Category Archives: Memory

High School Students Bring The Crater and Loyal Slaves to Life

Samuel LowryLooks like students at South Pointe High School are bringing to life the diary of Lt. Samuel “Catawba” Lowry, who served in the 17th South Carolina Infantry.  Lowry’s diary is well worth reading.  He provides a great deal of detail about camp life, battle, as well as his experiences with his servants.  His final diary entry comes just days before the battle of the Crater in which he was killed.  Lowry’s servant, Henry Avery recovered the body and escorted it home to Yorkville for burial.  On the one hand, I love projects like this.  Unfortunately, it looks like both teacher and students might be taking a bit too much license with the diary.

It is a story about Lowry’s home and his family – a story about his beloved Southland. Most of all, is a story about relationships and bonds of brotherhood.  It is also a story that some of the South Pointe cast members hope will challenge the stereotypes of the Civil War and slavery. Three of the essential voices in the play are Lowry family slaves: Horace, Jesse and Henry. They accompanied young Samuel to war. The diary never uses the word slave. Lowry refers to them as servants or boy.  It was Henry who descended into the crater, recovering Lowry’s body. Henry then found Lowry’s possessions – including the diary – and then brought Lowry home to Yorkville for burial.  South Pointe teacher James Chrismon and students such as junior Nicholas Arsenal turned the diary into a stage play. The play is not literal – some theatrical licenses were taken – but it stays true to Lowry’s beliefs and to his prose….

Anthony McCullough, one of two black students in the play, said the production “makes me realize that black people have come a long way.”  Arsenal said he hopes the play changes some perspective on slavery. “It wasn’t right, but not everyone was treated so badly.  “This play is about equality,” Arsenal continued. “Race doesn’t matter. Anyone can be your family,” he said.

Of course, it would be a mistake to blame students for characterizing the relationship between master and slave as one of equality.  Responsibility for this falls squarely on their teacher. This might be a good time to recommend one of Gilder-Lehrman’s summer Teacher Seminars.

 

Marching For King

This photograph was taken in Brooksville, Florida in 1989.  The caption reads: “Their backs turned to the Confederate memorial, more than 500 people rally in Brooksville before stepping off for a parade on Martin Luther King Day.”  The inscription on the back of the monument reads:

This monument perpetuates the memory of our fallen heroes–We care not whence they came; wether unknown or known to fame; their cause and country still the same; they died and were the gray–leaving to posterity, a glorious heritage–an imperishable record of dauntless valor.

Confederate Monument, Martin Luther King

 

If Slaves Had Guns

22th Regt. U.S. Colored TroopsSeriously, I am all for an honest debate about gun control and the Second Amendment, but this isn’t it.  There is something incredibly disturbing behind the assumption that Martin Luther King, who gave his life advocating for peace and non-violence, would support something called Gun Appreciation Day. What is even more ridiculous, however, is the claim made by Larry Ward that if blacks had guns than “perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.”

I am not sure if Mr. Ward understands that he just made an argument for the strictest gun control legislation possible.  Whites exercised a great amount of control – through legal and extra-legal means – to ensure that slaves were not able to arm themselves.  They did so because they believed that such a scenario constituted a direct threat to their communities.  It goes without saying that they were probably right about that. :-)

Someone should remind Mr. Ward that the slaves eventually did find a way to arm themselves, however, I sincerely doubt that he is looking to see such a scenario play out once again.

 

Virginia Flagger Arrested

It was just a matter of time.  After months of protesting outside of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts over the removal of Confederate flags from the grounds of the “Old Soldier’s Home”/Pelham Chapel the Virginia Flaggers have little to show for their efforts.  All attempts to branch out and get involved in other causes – most notably with the opening of the MOC in Appomattox [and here] – have failed to generate support.

Individual Flaggers have challenged VMFA authorities in the past so there should have been little doubt as to how this situation would turn out.

A few months ago I was contacted by someone at the VMFA to talk about how they might handle this protest.  I didn’t have much to offer beyond suggesting that they wait it out, but I did jokingly suggest that they put together an exhibit on the Confederate flag that utilized the Flaggers as a modernist interpretation/performance.    I believe this more than ever after watching the above video. You gotta love those jeans, jacket and sunglasses.

The Flaggers and associated groups will likely milk this for all it’s worth, but it is nothing more than a sign of the organization’s lack of direction and inability to garner support around the substantive issues.

 

But Are the Accounts True?

black confederate

Today I am working on the final re-write for an article on Confederate camp servants that will be published in an upcoming issue of The Civil War Monitor.  This involves reviewing changes made by the magazine’s editorial staff and responding to questions re: clarity, substance and interpretation.  I am having some difficulty with one particular paragraph that I wrote about accounts of slaves on the battlefield.  Here is what I wrote:

Camp servants who did not or could not escape were exposed to all the dangers of military life, from disease to the battlefield. Accounts of slaves marching into battle alongside masters, assisting them if they were wounded, or securing the body in the event of death, as well as tales of shooting at Yankee soldiers, remain the most contentious aspect of the memory of these men. Many of these accounts come from Confederate veterans’ postwar writings and rarely include the voice of the slave in question. As a result, they tell us much more about white southerners’ ideal version of their former slaves and not the often complex factors that motivated slaves during those moments of grave danger and uncertainty.

It goes without saying that I am not in any way concerned about whether these stories demonstrate that the men in question were soldiers.  That, however, still leaves us with the accounts themselves.  The editors responded with the following comment.

You don’t say whether you believe these accounts are accurate / reliable. I wonder if somehow you might, in a way to separate fact from fiction, as much as possible. And more detail would be nice in the way of quotes / evidence / examples.

The thing is, I do believe the general outlines of these stories.  Camp servants were on the battlefields, they fired weapons at Yankee soldiers, and they rescued masters from the field and even escorted bodies home for burial.  What I have trouble with is moving beyond the realm of personal memory to the question of historical veracity.  None of the stories that I utilize include corroborating accounts between slave and Confederate officer and the vast majority that we do have were written after the war.  Even the few accounts from former slaves leave me with more questions than answers.

The bigger challenge for me in interpreting battlefield accounts involving camp servants is that I struggle with how to reconcile the element of absolute authority that defined the master-slave relationship and the kinds of emotional bonds that were clearly present in certain cases.  It’s a world that I simply do not have much of anything in terms of a frame of reference through which to interpret.  It can hardly be denied that camp servants/slaves were present on battlefields and experienced all kinds of things.  What that experience meant, at the time, for both slave and master as interpreted through postwar sources largely alludes me.