One of the things that jumps out at you when you look closely at the profile of the African Americans celebrated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans as “black Confederate soldiers” is that they were all body servants. The best examples include Aaron Perry, Weary Clyburn, and Silas Chandler.
They “followed” their masters to war
Identified closely with the Confederate cause
Rescued their master on the battlefield (dead or wounded) and brought body home
Were awarded pensions for their “service”
Remained life long friends with their former owners
I’ve suggested before that this narrative owes its popularity to its close connection to the mythology surrounding the loyal slave that took hold even before the war. What is interesting, however, is that body servants were not representative of how the Confederacy utilized slave labor during the war. In fact, we know that the number of slaves brought into the army with their masters as servants dropped by the middle of the war for a number of reasons.
No surprise that the recent post on Aaron Perry has led to a spirited discussion. I expressed concern that the ceremony that took place yesterday to honor this man would not do justice to his true status as a slave nor that the marker placed by the SCV would indicate this crucial piece of history. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from one reader who attended the ceremony that Perry’s slave status was mentioned more than once. [Of course, I prefer to read the addresses for myself.] And what about the marker that will inform visitors to the grave?
1840 – Mar. 14, 1930
Served In The Confederate Army
37TH NC Regt.
1861 – 1865
So let me ask: Do you think the average visitor will walk away with the impression that Perry was a soldier or a slave? And the lies continue.
While we are at it, what would you include on the marker to properly identify Perry? Keep in mind, the more letters, the more costly.
Thanks to Tom Vincent for passing this one along. I would love to know from those of you familiar with comic books/graphic novels if there are other examples of the loyal slave narrative. [A more recent example can be found here.] It would also be nice to know a bit about the author of this particular issue. The publication date places the black Confederate narrative a bit earlier than my recent post on the influence of the television series, Roots. From the Wikipedia entry for Gunhawks:
The Gunhawks were Kid Cassidy and Reno Jones. As introduced in Gunhawks #1 (1972), Cassidy was the son of a plantation-owning family in the antebellum American South, and Jones was an African-American slave of the family who was friends with Cassidy. They fought together for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War, with Jones fighting the Union because their soldiers had kidnapped his lover, Rachel Brown. After the war, they became wandering gunfighters, the Gunhawks, and continued searching for Rachel.
In a recent speech, Ed Ayers suggested that “the enemy of Civil War history is everything people think they know about the conflict.” We could just as easily point to what people don’t know as that enemy. I am not going to say anything new about this most recent case of a slave being honored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for his “service” to the Confederacy. You may even wonder why I bother to bring it up. I believe it matters that the descendants of a slave have been duped into believing that their ancestor somehow served as a soldier or was acknowledged in some official capacity within the army.
I have a copy of Aaron Perry’s pension and as it states in the article he was a slave. The jump from acknowledging Perry’s status as a slave to honoring him for his service in the Confederate army, however, suggests that some people have a very limited grasp of the institution. Let me break this down for you:
Perry was legally tied to his master’s family. He left home as the legal extension of the man who owned him. His master likely took Perry to many places in addition to the army during the period of his life in which he was property.
Only citizens of the Confederacy were eligible to volunteer or be drafted into the army.
At no point did Perry’s status as a slave change while with the army. He was there to serve his master and not the Confederate cause.
The extent of Perry’s movements while with the army were legally dictated by his master and not by military regulations.
Perry’s pension was given for his service as a slave and not as a soldier in the 37th NC. In fact, the unit is irrelevant.
As the military extension of a government that was pledged to protect the institution of slavery it seems to me that a more fitting ceremony for the SCV would include an apology rather than an honor that has absolutely no basis in history. After all, if the Confederate army had proven to be successful, Perry would still have been a slave.
It should come as no surprise that Representative Benton is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This past weekend an SCV camp in South Carolina honored a slave for his “service” to the Confederacy. Unfortunately, his personal history has no significance or meaning beyond the vague references that support the SCV’s narrow and self-serving slave narrative. Henry Craig,
went to war with his master.
rescued his master on the battlefield and brought him home safely.
remained on the family’s property until the day he died.