Tag Archives: 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

Hello University of Wisconsin

Update: I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that the class in question is being taught by Steve Kantrowitz. Professor Kantrowitz is the author of More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889, which was my pick as the best history book of 2012. The book is of particular interest to me given that it focuses on the black community here in Boston.

For the past few days a group of students from the University of Wisconsin has been scouring my posts on black Confederates.  I think it’s safe to say that collectively they have read every post on the subject.  I don’t know much at all about why they have been assigned my blog or what they are getting out of it beyond a few tweets from one of the students.  If I am not mistaken one of the students left a comment on an old post.

As an educator this makes my day.

Hey guys.  Please let me know if you have any questions about anything related to the relevant history, the public debate, and the role of the Internet in spreading this myth.  I am more than happy to talk with your class via Skype if interested.  As a historian, blogger, and educator I would love to know what you are getting out of this exercise.  Good luck.

Black Confederates At Appomattox

black confederates, appomattoxIt never fails that at some point during the Q&A following a talk about my Crater book an audience member brings up the subject of black Confederate soldiers.  Most of the time the issue is raised in complete innocence.  They heard about it from a fellow history enthusiast or, more likely, read about it online.  Last week it was the first question following my talk at the Virginia Festival of the Book.  I offered my standard response and after the talk I had a nice chat with the individual, who thanked me for clarifying the issue and for suggesting some books for further reading. Earlier that afternoon I had another conversation with a good friend who referenced accounts of black Confederate soldiers during the Appomattox Campaign.  Again, the subject was honestly raised and with a sincere interest in wanting clarification.  This is one of the more popular accounts that you will find online.  It is usually brought up to link the raising of black soldiers during the final weeks of the war in Richmond with the battlefield.  Continue reading

The Community of the Civil War Regiment

Lucy Nichols, slave

Lucy Nichols at a reunion of the 23rd Indiana, circa. 1890s

I had one of those moments this morning when reading the work of another historian opened my eyes to ways to deepen my own thinking about a particular subject.  Much of what I’ve written about in the first chapter of my black Confederates book explores the relationship between individual camp servants and their masters.  It offers a survey of the wide range of relationships and how they evolved owing to the exigencies of war.  The second chapter examines the presence of former camp servants at Confederate veterans reunions as well as the issuance of pensions by individual southern states to blacks for the vital roles they played during the war.  I’ve been struggling with how I can link these two chapters conceptually.  Despite claims to the contrary, individual relationships usually did not continue after the war along the lines of the loyal slave narrative.  That said, we do need to make sense of the presence of camp servants at these reunions. Continue reading