ANYONE mistakingly gave this woman the title of “soldier” as you imply? Fact is, your post are full of implications but always narrow in anything that backs up your implications. No one said she was being honored as a soldier, but you imply as such. Actually, you don’t imply…you flat out say it. Your writing might pass an English class, but would never pass a critical thinkibg class.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2017

      You are correct, but it does reference African Americans as “served in the Confederacy” which is language used to describe the service of soldiers.Later the genealogist is quoted as saying: “So, the state probably saw she was committed to the Confederacy and served honorably.”

      Once again, this is entirely inaccurate and obscures the relationship between enslaved peoples and the Confederacy. Camp servants were legally bound to their masters or the individual who hired them for service and not the Confederate government. The reference to pensions also implies service to the Confederate government, which it was not.

      I appreciate the critique, but I’ve been at this for long enough to know what is going on here.

      • Shoshana Bee Mar 3, 2017

        Quote:” Camp servants were legally bound to their masters or the individual who hired them for service and not the Confederate government.”
        —————————————————————————————

        It amazes me that you have to point this out, but than again, every time this topic comes up, I get the image of see no evil-hear no evil- speak no evil: one must only embrace warm fuzzies when it comes to the presence of African Americans in a Confederate camp. I wonder how many manumitted slaves/former slaves chose to stick around and give their time and service to the CSA, willingly?

    • Msb Mar 3, 2017

      they said “veteran”. “Veteran” = current or former soldier.

  • bob carey Mar 3, 2017

    “Fake News” is alive and well in South Carolina.
    The newspaper article implies that it was just as dangerous being in camp as it was to be on the frontline, it wasn’t.
    Whats with the red hats, standard UDC issue???

  • hankc9174 Mar 3, 2017

    it’s fascinating that her service from 1863-1865 is ‘honored’.

    Before and after? not so much

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2017

      And that is the problem. Her presence in the army is completely detached from the fact that she was a slave. It’s as if stepping foot in camp somehow changed her status.

  • hankc9174 Mar 3, 2017

    will the families of the other 400,000 enslaved South Carolinians also get framed resolutions for their servitude?

  • Randall Scott Mar 5, 2017

    These Confederates are treated as if some long ago warrior was silenced forever. Nothing could be further from the truth. Black Confederate soldiers are still speaking to us through their descendants. Black members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and United Daughters of the Confederacy tell a very different story of their ancestors volunteering to serve in the Confederate forces. Why? Same as my Confederate Grandpa told us…., “To protect his family from northern invasion forces.” It’s not complicated. It’s true-to-life family stories straight from the original source. We can pretend these soldiers were forced to fight if it furthers your agenda or you makes you feel good, but it’s not the truth.

    • Shoshana Bee Mar 5, 2017

      Quote: Black members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and United Daughters of the Confederacy tell a very different story of their ancestors volunteering to serve in the Confederate forces

      —————————————————————————————-

      Indeed, folks today are telling lots of stories. Stories which contradict the edicts put out by the CSA, ie, not allowing slaves to enlist until about 10 days before the end of the war. It is convenient to magically transform slave labour into veteran service, and package it all very nicely as some sort of retro pride. My grandpa used to tell me that cows had two shorter legs on the uphill side, thus explaining how they grazed on those steep slopes….

  • Jim Mar 6, 2017
    • Kevin Levin Mar 6, 2017

      One thing for sure is we have a government document with ‘an African American female Confederate Veteran’ in it

      And that is a misreading of the pension program in South Carolina.

    • Andy Hall Mar 6, 2017

      “One thing for sure is we have a government document with ‘an African American female Confederate Veteran’ in it.”

      In 1971 the Texas Legislature passed a formal resolution honoring Albert DeSalvo. It was submitted by a member of the Texas House of Representatives to demonstrate that legislators vote for things that they have no clue what they’re about, or whether they’re valid or not. Albert DeSalvo is better known as the Boston Strangler.

      The formal resolution by the South Carolina Legislature doesn’t mean anything, one way or another, about what actually happened 150+ years ago.

  • hankc9174 Mar 7, 2017

    What’s the history of the ‘1st Regiment of the Reserves’ ?

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