Confederate Pensioners of Color Day

That’s a euphemism for slaves who were forced to work for the Confederate government during the war or who accompanied a master into the army.  Of the ten men who will be recognized today in Union County North Carolina, nine were slaves.  All received pensions after the war, but not for their service as soldiers.  The marker reads: “In Memory of Union County’s Confederate Pensioners of Color,” and lists their names: Wilson Ashcraft, Ned Byrd, Wary Clyburn, Wyatt Cunningham, George Cureton, Hamp Cuthbertson, Mose Fraser, Lewis McGill, Aaron Perry and Jeff Sanders.  I have the pensions for most of these men, including Clyburn’s whose file includes a letter confirming that his pension was not a recognition of service as a soldier – just in case there was any confusion.

It will be interesting to see whether event organizers, including speaker Earl Ijames, will mention that these men were indeed slaves.  It is nice to see that at least one newspaper includes a reference to these men as slaves.  That inconvenient fact is almost always ignored, but without it the history of these men makes absolutely no sense.

As I’ve said before, there is nothing wrong with remembering these men, but Confederate slaves ought to be recognized for surviving the Confederacy.

Should Byron Thomas Join the Sons of Confederate Veterans?

Byron Thomas made a name for himself not too long ago by hanging a Confederate flag in his dorm window at the University of South Carolina – Beaufort.  Since then he has utilized YouTube to promote his own vision of a post-racial society.  Some of it is worth watching and some of it is not.  Today Byron discusses the discovery of an ancestor, who he believes fought as a soldier in the Confederate army.

I really want to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans because Benjamin Thomas a Black Confederate just might be my ancestor and I want to honor him. Benjamin Thomas got a state pension from the state of South Carolina, so he definitely isn’t no make believe character. I really want to join, because I’ve been to some SCV meetings and I love what they stand for. They DON”T SUPPORT/STAND FOR any form of racism. They are no where near a racist group.I just want to honor my past ancestor that fought for the south, that’s all. America I want to join, but I’m not sure my family will like it, so can yall help me out!!! Kill People with Kindness and May God Bless America.

You get the sense that Byron hasn’t done much research at all on his ancestor.  The direct answer to his question is obviously, yes, he should honor his ancestor.  The only question that remains – assuming the relation is substantiated – is whether Benjamin Thomas will be honored for who and what he was during the Civil War.

Continue reading “Should Byron Thomas Join the Sons of Confederate Veterans?”

I Can’t Win

I have a fairly large file of emails that I’ve accumulated over the years from folks who interpret my writings as anti-South/Confederate or some other variation.  It’s a narrative that I’ve grown accustomed to and represents a clear misunderstanding of what I do.  More importantly, it reflects an oversimplified reading of the past, particularly when it comes to what I’ve written about Confederate camp servants and black Confederates.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I read the following comment from Mr. Ross Williams of Grand Rapids, Minnesota that was recently posted to a column I published on the relationship between John Christopher Winsmith and his camp servant, Spencer.  I did my best to interpret the available evidence, which comes down to Winsmith’s own letters as well as my understanding of the relevant secondary literature. As is the case with many of these stories I am left with more questions than answers.

After being accused for so long of being a “South hater” it is strange to suddenly be accused of being a slavery apologist.  Which reminds me, I haven’t heard a peep from my Southern heritage friends about this essay.

I really would like to know what they think of it.

‘The Best Servant By Far’

My latest column at The New York Times’s Disunion page is now available.  The essay briefly explores the relationship between John Christopher Winsmith and his body servant, Spencer.  The Winsmith letters are housed at the Museum of the Confederacy and offer an incredibly rich account of the war from a Confederate officer in the slaveholding class.  I still plan at some point to publish the letters and/or write a biography of Winsmith.

This is my third column for the Disunion page.  The first explored the challenges of using the Internet to do history and the second examined how I use battlefields to teach Civil War history.  Hope you enjoy it.