“A Soul Too White Ever To Have Killed A Man”

Confederate Veteran magazine is filled with stories of camp slaves, who in one way or another demonstrate their unconditional loyalty to their masters. This often takes the form of rescuing their master’s injured body during or after a battle or in the event of his death escorting the body home for proper burial. These stories follow a standard form and the vast majority of them are not worth sharing.

This one is, not because of the dramatic re-telling of the securing of the body, but because of the setting in which it was shared:

Gen. Bob Toomb’s Pleas For Jim: The story is told that a negro under the charge of murder was being tried in a Georgia court. Much testimony had been taken, and it seemed to be very serious for the defendant, whose plea was self-defense. An old man in the court room arose and, addressing the court and jury, said: ‘Please your honor and gentlemen of the jury, years ago my only brother fell wounded on the battlefield of Gettysburg. He lay there bleeding to death, with no one to help him. Shot and shell, the fierce, fiery stream of death were sweeping the earth about him. No friend dared go to him, no surgeon would approach him. The singing of bullets and the wild music of shells were his only requiem. My brother had a body servant, a negro man, who waited on him in camp. The negro saw his master’s danger, and straight out into that hell of battle and flame and death he went. A cannon shot tore the flesh from his breast; but on he went gathering my brother in his arms, the blood of the man mingled with the blood of his master, he bore him to safety and to life. Jim, open your collar.’ He did so, and the jury saw on his breast long, jagged scars where the shell had ripped its way. Continuing, General Toombs said: ‘Jim’s skin is black; he is a negro; but the man that would do what Jim did for my brother has a soul too white ever to have killed a man except in defense of his own life.’ Jim was cleared.

Confederate Veteran, Vol. XVII (September 1909): 476.


Confederate Iconography and the National Cathedral

This has to be one of the best discussions about the place of Confederate iconography in our public and private spaces that I have seen. This panel discussion took place at the National Cathedral, which recently removed Confederate battle flags from its stained glass windows. The question of whether the full windows depicting Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson will be removed has yet to be decided. That is the setting for this discussion. [click to continue…]


Henry Grady Recalls His Father’s Camp Slave

This has to be one of the more interesting postwar references to Confederate camp slaves that I have uncovered. Henry Grady was an Atlanta newspaper editor, but he was best known as a leading voice in the “New South” movement, which embraced industrial development through northern investment. The challenge for men like Grady was in reassuring white southerners in the period following Reconstruction that such changes would not threaten traditional values or upset what was a fragile racial hierarchy. [click to continue…]


Robert E. Lee and his Body Servant Sell Washing Machines

Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were used to sell a wide range of consumer goods at the turn of the twentieth century throughout the South and beyond. Interestingly, this G.E. advertisement appeared in the New York Tribune. Let’s hear it for the cultural reach of the Confederate body servant.


Camp Slaves in Print

Just finished writing about this wonderful print published by the New York engraver John Chester Buttre. Many of you are no doubt familiar with Prayer in “Stonewall” Jackson’s Camp (1866). Buttre essentially stole it from an earlier sketch done by Adalbert Johann Volck.

Buttre made a number of changes, including adding Confederate Generals Richard S. Ewell and A.P. Hill. He made it a point, however, to keep Jackson’s camp slave, Jim Lewis, in the scene. I have to believe that Buttre intentionally placed Hill in this disinterested pose given his relationship with Jackson.

The chromiolithograph featured in the headline above was published in London in 1871 and was based on Conrad Wise Chapman’s painting The Fifty-Ninth Virginia Infantry–Wise’s Brigade (1867).

I am on the hunt for other wartime and postwar engravings, lithographs, etc. that include camp slaves. Thanks for your help.


Teaching Reconstruction and “Racial Amnesia”

Earlier today a reader asked how he might utilize this video of Eric Foner exploring the topic of “racial amnesia” throughout American history with his students. What follows are just a couple of quick thoughts about how you might go about this.

One way is to have students view it alongside a particular selection from W.E.B. DuBois’s book, Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880 (1935). At the very end, DuBois includes excerpts from history textbooks in use in the 1930s that cover Reconstruction. [click to continue…]


Why the Lost Cause is Not Fake History

I want to try to clarify a point about the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War that I tried to make in yesterday’s post. My comment came in response to a piece in CNN that suggested a connection between the attempt today to ignore the role of race in the recent presidential election and the turn away from slavery by former Confederates as a primary cause of the Civil War during the postwar period. [click to continue…]


The Lost Cause is Not Fake History

The video below featuring historian Eric Foner accompanied a recent piece on CNN’s website that offered some observations about the attempt to distance race from the 2016 election and the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War. The article itself is not very helpful. The author attempts to make way too many points across too broad a period of time. None of them is explored in sufficient detail. More below on this. [click to continue…]