Weary Clyburn Redux

clyburn2_edited-1Dear Mr. Vanderburg,

Thanks for taking the time to read yesterday’s post and for your comments. As I stated in my response this is a subject that I’ve written and lectured on extensively over the past five years.  The popularity of the black Confederate narrative highlights both the extent to which history has become democratized and the increased use of the Internet as a research tool.  Many people first learn about this subject through the print and/or online newspaper, which offers a non-critical and often flawed account of the complex history involved.

This article out of North Carolina that appeared today offers another textbook example of what is wrong with the way this subject is often analyzed and presented to the public.  The story of Weary Clyburn is one I’ve been following for a couple of years.  He is arguably one of the most popular examples of a black Confederate soldier that never existed.  Maddie Rice is sincerely interested in the story of her father, but over the years she has been aided by heritage organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who have publicly distorted the history of Clyburn to serve their own needs.  Continue reading “Weary Clyburn Redux”

What Happens When Your USCT Unit Disbands

Black Civil War re-enactors join the ConfederacyToday Cleveland.com [associated with the Cleveland Plain Dealer] is running a textbook example of how the myth of the Black Confederate soldier is spread.  Start off with what appears to be an unusual story of two black individuals who play Confederate soldiers.  Treat them as authorities in the relevant history and fail to do any preparation as a reporter that might allow you to ask a few penetrating questions about historical literacy and you’ve got yourself a nice little human interest story.

From the article:

Estimates of their number, varying from several hundred to more than 10,000, are debated among Civil War historians.

Jones, 51, of Youngstown, noted, “If we can honor the black Union soldiers who fought, we can honor the black Confederate soldiers who fought.”

Jones said that famed black abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted in 1861: “There are at present moment many Colored Men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but real soldiers, having musket on their shoulders and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal [Union] troops.”

Jones utilizes the biographies of past black Confederate soldiers Holt Collier and John Wilson Buckner for first-person portrayals.  Collier was in the Battle of Shiloh, then served in a Texas cavalry unit. Buckner served with a South Carolina artillery unit and was wounded in the battle for Fort Wagner in 1863.

Given these few passages we can safely assume that their research involved little more than a scan of websites.

A Rebel War Clerk Denies the Existence of Black Confederates

The current Confederate heritage fetish with black Confederate soldiers and the confidence with which many assert the existence of these loyal and brave men in arms stands in sharp contrast with the fact that you are hard pressed to find anyone in Confederate ranks or on the home front who acknowledged the existence of these men during the war. How could it be that black men in arms escaped the attention of…well…everyone?  Again, I’ve not come across one piece of evidence during the height of the debate over the enlistment of slaves in the Confederate army that states that these men were already present.  Not one.  What you will find, on occasion, are outright denials that they exist at all.  Continue reading “A Rebel War Clerk Denies the Existence of Black Confederates”

The Social and Cultural Significance of Black Confederate Pensioners

confederate veteran, black confederateAs we all know one of the most misunderstood aspects of the debate surrounding the existence of black Confederate soldiers is the existence of pensions that were given by former Confederate states to qualified black citizens at various points during the postwar period.  For the uninformed or those working primarily from a narrow agenda the existence of these pensions is proof positive of the existence of black soldiers and the fantasy of a multiracial army.  The pensions have been used on numerous occasions by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other heritage types to justify new grave markers and other monuments to these men.  I am not interested in returning to this debate. My position is clear.

What I am interested in doing is posing a few questions about these pensions, which is the subject of chapter 3 in my manuscript on the history of camp servants and the myth of the black Confederate soldier.  My goal is to use the pension records and other sources to explore how white Southerners chose to remember the Civil War and specifically the role of camp servants at the turn of the century.  The questions posed clearly assume that the applicant was present as a non-combatant; in other words they are not classed as soldiers.  Regardless of the state the vast majority of black pensioners were servants and cooks.  What is even more revealing is that pension applications make no inquiry as to whether the individual in question was wounded on the battlefield.  This does not mean that such information never made it onto an application, but that it did not change the status of the applicant.  This is a crucial point given the emphasis that black Confederate advocates place on battlefield prowess.  Again, it apparently made no difference to how white Southerners viewed these men during the postwar period.  Continue reading “The Social and Cultural Significance of Black Confederate Pensioners”