Tag Archives: black Confederates

You Never Been a Soldier

I am close to finishing up a magazine article on Confederate camp servants.  This morning I read through a number of postwar accounts, which are always tricky to interpret.  Consider the following passage from Andrew Ward’s, The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves.

After the war, a slave named Luke would ask for a parole when his master, a Confederate colonel, surrendered to a Yankee officer in Columbia, Mississippi.  “Luke, you don’t need one,” said his master.  “You never been a soldier.”  “Yes, I has been a soldier–for four years,” Luke replied.  “Now you and that man don’t want to do me that way.”  The Yankee officer declared that Luke “made more sense” than the colonel did, and gave him his parole.

There is quite a bit to unpack here.  First, there is Luke who is passionately making his case for recognition as a soldier.  It’s not simply the status he is interested in, but the respect and acknowledgment that he had suffered and exercised the same virtues as any other man in the army.  Luke is also quite assertive in his sharp response to his master and plea that he ought to be accorded the status of soldier.  It’s hard not to see such a strong defiance as a product of his four years with the army, including some experience on the battlefield.

Luke’s master’s response speaks for itself.  He was and is not a soldier in the Confederate army.  Such an acknowledgment would have rendered the two as equals.  Slaves could not be seen as exhibiting the same martial virtues and at the same time continue to be seen as the legal extension of the master’s will.  Recognition as a solider also collapses the distinction between slave and citizen.  The service of soldiers was a function of their obligation to the state as citizens.  Slaves served their masters.

Finally, what are we to make of the Yankee officer’s decision to grant Luke a parole?  On the one hand, it is very possible that he sympathized with the slave and believed he had made his case for the official recognition.  I prefer a different interpretation.  That officer would have understood what that military document meant to Luke’s master.  In granting the parole he did something worse than acknowledge Luke’s freedom.  He acknowledged Luke as his master’s equal.

 

Everything is Bigger in Texas

Even the number of black Confederate soldiers.  How many?  Norris White Jr. speculates that 50,000 men “served” in the Confederate army from Texas, though he has only “documented” 7,500.  Mr. Norris came across evidence of these black Confederates while working on an M.A. thesis on Buffalo soldiers in the history department at Stephen F. Austin University.  Along the way we get the same tired and confused statements that reveal very little, if any, understanding of the broader historiography and an inability to acknowledge crucial distinctions.

This is embarrassing on a number of levels.  The article itself is poorly written.  The history department at Stephen F. Austin is referenced in a way that I suspect it would correct if it had the opportunity, and Mr. Norris is clearly misinformed about the subject of how blacks were utilized for the Confederate war effort.  Let’s take a closer look.

“Their voices have been omitted from the pages of history,” White said.

This is simply not true.  There is an incredibly rich body of scholarship that explores the various roles performed by blacks in the Confederate army.

Much attention has been given in movies such as “Glory” and in books and articles written by prominent U.S. military and Civil War era historians to the exploits and heroics of black soldiers serving in the Union forces, White said, but he added that “very little observance, if any, has been given to their counterparts in the Confederate Army.”

This is a common claim made by folks who become fixated on black Confederates.  The United States army utilized black soldiers so there must have been a “counterpart” in the Confederate army as well.  What is lost in this move are the salient differences between the debates in the United States and Confederacy that led to their use as soldiers – in 1863 for the former and in the final weeks of the war in 1865 for the latter.  Even more to the point, it fails to acknowledge in any way the place of slavery in the Confederacy.

He found that black Texans served in the Confederate Army in many diverse capacities, such as infantrymen on the battlefield, personal body servants, teamsters or laborers.

This is where Mr. Norris and many others reveal their inadequacies as serious historians.  I have no idea how many black “infantrymen” or black enlisted soldiers were discovered, but body servants, teamsters, and laborers did not “serve” as soldiers.  These distinctions are absolutely crucial if one is to have any hope of making sense of this subject and it is completely lost on Mr. Norris.

Primary sources, White said, are “100 percent irrefutable evidence — letters, diaries, pension applications, photographs, newspaper accounts, county commission records and other evidence that give primary insight” that blacks were in the Confederate Army.  For example, White found a Texas historical marker in Wise County that states Randolph Vesey was a respected Negro citizen and homeowner who served during the Civil War as body servant and voluntary battle aid to General W.L. Cabel of the Confederate Army.

First, I am not sure how the discovery of a marker is the kind of example that you want to highlight after supposedly traveling “30,000″ miles across the state searching through archives.  Randolph Vesey was surely not  a “counterpart” to any USCT.  One was free, the other enslaved.  That a graduate student in history will complete his studies not understanding this fundamental point is truly disturbing.

What I find sad is that even after all of this supposed research conducted by Mr. Norris, all we get here are the same old claims that are commonly found to have been cut and pasted from one black Confederate website to another.  There is nothing new here or anything that points to any serious thinking about this topic.  In fact, there is nothing in this article that you haven’t read hundreds of times in similar articles and countless websites.

How is it that all these people are making the very same discovery couched in the very same language?

 

She’s Back

I haven’t commented on what Brooks Simpson refers to as “the gift that keeps on giving” in some time, but news that Ann DeWitt is once again posting is too good to pass up.  You know Ms. DeWitt as the person who discovered an entire regiment of black Confederate cooks and the owner of one of the most confused websites on this subject.  She is now posting under the name “Little Rebel” and it looks like Ms. DeWitt’s “research” interests have led her to a subject near and dear to my heart.

Yes, we all can’t wait for the next big discovery.  In the eight years that I’ve spent with Mahone’s men I have never come across a reference to anything other than body servants and impressed slaves.  This is not to say that Confederates under Mahone’s command did not have black soldiers on their minds.  They wrote a great deal about an entire division of black soldiers, who took part in the battle of the Crater and they wrote openly and approvingly about their massacre.  In all the letters, diaries, and postwar accounts penned by Confederates who were there not one mentioned their own loyal black soldiers.

Spend enough time with what Confederate soldiers actually wrote and you will have some idea of why the Confederacy struggled with the question of the enlistment of blacks.

 

More Entertainment For White Folks

On June 30 the Anderson County UDC dedicated a marker to Wade Childs, who accompanied his owner as a body servant in Orr’s Rifles.  Andy Hall recently took this one apart, not that it takes much time and effort to uncover these cases of so-called black Confederate soldiers.  This one is an absolute mess.  There is no question that Childs was a slave, but not surprisingly there is no indication of this on the marker.  The only thing missing from this little ceremony is H.K. Edgerton prancing about in one of his Dixie Outfitters t-shirts.

I am sure the African-American community in Anderson County appreciates their hard work of acknowledging one of the many horrors of slavery. Wait, where is the black community? [note strong New Jersey sarcasm. :-)]

 

Union County, NC Commemorates Its Slaves…

only, you wouldn’t know that by reading the marker.

The 48-inch by 29-inch marker reads: “In Memory of Union County’s Confederate Pensioners of Color,” then lists their names: Wilson Ashcraft; Ned Byrd; Wary Clyburn; Wyatt Cunningham; George Cureton; Hamp Cuthbertson; Mose Fraser; Lewis McGill; Aaron Perry; and Jeff Sanders.

And it includes this wording: “In Honor Of Courage & Service By All African Americans During The War Between The States (1861-65).”

How embarrassing for the people of this community.  More here and here.