Category Archives: Lost Cause

Who Was “Ten Cent Bill” Yopp?

One of my biggest complaints about the many stories about so-called “black Confederates” is that the authors in question have almost no interest in doing serious research.  Most of the stories that you will find on the Internet are simply cut and pasted from one site to another.  Essentially, these men are treated as a means to an end; they are used to reinforce assumptions that the authors themselves have a need to uphold.  Such is the case of Bill Yopp, who is the subject of a recent essay by Clint Johnson. The story:

The aging veterans, in the Confederate Soldier’s Home, were proud men who had braved many a battle in the 1860s. One of these men was former Captain Thomas Yopp who saw such battles as that of Fredericksburg, VA, where a cannon shell burst knocked him unconscious.   The man who stayed with him until he recovered was his servant who had also joined the 14th Georgia Regiment, Company H. Bill Yopp was more then a servant; he and Thomas Yopp were friends who hunted and fished together.  Bill Yopp, a Black Confederate, was sympathetic to the men of Atlanta’s soldiers home who had been his compatriots in arms over fifty years earlier.

During the War Between the States, 1861-1865, Bill Yopp was nicknamed “Ten Cent Bill” because of the money he made shining shoes. He did this for the soldiers at a dime a shine and ended up with more money than most of his comrades. These men, also, cared for him when he was sick.  During the Christmas of 1919, Bill wanted to pay back the kindness that was shown to him. He caught a train from Atlanta to Macon, where he was offered help from the editor of a local newspaper [The Macon Telegraph]. He then caught a train to Savannah to raise Christmas money for the old veterans. Bill met many generous people on his trip.  Just weeks before the Christmas of 1919, he had raised the money and Georgia’s Governor Hugh Dorsey helped him distribute envelopes of three dollars to each veteran. That was a lot of money in those days.  The old Confederates were speechless. Tears were shed because of Bill Yopp’s good heart and kind deed. Many of these men had little or nothing. Bill was invited to come into the home’s Chapel and say a few words.   Bill Yopp was later presented a medal of appreciation for his support of the old soldiers and also voted in as a resident of the Confederate Soldier’s Home.

It’s unfortunate that Bill Yopp is irrelevant to this story.  Think about it.  We learn nothing about this man other than how he fits into those timeless tropes of loyalty and reconciliation.  It seems obvious to me that Bill Yopp was owned by Thomas Yopp and yet Johnson continues to refer to him as a “servant” who “joined” the 14the Georgia.  Well, that can easily be confirmed.

But beyond that there is so much that we don’t know about Bill Yopp.  What did he do after the war?  What was his economic situation before 1919?  And while it is comforting to believe that Yopp “wanted to pay back the kindness” of former “comrades” we are obligated to ask for evidence.  I am always struck by the ease with which writers like Johnson assume the motivation of former slaves during the Jim Crow Era.  I am also curious about Governor Dorsey’s involvement in Yopp’s project.  What was his motivation?  It would be interesting to know how Yopp fits into Atlanta politics during the period following WWI.  Perhaps the governor’s archival record might yield some answers.  Finally, I am very interested in a more sophisticated analysis of Bill Yopp’s place in the Confederate Soldiers Home.  We need to understand more about the culture and social structure of veterans homes and part of the problem is that we still need more research in this area.  [I am looking forward to Rusty Williams’s forthcoming study, My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans (University of Kentucky Press, 2010).  How common was it for former slaves in the Confederate army to gain admittance into these homes?  Were they, in fact, treated as veterans?  Did they have equal access to the available resources?  The questions are numerous, but if we have any interest at all in better understanding these men than they must be addressed.  Unfortunately, organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other writers have no interest in looking into these stories for fear that what they find will complicate and muddy their preferred interpretation.

Better to use the past to make us feel all warm and cozy during the Christmas season.

What Is It About the Civil War and Christmas?

The two seem to go perfect together, but why?  Well, I guess in Fredericksburg it is the proximity of the famous battle to the holiday season that makes for such an easy connection.  Joyce Smith, a parishioner at Cornerstone Baptist Church, has written a Christmas Civil War drama titled “My Friend, the Enemy” which is based on the Mort Kunstler print by the same name.

MortKunstler

According to the news story, Smith “studied the picture for months.”  I’m not quite sure what there is to study that would keep one occupied for months, but it culminated in a play that essentially reenacts a meeting between four soldiers on Christmas Day 1862.  Stories of Civil War soldiers meeting to trade and talk are powerful narrative threads in our continued obsession with the Reconciliationist Narrative of the war.  They make the war palatable.  I can only imagine the dialog: (1) What the war is about; (2) Why must we be enemies?; (3) Family and Home…  The play ends with a meeting between two soldiers on Christmas Day 30 years after the end of the war followed by the singing of Christmas Carols.

Americans need to believe that their civil war was special, that the violence did not overshadow our faith in “Good Will Toward Men.”  I tend to think that we emphasize these stories to make ourselves feel better about what happened and why.  It give us a reason not to look too closely at ourselves and our collective past.  Our civil war needs to fit neatly under the Christmas tree.  When we cross the Rapphannock River we want to see two soldiers peacefully engaged rather than thousands of men crossing on the eve of a bloody battle or fugitive slaves crossing to their freedom.  So be it.  Take the family to see this one and remember to bring plenty of good cheer and egg nog.

Image: Mort Kunster’s “My Friend, the Enemy”

Lew Rockwell’s Bushwhackers

[Hat Tip to John Schwarz]

Looks like Missouri’s Bushwhackers are the latest heroes over at the Lew Rockwell blog.  According to Karen de Coster:

Guerrilla forces tend to attract the worst sorts, as well as those who honorably serve the greater cause of independence. As time went on, the focus of the Bushwhackers tended to become more self-serving. This is the natural response to aggressive war, especially a war as evil and crushing as Lincoln’s bloody War Against Southern Independence.  Many of the actions of these guerrilla fighters — even the misplaced behaviors — originated in response to the endless brutalities suffered at the hands of the Union Army and federal authorities.

The video offers us the standard Lew Rockwell line (though there is no official connection between the two) that white Southerners perceived the war as one of encroaching federal power.  However, as I’ve pointed out before, it completely ignores the fact that the Confederate government went further than the United States in its push toward centralization.  Unfortunately, such a description, along with the video, tell us next to nothing about the Bushwhackers, Guerilla warfare or the war in Missouri.  It does show that Lew Rockwell will never shy away from distorting the past to make a political point.

Guerilla warfare is one of those areas of Civil War history that has grown in leaps and bounds over the past 15 years.  If you are truly interested in this subject you will want to check out books by Daniel Sutherland, Michael Fellman, Ken Noe, Noel Fisher, John Inscoe, John McKinney, to name just a few.

Civil War or War Between the States?

RiverS37I recently came across a microfilm reel that included a reprint of a Senate debate from 1907 on just this question. The pamphlet was put together by Edmund S. Meaning of the University of Washington for the purposes of clarifying the official name of the war. Meaning had heard Senator Benjamin Tillman present a speech in which he described the war as “The War Between the States” as the official name adopted by the federal government. Meaning contacted Tillman and asked for documents related to the Senate debate and discovered that in fact the name adopted was “Civil War.” Here is an excerpt from that Senate debate for your consideration. The debate took place on January 11, 1907 and can be found in the Congressional Record of that date, pages 929 to 933.  Continue reading