Category Archives: Slavery

UDC Uses and Abuses the History of Slavery

In my last post on “black Confederates” I wondered whether the two women dressed in mourning attire were white.  Well, I have no doubt that the women in  these images are indeed white.  And…yes, they are decorating the grave of “Pvt. Henry Henderson, a black Confederate soldier.” This article is so poorly reported that it is impossible to know for sure the status of Henderson without going to the archives.  That said, I have an idea.  According to the article:

Henderson was born in 1849 in Davidson County, NC. He was 11 years old when he entered service with the Confederate States of America as a cook and servant to Colonel William F. Henderson, a medical doctor. Records show Henry was wounded during his service, but he continued to serve until the war’s end in 1865. He was discharged in Salem, NC, age 16.

As Peter Carmichael notes in his essay, Confederate officers often brought their slaves with them as camp servants as a reflection of their social status and for their services.  And many were even outfitted with uniforms.  After noting that 60-90,000 “black Confederates served” in the Confederate army the author notes that Henderson’s sons received their father’s one and only pension check from the state of Tennessee in 1926.  Of course, as many of you know the receipt of a pension check does not tell us much of anything about the status of black men in the Confederate army.  [Consider the case of Weary Clyburn and see a recent post by Robert Moore, here]

Like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy teach us nothing about the complex history of race relations in the Confederacy.  Henry Henderson deserves to have his story told as well as have his life recognized and honored by his descendants.  Based on the skimpy evidence provided in this article we should conclude that Henderson was a slave who happened to find himself with the army as a young boy.  That this boy was forced to join his master in the army at such a young age, and was eventually wounded, must be understood as an extension of a broader life story of coercion.  I often wonder what Henderson himself would say about such a spectacle.

The women in these images are not honoring a soldier, they are honoring a slave.


 

Revisiting Peter Carmichael on “Confederate Slaves”

This guest post on black Confederates/Confederate slaves by historian, Peter S. Carmichael, ran last July and received a great deal of attention.  Given the number and range of comments on a recent post on the subject I thought it would be helpful to run it again for those of you who are new to the blog.  I refrained from responding to most of the comments since we are still mired in fundamental problems when confronted with this question.  Yes, a few of you out there get it that what is needed is serious research and attention to the question of what it is we are even talking about. Others are citing sources that make little sense without serious critical analysis while others are hung up on vague comparisons with the north that have nothing to do with the subject.  And then there are always a few on the fringe who fail to see beyond their attachment to contemporary political/cultural issues.  As far as I am concerned, Carmichael’s essay constitutes a starting point for those of you who first want to understand the broad analytical contours of the subject.  It does not provide all the answers, but does address the questions that need to be examined.

“We were the ‘men’”: The Ambiguous Place of Confederate Slaves in Southern Armies

On August 6, 1861, the Richmond Enquirer ran an extended article, entitled “Ebony Idols,” on a camp slave named Sam who refused to leave his master during the battle of First Manassas. Sam received public acclaim for his stalwart behavior under fire, and the Enquirer recounted a boastful speech that he delivered to a group of Richmond slaves. Sam promised his black audience that “I wasn’t scared. I am not one of those kinds.” The story of Sam was intended to assure white audiences that slaves, even when the Yankees were shooting at them, would remain forever faithful. This claim of slave fidelity largely rested upon the Enquirer’s denying Sam his manliness, and utilizing antebellum stereotypes to describe black men as effeminate sambos.

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Mourning Black Confederates

memorialservice03I have no idea when this ceremony honoring black Confederates (Confederate slaves) took place or who is behind this particular website, but this image of two women dressed in mourning attire is quite striking. Are the women who are placing flowers at the grave site white? If they are than we’ve come very far indeed in rewriting history and reconfiguring our understanding of race and gender in the antebellum and Civil War South.  Bizarre indeed.

Some choice quotes:

“Randall Burbage, commander of the South Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Confederate heritage is something that cannot be bought or earned, but instead has been inherited through birthright.”

“Our heritage, black and white, is intertwined. It has been since the founding of this country.  It gives us the opportunity to see where we came from and where we’re going. Being a Confederate is something to be proud of. We honor these men because they are Confederate soldiers.” – Theresa Pittman, president of the S.C. Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy

 

“The Robert E. Lee Memorial: A Conflict of Interpretation”

The following is an abstract for an essay that I am contributing to an edited collection on tourism in the American South, which is being edited by Karen Cox.  Your feedback and questions are strongly encouraged.

In recent years Civil War landscapes (especially battlefields) have come under increasing pressure from various interest groups to broaden their site interpretations beyond a traditional narrative of national reconciliation and the heroism of the Civil War soldier. The evolution of Civil War historiography over the past few decades as well as the changing racial and gender profile of public and private institutions has led to calls for increased attention, among other things, to slavery and race along with the roles that women and civilians played in the war.  As the custodian of some of the most prominent and sacred Civil War sites, the National Park Service has been on the front lines in working to manage the tension between and within groups who continue to struggle for control over this nation’s collective memory. Overlooking Washington, D.C., Arlington National Cemetery, surrounding the Robert E. Lee Memorial, which is also known as Arlington House, serves as a repository for the U.S. military dead while the home functions as a shrine to the life and legacy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  Like other Civil War sites, the problem of how to meaningfully interpret slave life has proven to be the most vexing for National Park Service staff in recent years.  Specifically, a 2004 report on the subject highlighted just how little information is being shared with the general public as well as a certain amount of resistance from visitors who question whether slave life is even relevant to understanding Robert E. Lee, Arlington House, and the surrounding grounds.

The challenge for the NPS in bringing their interpretation of Lee’s home more in line with recent scholarship and in integrating competing narratives long ignored has much in common with other related landscapes.  When in 1925 the NPS took over Arlington House, it concentrated on Lee himself by restoring the home to the period just before the Civil War, thus providing the proper context in which to emphasize his decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army and eventually align himself with the Confederacy.  In doing so, the NPS presented the general public with a heroic story of Lee that highlighted his ascendancy to the pantheon of American heroes.  As late as 1962, the NPS maintained Arlington House as a “national monument to one of America’s greatest men.”  Absent, however, was the presence of a large slave population that worked the grounds as well as a Freedmen’s Village at the end of the war.  The challenge of presenting slavery at Arlington House within this “Lost Cause” paradigm is, of course, not unique to this particular site.

What makes the ongoing debate about how to interpret the history of Arlington House worth examining, however, is its location within the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.  Specifically, the use of the grounds as a final resting place for fallen U.S. soldiers adds another layer of meaning to the landscape and one that the NPS has struggled to effectively integrate. It is here at Arlington House that visitors arrive after having walked by the “Eternal Flame”, the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”, and row upon row of marble headstones – all of which are symbols of national pride and sacrifice.  Such a situation presents NPS interpreters with a set of unique challenges. First, the NPS must bring their site interpretation more in line with recent scholarship on slavery, the Civil War, and Lee specifically because we cannot fully understand the home or Lee without a fuller understanding of slave life at Arlington. Secondly, they must do this in an environment where visitors may not be prepared to contemplate these controversial topics: slavery and race versus the solemn landscape of fallen heroes. One speaks to what binds us together as Americans while the other reminds us of what once divided us and continues to prove difficult to understand.

 

A Word of Advice

3412596379_eef3ac5919Before driving 60 miles for what you believe to be a scheduled event double-check the date.  That’s right, Michaela and I drove to Richmond today for a walking tour of Lincoln’s visit to the city in April 1865 only to discover that it is actually scheduled for tomorrow.  I guess I just assumed that a walking tour would take place on Saturday.  Well, we made the best of it.  In fact, we had a great time in Richmond.  Although it was a bit windy the temperature was perfect and the downtown area was very quiet.  We walked Lincoln’s route from the area around Rockett’s Landing to the Capitol grounds.  Luckily, I had my copy of Nelson Lankford’s Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital, which made it easy for us to imagine the throngs of Richmonders who came out to welcome Lincoln to the city.  Along the way we had a chance to stop at the Reconciliation Monument as well as the new Civil Rights Monument.  We also toured the capitol building for about an hour with a wonderful guide.  On the way back we walked along the canal and grabbed a bite to eat at Bookbinders.

Additional photographs can be found at my flickr site.