As 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