Ann DeWitt Is At It Again

It just continues to get more and more bizarre with each passing week.  Ann DeWitt promised to continue to develop her Black Confederate Soldiers website and she does not disappoint.  She recently added a section on the pension records of Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee.   Nowhere does she inform her reader that these pensions were given to former slaves – a fact obscured by the black individual holding a Confederate flag.  But wait, it gets much better.  Check out DeWitt’s description of body servants:

So what is the definition of a body servant?  A body servant is a gentleman’s gentleman.  These African-American men, whether freedmen or slaves, dedicated their lives to the service of men who in some form or fashion shaped the United States of America.  In 21st century vernacular the role is analogous to a position known as an executive assistant—a position today that requires a college Bachelors Degree or equivalent level experience.  Ask any salesman. You cannot secure an appointment with a senior executive without getting approval from his or her  executive assistant.

I deplore slavery. However, my point is that these body servants did break ground in establishing the importance of the role in 21st century context.  Body servants were trusted advisers and confidants to Confederate Generals such as Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Nathan Bedford Forrest to name a few.  As an example, capitalist Nathan Bedford Forrest was the most revered as well as loathed Confederate General because Nathan Bedford Forrest in the end was respected by both black and white southern men who served under his leadership.  Look at the official Confederate Tennessee Pension records.  Forrest even had an “escort cavalry,” which in today’s terms we call an entourage.  Even President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, travels with a staff of 500 people.

Here is DeWitt’s page on Alabama’s pension records:

The African-Americans, who served during the American Civil War from Alabama, served as drummers, musicians, laborers, carpenters and teamsters to name a few.  Alabama Department of Archives & History provides an Online Index with links to original pension applications.  Please note that the Alabama Department of Archives & History does not document if these African-Americans fought for the Union or the Confederate States Army. Some southerners who served in the United States Army continued to fight for the Union. Which begs the question, did some slaves go to war with their southern masters to fight for the Union?

I admit that I had a long day today, but can someone explain what DeWitt is asking in these final two sentences? I am assuming that the men listed on this page functioned as servants to soldiers in the Confederate army.

If that wasn’t enough, H.K. Edgerton is referred to as a “Human Rights Defender.” And, finally we have this creative interpretation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  Keep in mind that DeWitt intends this to be an educational site for teachers and students.  O.K. that’s enough crazy for one day.

Can You Afford Not To Use Social Media?

When it comes down to it much of the success that I’ve enjoyed as a teacher and historian over the past few years is the result of social media. I’ve taken full advantage of it from regular updates on this blog to Facebook and Twitter.  Each platform has a slightly different focus.  The blog functions as an extension of my classroom; Facebook allows me to stay in touch with old and new friends, and Twitter provides an ideal way to share and receive information in short bursts with people who share a common interest.  However, what they all have in common is they provide an effective means of remaining on the radar screens of current and future friends and colleagues.

The past few weeks provide a number of examples to support such an observation.  Back in August I was contacted by a publisher, who was interested in commissioning a book on the subject of black Confederates.  The contact was the direct result of my writing on the subject on this site.  This past week I was contacted by the Smithsonian Institution about the possibility of offering a series of lectures for one of its spring programs.  Again, the contact was the result of this site.  And this week I completed an abstract for an SHA session that was organized by a regular reader of the blog as well as a Facebook friend.  The point here is not to toot my own horn, though I would like to think that the quality of posts here as well as my published work have something to do with my limited success.  Rather, it’s to point out how little it matters apart from the broader goal of sharing an interest and scholarship with the public.

The mistake that people make is in thinking about social media as a way to build community.  Some of you who have been around for a while know that not too long ago I was fixated with creating a Civil War Memory community.  At one point or another I included Google Friend Connect and even a widget for the Civil War Memory Facebook page in the sidebar.  Somehow I envisioned readers connecting with one another and continuing discussions in various online spaces.  I now see this as completely misguided.  There are no Online communities; in fact, it demeans the very concept of community.

In the end, social media affords the user the opportunity to build an AUDIENCE.  My audience includes roughly 1,000 regular readers of Civil War Memory, 738 friends on Facebook, 350 members of the CWM Facebook page, and 490 Twitter followers.  In the context of my role as a teacher and historians, all of these people have the potential to respond in various ways to what I produce online.  They can shreak in horror, laugh, agree, or disagree.  These same people can also, “Like,” “link,” and “retweet.”  Oh…and they are also potential customers for a book about the battle of the Crater and historical memory that may or may not be published.

Happy Richard Poplar Day

Petersburg’s favorite “black Confederate” is being honored today for his loyal service to the Confederacy.  Richard Poplar’s story is probably quite interesting given the racial dynamic of Petersburg, but like everyone else that the SCV and UDC get their hands on, his story will be reduced to one of loyalty to his comrades and sacrifice for the cause.  His 1886 obituary states the following:

When the Sussex Dragoons were formed at the beginning of the war, and when they became Company H, of the Thirteenth Virginia Cavalry, Richard attached himself to the command.  The Sussex Dragoons were a wealthy organization, and each member of the company had his own servant along with him.  From April 1861, until the retreat from Gettysburg, Richard remained faithfully attached to the regiment.

The reference to Poplar as having “attached himself” to the unit suggests that he did not enlist as a soldier, which is not surprising given that the Confederate government explicitly denied free blacks the opportunity to serve.  Unfortunately, Poplar’s stone indicates that he was, in fact, a soldier.  What I would like to know is, assuming that this stone looks fairly new, what was there before and what did it say about Poplar?  Yes, I know that the H.E. Howard volume on the 13th Virginia Cavalry lists Poplar as a private, but has anyone actually seen his enlistment papers?  He may, in fact, be a bona fide black Confederate soldier.  That would make his story even more interesting, but all I’ve seen are documents related to his capture at Gettysburg on

And, finally, why do these headstones fail to indicate service as a black Confederate given that so many believe that there has been an active cover-up by various groups?

Here is the 2004 proclamation for Richard Poplar

This day, 18 September 2004 is proclaimed Richard Poplar Day in Petersburg, Virginia:

WHEREAS, Richard Poplar, a highly honored Petersburg “Colored Confederate Soldier” and American veteran was buried with full military honors at Memorial Hill, Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia in 1886,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar served as a nationally known chef at the historic former Bollingbrook Hotel in Petersburg, Virginia,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar served in Co. H, 13th Virginia Cavalry, the famous Sussex Light Dragoons, with extraordinary distinction,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar spent 19 months as a Prisoner of War at Fort Delaware and Point Lookout, Maryland , and he NEVER turned his back on the South, his beloved Virginia, or his comrades,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar was a man of deep unshakeable faith, and conviction,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar provided commended honorable aid and comfort to the Prisoner Of War reserves (The Old Men and Young Boys) who were captured at the First Attack on Petersburg on 9 June 1864,
WHEREAS, along with all his comrades, Richard Poplar will be honored forever on Petersburg’s Memorial Day, the 9th of June, and appropriately on our National Memorial Day,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar serves as a shining example to all Petersburg natives and all mankind,

Today, we honor our own Private Richard (Dick) Poplar on this 18 September 2004. This day will continue the reflection of Richard’s accomplishments for posterity.

May his life, heroism, and memory serves as a beacon to greatness for Petersburg, for our country, and for the world.

[signed] Annie M. Mickens, Mayor of Petersburg, Virginia

Museum of the Confederacy Discontinues Sale of Black Confederate Toy Soldiers

I never doubted for a moment that the Museum of the Confederacy would do the right thing and pull these ridiculous items from their shelves.  Thank you.  Just another reason why I fully support the mission of the Museum of the Confederacy.

In addition to this situation, Civil War Memory was instrumental in bringing about the removal of poorly-researched information sheets on black Confederates at Governors Island in New York City.

The power of blogging in action.

New Kunstler Print

Mort Kunstler’s latest print beautifully captures a crucial moment in the life of the Army of Northern Virginia.  The scene takes place in Orange County, Virginia following the army’s defeat at Gettysburg.  Kunstler vividly depicts the men in the army marching down main street, while Lee, Longstreet, and A.P. Hill discuss something.  As you can see, this is the exact moment in the war when both Lee and Hill simultaneously gestured with their right arms.  Longstreet, as usual, looks befuddled.  It’s hard to believe that this is the first print to depict this moment in the war.  If you are in the area you can meet Kunstler in person on Saturday at the Orange County Courthouse.

Pelican Press Does It Again

From the dust jacket:

Nathan Bedford Forrest remains a controversial figure in American history. Because of his days as a slave trader and his involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, the Confederate general is equated with racism. However, many may be surprised to know that he spent the latter days of his life as a pious Christian and an outspoken advocate of African Americans. This spiritual biography follows Forrest on his journey to salvation, focusing on the lesser known aspects of his life. Recalling his youth in the South, his experiences as an unyielding Civil War general, and his final years devoted to his renewed faith, eleven chapters span Forrest’s enigmatic life. Firsthand accounts from the diary entries of those who knew him and photographs reveal an obscure side of the soldier, a side that is often omitted from history books. His radical transformation provides the message that positive life changes are possible.

Who is the Author?: Shane E. Kastler is an ordained Southern Baptist minister who has devoted his life to preaching the gospel of Christ. He received his B.B.A. from Northeastern State University, where he became heavily involved in both the church and campus ministries. Afterwards, he earned his M.Div. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of six seminaries affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Upon graduation, Kastler received the LifeWay Preaching Award, which is presented to a graduate who has excelled in the study and practice of preaching. Having served as senior pastor of the nondenominational First Christian Church of Pleasanton, Kansas, he continues to preach and write. He contributes a weekly religious column, “Seeking Higher Ground,” to the Linn County (KS) News in addition to maintaining two Internet blogs. Kastler lives with his family in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

…and I decided to pursue an M.A. in history instead – silly rabbit.

Adventures in American Studies

Today was one of those days that I live for as a teacher.  This year I am team teaching (with two colleagues) a course in American Studies that allows students to earn credit for both English and History during their junior year.  We have 38 students and the class meets four days a week for two periods each day.  Right now we are in the middle of a series of lectures that will give students a skeletal outline of American history, which will allow us to then focus in much more detail on different time periods and subject matter.  The outline should allow students to make connections with other time periods.  I’ve enjoyed the experience thus far and I am thoroughly enjoying our two new spaces, including a large lecture hall and a discussion room.

In addition to other assignments, each trimester students will be responsible for completing a major project.  For their first project students will work with a document from the University of Virginia’s Special Collections Department.  Today was their first trip to the archives.  For this first trip students were introduced to the assignment, the rules and regulations of the archives, and to cap it off the staff brought out a few of their gems.  Next week we return to give the class the opportunity to work a bit with their individual document.  While they are allowed to bring digital cameras with them the class is required to make one additional visit to Special Collections on their own time.

The overall goal of the project is to give students a chance to interpret an actual document on their own to see what they can make of it.  They will have a number of questions to answer, but they will have to think through the significance and meaning of their object.  They will present their findings on a website that they will create.  Most of the documents are broadsides, which are rich in detail and easy to connect to larger events and movements.  The folks at Special Collections were incredibly helpful and enthusiastic and I was especially pleased with the way our students handled themselves.  In fact, this is the first group of high school students ever to come through Special Collections for a class assignment.

The best part of the morning was the showcasing of a few of the archives’ high profile artifacts.  They included an original July 4, 1776 printing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson’s famous 1820 letter in which he describes slavery as holding “the wolf by its ears”, the vote of Virginia’s Secession Convention, William Faulkner’s original manuscript of The Sound and the Fury, and three different editions of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.  By far the most interesting artifact was a salesman’s copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  These copies were bound, but did not include the entire book.  Instead, interested parties could get a sense of what the print looked like and could choose different kinds of binding.  The most interesting feature of this particular book, however, is that someone apparently tampered with one of the original plates.  The image can be seen above and I will leave it to you to figure out what is wrong.  Needless to say, the kids got a real kick out of it.

We want our students to see history as much more than something that is simply read in a book and regurgitated in different forms.  This assignment will give students a chance to exercise their imaginations and work toward their own interpretation of the past.  Today was a special day and one that reminds me of just how lucky I am to be a teacher.