Category Archives: Memory

Confederate History Month to Civil War in Virginia Month

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend this year’s Virginia Sesquicentennial conference on Race and Slavery at Norfolk State University owing to a school visit by former First Lady, Laura Bush.  For those of you looking for some excellent commentary on today’s proceedings I urge you to head over to Jimmy Price’s blog, The Sable Arm.  I am sure at some point the conference proceedings will be made available, but one of the highlights has to be Governor McDonnell’s opening remarks in which he announced that he will not “move forward with a proclamation to claim April 2011 as ‘Confederate History Month.’  Instead, he will proclaim next year’s observation as ‘Civil War in Virginia Month’ as a way to settle longstanding disputes within the Commonwealth over its history as the former capitol of the Confederacy during the Civil War.”  The governor’s remarks were spot on and I especially appreciate the following:

In the century and a half since the armistice was executed at Appomattox, few states have undergone as many changes, or witnessed such stunning growth and progress, as our Commonwealth. Our borders have been fixed for 147 years; but our culture, community, and breadth of opportunity have been incredibly dynamic. These changes have made Virginia a stronger and better place.

But they have also made our collective “memory” — how our diverse society remembers and processes the events in its collective history — much more complicated.  In earlier times, Virginia’s dominant culture was defined by relatively few, and basic civil rights were excluded for many. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of that culture, and both were present in abundance, as in any human enterprise – there was a common lens through which to view history. Those in power wrote a single, narrow narrative. It left out many people, along with their powerful stories.  And so, while talking about our history has become more complicated today, we can all agree it has also become a much richer conversation.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the governor’s decision as well as his incredibly thoughtful address.

Happy Richard Poplar Day

Petersburg’s favorite “black Confederate” is being honored today for his loyal service to the Confederacy.  Richard Poplar’s story is probably quite interesting given the racial dynamic of Petersburg, but like everyone else that the SCV and UDC get their hands on, his story will be reduced to one of loyalty to his comrades and sacrifice for the cause.  His 1886 obituary states the following:

When the Sussex Dragoons were formed at the beginning of the war, and when they became Company H, of the Thirteenth Virginia Cavalry, Richard attached himself to the command.  The Sussex Dragoons were a wealthy organization, and each member of the company had his own servant along with him.  From April 1861, until the retreat from Gettysburg, Richard remained faithfully attached to the regiment.

The reference to Poplar as having “attached himself” to the unit suggests that he did not enlist as a soldier, which is not surprising given that the Confederate government explicitly denied free blacks the opportunity to serve.  Unfortunately, Poplar’s stone indicates that he was, in fact, a soldier.  What I would like to know is, assuming that this stone looks fairly new, what was there before and what did it say about Poplar?  Yes, I know that the H.E. Howard volume on the 13th Virginia Cavalry lists Poplar as a private, but has anyone actually seen his enlistment papers?  He may, in fact, be a bona fide black Confederate soldier.  That would make his story even more interesting, but all I’ve seen are documents related to his capture at Gettysburg on Footnote.com.

And, finally, why do these headstones fail to indicate service as a black Confederate given that so many believe that there has been an active cover-up by various groups?

Here is the 2004 proclamation for Richard Poplar

This day, 18 September 2004 is proclaimed Richard Poplar Day in Petersburg, Virginia:

WHEREAS, Richard Poplar, a highly honored Petersburg “Colored Confederate Soldier” and American veteran was buried with full military honors at Memorial Hill, Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia in 1886,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar served as a nationally known chef at the historic former Bollingbrook Hotel in Petersburg, Virginia,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar served in Co. H, 13th Virginia Cavalry, the famous Sussex Light Dragoons, with extraordinary distinction,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar spent 19 months as a Prisoner of War at Fort Delaware and Point Lookout, Maryland , and he NEVER turned his back on the South, his beloved Virginia, or his comrades,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar was a man of deep unshakeable faith, and conviction,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar provided commended honorable aid and comfort to the Prisoner Of War reserves (The Old Men and Young Boys) who were captured at the First Attack on Petersburg on 9 June 1864,
WHEREAS, along with all his comrades, Richard Poplar will be honored forever on Petersburg’s Memorial Day, the 9th of June, and appropriately on our National Memorial Day,
WHEREAS, Richard Poplar serves as a shining example to all Petersburg natives and all mankind,

Today, we honor our own Private Richard (Dick) Poplar on this 18 September 2004. This day will continue the reflection of Richard’s accomplishments for posterity.

May his life, heroism, and memory serves as a beacon to greatness for Petersburg, for our country, and for the world.

[signed] Annie M. Mickens, Mayor of Petersburg, Virginia
18September2004

Pelican Press Does It Again

From the dust jacket:

Nathan Bedford Forrest remains a controversial figure in American history. Because of his days as a slave trader and his involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, the Confederate general is equated with racism. However, many may be surprised to know that he spent the latter days of his life as a pious Christian and an outspoken advocate of African Americans. This spiritual biography follows Forrest on his journey to salvation, focusing on the lesser known aspects of his life. Recalling his youth in the South, his experiences as an unyielding Civil War general, and his final years devoted to his renewed faith, eleven chapters span Forrest’s enigmatic life. Firsthand accounts from the diary entries of those who knew him and photographs reveal an obscure side of the soldier, a side that is often omitted from history books. His radical transformation provides the message that positive life changes are possible.

Who is the Author?: Shane E. Kastler is an ordained Southern Baptist minister who has devoted his life to preaching the gospel of Christ. He received his B.B.A. from Northeastern State University, where he became heavily involved in both the church and campus ministries. Afterwards, he earned his M.Div. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of six seminaries affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Upon graduation, Kastler received the LifeWay Preaching Award, which is presented to a graduate who has excelled in the study and practice of preaching. Having served as senior pastor of the nondenominational First Christian Church of Pleasanton, Kansas, he continues to preach and write. He contributes a weekly religious column, “Seeking Higher Ground,” to the Linn County (KS) News in addition to maintaining two Internet blogs. Kastler lives with his family in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

…and I decided to pursue an M.A. in history instead – silly rabbit.

New York Times Butchers a Civil War Analogy

[Hat-Tip to Caleb McDaniel at Clippings]

Today’s editorial in the New York Times serves as a reminder of just how easily we can sink into conceptual confusion when trying to make sense of the ongoing wave of fear surrounding the building of an Islamic Cultural Center in the vicinity of “Ground Zero”:

As the site of America’s bloodiest terrorist attack, New York had a great chance to lead by example. Too bad other places are ahead of us. Muslims hold daily prayer services in a chapel in the Pentagon, a place also hallowed by 9/11 dead. The country often has had the wisdom to choose graciousness and reconciliation over triumphalism, as is plain from the many monuments to Confederate soldiers in northern states, including the battlefield at Gettysburg.

The analogy simply doesn’t work because Muslims (Islam) did not attack the United States on September 11, 2001.  McDaniel is correct in pointing out that the very analogy “undercuts the editorial’s absolutely correct insistence that (despite what a dismaying number of New Yorkers and Americans believe) ‘Muslim’ does not mean ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorist sympathizer.’”  Finally, anyone familiar with the evolution of monument building on the Gettysburg and Antietam battlefields would not fall into the trap of characterizing it as reflecting “graciousness and reconciliation over triumphalism.”

Black Confederate Resources

A few of you have asked if I could put together an overview of the many posts that I’ve done on the subject of black Confederates.  This is a start and it’s something that I will come back to to update and expand.  This will hopefully answer common questions that new readers have about my own position on this subject as well as provide a reliable list of resources for further reading.  You can find a link to this post in the navigation menu at the top of the page.

Overview

Regular readers of this blog are all too familiar with the frequency of posts on the hot topic of black Confederates.  It is safe to say that the largest number of posts on this blog have been devoted to the subject and collectively constitute what I hope is a helpful resource for those who are trying to wade through the morass that defines this divisive topic and public debate.  With so much attention focused on this subject it may be difficult for readers to know where to begin.  This page is meant to serve as a road map to help readers to better understand the evolution of my own thought about this subject as well as advice on where to go for credible information and what to avoid.  I should point out that my writing on this subject is not meant or intended as an authoritative or final word on the subject.  I’ve used this blog to ask questions and to offer some of my own ideas about various aspects of the subject and on how others have approached the subject.

Content

You will find a wide range of posts on this issue, but all of them revolve around a basic assumption that this subject is part of a broader discussion of slavery and race relations during the Civil War.  Most of the posts on this site can be found under a category heading, titled, “black Confederates.” [Keep in mind that you are reading them in the reverse order in which they were published.]  I suggest that you begin with my two earliest posts on the subject in which I begin to sketch out my own interest in the subject in response to the publication of Bruce Levine’s book, Confederate Emancipation [Part 1 and Part 2 and here].  One of the biggest problems is the lack of any consensus on language and how to describe the presence of free and enslaved blacks in Confederate armies.  In my view we must begin by assuming that blacks were not soldiers based both on the refusal on the part of the Confederate government as well as the almost complete lack of wartime evidence (enlistment papers/muster rolls, etc.)

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