The Confederacy Was Not a Con Job

Over the weekend the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an editorial on the current debate about Confederate iconography by Frank Hyman. It’s an interesting editorial in that it doesn’t fall into any of the popular categories on the subject. After establishing his bona fides as a white Southern male Hyman gets to his point. The problem with revering the Confederate flag and the Confederacy generally comes down to the following:

The Confederacy — and the slavery that spawned it — was also one big con job on the Southern white working class. A con job funded by some of the antebellum one-percenters, and one that continues today in a similar form…. With low wages and few schools, Southern whites suffered a much lower land ownership rate and a far lower literacy rate than Northern whites….

My ancestor, Canna Hyman, and his two sons did own land and fought under that flag. A note from our family history says: “Someone came for them while they were plowing one day. They put their horses up and all three went away to the War and only one son, William, came back.”

Like Canna, most Southerners didn’t own slaves. But they were persuaded to risk their lives and limbs for the right of a few to get rich as Croesus from slavery. For their sacrifices and their votes, they earned two things before and after the Civil War. First, a very skinny slice of the immense Southern pie. And second, the thing that made those slim rations palatable then and now: the shallow satisfaction of knowing blacks had no slice at all.

Certainly northern and even some southern observers before and after the Civil War offered their assessments about the extent to which the institution of slavery stymied economic opportunity for non-slaveholders, but we should be cautious about applying our own value judgments to the past. Continue reading “The Confederacy Was Not a Con Job”

On the Death of Anthony Hervey and the Myth of Black Confederates

I am very pleased to to share my debut article for The Daily Beast, which went live earlier this morning. For most of you the topic offers very little that is new. It touches on the subject of my current book project on the history of camp servants and the myth of the black Confederate soldier, but it does so by examining why the Sons of Confederate Veterans went into mourning over the death of Anthony Hervey.

The original title for the article was, “The Black Man Who Died To Keep the Confederate Flag Flying,” but the editors decided to go with what I suspect is a less controversial title. Thanks to historian Marc Wortman for making the introductions as well as to Malcolm Jones at The Daily Beast for his timely response and enthusiasm.

[photograph of funeral procession for Anthony Hervey taken by Jonathan Lee Krohn]

Getting to Know the Army of Tennessee

My knowledge of the Confederate army is confined mainly to the Army of Northern Virginia. As I sketch out my cultural biography of Silas Chandler, however, I am running into my limited understanding of the Army of Tennessee. Silas’s master, Andrew Chandler, served in Co. F of the 44th Mississippi Infantry up to the battle of Chickamauga in 1863. He then served Andrew’s brother in the 9th Mississippi Cavalry Regiment, which accompanied Jefferson Davis after he abandoned Richmond in April 1865. That’s another story.

Silas and Andrew were together for some of the major battles such as Shiloh in which the latter was taken prisoner and Chickamauga, where Andrew was wounded. According to stories Silas supposedly convinced a doctor in Atlanta not to amputate his owner’s leg and used coins stitched in his jacket to pay for passage for the two to return home to Mississippi. Continue reading “Getting to Know the Army of Tennessee”

A Cultural Biography of Silas Chandler

Last month I shared a brief update concerning my book manuscript on the history and memory of Confederate camp servants and black Confederates. At the time I was weighing the strengths and weaknesses of different narrative forms. As it stood the narrative lacked focus not in the sense that the evidence was not organized, but that the lives and experiences of camp servants remained inaccessible to the reader. Readers meet a large number of camp servants/slaves during the war and in the postwar period, but they are almost all snippets of rich lives shared in passing by their owners and others. I want readers to be able to identify with an individual.

As I mentioned in that earlier post the one exception is Silas Chandler. Having experimented with different narrative approaches to highlighting his life and memory throughout the manuscript I decided to start over and write a cultural biography of Silas. This change is not something that I joyfully embraced so late in the process, especially because I have never written such a book, but I am beginning to see the benefits of doing so. Continue reading “A Cultural Biography of Silas Chandler”

“The White Man’s Flag”

I have referenced John Coski’s book, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, more than once over the past two weeks. It is by far the most comprehensive history of the Confederate flag and its place in Civil War memory. For those of you who wish to dig a bit deeper you may want to check out Robert Bonner’s, Colors and Blood: Flag Passions of the Confederate South [Princeton University Press, 2002]. It’s a much shorter book than Coski’s but it it does explore issues such as Confederate nationalism and religion in more detail. Continue reading ““The White Man’s Flag””