Category Archives: Lost Cause

What Happens When Your USCT Unit Disbands

Black Civil War re-enactors join the ConfederacyToday Cleveland.com [associated with the Cleveland Plain Dealer] is running a textbook example of how the myth of the Black Confederate soldier is spread.  Start off with what appears to be an unusual story of two black individuals who play Confederate soldiers.  Treat them as authorities in the relevant history and fail to do any preparation as a reporter that might allow you to ask a few penetrating questions about historical literacy and you’ve got yourself a nice little human interest story.

From the article:

Estimates of their number, varying from several hundred to more than 10,000, are debated among Civil War historians.

Jones, 51, of Youngstown, noted, “If we can honor the black Union soldiers who fought, we can honor the black Confederate soldiers who fought.”

Jones said that famed black abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted in 1861: “There are at present moment many Colored Men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but real soldiers, having musket on their shoulders and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal [Union] troops.”

Jones utilizes the biographies of past black Confederate soldiers Holt Collier and John Wilson Buckner for first-person portrayals.  Collier was in the Battle of Shiloh, then served in a Texas cavalry unit. Buckner served with a South Carolina artillery unit and was wounded in the battle for Fort Wagner in 1863.

Given these few passages we can safely assume that their research involved little more than a scan of websites.

Our Confederate Dead

Blandford Cemetery

Update: Just received a private email stating that I am “incapable of feeling anything but hate for Confederate soldiers.” As always, thanks for taking the time to comment.

This weekend I was in Petersburg, where I gave a talk to a group of educators as part of teachers conference sponsored by the Civil War Trust.  I had a great time. It’s always nice to be able to catch up with my good friend, Garry Adelman, and meet new teachers.  Yesterday morning I had a chance to walk the Crater battlefield, where I got to see the incredible new view shed from the Crater back toward the guns at Fort Morton and the staging area for the battle.  After that, I headed on over to Blandford Cemetery for a quiet stroll.

I am a sucker for Blandford.  It’s not the cemetery’s importance to the battle or the fact that I can identify many of the names on the markers or even the beautiful Tiffany Windows in the church that I find so impressive.  When I walk through the arch to the Confederate section I am truly moved by what I see.  It’s a bit deceptive, especially if you have already visited the Confederate section at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.  Blandford doesn’t have the grandeur or sophistication of Hollywood and that is probably why I prefer this place.  You won’t find a pyramid at Blandford.  In fact, there are relatively few markers in the Confederate section, but it doesn’t take long to realize that those markers outline row upon row of unidentified Confederate soldiers buried by their respective states.  This section of the cemetery is a testament to the profound sense of grief and loss experienced by the community in the years following the war.  So many young men buried without any identification and far from home.  The monument to the unknown Confederate is perfectly positioned at the top of the ridge overlooking these men.  How can you not be touched on a deeply emotional level? Continue reading

No Confederate License Plates in Texas

Palestine, Texas

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled earlier today that the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles did not violate the First Amendment when it denied an application by the Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans for customized plates that depicted the Confederate flag.  Here are a few excerpts from the judge’s ruling.

“The issue before the court is this: does the First Amendment require a state government to place the Confederate battle flag on customized, special license plates at the request of a nonprofit organization which has otherwise complied with state rules governing issuance of such plates?” Sparks wrote.  He determined that the answer is no, not because specialty license plates constitute government speech, as the board claimed, but because the plates constitute a nonpublic forum.  He further found that the content of the SCV license plates drove the board’s decision, rather than the group’s viewpoint.

“The SCV repeatedly argues the fact the Buffalo Soldiers plate was approved indicates SCV was subjected to viewpoint discrimination,” Sparks wrote in the 47-page order. “SCV speculates Native Americans would be offended by the Buffalo Soldiers plate, because of the role played by African-American troops in the frontier wars of the nineteenth century. However, the record does not support this assertion: in contrast to the chorus of negative public comments raised against the SCV’s plate, there appears to have been no significant objection to the Buffalo Soldiers plate, rendering SCV’s assertion the Buffalo Soldiers plate is equally derogatory at best purely speculative.”

Sparks noted that, unlike the SCV plates, the Buffalo Soldiers plates lack an “inflammatory symbol comparable to the Confederate battle flag.”  The judge also noted that the group could turn to state lawmakers to get its license plates approved.  “Although suggesting a petitioner for judicial relief should look to the legislative branch for assistance is usually the practical equivalent of there being no relief available, here the Texas Legislature can and frequently has approved a variety of plates — including controversial plates, such as ‘Choose Life’ — by direct legislative action,” Sparks states.

The order concludes: “It is a sad fact the Confederate battle flag has been co-opted by odious groups as a symbol of racism and white supremacy. There is no reason to doubt the SCV and its members are entirely heartfelt in their condemnation of this misuse. It is to be hoped the passage of time, and efforts such as the SCV’s resolution, will eventually remove a blight from the flag under which feats of great heroism and fortitude were accomplished. All the traditional avenues of public discourse are open to those who would fully redeem the battle flag. Nevertheless, the state of Texas has chosen to abstain from this debate, and the First Amendment does not require it to open up state-issued license plates as an additional forum in which to contest the flag’s meaning.”

I find the judge’s thoughts re: the flag’s symbolism to be very strange.  How exactly do you “remove a blight” from a flag that was used between 1861- and 1865 to establish a nation built on slavery and later in the twentieth century as a visible symbol for the maintenance of the racial status quo?  The Confederate flag doesn’t need to be “redeemed” from anything.  What it deserves is a proper interpretation in a place that fosters serious reflection.

Oh well, I guess the Texas SCV can at least fall back on their recent victory in Palestine.  Where is Palestine, you ask?

The Social and Cultural Significance of Black Confederate Pensioners

confederate veteran, black confederateAs we all know one of the most misunderstood aspects of the debate surrounding the existence of black Confederate soldiers is the existence of pensions that were given by former Confederate states to qualified black citizens at various points during the postwar period.  For the uninformed or those working primarily from a narrow agenda the existence of these pensions is proof positive of the existence of black soldiers and the fantasy of a multiracial army.  The pensions have been used on numerous occasions by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other heritage types to justify new grave markers and other monuments to these men.  I am not interested in returning to this debate. My position is clear.

What I am interested in doing is posing a few questions about these pensions, which is the subject of chapter 3 in my manuscript on the history of camp servants and the myth of the black Confederate soldier.  My goal is to use the pension records and other sources to explore how white Southerners chose to remember the Civil War and specifically the role of camp servants at the turn of the century.  The questions posed clearly assume that the applicant was present as a non-combatant; in other words they are not classed as soldiers.  Regardless of the state the vast majority of black pensioners were servants and cooks.  What is even more revealing is that pension applications make no inquiry as to whether the individual in question was wounded on the battlefield.  This does not mean that such information never made it onto an application, but that it did not change the status of the applicant.  This is a crucial point given the emphasis that black Confederate advocates place on battlefield prowess.  Again, it apparently made no difference to how white Southerners viewed these men during the postwar period.  Continue reading

Brad Paisley Meet Leslie Barris

So, in addition to having trouble accessing my blog yesterday the news feed that I use to track stories related to Civil War memory is clogged with articles about the Brad Paisley – LL Cool J controversy.  I’m not sure which is worse.  I don’t have anything insightful to say about the song other than that the music and lyrics are both the work of amateurs.  To be honest, it seems to be much to do about nothing.

On the other hand, I got nothing but props for Leslie Harris of Orange, Texas who asked the city council to consider resolutions and ordinances that would block a planned Confederate veterans memorial that includes a flag just off the interstate.  Harris argues that, in fact, this is not a veterans memorial, but a Confederate flag memorial.  She also offers some comments about the appropriateness of publicly acknowledging Confederate History Month and in the process reminds the audience that white Southern attitudes about the Confederate past are complex.