Tag Archives: camp servant

Camp Slaves Defend Their Honor at Fort Henry

This will likely be the last time that I ask for assistance in interpreting a primary source related to my black Confederates book before I complete revisions in the next week or two. This source was shared with me by historian Timothy Smith and centers on a very unusual scene that took place just before the fall of forts Henry and Donelson in early 1862. Continue reading

That White Boy Nathan Bedford Forrest Could Jump

One of the more difficult subjects in my Black Confederates book has been trying to understand why some African Americans identify with this myth. There are a range of perspectives from folks like H.K. Edgerton, Karen Cooper, and Nelson Winbush and they cannot be reduced to one simple interpretation. Continue reading

“A Soul Too White Ever To Have Killed A Man”

Confederate Veteran magazine is filled with stories of camp slaves, who in one way or another demonstrate their unconditional loyalty to their masters. This often takes the form of rescuing their master’s injured body during or after a battle or in the event of his death escorting the body home for proper burial. These stories follow a standard form and the vast majority of them are not worth sharing.

This one is, not because of the dramatic re-telling of the securing of the body, but because of the setting in which it was shared:

Gen. Bob Toomb’s Pleas For Jim: The story is told that a negro under the charge of murder was being tried in a Georgia court. Much testimony had been taken, and it seemed to be very serious for the defendant, whose plea was self-defense. An old man in the court room arose and, addressing the court and jury, said: ‘Please your honor and gentlemen of the jury, years ago my only brother fell wounded on the battlefield of Gettysburg. He lay there bleeding to death, with no one to help him. Shot and shell, the fierce, fiery stream of death were sweeping the earth about him. No friend dared go to him, no surgeon would approach him. The singing of bullets and the wild music of shells were his only requiem. My brother had a body servant, a negro man, who waited on him in camp. The negro saw his master’s danger, and straight out into that hell of battle and flame and death he went. A cannon shot tore the flesh from his breast; but on he went gathering my brother in his arms, the blood of the man mingled with the blood of his master, he bore him to safety and to life. Jim, open your collar.’ He did so, and the jury saw on his breast long, jagged scars where the shell had ripped its way. Continuing, General Toombs said: ‘Jim’s skin is black; he is a negro; but the man that would do what Jim did for my brother has a soul too white ever to have killed a man except in defense of his own life.’ Jim was cleared.

Confederate Veteran, Vol. XVII (September 1909): 476.

Henry Grady Recalls His Father’s Camp Slave

This has to be one of the more interesting postwar references to Confederate camp slaves that I have uncovered. Henry Grady was an Atlanta newspaper editor, but he was best known as a leading voice in the “New South” movement, which embraced industrial development through northern investment. The challenge for men like Grady was in reassuring white southerners in the period following Reconstruction that such changes would not threaten traditional values or upset what was a fragile racial hierarchy. Continue reading

Robert E. Lee and his Body Servant Sell Washing Machines

Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were used to sell a wide range of consumer goods at the turn of the twentieth century throughout the South and beyond. Interestingly, this G.E. advertisement appeared in the New York Tribune. Let’s hear it for the cultural reach of the Confederate body servant.

Camp Slaves in Print

Just finished writing about this wonderful print published by the New York engraver John Chester Buttre. Many of you are no doubt familiar with Prayer in “Stonewall” Jackson’s Camp (1866). Buttre essentially stole it from an earlier sketch done by Adalbert Johann Volck.

Buttre made a number of changes, including adding Confederate Generals Richard S. Ewell and A.P. Hill. He made it a point, however, to keep Jackson’s camp slave, Jim Lewis, in the scene. I have to believe that Buttre intentionally placed Hill in this disinterested pose given his relationship with Jackson.

The chromiolithograph featured in the headline above was published in London in 1871 and was based on Conrad Wise Chapman’s painting The Fifty-Ninth Virginia Infantry–Wise’s Brigade (1867).

I am on the hunt for other wartime and postwar engravings, lithographs, etc. that include camp slaves. Thanks for your help.