Click here for information on the Black Rose Ceremony
Today I received a letter for an essay contest sponsored by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy here in Charlottesville. I have to say that I got a kick out of it. The contest offers students in three different grade levels the opportunity to compete for a prize of $50. Students in grades 4-6 must write a 1,000 word essay on Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury; students in grades 7-9 will write about the life of Judah P. Benjamin; and high school students in grades 10-12 get to explore the important contributions of Stand Waite. Your guess is as good as mine as to why Stand Waite was chosen.
The guidelines are quite telling. My favorite is the following:
Use “War Between the States” rather than “Civil War” unless quoting directly from a source.
The UDC also offers the following observation concerning sources:
The internet plays such an important role in education today that books are no longer being used. Please encourage students to use at least one book as a source for their information.
Guess what ladies, you can actually find books on this thing called the internet.
[Image: Mrs. Homer S. (Jane) Durden III, President General, 2008–2010]
One of the most disturbing aspects of so called accounts of “black Confederates” is the almost complete absence of the voice of the individuals themselves. All too often these men are treated as a means to an end. Accounts all too often reduce complex questions of motivation to one of loyalty to master, army, and Confederate nation. Organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy [see here and here] now routinely publicize the discovery of what they believe to be black Confederate soldiers and in some cases even involve the descendants of these men, who almost always turn out to be slaves. What is so striking is the failure on their part to acknowledge their roles as slaves even in the face of overwhelming evidence. It is important that we see this as little more than the extension of the faithful slave narrative that found voice before the war and reached its height at the turn of the twentieth century. Apart from the ability to influence the general public through websites, blogs, and other social media formats there is really little that is new in the more recent drives to rewrite black Confederates into the past. The war, in the end, had little or nothing to do with slavery and slaves remained loyal throughout.
The extension of this faithful slave narrative in recent years can be clearly discerned in the case of Weary Clyburn. I’ve talked quite a bit about Clyburn over the past few years and in recent weeks. He seems to be the darling of heritage groups like the SCV as well as a favorite of curator Earl Ijames. Consider the recent SCV ceremony that acknowledged Clyburn for his loyal service to the Confederacy and resulted in a military marker. Sadly, this ceremony involved the descendants of Clyburn and gave them the false understanding that he had served in the army. Clyburn was, in fact, a slave; however, that little fact is never mentioned during the ceremony and it is rarely mentioned in most modern accounts. In the midst of all the flags, bagpipes, and praise by SCV speakers and Earl Ijames we learn absolutely nothing about Clyburn himself. What we, along with Clyburn’s descendants, learn is what falls within the boundaries of the faithful slave narrative that has been passed down from generation to generation.
Consider Clyburn’s obituary, which appeared in the Monore Journal on April 1, 1930 under the title, “Old Colored Man Is Buried in the Uniform of Gray.” He was given this “honor by reason of having been in the Confederate ranks and a life time of faithfulness to the men and their descendants who made up the Confederate armies.” The obituary is clear to point out the distinction between being “in” the Confederate ranks and serving as a soldier. Later in the notice the writer does note that Clyburn went to war to “cook for his master, Col. Frank Clyburn of the 12th South Carolina Regiment.” The story of Weary saving Frank on the battlefield is referenced, which fits perfectly in the overall emphasis on faithfulness.
Had Uncle Weary been a white man he would have been a Confederate hotspur. Being dark of skin and born a slave he could approach his ideal by being as near as the fighting white folks that he grew up among as his skin and lack of education would allow. All his life he was a white man’s darkey and his principle did not change when came back from the war. He went with his white folks and became a Democrat.
It’s a remarkable passage and tells us quite a bit about what white North Carolinians chose to remember about Clyburn’s life. At every point, beginning with a reference to “Uncle” is the man himself ignored. He was worth remembering because his actions could so easily be interpreted in a way that would not upset a well-established Jim Crow society by 1930 and at the same maintain their belief in loyal blacks both before, during and after the war. After the war Clyburn was best known for his participation in Confederate veteran reunions; however, he apparently was never acknowledged as a soldier. Rather, he played the fiddle at these events and around area hotels to bring in money.
The tragedy in all of this is that Weary Clyburn’s past did not have to be distorted for it to be recognized and honored. The point that needs to be made is that Clyburn is a hero. He survived the horrors and humiliation of slavery and war and even managed to make it through the height of the Jim Crow South. If that is not worthy of remembering and commemorating than I don’t know what is. Unfortunately, we may never be able to fill in the details of Clyburn’s life, which is itself part of the legacy of slavery and racism in this country. Sadly, Clyburn is still playing the fiddle for various groups and individuals who for one reason or another choose to distort the past.
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.
It looks like the local chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy in Pulaski, Tennessee have struck a gold mine of black Confederates. How many, you ask? Well, would you believe that 18 were discovered in one cemetery. This weekend they are planning a fundraising event in preparation for a marker dedication on November 8 at Maplewood Cemetery. As for the research that determined the status of these men we must turn to the educational forums at Dixie Outfitters. Scroll down for the letter by UDC Chapter President, Cathy Wood (though she claims not to be working on this project as a member of the UDC) for the following:
I found where there were 11 Black Confederate soldiers from Giles County that applied for a pension. I also found 5 that died before the pension was in place or just didn’t apply. Since then I have found 2 more that didn’t apply, making a total so far 18. I went to the archives and got the application for pension for the 11. Then I filled out the form for the markers and faxed them in. I faxed these late one afternoon and by 8:30 the next morning a lady from Nashville VA called and said that these men were NOT soldiers they were slaves. Well tell me how could they receive a pension? Now are you going to stand there and let someone shoot at you and not defend yourself or someome near you? I don’t think so. These men were defending their country and other soldiers. [my emphasis]
Don’t you just love Ms. Wood’s rhetorical questions? Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that successful pension applications did not imply status as a soldier in the ranks.
Ms. Wood concludes her letter with the following: “In my opinion VA is discriminating against the Black Confederate soldier. I know that there are Black Union markers in Maplewood Cemetery here in Pulaski.” The reason that Ms. Wood can know that there are black Union soldiers buried in the cemetery is because black Americans did serve as soldiers in the United States Army.