Jim Limber Kidnapped and Brought to Beauvoir

Statue026It looks like Gary Casteel’s statue of Jefferson Davis holding hands with his biological son and “adopted” son, Jim Limber, has found a new home at Beauvoir.  You may remember that this statue was commissioned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in hopes that it would be placed next to the Lincoln statue at the Tredegar Iron Works.  That deal fell through and left the organization scrambling for alternative sites.  At one point they even asked the state of Mississippi to accept it.

Since the SCV meant to “educate” the public about Jefferson Davis and race relations during the Civil War with this statue, it is hard not to see this new home as reflecting nothing less than a complete and utter public relations failure.  The reason the statue ended up here has nothing to do with political correctness or any other catch-phrase that is currently en vogue.  It has to do with the fact that the statue has little to do with solid history and has everything to do with the current SCV propaganda machine which would have the general public see the Confederacy as part of some sort of civil rights movement.  I’ve written quite a bit about this particular story over the past year if interested.

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97 comments… add one
  • Gregory G Newson Nov 16, 2020 @ 11:56

    This guy “Kevin M. Levin” is the worst he has used me Uncle Gregory as his whipping boy and slender the story about the black Confederates. He must be paid by the winners of the War to paint the South as crucifier of black people. He is hell bent on making southerns look like a bunch of heathens

    • Kevin Levin Nov 16, 2020 @ 12:00

      Nice to hear from you, Mr. Newson. Not sure why my name is in quotes, but than again nothing about this comment makes sense.

  • Elizabeth Del Grego May 22, 2017 @ 5:26

    Kevin Levin, your whole point of view is warped and hard to follow. What exactly is your problem?

    • Kevin Levin May 22, 2017 @ 5:46

      I am sorry to hear that you were unable to follow the post.

  • JosephineSouthern Sep 16, 2011 @ 5:03

    spin away you fool and hate monger! nobody cares about you anymore – you are toast. anytime anyone tries to show the love and affection between
    the Southern black and white people you spin your hatred. We in the South know better
    because I lived it.

    you accuse us of making up Limber story yet you spin your interpretation as though it is fact.
    you make me sick to my stomach.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 16, 2011 @ 5:11

      Hi Josephine,

      Nice to hear from you. You said: “nobody cares about you anymore.” I would argue that the number of comments I regularly receive suggests otherwise, including your own. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend.

      • Andy Hall Sep 16, 2011 @ 5:35

        Josephine clearly has a crush on you, and I’m jealous.

        She hardly ever stops by my place any more.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 16, 2011 @ 5:38

          Josephine and CC are my most devoted fans or perhaps cheerleaders. 🙂

          • Brooks Simpson Sep 16, 2011 @ 6:40

            For Josephine to comment on a post nearly two years old … that’s some crazy kind of “devotion.” Some of us would use a different term to characterize that obsession.

            • Kevin Levin Sep 16, 2011 @ 6:44

              Hey Simpson, watch what you say about my Josephine. That is the best kind of devotion when you take the trouble to comment on a post deep in the archives.

  • David Dec 16, 2010 @ 11:19

    Hi, I was wondering what, if any, literature there is on Davis’ relationship with his son, Joseph, and how he felt about his tragic death (since Joseph is the other child in the statue). It could be that Jefferson simply did not mention his children or his feelings for them much in his correspondence. So the lack of mention of Jim Limber would not necessarily mean that he did not care for the child or search for him. I understand the argument that the statue seems to send a message about Jefferson Davis and race relations in the South that is inaccurate, however, it is a historical fact that Jim and Joe were living with him at the same time and so the likelihood that he would have his arms around them like this is not so farfetched (even if he was separating them from arguing… that’s actually what it looks like to me in this statue since he is frowning and the kids don’t look that happy either). Both of the children’s stories are interesting sidelights to the Jefferson Davis story, and perhaps this is all the statue means to convey.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 16, 2010 @ 11:27

      Thanks for taking the time to write. Anything is possible, but the problem is that we have almost no evidence as to Limber’s status while with the Davis family. Based on what we do know it would be more accurate for Limber to be shown with Varina Davis since she was the one who brought him in. However, that raises the obvious question which is why the SCV wanted Limber shown with Davis to begin with. The intention behind this monument is about much more than simply remembering a specific relationship. I’ve addressed this in a number of posts on the Davis-Limber-SCV connection. Thanks again for the comment.

    • Andy Hall Dec 16, 2010 @ 12:42

      David, we can speculate a great deal about what sort of relationship Jim Limber had with the Davises, particularly Jefferson Davis. There’s plenty of room for it, because the historical record is mostly silent on that subject.

      But given the context of the times, it seems exceedingly unlikely that either of the Davises viewed Jim Limber in the way the SCV is explicitly claiming (through the statue) that he did — as an adopted son, co-equal with his own child. It was common enough for well-off Southern families, both in antebellum times and much later, to have black children as playmates for their own kids; though the black children in question were most often the children of slaves or servants, that was not always the case. The point is not that the Davises didn’t “care” for Jim Limber, or feel kindly and protective toward him; the point is that there’s no substantive evidence that he was thought of as a member of the immediate Davis family, as opposed to the larger household that encompassed other relatives and personal servants and slaves.

      As Kevin often reminds us, monuments and memorials often tell us more about the beliefs and perceptions of the people who build them than about the historic events they ostensibly commemorate. Recall that this statue was commissioned by the SCV explicitly to counter this one at Richmond, which the Southron Heritage folks found offensive. There response, predictably, was to drop a hundred grand on a statue of their president, with two kids, and one of ’em’s black! Take that, you politically-correct yankee libruls!

      • Kevin Levin Dec 16, 2010 @ 12:51

        How the hell do you remember individual comments that were left on old posts? That’s amazing.

  • Raphael Semmes Aug 21, 2010 @ 20:59

    You seem to be bothered by facts that don’t fit your stereotypes. Open your mind. History is not often Black and White, and the people who made it rarely one-dimensional.

    I don’t know many White families who would have adopted a Black child in the 1860s. But the Davis family did, and at a time when the “Great Emancipator” was perfectly content to allow slavery to continue in the North.

    Next time you chose to comment on US history, do us all a favor and try and rise above your strident prejudices. Your students deserve truth, not sophomoric polemics borne of regionalism and bias.

    • Bob Pollock Aug 22, 2010 @ 7:03

      Mr. Semmes…interesting name…are you related?

      If you have just discovered this blog, I would suggest you stick around. You just might learn something! But, then again, you would have to open your mind, and my guess is you wouldn’t know truth if it was staring you in the face. Your comment here added nothing to this discussion.

    • Andy Hall Aug 22, 2010 @ 8:06

      The term “adopted” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to the Davises and James Limber, but it has a very specific legal meaning, as well. Is there primary source documentation that Limber was actually adopted by the Davises, or are folks perhaps reading too much into his presence (along with other non-relatives) in the president’s extended household?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 22, 2010 @ 8:51

      I find it curious that you would compare Davis, who was a large slaveowner with Lincoln, who, despite his racial outlook managed to help bring about the end of slavery. I will second Bob’s point. Your comment adds nothing to the questions that I have raised about the Limber story as well as the attempt on the part of the SCV to use it to further their own agenda.

  • Adam Becker Mar 24, 2010 @ 18:03

    oh also is there any way to make the comments show up in threads again? That was really helpful when making sense of this big ol’ discussion. =D

    • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2010 @ 1:04

      Just hit the reply button and your comment will be threaded. Unfortunately, it looks like the comments in DISQUS will not change over as threaded in WordPress. Oh well.

      I agree with you that there is something strange about Limber’s silence after the wall. Of course, it could be for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with his experience. I tend to believe that Varina Davis brought him into the house out of concern for his well being. There is no evidence to the contrary and it strikes me as believable. How he perceived his time with the Davis family is absolutely essential to understanding his status within the family. Thanks for the comment.

  • Adam Becker Mar 24, 2010 @ 18:01

    I was thinking about how amazing it is that there seems to be no record of Jim Limber’s commentary on his life with the Davis family and I feel like there has to be a reason for that. Could it be that Jim had no memory of his time with them because he was too young? Also, maybe he didn’t want to talk about it because it was so bad? Maybe he didn’t feel any love or hate towards the family so he didn’t feel like he had to talk about it? Did the Davis family threaten him so he wouldn’t tell anyone about his time there?

    I just think there must be some reason for the complete lack of Jim’s perspective!

  • mallorymendelsohn Mar 17, 2010 @ 19:23

    Constructing a statue of Jefferson Davis, his biological son, and Jim Limber in order to place it in close proximity to a statue of Abraham Lincoln represents the Sons of Confederate Veteran’s endless attempt to equate the North and the South after 145 years of reconstruction. Personally, I don’t get it. I do understand that the SCV has the right to commemorate Jefferson Davis, but this statue suggests a fabricated version of who he was. The statue of Davis acts as an equivalent to the statue of Lincoln and is a clear emblem of the Confederacy, while Jim Limber counterbalances this idea of pro-confederacy with anti-slavery. It is actually quite ironic. The statue becomes a weapon that manipulates and romanticizes history. Allowing for a malleable past allows for a blurry present where people are trapped in trying to justify what happened 145 years ago. Everything the statue represents is archaic, and although the SCV might believe it is an important figure, it represents bitterness that should have subsided years ago.
    Although the memorial maintains a façade of support of civil rights and reconciliation with the union, I think the placement of the statue and the statue itself have two functions: to balance the North and the South, and to justify the South’s deeply rooted allegiance to the confederacy. It enables the SCV to conceal and bury their resentment in their purpose to equalize Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, and thus equalizing the North and the South.
    The SCV might argue that the statue is keeping history alive, but rather than keeping an objective account of history alive, the statue redefines history to create an image of reconciliation. This memorial is a tangible, permanent memory, and does not allow for a reconstructed history to be forgotten. While the statue is commemorating a Southern hero, it is commemorating something much bigger than that. Davis is a representation of the entire South.

  • kathrynlazell Mar 13, 2010 @ 23:09

    I think I'm coming to the defense of this statue because I'm comparing it to another monument… Not the one of Lincoln and his son Tad, but the Lincoln Emancipation Monument in Washington D.C.: http://dcmemorials.com/index_indiv0000222.htm . I see this as being more overtly unequal in terms of race than the Jim Limber statue…You make the point that those who do not have a deep understanding or knowledge of American history will not know how to correctly interpret the statue, and this certainly could be true, but I feel that it would be better for them to see the two boys as relative equals than for people to see this display in inequality between the Great Emancipator and the slave.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 14, 2010 @ 1:10

      Hi Kathy,

      I see where you are coming from. The only thing that I will say is that there was very strong black support for the Republican Party when that monument was dedicated and that had everything to do with the popular perception that Lincoln was responsible for liberation. It is interesting, however, how the meaning of these monuments change over time. Like I said, many African Americans had trouble with the image of Lincoln as emancipator during the civil rights movement because it implied black dependency on whites for basic rights. I don't really want to comment on which one is worse because I think that defeats the purpose of serious reflection concerning these sites.

      • margaretdblough Mar 14, 2010 @ 2:19

        Kevin, I've always wondered if that was the intent of the memorial or an unfortunate juxtaposition of images. The image of the freed slave looks very close to that of the famous Josiah Wedgewood Abolition Medallion (the one with the motto, “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” ) However, next to a standing white man, even if the white man is Abraham Lincoln, it does convey an image of black dependency, particularly to the modern eye, regardless of the intent of the sculptor. However, it shouldn't be forgotten that Frederick Douglass not only spoke but gave one of his most famous speeches which gave, IMHO, the most sensitive appreciations of Abraham Lincoln and his status among Americans who are black ever given.

      • kathrynlazell Mar 14, 2010 @ 20:22

        The real challenge is trying to create a statue that represents something both historically accurate and is common to all Americans. I don't know if it's possible. To some, Lincoln was the Great Emancipator. To others, he perpetuated black dependency and oppression. To others still, he hindered the establishment of states' rights. Is there anything that can apply to all Americans across time? Is there anything we can all agree on that represents the American mind as a whole? Or is there even a singular American mind? What is true to one person or group can be completely false to another, as evidenced by the Davis-Limber statue. Maybe the significance of these statues isn't entirely to spout propaganda but to cause us to respond to the statues and decide what our personal beliefs are. So in that respect, the statue is successful.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 14, 2010 @ 20:38

          You said: “The real challenge is trying to create a statue that represents something both historically accurate and is common to all Americans.” Sounds like a great discussion question for class.

          It seems to me that the Vietnam War Memorial in D.C. comes close in bridging some of these boundaries that your questions raise. It doesn't impose an interpretation of the war on visitors, but it does demand your attention and something more than an emotional response. I am always struck by the way your own reflection is visible on a wall of names. In that moment the past and present collapse. Great questions.

  • margaretdblough Mar 13, 2010 @ 20:41

    To Bob Pollock (there wasn't a reply button to your reply to my reply to your comment. . .<g>): I understand the point that you were making much better now. Thanks for the response. I find the whole Missouri situation fascinating, and Piston & Hatcher's “Wilson's Creek” is a must read both as an account of the battle and as an account of the complex situation in Missouri at the outset of the Civil War (Imagine writing a historical novel in which the failure of the German revolutions of the 1840s would impact the course of the US Civil War; people would reject what actually happened as too incredible.).

    • Kevin Levin Mar 13, 2010 @ 20:45

      Sorry Margaret, but you can only thread 5 comments deep.

      • margaretdblough Mar 14, 2010 @ 2:20

        I know. What I said was an explanation, not a complaint.

    • Bob_Pollock Mar 13, 2010 @ 21:23

      Dr. Piston was the head of my graduate committee at Missouri State. He is an oustanding scholar and I am pleased to call him a friend. I also worked at Wilson's Creek NB for a year while working on my MA. Piston and Hatcher's book is indeed outstanding, but I did critique it a bit for too easily dismissing the slavery issue as a cause of the war in my thesis. It was interesting to challenge the work of the person responsible for approving my study.

      • margaretdblough Mar 14, 2010 @ 2:31

        Small world and all that. I don't know him as well as you do, but I hope I can count Bill Piston as a friend as well, although I come into contact with him far less often than I'd like. I got to know him during the Longstreet Memorial Fund's (LMF) campaign to raise the money for the Longstreet statue at GNMP and have seen him at LMF and Longstreet Society events. His book, “Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant” was what got me interested in Longstreet in the first place, and I have a copy of his longer doctoral dissertation on Longstreet. I helped some in making the contacts for him to be our guide when the CompuServe Civil War forum toured Wilson's Creek a few years ago (we did Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove with Bill Shea on the same reunion. It was one of the ones I enjoyed the most). His address at the Longstreet statue dedication was amazing, but he didn't have it written down. A friend of mine transcribed it from PCN tapes of it, much to the relief of both the LMF and the NPS both of which were fielding many requests for a transcript by people who heard it on TV.

        We agree on a lot of things but we did once get into a rather intense discussion as to whether Lincoln intentionally unduly delayed in calling the 1861 special session of Congress (he said yes; I said no).

  • allydigiacinto Mar 13, 2010 @ 15:37

    Today there is much competition about ‘winning the peace’ of the Civil War. The widespread condemnation of this Jefferson Davis statue should show the Son of Confederate Veterans that its message is impractical and outdated. Had the statue been erected in the years closer to the end of the war perhaps it would have received more positive attention in the South. Nonetheless, the statue is an inaccurate portrayal of history and does not fit into our present national consciousness.

    The statue’s original intent was to be placed next to the statue of Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad. What if the SCV had proposed a statue that excluded Jim Limber, including only Jefferson’s biological son? The Lincoln and Tad statue was commissioned to commemorate the northern hero, and there is no reason why the south should not be allowed the same privilege. To portray Jefferson Davis as a preserver of the antebellum age would be appropriate; to present him as an abolitionist with ‘said adopted son’ Jim Limber is going too far. Do you think that, as a nation, we’ve reconciled ourselves with the war and no longer find it necessary to accept such overtly romanticized images of history?

    This statue is a perfect example of the South’s long political campaign to immortalize this sugarcoated identity. The SCV should be aware of the fact that public art is a manifestation of cultural identity and that monuments have different meanings based on the context of its placement. The fact that the SCV created a statue that does not fit into any present context regarding the Civil War should be a sign that their image of the south no longer possesses the same legitimacy it had in the years following the war.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 13, 2010 @ 15:41

      Without Jim Limber the statue would be unnecessary since there are at least two additional statues of Davis in the city of Richmond. My guess is that a new statue of Davis on public property would be impossible to pass the city council.

    • margaretdblough Mar 13, 2010 @ 17:03

      Actually, such a statue could have never been erected decades ago in Richmond, with its implication, no matter how contrary to history, that Limber was an equal member of the family, particularly in terms of interacting with the Davis daughters.

  • stephanie.perez Mar 12, 2010 @ 20:43

    In order to use history for the benefit of the Confederacy, the SCV employs the Davis statue in order to depict the version of history it wishes to portray. Here is where I agree with you, in stating that the SCV is a propaganda machine that wants the general public to see the Confederacy as pro-civil rights. Though Davis was a wealthy slave owner and the President of the Confederacy, the statue represents the SCV’s disregard of these facts in order to illuminate Davis in a light that is more acceptable today. If the Davis statue were not to represent this convoluted SCV view, and to symbolize the importance of family for instance, then why only show one son and an “adopted” son, Limber, who was only with the Davis family for a year? Why not show the whole family, wife included? This only further indicts the SCV’s purpose in commissioning the statue as a way to draw the portrait of history it so desires. Personally, the idea of a statue of Jefferson Davis is not threatening or an illogical request, however a falsified portrayal is where the line is crossed.
    Along with the question of the intention of the statue you spend a great deal of time talking about the placement of the statue. Although the placement of a statue is as important as its interpretation, the location of Casteel’s Jefferson Davis at Beauvoir is somewhat logical. Mississippi is the state in which Jefferson Davis was a U.S. senator for, and Beauvoir is the location of his home. The location can be vaguely justified; however, it does not justify the SCV’s actions in attempting to equate the Davis statue with the Lincoln Statue in Richmond. Lincoln’s statue represents facts, while the Davis statue is based on allegations. The placement, in this case, reins second class to its interpretation.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 21:04

      Hi Stephanie,

      I think fits in perfectly with the surrounding of Beauvoir. The SCV has done an excellent job of restoring the property since Hurricane Katrina. I think restoration of important sites and the maintenance of Civil War cemeteries is an important responsibility and I applaud the organization for their role in this.

      Keep in mind that the statue was offered to the state of Mississippi for display on the capitol grounds or some other public site. It was rejected, which raises an important point. Many Civil War monuments, especially those in the South, were erected at the height of the Jim Crow era. This view of the war with its emphasis on states rights and its downplaying of slavery benefited from white supremacy. In short, a certain view of the past was supported by the political profile of the South, which in turn reinforced the political structure well into the 1960s. It's no surprise that in a post-civil rights period that such as statue would be rejected. We are living in a time where multiple memories can compete openly given the political influence of specific minority groups.

  • Tim S Mar 12, 2010 @ 18:59

    The act of memorializing historical figures is a big part of our culture. I live in an area of New York State that is full of monuments and memorials dedicated to people and places that were important during the Revolutionary War. I feel more and more people don’t know and/or don’t care about the history of their own country and these memorials are great ways for people to learn.

    I understand that there are people in the South who still believe in the ideologies that the Confederacy fought for during the Civil War. I also understand that there are those who want to keep the memory of certain people alive in the South (General Lee, General Jackson, etc.) because they believe these men stood up and fought for what they believed in. But there is a right way and a wrong way to memorialize these figures and the SCV went about it the wrong way. I don’t think the Jefferson Davis statue had anything to do with keeping his memory alive. I think it had everything to do with the SCV sticking it to those who revere and idolize Lincoln. It is like they were saying, “You want to put up a statue of one of yours, then we will put up a statue of one of ours.” I think they did it more out of spite than anything else. I think the way they went about it does more of a disservice to Jefferson Davis. It cheapens the very memory of him that they, the SCV, are trying to keep and promote.

    As for the statue itself, I like the way Jefferson Davis was portrayed. I think it is a good idea to portray some of these historical figures in a way that seems more human. Most of the Civil War figures are portrayed as stern, rough leaders, as if that is all they were (politicians or military generals). Jefferson Davis was a husband and father, like so many other Americans and it is nice to see someone of his historical importance portrayed in this way.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 19:20


      Good points. You should go back and look for information on the dedication of the Lincoln-Tad statue. The SCV was there in force. There is no doubt that this was, in part, an attempt to take back a landscape that many in the SCV believed to have been soiled. It would be interesting to have Jefferson Davis comment on this statue. I have no doubt that he would fail to recognize himself in the overall message of the statue.

      I also appreciate statues that provide the public with more of a human side. The lack of a pedestal seems to be a pretty popular style in recent years. I am thinking of a new James Longstreet statue at Gettysburg as well as the exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia which features life-size statues of each participant. When done right it can be quite effective.

  • joebobfat Mar 12, 2010 @ 17:53

    The statue of Jefferson Davis and his “sons” is one of the most comical attempts by those who wish to dilute the past that I have been exposed to. Calling Jim Limber Davis’ son contradicts everything the South so vehemently defended; in example the Dred Scott Case which reaffirmed that slaves were property, not people nor citizens. Now if Davis could be the proud father of a piece of property, I can’t help but question if Mrs. Davis could give birth to a table or chair, to which the couple then would have given the name “Jeff Jr.”
    Now aside from my ranting, the pose in which Casteel chose to immortalize Davis in is slightly less than convincing with regards to the intended purpose. Davis stands as if to shield his son Joe from view, looking as if he is pulling the boy behind him. On his other side however, Davis appears to be pulling Jim forward into view. Please tell me if I’m the only one who thinks this, but I can almost hear Davis saying “See everyone, look! I have a black son! I even love him more than my white son. How could I be considered racist or the war anything but the North oppressing the rights of integrated families like my own?” It seems as if there was a great stretch of the imagination in designing a statue to illustrate the inclusion of a slave into the Davis’ home life. Why? Something much less mediocre could have been created, such as the Davis’ watching their two “sons” play together.
    The commissioning and construction of the statue was a valiant attempt on the part of the SCV’s part to bring a, unique, opinion into public view. A great many Americans are lazy, and would take the intended message for truth simply because it is in a tangible form. This is part of the past that people can see and touch, so why not believe it? However, looking at the statue objectively soon provokes a series of questions which with a minuscule amount of research can be answered. I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the SCV for pouring so much time and money into such an impotent tool of deceptive allusions.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 18:13

      Hey Joe,

      Let's be careful. Limber was not a slave.

      I think we can all agree that the SCV has simplified and even distorted a complex history concerning race relations during the Civil War. The problem as I see it with a number of comments from students in the class is that we could provide the same analysis to practically any public monument/statue. Let's face it these objects have a message that is shaped by the individual/community/institution that organized and almost always reflects the group that holds political power and has the necessary financial resources.

      Monuments and statues rarely attempt to capture the complexity that is our collective history. Most work to affect the visitor emotionally or impart a morally infused narrative. Should we be consistent and apply a similar analysis across the board or are we going to reserve this for the SCV? Just a thought.

  • Jesse Adler Mar 12, 2010 @ 17:15

    This statue is a crime against Civil War memorials; not only because of the statues historical inaccuracy, but also because of the way it insults all Civil War memorials. Civil War memorials are meant to remind people in today’s society of the sacrifices, tribulations, and victories obtained by both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. Many people nowadays don’t have significant education on the Civil War, so memorials are a form education for these people in a way. Memorials are meant to teach us what happened, who key people in the conflict were, and what they were like. However, this statue of Jefferson Davis has a completely different aim. This statue was made in order to serve an organizations desire to affect the public’s opinion on a vital character of the Civil War, and the confederacy’s goal as a whole.
    The historical information backing the statue is inadequate at best. Since there is little information regarding Jim Limber, and by little I mean almost none, it is irresponsible to make a statue that depicts Jim Limber as extremely close with Jefferson Davis. By commissioning this statue, the SCV has made clear that they didn’t make this statue to educate people about the Civil War, but only to warp people’s perception of the Civil War in their favor. The SCV obviously hopes to alter the perception of anyone who sees the statue to that of the fact that Jefferson Davis, and the confederacy as a whole, did not see black people as inferior. By having Jefferson Davis as being close with Jim limber, the SCV obviously hopes to influence young uneducated people who see the statue, and give them a completely different impression of the Civil War than is the truth.
    Memorials of the Civil War should be made for no other reason than to commemorate the sacrifices made, and the achievements gained during the American Civil War. It is atrocious that any organization would create monuments in order to falsely influence our youth, and this statue does just that.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 17:29

      Hi Jesse,

      Keep in mind that most monuments/statues are funded and placed “affect the public's opinion.” That's not unique to the SCV's Davis-Limber statue. I am willing to accept that the statue is historically accurate in the sense that Limber was a part of the Davis household. The problem, as I've pointed out in a number of other comments, is that the statue is meant to say much more. This has been pointed out in a number of your comments. In short, it is meant to distance slavery from the Confederate experience. It's part of a continuing morality play.

      You said: “Memorials of the Civil War should be made for no other reason than to commemorate the sacrifices made, and the achievements gained during the American Civil War. It is atrocious that any organization would create monuments in order to falsely influence our youth, and this statue does just that.”

      We remember and commemorate the past for a broad range of reasons that go beyond acknowledging the sacrifices made by our ancestors. Each generation decides what aspects of the past are worth remembering. Most monuments/statues are meant to influence the younger generation. Just walk down the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Are those sites any different?

  • rmeyer Mar 12, 2010 @ 16:25

    Civil War memories can be distorted for many reasons, but the statue created by Ron Casteel for the SCV to stand next to Freeh’s statue, Lincoln and his Son, Tad, represents a revisionist portrayal of life in the household of Jefferson Davis. In your blog post, “Jim Limber Kidnapped and Brought to Beauvoir” you made the point that the SCV’s statue was meant to educate; I agree that if its purpose was to educate then it is rewriting history to depict Confederate’s associations with race during the Civil War in a way that is contradictory to history of the time.
    Jim Limber, whose real name was James Henry Brooks, was a free, mixed race child who was living in the Confederate capitol of Richmond during the American Civil War. According to the Encyclopedia of Virginia, Varina Davis, the wife of the Confederate President, brought the child into the Davis household where he lived for just about a year. This hardly represents the “adoption” that is supposedly being represented by the statue. Moreover, in the diary of a confederate woman, Mary Boykin Chesnut, she wrote on February 16, 1864 that “she saw in the Confederate executive mansion ‘the little negro Mrs. Davis rescued yesterday from his brutal negro guardian. The child is an orphan. He was dressed up in little Joe’s clothes and happy as a lord.’” (http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Limber_Jim). For the year that Jim lived with the Davis family he was a constant playmate for the Davis children. In fact, many called Jim Limber by the term, “pet negro” suggesting that Varina Davis took in Jim Limber as a toy for their own child. If Jim Limber was really an adopted child for whom the family cared, they would never have given him up to Union general Rufus Saxon when Jefferson Davis was arrested and the family fled further south.
    However, the story of Jim Limber can be retold from a different perspective; one might suggest that the Davis family really cared for this young child, wanted to change his life so they took him in to be a member of their family. Such a portrayal suggests that revisionist’s historians think that the Civil War had nothing to do with the issue of slavery or race relations. Therefore, since this is not the case, to place the Casteel statue next to the Freeh statue would belittle the statue of Lincoln and his Son, Tad, and would depict history by its inaccurate portrayal of real events.
    This one statue deserves this much controversy because it is representing something that is factually inaccurate as developed by the SCV. What message is the SCV trying to portray except to rewrite history and the American understanding of race relationships of that time? Had it been just Davis with his child and wife, it might have been accepted to reside next to the Lincoln statue.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 16:45

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. It is interesting that the SCV chose to depict Jefferson Davis with Limber as opposed to his wife who you accurately note was the one who brought him in. That choice alone is worth analysis. The reference to him as a “pet Negro” is also important and may reveal something about the boy's place in the Davis family. Was he treated as one of their own? if not, what were the boundaries that functioned to distinguish Limber from the rest of the family? All of these are important questions in addition to Limber's perspective, which is unavailable. One of the questions I have is why did Limber apparently never write about his experience in the Davis home during the war? It would have made for an interesting story and my guess is that he would have been financially compensated for it. Of course, the lack of an account can be explained any number of ways, but its absence is interesting.

      I should point out that I have no reason to believe that Limber's time in the home was not a pleasant experience. That's not my concern. My concern is that the monument reflects much more than the Davis-Limber relationship, which has been pointed out by many of you in the class. Thanks again.

  • marielbazil Mar 12, 2010 @ 15:10

    It seems like the statute of Davis and his sons wish to depict Jefferson Davis as a non-racist, in support of racial integration, and in acceptance of blacks. The statute refutes and asserts that Davis was not a racist although part of leading racist states and in defense of the institution of slavery and maltreatment of blacks—he adopted a black child, evidence enough that he was not a racist. It also seems to seek to avoid and deny slavery on the part of Davis and reiterate the exhausted argument that the rebellion was not issued because of the sought destruction of the institution of slavery by the Union; it denies that slavery was central to the southern states’ rebellion and their cause for the war. As you suggested, the statute serves to demonstrate that the confederacy has become part of some sort of civil rights movement, ironically. As you (Kevin Levin) have suggested in your earlier posts on the interpretations of this statute, Davis never in the past acknowledged his relationship with Jim Limber. Davis sudden and recent acknowledgement of his adopted son presents SCV’s effort to meet present social demands of reconciliation over the issue of slavery and race after the Civil War; therefore, embracing nationalism.
    The statute of Davis and his black son is a manipulation of history. It serves to allow the general public to view the confederacy in a different light, a perspective presently socially acceptable in the larger portion of the nation (since the South is still fighting the war). You are right in saying that this statute of Jefferson Davis is not solid history. However, this is not just propaganda as you suggest. It is intentional propaganda from the part of SCV, which seeks to allow the general public to refute all negative commentary of Davis and the issue of race. Most importantly, this statute serves to meet present social demands of unity and nationhood embedded in the re-birth of the nation after the Civil War, which can allow Davis to be accepted by slavery abolitionists and blacks in the midst of reconciliation and union. In seeking reconciliation and unity it is inevitable that SCV will try to underpin the real racist and slave owning Davis, or the Confederacy for that matter, in order to seek acceptance of the Confederacy and Davis in the nation at large. The very purpose of history is to serve as a tool to create and prepare the present and the future, the statute of Davis and his sons is just one example of individuals using the past to meet present needs.
    Regardless of whether the statute of Davis with both his biological and adopted son may be an inaccurate portrayal of Davis in acceptance of blacks, which is always questionable being that he was the leader of the Confederacy and in support of slavery, comparing both statutes provides a critical, contradicting depiction of Lincoln. My point is, depicting Davis as a nonracist serves to meet present needs.
    Commemorating the Civil War with statuary worthy of nation recognition and support, Like the Jefferson Davis statute in question here, can result problematic and inaccurate or as you suggested sometimes fail to interpret solid history. Statutes of the Civil War serve to force the public to remember the causes of the Civil War as interpreted by the North and South respectively, but others may present inaccurate depictions, as best demonstrated by the statute in question here. The perhaps inaccurate depiction of Davis is necessary in order for the general public to accept Davis a part of a nation that desires to discount race as an issue. What best to achieve this then by depicting Davis as in favor of race relations.
    This is perhaps a tangent, but it is important. The statute of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber when compared to the “Freedmans Monument” in Lincoln Park portrays Davis as the great emancipator, not Lincoln. By just looking at and analyzing both statutes, one can see how Davis is being depicted as in favor of race relations, a nonracist, and in acceptance of blacks. Jefferson Davis appears content with his son and proud to have fathered him. Lincoln who holds the emancipation of proclamation at the “Freedmans Monument” appears a racist, assuming his superiority over the shackled slave, and in disgust of the slave kneeling in front of him. The statute does not portray Lincoln as content with freeing the slave. Lincoln, the great emancipator looks on assuming his power as the black slave kneels in a servile position making obvious his subordinate position and dependence on Lincoln for freedom. Lincoln’s posture reminds former slaves that they will remain slaves, metaphorically. Blacks will remain subordinate, powerless and Whites, as best portrayed by Lincoln in his statute will remain superior. Thus, reminding and reassuring the nation that racial equality is not supported and will never be achieved even after the liberation of black slaves. This statute projects Lincoln as contradicting his proposition that all men are created equal. In this statute he is advocating the opposite: not all men are created equal, all white men are created equal. Such a portrayal of emancipation is detrimental to blacks, but it is significant in challenging perceptions of Lincoln. Issuing such comparison proves that Lincoln was not as nice as we think and Jefferson was not a bad person. What do you have to say about making such comparison?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 15:32

      Hi Marie,

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment. I wish I was there in class with all of you. 😀 Let me take your last point first. You make some excellent points. That particular statue reflects a pervasive view of Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator”. Interestingly, many black Americans at the time it was dedicated would have identified with that particular strand of Civil War memory. Interestingly, during the civil rights movement there was a push away from that interpretation because it seemed to imply a more general dependence on white Americans for freedom and civil rights. The best example of this competing view is Lerome Bennett Jr.'s Ebony magazine piece that was eventually expanded and published as “Forced Into Glory”: http://www.amazon.com/Forced-into-Glory-Abraham… In recent years scholars have tended to challenge the traditional view of Lincoln by noting the actions that tens of thousands of slaves took during the war that helped to steer first the Union army and then the federal government/Lincoln down the road to emancipation. In this view Lincoln was more a reactor than actor in this drama.

      I agree with much of the rest of what you have to say though I'm not sure I understand your distinction between “propaganda” and “intentional propaganda”. As I understand it the SCV has inherited a Lost Cause view of the war that has traditionally worked to dismiss the role of slavery in the Confederate cause. In recent years the SCV has made an effort to reshape its public image, in large part, because the racial and cultural identity of the South has changed so dramatically. This is in part about public relations. One of the more popular approaches by the SCV has been to suggest and even acknowledge so-called “black Confederates” who fought in Confederate ranks. it would be interesting to have a membership profile of the organization. Will the organization continue to be viable in the coming years? Thanks again.

      • marielbazil Mar 22, 2010 @ 12:22

        Hi Kevin Levin,

        Thank you for your quick response, and I apologize for my delayed response. To clarify, there is no distinction between propaganda and intentional propaganda. The monument in question here is propaganda to help the image of Davis. Pointing out that it was intentional, although all propaganda is intentional, is to reiterate that Davis monument is not just a nice picture of Jefferson Davis the father, but the monument has other more important underlying messages, as already discussed in your blog on this matter.

        On another note, I definitely agree with you in that Lincoln was a reactor and not an actor. The way I understand it, emancipation was forced on Lincoln and came along forcefully as a consequence of the amount of continuous deaths the Union armies experienced especially at the start of the Civil War, where the Confederate armies were winning most of the battles. Lincoln and the Union needed Blacks and Black slaves to fight in the Union army. Black soldiers filled in the vacant slots of the rapidly dying Union forces. Because of the need of black soldiers, emancipation was inevitable.

        It would have been unfair of Lincoln to keep blacks enslaved and deny them civil liberties after witnessing how captured blacks and enlisted blacks fought for the preservation of the Union. It would have endangered his reputation among blacks and abroad. Emancipation was a necessary effort to attract black soldiers and almost an obligation of Lincoln in order to repay blacks for parting with him and his armies to preserve the Union. Emancipation was like blacks compensation for fighting the war. It was a result of a black population willing to fight to preserve a Union, even after the fact that before and during the war the North accepted slavery as an institution and Lincoln himself was in support of the subordination of blacks.

        Very much like Frederick Douglas perceives it other blacks perceive and commemorate the Civil War as a war fought for the freedom of a black population. The North fought to preserve the Union (New Union) and federal government, while the South fought for states rights—at least is the common interpretation of the war (of course this could be challenged and deemed false). In my opinion, black soldiers fought simply for emancipation and the preservation of the new Union, where slavery was held immoral and unconstitutional. However, the opinion of black soldiers is hardly accounted for and their reasons for parting with Union armies are scarcely, if ever, discussed. The North and the South has with much effort tried to divorce slavery from the causes of the war and disregard race as an issue during and after the war. This is partly due to the idea of unity and nationhood, which can be injured if slavery and race is taken into account and discussed.

  • kathrynlazell Mar 12, 2010 @ 5:15

    Just to play Devil’s Advocate for a minute, I suppose it’s better that the people of Beauvoir use the statue to show Davis treating his “sons” equally regardless of race rather than promote the subordination of the black race. It might not be an accurate historical account, but it’s certainly not surprising that history is being reworked to fit the needs of today. Better that the statue represent a more equal view of race relations than promote white supremacy and glorify the subordination of the African American population. I don’t mean to undermine the great importance of history, especially accurate representations of history, but there are so many inaccuracies in statues, in history books, and in the American memory in general that it seems almost petty to point out this specific statue as being more offensive than the other inaccuracies in our portrayal of the past. But then again, what is truthful history? Undoubtedly there are some versions of history that are just plain wrong, but there are also many different versions of the truth. The same event can be experienced in entirely different ways by groups of people—case in point, the Civil War. But that doesn’t make one version of history more right than the other. It just makes it different, and this statue absolutely acknowledges a different point of view than is held in the North. We recognize that people manipulate historical events to fit the needs of the time—and maybe what Beauvoir needs is a picture of equal race relations. So the statue itself may not be incorrect—rather, the explanation of it is incorrect, if indeed the relations between Davis and Jim Limber were minimal.
    I agree that this is (most likely) an extremely inaccurate attempt to show equality in race relations during the time of the Civil War. In a perfect world, we’d all be taught the “correct” version of history and there wouldn’t be these discrepancies. But sadly we live in a world where memory can be manipulated and stretched and fabricated and as a result we must live with inaccurate statues. C’est la vie.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 10:57


      Excellent points, but I wonder whether this really does reflect racial equality as you suggest. No doubt I am making a stretch here, but it is interesting that Davis is being depicted with a black child at a time when slaves were considered children by many and in the pro-slavery literature. I tend to see this as another example of the narrative of paternalism that pervaded pro-slavery ideology. The argument suggests that whites took care of slaves as part of their own family. Limber may have been free, but notice that the story implies that difficulties abound outside of the care of whites.

  • mike_pan Mar 12, 2010 @ 4:34

    What do we care if the SCV places a statue of their “hero” on a piece of land they themselves own? Who are we to take away their constitutional right of free speech? You may not like the fact that they portray Davis in an innocent and “slave loving” manner, but that is not for us to decide. When the Civil War broke out, soldiers fought with the Confederates if they were from the South, and the Union if they lived in the North. There was not a real choice in who you fought for, and truth be told the founding fathers would have most likely sided with the South due to their southern roots. Also, the war was not originally fought about slaves, but Lincoln used slavery as a reason for why all these Union soldiers were fighting. States vs. Federal rights was not important enough in the eyes of the home front for 600,000 men to die, so slavery became the excuse. If the SCV wants to build a statue of U.S. Grant with his slaves, which, remember, he did have at one point, then they could do it. Under the constitution, they have the right to free speech and free expression. If your neighbor flies a Confederate flag in his front yard and has a Dixie doorbell, then that is his right. We cannot call something a propaganda stunt here in the 21st century regarding the Civil War. All I’m saying is that if they pay for it, and they own the land they are putting it on, then they have every right to do so. It is not taxpayer’s money and it is not on public land. One of the stipulations of the sale of Beauvoir to the SCV was that it acts as a memorial to Jefferson Davis, so what is wrong with the statue? It is not offensive in any way, and if we believe in the 1st amendment, then they have the right to do put up a statue of someone they respect.
    The facts of the matter are that the statue was paid for by the SCV and put on their land. Yes, the original plan of placement fell through, but statues are not always placed in the desired location. Back home, in Providence, a statue of a WWI memorial was moved to a different location after it was already built and had been there for 50 years. Until recently, while researching the history of this monument, I couldn’t tell you what it was, who was on it, or what writing was displayed. All I knew was it was a large tower with something on top commemorating WWI. The point I am making is that the memory of certain “unimportant” memorials or monuments is soon forgotten or just disregarded all together. This statue is relatively small in scale and in a location that does not receive as much traffic as the memorials in D.C. The majority of the people who are going to visit the house and the statue are going to be people who already favor the Confederacy and who already praise Davis as a hero. The people who you claim they are attempting to attract are those who are uneducated, and that they want to sway those folks towards their side by suggesting Davis was a nice guy. Davis was fighting the war for states’ rights, and knew slavery was something that would not last. He even stated in a speech to congress that slavery would disappear in a generation or two. After the war was done, and Davis was no longer in such high political office, he and his wife rescued a black boy who was being beaten by his black guardian. The fact is that he did have a black boy he took care of, which shows he really was a generous soul. John Coski wrote a piece on Limber and notes that Davis’ wife said Limber was “happy as a lord.” If he was treated as a son, why is it so bad that the SVC wants to show a good, unknown side of Davis? Just because some people view Davis as a sign of the Confederacy, which died 150 years ago, doesn’t mean that everyone has to hate him. We are all entitled to our own opinions. I am not a supporter of the Confederacy or slavery, I am just someone who thinks that this is being made into a bigger deal than it needs to be, and am offering my honest and humble opinion, to which I am also entitled.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 11:07

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. First, I don't think anyone is suggesting that the SCV's right to free speech should be suspended. The decision on the part of the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar to accept the statue on certain conditions was normal procedure and in no way violated the organization's First Amendment rights.

      You said: “When the Civil War broke out, soldiers fought with the Confederates if they were from the South, and the Union if they lived in the North. There was not a real choice in who you fought for, and truth be told the founding fathers would have most likely sided with the South due to their southern roots.”

      That is simply not true. Allegiances of white southerners were much more complex than what you've stated and I urge you to read further.

      You said: “Also, the war was not originally fought about slaves, but Lincoln used slavery as a reason for why all these Union soldiers were fighting. States vs. Federal rights was not important enough in the eyes of the home front for 600,000 men to die, so slavery became the excuse.”

      You are correct that Lincoln steered clear of the issue of slavery at the beginning of the war, but again I would urge you to read further since the evolution of the war to one that included the abolition of slavery was much more complex than what you indicate. The movement of armies into the Confederacy and the initiative of the slaves themselves to move into Union lines along with political shifts helped to steer the war by the summer of 1862. Start with David Donald's excellent biography of Lincoln.

      Again, I am not arguing that the SCV does not have the right to place a statue of Davis on ground that they own. It's a moot point.

      Finally, I would urge you not to use Coski's article to support this statue. He did not write that piece for that purpose. Yes, Jim Limber did stay with the Davis's for a brief period of time, but we know very little about the relationship and we know nothing about how Limber himself viewed things. Recent scholarly biographies of both Jefferson and Varina Davis say very little about this. It is interesting that the statue speaks for Limber. I find that troubling. The operative question is why a statue of Davis holding hands with Limber at all. You have not addressed what I think is the central question. To say that it represents what happened is to miss the point of public monuments/statues. I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts.

    • margaretdblough Mar 12, 2010 @ 11:32

      You totally misunderstand the First Amendment. The same First Amendment that protects the SCV's right to erect that statue without government interference also protects Kevin's right to criticize them for doing it. The core value of the First Amendment is contending views making their case in the free marketplace of ideas.

  • Jdillon Mar 12, 2010 @ 4:20

    The first thing I would like to point out is that the term “statue” is defined as a life size or larger replication of a person or animal, where a “monument” is defined as a statue of someone or thing that acts as a commemorative marker, thus implying that this marker will stay in one place. It seems as though your argument here is over the placement of the statue and the fact that it has been moved. The first point that I would like to make here is, so what? Some of the most amazing displays move around the globe, educating people everywhere that may not have had the chance to view or learn about it otherwise. For example, famous exhibits such as the remains from the Titanic or “Bodies.” The point being, I do not actually see the placement of this statue as much of an issue so long as the message behind it is portrayed in the same way no matter of its location.

    Secondly, in the publishing of the June 4, 1907 edition of the New York Times, they quote General Clement A. Evans, the orator of the unavailing of a different statue of Jefferson Davis, stating, “He [Davis] is entitled to the generous American judgment of the present sober age, which will be rendered on consideration of the facts of his whole career. History will surely give him an honorable and distinguished place among the noble characters of past times.” The reason this is relevant is that in his short speech, he doesn’t mention anything about the location of this statue, but rather the memory of Davis and his accomplishments. All in all, the question that one has to ask, is when one is memorializing a person, is the location of that person important, or is it the message behind the man?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 11:18

      Excellent points. First, I want to make it clear that I do not advocate the destruction or movement of monuments and statues. In this case it was the SCV that decided to relocate after hearing the conditions under which the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar would accept the statue. The SCV was under the impression that it would be placed on the grounds near the Lincoln-Tad statue. What they did not understand is that the museum would have the right to display it in any way it chose, including the use of a panel that would place the statue in historic context. The SCV balked at this, which is why it is at Beauvoir. The state of Mississippi also rejected it for placement on capital grounds.

      I think both location and message are important. Do you think it would be appropriate to place a statue of Jefferson Davis in a predominantly black neighborhood regardless of its message? You've raised some interesting questions.

  • Adam Becker Mar 12, 2010 @ 2:49

    It is truly amazing what the Sons of Confederate Veterans get away with. I’m sure that you’ve read the SCV’s “education” materials but for those people who might read this that have not, it is really an eye-opening look into the ways that they try to misdirect the public by taking advantage of usable history. I wrote a paper about these fact-sheets recently so when I saw that the SCV commissioned the statue; they immediately popped into my head.

    The fact sheet that they have about black people and the Civil War attempts to give anecdotes where the Confederate cause was supported by blacks at the time and also challenges the popular idea of Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator.” Many of these “facts” should be considered only partly true. One such piece of information on the sheet says that “Slavery continued throughout the entire war in five Union-held states: DE, MD, WV, KY and MO.” I would love to hear whether or not you believe that these boarder states should be considered “Union-held” but it seems to me that it is a bit of a stretch to call them by that term. There are many other, mostly anecdotal, references to African Americans and Hispanics who helped the South during the war. These fact-sheets, which purposely focus on the many “great” things that the Confederacy did for African Americans and Hispanics and the ways that those groups helped the Confederate cause show that the SCV is trying to be more politically correct and are trying to reshape the image of the South during the war.

    I was reading some of your older articles on the subject of the Jefferson Davis/Jim Limber statue and I completely agree with your argument that this is a thinly veiled piece of propaganda to try and spin a cute story of a southern man’s relationship with one black boy into a picture of Jefferson Davis as a pioneer of race relations. It is also being used as a tool to distance the issue of slavery from the motives of the South during the war. It seems as though the Jim Limber story is mostly based in hard facts and it is definitely a heart-warming anecdote from Davis’ life but one act of charity for one mulatto boy does not a tolerant person make. As much as the SCV and others will try to move the slavery and race questions as far out of the eyes of those who study the Civil War, it is virtually impossible to separate them from the South’s reasons for fighting after being even a little bit educated on the subject.

    My issue with this statue is, I think, the same as yours. People who study the war and know the facts are not the people who are going to be adversely affected by what the statue is trying to present. They can see it for what it really is. What is worrisome about the statue is the fact that it will let people who want to believe that Davis was a humanitarian when it came to blacks literally have concrete evidence that he was willing to care for a mulatto boy in the same way he did his own son. It will also affect the people who have no bias one way or another: how can someone not smile and think good thoughts when they see a man with his sons? I am also worried by how much liberty the SCV is able to take with their public outreach. The statue and what it is supposed to represent is nothing more than propaganda that twists up the truth with lies to create their own picture of the person that Jefferson Davis was and it also is proof of their efforts to create their own history that will further their goals.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 11:27

      Hi Adam,

      The only state that could be argued to have been “Union held” was Maryland and that can be questioned as well. The SCV has made a conscious effort to present the Confederacy as ethnically diverse and, no doubt, sections of it were. The attempt to control/shape public perceptions of the Confederacy and antebellum South go back at least to the work of Mildred Rutherford of the UDC: http://cwmemory.com/2009/01/15/long-legged-yank

      The statue raises more questions for me than answers. As I've already stated we know nothing about what Jim Limber thought of all of this. As you know he was separated from the family at the end of the war and apparently made no attempt to reunite with them after the war. As you well know race relations were very complex throughout the South and the rest of the country. I am very interested in how representative this story is at the time and even before the war. Are there other examples of white families taking in black children? Perhaps this is another example of how war alters those relationships, but perhaps this was not so uncommon in other urban areas.

      • Bob_Pollock Mar 12, 2010 @ 16:59

        Kevin and Adam,
        I think you need to define “Union held.” Do you mean these states were kept in the Union against their will or just that they stayed under Union control because the majority of their citizens were against secession? I won't speak for the other border states, but in the case of Missouri, it would be the latter. Simply taken on its face, the statement that these border states retained the institution of slavery throughout the war would be true, but as always it was more complicated than that. We all know that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not cover the border states, for reasons, Kevin, I'm sure you are aware of. However, early on, Lincoln tried to negotiate compensated emancipation with the border states. It was obvious to some like Grant from the very beginning of the rebellion that slavery would be a casualty of the war, and it only became increasingly apparent as the war progressed, despite the fact that the original reason the North went to war was to suppress secession.
        My point is that to simply state that the border states retained slavery throughout the war as some kind of proof that the war was not about slavery is to not tell the whole story.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 17:09


          I meant against their will, but in the case of MO that was clearly not the case and I suspect that MD would not have voted itself out of the Union. As I mentioned in my comment the question of why the federal government went against slavery more aggressively by the summer of 1862 is indeed complex.

        • margaretdblough Mar 13, 2010 @ 2:38

          When the Maryland legislature met in May 1861 it refused to even consider secession, the majority taking the position that they did not have the power to secede. Maryland made a futile effort to stay “neutral” which given the fact that it controlled the remaining access to DC after Virginia joined the rebellion never had any chance of being tolerated by the US government like Kentucky's was. The Maryland Constitution was amended in 1864 to abolish slavery and was narrowly approved by the citizens. A lot depended on which part of the state was being considered. Slavery was an East Shore/Baltimore concentration. Lee clearly hoped that Marylanders would flock to the Confederate banner when he entered the state in 1862 but he picked the wrong end of the state for that.

        • Adam Becker Mar 13, 2010 @ 5:54

          My point about whether or not they were “union-held” was just to clarify the SCV's assertion that it was the Union that kept slavery in those states. If I'm not mistaken I think you would agree that these states were not controlled by the Union so tying the fact that slavery existed in the border states is just another example of the SCV twisting facts and making them fit their agenda.

          The problem with the whole slavery question in terms of it being a cause of the war or not is that people don't realize that just because a result of the war was the abolition of slavery does not mean that it was the reason for starting the war in the first place (especially since the facts show that Lincoln was completely willing to leave slavery alone as long as he could save the union). Because of the way that memories of the war have been distorted through the generations by historians, novelists, politicians and groups like the SCV, the sequence of events and causes that people in the present consider to be true can be completely different from what actually happened.

          • Bob_Pollock Mar 13, 2010 @ 16:02

            Actually, the SCV's assertion that the border states were controlled by the Union is correct. Although guerilla warfare raged in Missouri, particularly in the more rural west, the state was always under Union control. As you acknowledge, Lincoln repeatedly said that his paramount goal was saving the Union, not freeing slaves. He drew a line in the sand when it came to allowing slavery in new territories, but he did not believe he had the Constitutional authority to abolish slavery where it already existed. There were many slave-holding Unionists, particularly in the border states and Lincoln did not want to lose their support early in the war. In Missouri the legally elected pro-secession governor, Claiborne Jackson was driven from the state capitol by federal forces and a provisional governor was appointed. The new governor, Hamilton Gamble , was a slave-holder also, but he was dedicated to the Union. When John Fremont, the Union military commander, issued an emancipation proclamation in Missouri, Gamble denounced it and Lincoln rescinded it, then removed Fremont. As I said before, Lincoln tried negotiating compensated emancipation in Missouri, but was rebuffed by slave-holders. As the war progressed, however, support for slavery diminished, slaves ran away and many joined the Union army. It was well understood Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, though officially only covering areas in rebellion, would inevitably lead to the complete abolition of slavery. Gamble died in office in 1864 and his successor issued an executive order abolishing slavery in January 1865. Btw, after being driven from the capital, Governor Jackson and his supporters covened a rump legislature which voted to secede and the Confederate govt recognized Missouri as a Confederate state. However, this Missouri State Confederate govt was in exile throughout the war and therefore had no actual control over what happened in Missouri.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 13, 2010 @ 16:32

              In contrast with Maryland where secessionists lost in the one convention vote 89 – 1.

            • Bob_Pollock Mar 13, 2010 @ 17:00

              The thread is too far over to reply to you re: Maryland compared to Missouri, so I'm doing it this way. Anyway, a convention was convened in Missouri on February 28, 1861 and voted 98-1 to stay in the Union. This wiki entry gives a succinct rundown of the various conventions held between 1861-1863:


              • Kevin Levin Mar 13, 2010 @ 17:12

                Thanks Bob. I am aware of MO's vote, but unfortunately I rushed the comment and didn't make my point sufficiently clear. Now I can't remember what point I was trying to make. Oh well. Thanks for providing the link.

            • margaretdblough Mar 13, 2010 @ 17:21

              Claiborne Jackson was been legally elected Governor of Missouri but he was also continuously plotting with the Confederate government to drag Missouri into the Confederacy even in defiance of the Missouri legislators' vote against it. Furthermore, he abused his powers as governor (and as governor he had sworn an oath to uphold the US Constitution) to call the pro-secessionist Missouri State Guard and pro-secessionist militia units to St. Louis for 6 days of “training”. He also appointed pro-secessionists to command them. His target was to have the Guard and militia seize the massive St. Louis Arsenal and turn the arms over to the Confederacy. He had already smuggled arms in from the Confederacy for the task. Union General Nathaniel Lyons beat him to the punch and captured the Guard before the Guard could capture the armory. It was the pro-Union Missouri State Convention, not federal forces, who declared the office of Governor vacant and appointed Gamble. His rump session that voted secession did not have a quorum of legally elected members of the Missouri legislature which didn't stop the Confederacy from recognizing it (so much for the will of the people.) Given the flagrancy and extent of his pro-Confederate activities while still under oath to defend the US Constitution, it was probably just as well for Jackson that he died well before the war ended.

            • Bob_Pollock Mar 13, 2010 @ 18:18

              I agree with your assertions here, just trying not to make my comment too long. I did not say federal forces appointed Gamble, only that they drove Jackson from Jefferson City and that then Gamble was appointed. You are, of course, correct that it was the Convention that appointed Gamble. The main point I was trying to make to Adam was that the border states were under Union control during the war and Lincoln and the federal govt upheld slaveholders' right to own slaves in those states throughout the war. Nevertheless, this in no way supports the idea that the war was not about slavery. It only means history is complex.

  • Victoria Y. Mar 12, 2010 @ 1:39

    Is the only reason we have the past, to justify our present? Although this might not be the only reason, in this case the SCV seems to believe so. With such a small part of Jefferson Davis’s life, they have attempted to “educate” people on his feelings about the “inferior race.” In effect, according to historian David Blight, they have given meaning to the Lost Cause through memorializing; using the past to meet their present needs. But isn’t this idea of “educating” the public the intent of every monument? Perhaps statues are created to not just commemorate a piece of history but to defend it as well. The statue of Davis and Limber might not represent the true feelings Davis had towards slaves, but can one say that this is straight out propaganda? Memory is such that it allows for many different perspectives and accounts of what really happened, there is no “one” history. For all we know, every statue could be some sort of plot to carry out an agenda. Even if the statue is promoting an agenda through misinformation, would visitors to the statue see it that way? Many might see this statue as the only insight into Jefferson’s personal life. Maybe Jefferson was respectful of slaves…highly unlikely due to lack of information known on Limber, but some may see it as such. If the SCV wanted people to learn about the “real” history of the South’s view of slavery or at least Jefferson’s, would they only be able to do that through using propaganda?
    If it is in fact propaganda, might the SCV have bigger problems at hand such as preserving their own cause and what they stand for? In agreement with Blight, the SCV is fighting an ideological war with competing pasts about the memory of the Civil War and how it should be portrayed. Without use of good persuasion and even propaganda, their memories of the Lost Cause and what the South really stood for might be lost forever. This brings into the question of how much of history has been made using propaganda. Surely, a lot more than we think. Is this statue more about keeping the SCV’s memories of the war relevant in the 21st century or is it really just about attempting to “educate” those about Davis’s view on race relations?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 1:53

      I guess it depends on what kind of education you mean. There is nothing about a monument that necessarily forces the visitor to reflect or ask questions. In fact, it would be more accurate to suggest that the purpose of the monument is to affect/shape the visitor's perception about the subject in question – more emotional than analytical. The SCV clearly has a view of the war that they hope to impart to the general public and one way in which they've done so is through the funding of monuments.

      You make an excellent point in trying to pinpoint the line between history and propaganda. In most cases public monuments reflect both and that is the challenge for students of public history and more reflective folks in the general public. Again, the purpose of monuments is to shape a certain view of the past that the individual or group behind the site believes has value. There is a complex story concerning race that should be addressed in this particular case, but as you can see the SCV is clearly not interested in such an interpretation. They reduce the relationship down to friendship, loyalty, etc. The most tragic element in all of this is that we don't have anything from Limber himself on the relationship. How did he view the Davis family and the rest of the white community that he would have been in contact with as a result of his presence in the Confederate White House? These questions are worthy of further study, though it is unlikely that we will ever be able to say much.

      • BenGrossman Mar 12, 2010 @ 5:20

        I wholeheartedly agree that unfortunately there is nothing which forces people to critically evaluate the texts they read, the TV shows they watch, the books they read, or the monuments they come across in their cities or their travels. It takes being educated in the importance or as I would argue, the necessity of being critical of the message or agenda of any form of media to see a monument and not just accept it at face value, which I suppose is the most obvious message that it imparts). Hopefully most people will take a moment and think before accepting Jefferson Davis’ seemingly openness and love for blacks including his adopted son.

        It is unfortunate that so many have such a disregard for the past as it actually was as the historian David Blight explains; they continue to press their own agendas and reform history and shape their memories and understandings to fit with their political agendas and feelings. Future generations are influenced greatly by such monuments and though we will likely never know what Jon Limber thought about Jefferson Davis; let’s suppose hypothetically that he did love Davis as his father and had a wonderful relationship with him. If this was the case and it is certainly a possibility, then Limber was ignorant as to state of affairs in the world or was willing or kind of forced by familial ties to put aside the fact that his race had been and really was still being treated as less than human or at best maybe 3rd class citizens after the War and the passing of the 13th-15th amendments. It is certain that this statue doesn’t reflect the times and is a disgrace to the monument of Lincoln and Tad which represent an incredible political legend and American who championed the human good and was a wonderful role model for his son. Surely the South has the right to promote its sentiments and ideas about the Confederacy but it’s sad that in this enlightened age of the 21st Century they are doing so continuously by supporting such public displays of misinformation and perpetuating a continued biased view of history which distorts and twists it into something wholly unrecognizable as truthful to what actually happened during the second half of the 19th century in America.

      • Victoria Y. Mar 14, 2010 @ 3:02

        Although I agree with you that no one is forced to react in a certain way to the monument, isn’t it only natural to ask questions of it? Considering that many viewers to the statue might be unfamiliar with the background of this story, could one have a more emotional response than analytical when they might not even know the people being memorialized or more likely, the relationship between Davis and Limber? Ultimately, it seems that whether someone views this statue in an emotional or analytical manner will depend on the person viewing it and their knowledge they have on the subject manner.

        If the history we learn is a mixture of propaganda and history itself, how can we discern the two and discover the truth? The public depends on these monuments to present what actually happened and to educate us in a manner that answers our questions of the past. But with the SCV misinforming the public of Davis's view on race relations, in effect they are devaluing history and leaving us with more questions than answers. I agree with you that as students of history, we are presented with the challenge of distinguishing between misinformation and the truth, but it seems that that is the nature of memory.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 14, 2010 @ 17:18


          I think this gets to the crux of your view and it's very interesting: “If the history we learn is a mixture of propaganda and history itself, how can we discern the two and discover the truth? The public depends on these monuments to present what actually happened and to educate us in a manner that answers our questions of the past.”

          You point out the fundamental problem with memorial, monuments, and other commemorative sites. Most people do not approach these sites with the goal of questioning or engaging in critical thought. I was 10 years old when my parents took me to Washington, D.C. Do you think for a minute that I was intellectually prepared to understand what was being presented to me? Monuments are not meant to be analyzed they are meant to shape the way the viewer understands an individual and/or event. Visitors are meant to respond on an emotional level and identify with the content of the site. It satisfies the desire of many, including me, to see oneself as part of a much larger narrative. They are meant, in large part, to inspire and fuel nationalism. Yes, this can be a dangerous thing, but in a democracy we are free to interpret and question and that seems to me to function as a check on all of this.

          One of the reasons the SCV backed out of the deal with the American Civil War Museum had to do with the stipulation that the statue would be displayed at the discretion of the museum staff. More than likely it would have been displayed with information that placed it in historic context. That act would have worked to question its legitimacy as accurate of the past as opposed to a reflection of the SCV's preferred memory of Davis and race relations.

    • margaretdblough Mar 13, 2010 @ 2:48

      But it IS a fiction when views are imputed to someone when there is no historical evidence that they held such views. Davis came to maturity in the era of black slavery as a positive good for both races as the rationale for slavery. Many of the adherents of that view saw themselves in a parental relationship to slaves. The difficulty was that the slave seen as such a “child” could never be allowed to grow up & become independent as a white child would or even be regarded as capable of such maturity. Those whites bitterly rejected accusations of cruelty and many were stunned when their slaves took the first available opportunity as Union troops approached to take off. Jefferson Davis vehemently defended the institution of slavery. If he had treated a black child the same as his own, he would have been a pariah in society.

      A historian looks at the available evidence and can make logical inferences, but, in some instances,

  • TomLep Mar 12, 2010 @ 1:06

    First, let me say thank you for allowing us, meaning myself and my fellow classmates, to bombard your blog with our posts. That being said, I agree with you totally in your view of the statue being a failure in its approach to Civil War history as well as being totally out of line if it is meant to “educate” the public about Jefferson Davis’ life and race relations.

    I feel that the most interesting aspect of this statue is not the proposed and later constructed design, but rather the purpose behind the statue itself, more specifically the real purpose for the creation of a new Davis monument funded by the SCV. As other bloggers have noted, this statue is blatant in its rationale: to distance the Confederacy from the issue of slavery and to embrace the notion of white Southerners during the American Civil War as benevolent humanitarians over hardened slave owners. Thomas Nelson Page, a 19th century sentimental fiction writer, set forth these views in his writings during the reconstruction period that emphasized an “untroubled and affectionate relationship between slaves and their masters.” This monument is the physical embodiment of Page’s white supremacist views and, following in his footsteps, is a piece of historical fiction as well.

    The Davis and Limber statue also serves as displaying white Southerners as being the true victims of the war; without the slavery “issue” the Confederacy was fighting for “states rights and liberty.” Be that as it may, Frederick Douglass put it best by stating “The South has suffered to be sure…but she has been the author of her own suffering.”

    This statue is simply one in a long line of Confederate monuments meant to create a useable past that the SCV and other Confederate supporters can continue to mold and recreate to serve the purpose of recruiting more to honor and defend their “heritage,” albeit a constructed one.

    On a side note, why didn’t the SCV chose any of Davis’ five other biological children if they wished to place the monument near Abe and Tad? I understand that many of his children did not live long lives, but this, at the least, would have been historically accurate.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 2:00

      Good points. As you note, the original destination for the monument was to be the Tredegar Iron Works where a statue of Lincoln sitting with his son Tad is located. The SCV viewed this as a violation of sacred ground and hoped to place the monument there to counter Lincoln's presence. Though there is no evidence that Lincoln visited that particular location he did visit Richmond just after the capitol was abandoned and he did so in triumph as scores of black Richmonders crowded the streets to greet the president. It seems to me that in arguing against the placement of the Lincoln statue in Richmond they are denying an aspect of the city's history as well as an important thread of its Civil War memory.

  • Robin Kro Mar 11, 2010 @ 15:45

    Memory is a pretty remarkable thing. It not only gives one the ability to save and recount aspects of their own lives, but memories can also be handed down through generations, like sand deposits on a beach. Each wave brings a new layer of history that crashes into one’s consciousness, filling them with memories of the past. But, what happens if the water becomes polluted? The waves will continue to crash, and the sand will continue to layer, however the beach will be forever tainted by poisoned ideas.

    Each new generation who walks along this beach, or strolls through the Beauvoir yard, will see their surroundings as natural and accurate. The pollution will forever affect the memories that remain, and, through the recycling of memories, the lies will eventually be perceived as fact.

    This is the corruption of memories that the Sons of the Confederate Veterans are attempting to achieve through the statue of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber. The horror of this slanderous monument is not the offense it causes to the Civil War savvy, but the manipulation it will have on the uninformed youth. The children's minds will be polluted by the SCV to believe that Jefferson Davis was a man who supported racial equality, as opposed to a leader of the fight to defend slavery. In this vein, the Civil War's relation to slavery will eventually be blurred by such propaganda.

    Our memories are too malleable to resist the tainted water washing over our consciousness through such events as the Ron Casteel statue. However, with enough educational defense, future generations may have a chance at inheriting unpolluted memories of the War, and the immoralities that much of this country once fought for. As Frederick Douglass once said, “The people cannot and will not forget the issues of this rebellion. The Democratic party must continue to face the music of the past as well as the present.” (Frederick Douglas to Gerrit Smith, Aug. 24, 1898, in “Life and Writings of Frederick Douglas”, ed. Foner, IV, 210; “New National Era”, Nov. 24, 1870.)

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010 @ 11:36

      Hi Robin,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I share your concerns, but I am comforted by the fact that all of our collective and self narratives are “poisoned” to a certain extent. Think about the stories you tell yourself about yourself as well as those stories you share with others about yourself. As the philosopher Daniel Dennett argues, spiders spin webs by instinct and we spin stories. At my age I can see clearly in some cases how certain narrative threads have evolved over time and how they tend to reflect the time in which they are “spun”.

      It's healthy to at least take a step back to reflect on this process even if that step back is a part of that process itself. I don't mean to imply historical relativism in any form. I do believe it is possible to examine our collective narratives to see how they have evolved over time and in some cases how they became distorted. At the same time, however, I try to remain humble in the knowledge that we are all engaged in the very same process.

      Thanks again.

  • Kevin Levin Nov 2, 2009 @ 21:48

    To be honest, I have little interest in asking the SCV much of anything re: this statue. I followed this story closely over the past year and read their statements. Their message is crystal clear.

  • msimons Nov 2, 2009 @ 21:30

    Who at the National SCV could you ask Kevin?

  • Kevin Levin Nov 2, 2009 @ 18:45

    Casteel may have crafted the statue, but he was commissioned by the SCV. They decided the form it should take. As far as I know, Casteel is not a historian.

  • msimons Nov 2, 2009 @ 18:33

    We need to ask Ron that since he made the statue.

  • msimons Nov 2, 2009 @ 15:30

    Who at the National SCV could you ask Kevin?

    • Kevin Levin Nov 2, 2009 @ 15:48

      To be honest, I have little interest in asking the SCV much of anything re: this statue. I followed this story closely over the past year and read their statements. Their message is crystal clear.

  • margaretdblough Nov 1, 2009 @ 8:58

    Because, as the comments to your earlier articles demonstrate, it wants to completely misrepresent the relationship and give the impression, for which I know of no historical evidence, that Jefferson Davis really adopted Limber and treated him as an equal to his other children. In the real antebellum South, it wasn't unusual for the matriarchs of white slaveowning families to take a fancy to an exceptional slave child and act as his/her protecter. It was also very common, in those slaveowning families who could manage it, to “give” a slave of equivalent age to a newborn or young child of the slave-owning family to act as a companion and future “body servant.”-sort of a talking pet with benefits for the white child and a way of getting some value out of an asset who was too young to do more physical labor for the owner.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2009 @ 9:34

      This story is just part of a larger push on the part of the SCV to distance slavery from the history of the Civil War and the Confederacy in particular. One blogger in particular continues to reference a recent essay by John Coski on Jim Limber and his relationship to the Davis family. John would be horrified to learn that his essay is being used for such purposes. Nothing in that piece is meant to justify the SCV's depiction of Davis and Limber in their statue.

      • margaretdblough Nov 1, 2009 @ 9:53

        Nothing John Coski has written or ever could write could reasonably serve as support for what the SCV is attempting. He's too good a historian for that. I have friends & acquaintances through the Longstreet Memorial Fund, who had been very active in the South Carolina chapter of the SCV at the time. Some even held office. However, the North Carolina SCV fiercely resisted the ultimately successful takeover of the SCV by the extreme Lost Causer faction led by Kirk Lyons (of the League of the South or whatever it's currently calling itself)/Brag Bowling/Wilson. As a result, pretty much anyone in NC who didn't support the current policy either resigned in disgust or, if they didn't, they were literally purged by the extremists. One of those purged was someone with whom I had some heated debate over the cause of the war in prior years. When I got that news, I remember thinking with horror that, if this man was too liberal for them, the thought of what was acceptable to them was terrifying.

  • jfe Oct 30, 2009 @ 9:40

    Is there any indication that the Davises looked for Jim or made inquiries into what happened to him? ISTM that the story the SCV is pushing requires this—not that lack of evidence has stopped them before …

    • Kevin Levin Oct 30, 2009 @ 10:38

      There is no evidence that much of anything was done to track Limber down after the war. I should point out that both William Cooper (author of the best biography of J.Davis) and Joan Cashin (author of the best recent study of V.Davis) have next to nothing to say about the Limber story. My guess is that the amount of attention is directly related to the amount of evidence available to interpret. The SCV's statue suggests a robust picture of Limber's place within the family. In the end, this statue has very little to do with Davis and Limber.

  • Deltaboy Oct 30, 2009 @ 5:33

    While I agree it could be seen as a PR failure; to me it is where it belongs at the Davis home. That is where Davis spent his latter years. Plus Kevin in our PC world most would never want to have a Davis statue of any kind near the Perfect spotless Honest Abe.

    A good question for CW reseachers would be what ever happend to Jim Limber Davis after Union soldiers took him from his adopted family.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 30, 2009 @ 9:15

      Given that the SCV is in charge of Beauvoir it is indeed in its rightful place. Richmond already has two Davis statues so there is clearly no shortage. The Lincoln statue commemorates a visit that Lincoln in fact made with his son.

      No one knows what happened to Limber after the war and that is part of the problem with this statue. The symbolism is based on how the SCV has chosen to portray the relationship even though we know very little about. Don't you think Limber's own view is relevant? It's a classic example of the butchering of the past to serve a modern-day agenda.

      • msimons Oct 31, 2009 @ 9:24

        Seeing that Mrs. Davis saved the boy from a abusive relationship He would have been greatful that the Davis's had taken him in and treated him like a son and not a house slave.

        • Kevin Levin Oct 31, 2009 @ 9:37

          The available evidence does indeed support such a claim, but if that is the case why not acknowledge it in the statue? In other words, why is Jefferson Davis holding hands with Limber rather than Varina?

          • msimons Nov 2, 2009 @ 12:33

            We need to ask Ron that since he made the statue.

            • Kevin Levin Nov 2, 2009 @ 12:45

              Casteel may have crafted the statue, but he was commissioned by the SCV. They decided the form it should take. As far as I know, Casteel is not a historian.

        • Chance Dec 18, 2014 @ 14:31

          Do you not know your history? Everyone knows that a yank pulled Jim away from his adopted mother and took him away. They had no control over it because they were POWs. They did look and could never find him. Probably because the dirty yanks killed the poor boy, just like they had did to half of the South.

          • Kevin Levin Dec 18, 2014 @ 14:32

            Thanks for the information. Would you be so kind enough to forward the archival/reference sources that you used to draw these conclusions? Thanks.

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