Some of you are, no doubt, familiar with the story out of North Carolina involving H.K. Edgerton and Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who refused to cite God in his oath of office. Apparently, the good state of North Carolina has a provision that outlaws atheists from public office. Please correct me if I have the details wrong. To be completely honest I don’t really care about the details. What I find hilarious is that H.K. and others have decided to make this an issue. Of course any provision along these lines violates the U.S. Constitution which explicitly rejects any religious test for public office. That seems reasonable enough to me. Anyway, I didn’t think much of it at the time until I came across this wonderful cartoon that appeared in one of the local newspapers in Asheville, North Carolina.
One of my FB friends invited me to join a group dedicated to black Confederates. There are just under 200 members. No surprise that just about all of them are white, including Rickey Pittman. There is nothing serious about the site. Essentially, it serves as a dumping ground for the same tired stories that populate the Web. To get a sense of how ridiculous this is consider the fact that they use an image of Jim Limber as their profile picture. One of the more aspects of the site is the attempt to define who constitutes a black Confederate. Check it out:
BLACK CONFEDERATE DEFINED: 1. Any Black person, slave or free, a subject of a seceded Southern state, who faithfully performed his/her duties during the existence of the Confederate States of America. There were 3.5 million blacks in 1860 census residing in Southern states so the number of Black Confederates numbers in millions, not thousands.
Black Confederate Definition 2: Post War 1865-1940. Blacks of any age and gender and including veterans who identified with and defended the Confederate Cause, its symbols and veterans.
Black Confederate Definition 3: Modern. Blacks of any age and gender who identify with and defend the Confederate Cause, its symbols and heroes; and who belong to the Confederate Community and/or consider themselves Confederate Southern Americans.
So, I guess the tens of thousands of free blacks and fugitive slaves who served in the U.S. Army betrayed a cause that they morally ought to have supported in some way. Notice also that the term has been completely watered down beyond any kind of presence with the Confederate army. I guess “faithfully performed his/her duties” simply means that they maintained their roles as slaves. As for Definition #2 I would love to know who they have in mind. Is there a Preferred Membership option for those who maintained their loyalty even as Jim Crow hardened race relations at the turn of the twentieth century? Finally, I guess they have the likes of H.K. Edgerton in mind for their Modern category.
There is something quite disturbing about a bunch of white people recruiting blacks to buttress their silly beliefs about the loyalty of tens of thousands of slaves.
One of my biggest complaints about the many stories about so-called “black Confederates” is that the authors in question have almost no interest in doing serious research. Most of the stories that you will find on the Internet are simply cut and pasted from one site to another. Essentially, these men are treated as a means to an end; they are used to reinforce assumptions that the authors themselves have a need to uphold. Such is the case of Bill Yopp, who is the subject of a recent essay by Clint Johnson. The story:
The aging veterans, in the Confederate Soldier’s Home, were proud men who had braved many a battle in the 1860s. One of these men was former Captain Thomas Yopp who saw such battles as that of Fredericksburg, VA, where a cannon shell burst knocked him unconscious. The man who stayed with him until he recovered was his servant who had also joined the 14th Georgia Regiment, Company H. Bill Yopp was more then a servant; he and Thomas Yopp were friends who hunted and fished together. Bill Yopp, a Black Confederate, was sympathetic to the men of Atlanta’s soldiers home who had been his compatriots in arms over fifty years earlier.
During the War Between the States, 1861-1865, Bill Yopp was nicknamed “Ten Cent Bill” because of the money he made shining shoes. He did this for the soldiers at a dime a shine and ended up with more money than most of his comrades. These men, also, cared for him when he was sick. During the Christmas of 1919, Bill wanted to pay back the kindness that was shown to him. He caught a train from Atlanta to Macon, where he was offered help from the editor of a local newspaper [The Macon Telegraph]. He then caught a train to Savannah to raise Christmas money for the old veterans. Bill met many generous people on his trip. Just weeks before the Christmas of 1919, he had raised the money and Georgia’s Governor Hugh Dorsey helped him distribute envelopes of three dollars to each veteran. That was a lot of money in those days. The old Confederates were speechless. Tears were shed because of Bill Yopp’s good heart and kind deed. Many of these men had little or nothing. Bill was invited to come into the home’s Chapel and say a few words. Bill Yopp was later presented a medal of appreciation for his support of the old soldiers and also voted in as a resident of the Confederate Soldier’s Home.
It’s unfortunate that Bill Yopp is irrelevant to this story. Think about it. We learn nothing about this man other than how he fits into those timeless tropes of loyalty and reconciliation. It seems obvious to me that Bill Yopp was owned by Thomas Yopp and yet Johnson continues to refer to him as a “servant” who “joined” the 14the Georgia. Well, that can easily be confirmed.
But beyond that there is so much that we don’t know about Bill Yopp. What did he do after the war? What was his economic situation before 1919? And while it is comforting to believe that Yopp “wanted to pay back the kindness” of former “comrades” we are obligated to ask for evidence. I am always struck by the ease with which writers like Johnson assume the motivation of former slaves during the Jim Crow Era. I am also curious about Governor Dorsey’s involvement in Yopp’s project. What was his motivation? It would be interesting to know how Yopp fits into Atlanta politics during the period following WWI. Perhaps the governor’s archival record might yield some answers. Finally, I am very interested in a more sophisticated analysis of Bill Yopp’s place in the Confederate Soldiers Home. We need to understand more about the culture and social structure of veterans homes and part of the problem is that we still need more research in this area. [I am looking forward to Rusty Williams’s forthcoming study, My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans (University of Kentucky Press, 2010). How common was it for former slaves in the Confederate army to gain admittance into these homes? Were they, in fact, treated as veterans? Did they have equal access to the available resources? The questions are numerous, but if we have any interest at all in better understanding these men than they must be addressed. Unfortunately, organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other writers have no interest in looking into these stories for fear that what they find will complicate and muddy their preferred interpretation.
Better to use the past to make us feel all warm and cozy during the Christmas season.
I‘ve been following this story out of Tennessee [and here] involving a local chapter of the UDC and SCV and their plans to honor 18 so-called black Confederates. I was actually contacted by the author of this article for my position on this issue, which you can read. The author does a pretty good job of presenting the various perspectives. There is always the danger that the reporter will take something out of context or simply fail to follow a line of argument. In this case the author, Skyler Swisher, does a pretty good job. The only thing I take issue with is having my view juxtaposed against Wood’s as two competing interpretations. Simply put, Wood and the UDC are doing poor history. There is really no interpretation to take issue with since it is fraught with basic factual and interpretive mistakes.
Update: Eric Jacabson reports that no service records can be found for the Tennessee men listed below. Can’t say that I am surprised.
Well, I guess if that simply means running stories from across the country without any concern as to whether the details of the stories are correct. Yes, Cathy Gordon Wood, president of Giles County Chapter #257, United Daughters of the Confederacy, plans on honoring eighteen so-called black Confederates, but does anyone associated with this publication have any interest in whether the details of the story have any merit? Just about every one of these stories that I’ve come across turns out to be bogus. I wrote about this particular black Confederate bonanza a few weeks ago.
On Nov. 8 service the UDC plans on holding a traditional military funeral for the following men? Ruffin Abernathy, 3rd Clark’s Tenn. Inf.; Maurice Adams Cleveland, Gen. John Adams’ staff; Tom Brown, Gen. John C. Brown’s staff; Fed Clack, Col. Calvin J. Clack’s staff; Daniel B. Coleman, Co. A, 6th Alabama Inf.; Jacob Coleman, Co. A, 11th Alabama Cav.; Mack Dabney, 3rd Clack’s; Whitlock Field, Col. Hume R. Field; Nathan Gordon, Co. E, 11th Tenn. Cav. and Co. A, 3rd Clack’s; Wash Harris, Cheatham’s Division; Southern Cross of Honor recipient Steve Jones, 1st Tenn., Wheeler’s Cav.; Richard Lester, Co. G, 3rd Clack’s; Robert Lester, Co. K, 8th Tenn. Inf.; And, Sam Maxwell and Neal Mitchell, units unknown; Giles Moore, 9th Alabama, Malone’s Cav.; Joseph Reynolds, unknown; and Matt Rivers, 11th Tenn. Inf.
I would love to know how many military service records we can find for these guys. Ms. Wood has apparently found pension records for some of these men, but as we all know such records fail to tell us much of anything as to their wartime status.