Mr. Ijames, Was Weary Clyburn a Soldier or a Slave?

One of the reasons why it is important for serious historians to publish in peer-reviewed journals is that it provides the community with stable reference points.  Scholarly publications are intended to add to our knowledge of the past by providing rich interpretation along with supporting documents that can be verified.  In this setting interpretation can be challenged and revised if necessary.  I find it troubling that in 15 years Mr. Ijames has yet to publish, but still considers himself to be an expert on the subject of “Colored Confederates” and is considered to be an expert by various constituencies.  No doubt, Mr. Ijames is aware that free and enslaved blacks functioned in various capacities in the Confederate army, but what I am interested in are his vague claims about those that supposedly served as soldiers.  His claims in various forums, including this one, are impossible to pin down which raises more questions than answers.  Consider his public statements about Weary Clyburn, who was the subject of a series of posts I did in 2008.  The SCV honored Clyburn with a headstone that designated him as a soldier in the Confederate army.  Mr. Ijames took part in the SCV’s public and well publicized ceremony for Clyburn, which you can see in this short video clip:

It can be safely assumed that Ijames’s comments as well as his participation in this event implies that he believes Clyburn served as a soldier.  Once he discovered my posts on the subject, along with commentary about his participation in the event, Ijames offered the following comment:

The term is “Colored Confederate”. I have always maintained that Weary Clyburn was ENSLAVED! He wasn’t even counted in the census, much less in a Confederate Regiment! You discount what he actually did, while hiding behind your rambling attacks on me!

So, we go from taking part in an event that commemorated Clyburn as a soldier in Co. E, 12th S.C. Volunteers to acknowledging that he was a slave.  Finally, in yesterday’s response to my open letter, Ijames said the following:

What’s more, you should be ashamed at the dishonor and discredit that you (et als) intend for Weary Clyburn, Co. E, 12th S.C. Volunteers, his daughter, and family.  You might be hearing from their lawyer.

What could this possibly mean other than to imply that I am “dishonoring” a soldier?  I should point out that there is nothing dishonorable about being a slave.  It is their stories that give continued meaning to our lives and a nation that strives towards freedom and equality.  There is also nothing dishonorable about speaking out when those in the historical community engage the past with such reckless abandon.

Mr. Ijames and a few others are wondering why I don’t accept his invitation to debate in some public forum.  As I’ve already pointed out the idea itself is absurd, but how can I debate someone who doesn’t seem to have the basic facts of his own story straight?

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66 comments… add one
  • Skilled Warrior Nov 17, 2010 @ 8:50

    Here is a service record of Wiley Stewart, A BLACK CONFEDERATE CALVARY SOLDIER. .. Page 54 “Black Confederates” by Charles Kelly Barrow, J.H. Segars, and R.B. Rosenburg ..

    • Andy Hall Nov 17, 2010 @ 9:17

      Those are intriguing documents, but Stewart’s index card show only one entry — that he enlisted in 1861. There’s (apparently) nothing else there, and I couldn’t find him in the (extensive) service records of the 4th Tennessee Cavalry at Footnote. How long did he serve? Do you have other details? Was he mustered-in, and then soon thereafter discharged? It’s an interesting document, but doesn’t document very much, if you follow. There are plenty of documented cases of free blacks who tried to enlist and were refused, or who “passed” for a time and were discharged when discovered, and this Stewart’s case may be similar. Too little to tell.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2010 @ 9:27

        Thanks Andy. I also looked him up on Footnote and have the same questions. What we have here is a beginning, but as you note we need to do the necessary follow-up work. In other words, we need to do history.

      • Skilled Warrior Nov 17, 2010 @ 9:46

        Andy, “I am sorry that you find my document to be troubling, but that’s what historians do. You are free to tell your stories, but please don’t think for a moment that you are doing history. Historians work with evidence and interpretation and not with what is possible to imagine.” This service record states he was a Calvary soldier and that his commanding officers signed and authenticated it as such.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2010 @ 9:53

          Andy is asking the kind of question that any responsible historian will ask. To the extent that you can respond to it determines the extent to which your evidence points to your preferred interpretation.

          • Skilled Warrior Nov 17, 2010 @ 10:12

            Kevin, Andy’s final sentence of his comment was not a question but an imagined assumption. For the readers of your blog, would you have hard evidence for argument’s sake seemingly invalidated by “what is possible to imagine”. Here we have a period hard copy document stating something. Is it only when my side gets into generalization that it is an imaginary fairytale? If I have a car listed black on my auto invoice, will my lack of ability to further articulate to you it’s darkness render it assumed white? Likewise, why is my side (Colored Confederates) to be automatically assumed as untrue until proven otherwise? I can’t for the life of me understand this way of thinking. I am so glad this is not how our system of judiciary law operates.

            • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2010 @ 10:18

              Of course, Andy can respond when he has an opportunity. You are the one making the claim which places the burden of proof on you. You introduced a document into the discussion. That leads to additional questions, which you should be able to respond to. This is what historians are supposed to do. You have to keep in mind of the broader context in which you are working in. The Confederate government and the army explicitly denied free blacks the opportunity to serve as soldiers. This means that the threshold for clearly demonstrating the existence of a soldier is going to be higher. Andy asked a relevant question about the document. Your car analogy is a good one. All else being equal you would not need to provide further evidence that the car is black, but if I have evidence that demonstrates that the car company in question did not produce black cars than you are going to need to do something more.

              Historians must exercise a healthy dose of skepticism and subject all evidence to careful scrutiny. That’s how we avert some of the worst types of errors.

            • Andy Hall Nov 17, 2010 @ 10:55

              Likewise, why is my side (Colored Confederates) to be automatically assumed as untrue until proven otherwise?

              The short (and admittedly a little flip) answer to this is that all claims are untrue unless they’re backed up by evidence that withstands scrutiny. And the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinary the evidence needs to be.

              When trained historians look at evidence, it’s part of their job to look at it critically — not just to see what the documentation says, but to do due diligence to assess how reliable it is, how complete it is, and how much weight it should be given based on those things. Most of what is presented as “evidence” for Colored Confederates doesn’t hold up to much close scrutiny; it’s either misunderstood (pension records, reunion photos), misinterpreted (the Arlington monument, the Fremantle account), or outright fraudulent (the “Louisiana Native Guard” photo). Most of the folks who point to these materials do so sincerely and with good intention, but that doesn’t make the “evidence” any more reliable.

              The other things historians do, is always keep in mind how their particular subject or interpretation fits in with what is known and accepted about that time and place — the historical context. The Colored Confederate argument generally falls down here, too, because we have four years of Southern primary sources, and 145 years of books, magazines, memoirs, and so on that conclusively document the role of African Americans connected to the Confederate military as laborers, personal servants, musicians, and so on — almost anything but a soldier, with rank, under arms. There are almost no primary sources describing blacks as soldiers from Southern sources, written during the war. More specifically, there was outrage in many quarters to the idea of enlisting slaves as soldiers in the winter of 1864-65, much of the criticism coming from experienced military officers who would have been familiar with Colored Confederates if they’d existed in anything like the numbers often claimed. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

              This is not to say that I don’t think there were a handful of black men who, through personal skill or a powerful patron, gained something approaching actual, if unofficial, status as a soldier during the war. (Holt Collier may have been and example of the former; “Forrest’s Escort” perhaps the latter.) But these men would have been very few and far between. I’m absolutely open to complete, documentary evidence of those, and I think the advocates for Colored Confederate do themselves and their cause a great disservice by throwing out clouds of fragmentary “evidence” that cannot be confirmed or refuted clearly, all the while making wild, speculative claims for thousands (or tens of thousands) of black soldiers on the Confederate army. Those arguing for Colored Confederates would do better with research conclusively proving a dozen or two, than making grandiose claims several orders of magnitude higher, while arguing that those who disagree with them do so out of some personal or professional agenda to discredit the South. I can guarantee you this — the first PhD history student who publishes a dissertation conclusively proving an integrated Confederate combat unit will be able to write his or her own career ticket at any university he or she chooses, North or South.

              Finally, you wrote, “I am so glad this is not how our system of judiciary law operates.” Actually, this is exactly how our legal system works, at least when it works as designed. Judgments, civil or criminal, should be based on evidence — not just the volume, but the quality of the evidence. That evidence, in turn, is subject to close scrutiny and cross-examination. And evidence that is irrelevant, or doesn’t measure up, gets tossed out of court or disregarded. That’s as it should be, in law and history both.

              • Skilled Warrior Nov 17, 2010 @ 12:04

                Andy, “all claims are untrue unless they’re backed up by evidence that withstands scrutiny”, You sound like Descartes with the nothing exists unless I find it to be true philosophy. “So Descartes determines that the only indubitable knowledge is that he is a thinking thing. Thinking is his essence as it is the only thing about him that cannot be doubted.”…… This is false logic in a physical world. The problem is that your side “Colored Confederates” did not exist is itself a Claim ! Whether I laughed at the logic of your post is true whether I prove it to you or not. Perhaps I decide to prove my laughter to another historian of higher note! With a mass of confusion and mixed opinions of colored peoples during wartime I do not find the claim of Colored Confederates to be even slightly extraordinary. These men would understandably be timid toward demanding recognition and compensation during a time when the government had enough on its hands doing a million other things.

                • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2010 @ 12:12

                  I appreciate the honesty, but now that you’ve laid your cards on the table there isn’t much more for you here. Serious historians ask tough questions. You can certainly find scores of websites that will happily accept your conclusions and the level of analysis that you’ve provided here for one piece of evidence.

    • Bob Huddleston Nov 17, 2010 @ 10:01

      Since “Alexander” does not have a surname, it is a reasonable assumption that he was a slave, probably serving as a servant to someone. Although the Dixie Outfitters found “liberated” as humorous, I wonder if it was actually a comment on the Camp Butler muster roll meaning that Alexander was freed from slavery and turned loose.

      • Skilled Warrior Nov 17, 2010 @ 10:14

        I do not understand this statement “Although the Dixie Outfitters found “liberated” as humorous”

  • Skilled Warrior Nov 17, 2010 @ 8:10

    Thanks for your reply Kevin. I would however like to pin you to answer one of my valid questions. Wouldn’t you consider the free blacks to be Soldiers if they served in the Confederate Army? As you stated some did here: “No doubt, Mr. Ijames is aware that FREE and enslaved blacks functioned in various capacities in the Confederate army” . Is a cook serving in an army a soldier?

    • Andy Hall Nov 17, 2010 @ 8:41

      Is a cook serving in an army a soldier?

      Wrong question. The correct question is, did the Confederate Army in 1861-65 consider slaves or free blacks working as cooks to be soldiers?

      • Skilled Warrior Nov 17, 2010 @ 11:09

        Many websites I have read state that Colored Musicians were (officially) allowed and considered soldiers. Regardless of the Confederate Congress’ original declarations some Officers regarded colored men as soldiers and they were high ranking members of the government as well. As you probably know the Confederate Congress came around to officially allowing Black Confederates near the end of the war. Things of this nature take time to pass into law and the U.S. Government was barely ahead of the C.S.A itself !

        One source, I am lacking time for complete follow up… From The San Angelo Standard-Times Online, “Out Yonder: Many blacks fought for the Confederacy during Civil War,” by Ross McSwain, February 8, 1999: “The Confederate Congress did not approve officially enlisting black soldiers, except as musicians, until late in the war. However, Confederate officers did not obey the mandate of the politicians. They enlisted blacks into their units with the simple question, ‘Will you fight?'”

        • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2010 @ 12:03

          Show me an example of an officer who “regarded colored men as soldiers” as well as “high ranking members of the government.” You made the claim now provide the evidence. And I mean primary sources penned by the individual in question.

          • Bill Tolbert Aug 26, 2015 @ 21:12

            In all of the comments there has not been one instince of the word ‘paid’. I believe all soldiers were paid for their sevice and a record would show that as evidence of his enrollment as a soldier.

            • Andy Hall Aug 27, 2015 @ 7:27

              Soldiers were paid, but so were civilian workers hired by the military.

      • Skilled Warrior Nov 18, 2010 @ 6:30

        After consideration and regardless of further proof, I think the function that these Colored Individuals served is more important in calling them true “Colored Confederate Soldiers”. They were no doubt colored and Confederate, and if they were fighting daily in the war or cooking meals for the combant soldiers and incurring the same risks as the officially recognized soldiers, they were soldiers just like the soldiers of today. Every Militia man or Colored Cook that served the Confederacy faithfully would eventually be honored as such if the Confederate Government still existed. If you don’t believe this you need to consider the quotes by the highest time-honored leaders of the Confederate Army:

        “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race.”
        Col. Robert E. Lee, United States Army, December 27, 1856

        The U.S. Government has had much time after other wars to go back and honor those whom it believed worthy regardless of what its official law at that time was. Governments are slow behemoths at the best of times, the U.S. Government has had much more that 4 years to appreciate and honor all those where appreciation was needed. These men were worthy, let those who will honor them, honor them.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 18, 2010 @ 6:39

          You are free to describe them however you wish. On the other hand, I am interested in how they functioned within the army and how their presence was understood by both the government, the military, and white southerners. There is no historical evidence to support that, apart from a few exceptions, black men served as soldiers in the Confederate army. Your speculation as to how some of these men would have been recognized in the event of Confederate independence is not worth much thought. However, let’s just assume that there were substantial numbers of black Confederate soldiers in the ranks and let’s assume that black southerners supported the Confederate war effort. Do you really see Jim Crow as a reward for such support?

          I would love for you to provide one piece of wartime evidence from Confederate sources that acknowledged the presence of black soldiers in the army or that the men who were present were seen as such even if they had not formally joined. If you can’t provide such evidence than your conclusions are pretty much worthless.

        • Andy Hall Nov 18, 2010 @ 6:55

          Skilled Warrior, I have no idea what relevance that quote from Lee has to the question whether or not African Americans (mostly slave, some free) serving in support roles for the Confederate army were considered to have been soldiers.

          (I should also point out that, while the brief quote from Lee you cite above is often mentioned as evidence of his opposition to slavery, even his supposed abolitionist tendencies, the full document from which it’s drawn is much longer, much more complex, and reveals Lee not to have been so opposed to the institution as often claimed. He disliked the practice, but he also managed the slaves at Arlington House with strict hand, and continued to be personally served by slaves (his own or others’ is not clear) right to the end of the war. Full discussion here.)

          You wrote that “every Militia man or Colored Cook that served the Confederacy faithfully would eventually be honored as such if the Confederate Government still existed.” It’s extremely unlikely that a Confederate government today would recognize those men as soldiers, any more than the current federal government recognizes civilian teamsters, sutler, and camp servants to have been soldiers. The former states of the Confederacy did recognize the service of “Colored Confederates” with pensions, the rules and procedures of which varied from state to state. Some states didn’t establish separate programs for former slaves, but some (e.g., Mississippi) did; that in itself is pretty clear evidence that those states, at least, saw them as being an entirely different sort of category than former soldiers. Again, the question is not how these men would have been viewed today, but how they were viewed at the time.

          No one’s challenging that African Americans served in support roles for the Confederate army, or that they should be recognized for it. The only thing that’s in dispute was whether those men were considered to be soldiers at the time. Retroactively asserting that they were, 150 years later, doesn’t change the reality that they lived, or particularly do them any honors. Isn’t the single most respectful thing we can do for our ancestors, to see them as they were rather than what we’d prefer them to have been?

          • Kevin Levin Nov 18, 2010 @ 7:07

            Anyone interested in Lee’s views on slavery must read Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s _Reading the Man_

          • Marc Ferguson Nov 18, 2010 @ 10:01

            “The only thing that’s in dispute was whether those men were considered to be soldiers at the time.”

            Also implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, in dispute is the issue of commitment, voluntary and willful support for the Confederate “cause.” Frankly, I think this is what is often really at the heart of contentions that slaves be considered soldiers.

            • Bob Huddleston Nov 18, 2010 @ 10:08

              Isn’t the issue also that if slaves served as soldiers, then the Confederacy did not start the war to protect slavery, and the Confederates were not fighting to preserve slavery?

            • Andy Hall Nov 18, 2010 @ 10:22

              is the issue of commitment, voluntary and willful support for the Confederate “cause.”

              The advocates for there being large numbers of black Confederate soldiers assume full and voluntary commitment to the Confederate cause a priori. Black Confederate soldiers are nothing more that the traditional “faithful slaves,” outfitted in a new butternut uniform.

    • Ken Noe Nov 17, 2010 @ 8:57

      I’m not Kevin, but…if the cook enrolled in the army, took the oath, went through basic training, holds regular rank, and is considered by the army to be a soldier, yes, he’s a soldier. With rare exceptions, free blacks or slaves attached to the Confederate armies did not enroll as soldiers, did not take part in camps of instruction, did not hold rank, and at the time were not viewed by anyone in the Confederate army as soldiers. So no, they weren’t soldiers.

      • Skilled Warrior Nov 17, 2010 @ 9:24

        Ken, As the Wiley Stewart Black Calvary Soldier post below shows, Blacks did enroll as soldiers, hold rank and were viewed by others as soldiers, so what does that leave for your argument? “did not take part in camps of instruction”. Now there are thousands of white confederate soldiers just made illegitimate by that adept statement.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2010 @ 9:28

          Please see Andy Hall’s response.

          • Ken Noe Nov 17, 2010 @ 11:31

            And by the way, the word is “cavalry.” “Calvary” was the site of the crucifixion.

            • Ken Noe Nov 18, 2010 @ 4:52

              In retrospect, that was a snarky answer, although that particular misspelling is one of my major pet peeves. I did a little digging on Stewart. For what it’s worth, Thomas P. Lowry and Rev. Albert H. Ledoux, in an article in North and South (vol. 11, no. 3, June 2009), maintain that Stewart was a Melungeon, a group of Appalachian folks of disputed heritage that I mentioned the other day in a different post (link below). If so, however the census taker listed him, Stewart would probably have called himself “white” or “Indian.”


              • Skilled Warrior Nov 18, 2010 @ 6:50

                You can read Stewart’s mind now? The official CSA service record doesn’t matter anymore! They let this man they considered a “Free Person of Color” in and that can’t be disputed as long as this is a valid document.

                • Kevin Levin Nov 18, 2010 @ 6:55

                  Ken Noe is one of the most respected historians when it comes to Appalachia. Instead of taking offense why not admit that perhaps you have something to learn about this subject. You have yet to offer much of anything that demonstrates any real understanding of slavery or race relations in the American South. You are more than welcome to comment here, but enough with the posturing. No one is impressed.

                  • Skilled Warrior Nov 18, 2010 @ 7:11

                    Kevin, You take no consideration for the ones who do care about Honoring the Colored Confederates like the SCV. Are these not race relations? Mayhap you should take your pen out and start writing the current history of these men that have to fight you just to Honor someone who functioned in an Honorable capacity!

                    • Kevin Levin Nov 18, 2010 @ 8:05

                      I am trained as a historian so my primary interest is not in honoring anyone. Rather, I am interested primarily in understanding the history of these men. That seems to me a very legitimate form of honoring and acknowledging their memory. I have no interest in intentionally distorting the roles of these men. I am sorry you find this difficult to understand.

                      The SCV is actively distorting the memory of these men. They do very little research into the histories of these men. This can be seen in the case of Weary Clyburn and scores of others that I’ve written about on this site.

                    • Andy Hall Nov 18, 2010 @ 10:16

                      Are these not race relations? Mayhap you should take your pen out and start writing the current history of these men that have to fight you just to Honor someone who functioned in an Honorable capacity!

                      You’re identifying part of what I see as the difficulty. Your side (as you’ve referred to it) is getting the cart before the horse, pushing very, very hard to “honor” men about whom very little is known, and that often from sources that an historian would consider of questionable reliability. This applies both to Colored Confederates as a whole, and to individual men. Kevin has pointed out repeatedly that the SCV’s and other heritage groups’ fixation on finding and publicizing Colored Confederates seems to have very little indeed with getting a full, rounded understanding of the arc of their lives, in all their complexities; rather, the focus seems entirely to be on defining them, first and last, as loyal and true Confederates, ignoring the fact that most of these men were slaves and had little or no choice in what they did or where they went. Sometimes this fixation goes so far as to be almost surreal, as in the faux cemetery at Pulaski, where enslaved body servants are retroactively designated as part of the general’s “staff” and “honored” with a fake quote from Marse Robert. (The Pulaski foolishness is particularly egregious if, as has been reported, the faux cemetery is laid out over unmarked graves of other African Americans; it’s simply disrespectful, entirely apart from the Confederate context.)

                      I just can’t get my head around the notion of “honoring” (or alternatively, demagoguing) men about whom next-to-nothing is actually known. For all that we “know” about some of the men you argue we should “honor” (e.g., Wiley Stewart), you might as well pull names at random out of the phone book. The SCV and similar organizations seem so determined to make their point that no claim is too implausible, too bizarre, to be rejected. The problem here is not that professional historians want to “deny” the existence of Colored Confederates due to some hidden personal or political agenda; the problem is that your “side” throws out such volumes of misunderstood, misinterpreted or outright fraudulent “evidence” that no one who’s actually trained to look at evidence critically can take it seriously.

                      I believe you to be sincere and honest in making your case here. But not everyone on your “side” is, and there is much obfuscation or even fakery going on. Sorry to be blunt, but you guys are sometimes your own worst enemy when it comes to making your case.

                • Ken Noe Nov 18, 2010 @ 7:15

                  I’m simply saying that (a) recent research on Stewart throws into question of whether he really was “a free person of color” (b) you should read the article and see what their evidence is before you dismiss it, (c) what you have is not an “official CSA service record” but rather a compiled service record card that was created in Washington after the war, based on another document that we still haven’t seen, (d) because of that we still don’t know if “they” let him for very long, if at all, and (e) Melungeons in general did not (and still do not) think of themselves as black (thus my last comment). Why not read the Lowry and Ledoux article and get back to us? Again, I apologize for my snarky tone yesterday. Stewart is intriguing to be sure, but I disagree with you that it’s cut-and-dried proof.

                  • Skilled Warrior Nov 18, 2010 @ 11:18

                    Andy, “ignoring the fact that most of these men were slaves and had little or no choice in what they did or where they went.”…. All Confederate soldiers who were conscripted had little or no choice what they did or where they went no matter what their race so that line of reasoning can’t be used.

                    I will look into some of the topics you mentioned.

                    • Kevin Levin Nov 18, 2010 @ 12:02

                      But the difference is that conscripted men served as soldiers owing to their status as citizens of the Confederacy. Slaves were not citizens. It turns out that facts matter.

                    • Andy Hall Nov 18, 2010 @ 12:10

                      Even conscripted soldiers had fundamental legal rights that slaves did not.

                      The free- or enslaved status of a black man working as a teamster or servant attached to the Confederate army doesn’t much change the nature of his work. But it matters a great deal when speculating on their motivations or voluntary commitment to the cause of the Confederacy, which — usually absent any concrete evidence — seems always to be taken for granted by heritage groups, whether the men in question were white or black.

                  • Mike Musick Nov 18, 2010 @ 13:34

                    I would like to expand on “c” in Mr. Noe’s comment. The card from a compiled military service record (CSR) is a transcription by a copyist employed postwar by the U.S. government. The copyist attested in writing on the card that this was a full and complete copy of an original document, and signed and dated the card. The original document from which the transcription was made is today on file in the National Archives, as is the CSR. A trained historian will be skeptical of all evidence. However, I spent 35 years with the CSRs and the original records on which the transcriptions were based, and can recall not a single instance where one of these transcriptions for an individual was not full and accurate (this is not the case with the “record of events” section of muster rolls, which once in a while have errors). My impression is that the CSRs were accepted in court and by the War Department as full and accurate, and despite my initial skepticism, I have come to regard them that way. Please believe me when I say that, unless you have extremely good reason to doubt the CSRs, you are wasting your time and that of harried Archives staff in demanding to see the original, often quite fragile, roll. It was some time before I accepted that truth, which does nothing to vitiate the overall thrust of Mr. Noe’s comment.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2010 @ 9:33

      Earl Ijames has not demonstrated that a single free black man served as a soldier in the Confederate army. I’ve followed up on every claim he has made and none of them have turned up the relevant documents necessary to draw such a conclusion. It is going to take quite an effort to demonstrate the exceptions to the strict rules that the Confederate government as well as the army placed on the recruitment of blacks as soldiers until the final weeks of the war.

  • Skilled Warrior Nov 17, 2010 @ 7:26

    Overwhelming odds can validate claims as well as documentation. Would you need a paper stating that there was a red-haired man that fought in the Wars of Scottish Independence if I told you there was one? You are unlikely to get documentation stating that but that doesn’t mean there were none. Inductive reasoning will lead you to conclude that with that many people fighting with the background they came from that the conclusion is a truthful one. “vague claims about those that supposedly served as soldiers” is the problem I see. You seem to be predisposed to believe there were no Colored Confederate Soldiers. Your inductive reasoning would appear to have much less grounds due to the number of people involved in the war (mathematical models of probability). Since you wrote this… “No doubt, Mr. Ijames is aware that free and enslaved blacks functioned in various capacities in the Confederate army” ; Wouldn’t you consider the free blacks to be Soldiers if they served in the Confederate Army? The cooks in the U.S. Army are soldiers. Try telling one of them they aren’t a soldier if you don’t believe it. Perhaps I have jumped to the conclusion that you don’t believe there were Black Confederates but instead you believe there were, but need written proof on a case by case basis in order to hold legitimate ceremonies for them? I just can’t imagine anyone completely doubting their existence. Nevertheless I have sources of proof of their existence and will post some of them when I get a chance.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2010 @ 8:03

      I am sorry that you find my questions to be troubling, but that’s what historians do. You are free to tell your stories, but please don’t think for a moment that you are doing history. Historians work with evidence and interpretation and not with what is possible to imagine.

    • Andy Hall Nov 17, 2010 @ 8:25

      The cooks in the U.S. Army are soldiers.

      There’s a much more apt analogy. As I understand, most of the cooks (and launderers, and truck drivers, and construction workers, and. . . .) working on military bases both here and overseas are civilian contractors, working for KBR, Halliburton, and so on. Last figures I saw for Iraq, a year or so ago, were that we had more civilian contractors there than actual military personnel, by a wide margin. Those men and women, though they “serve” in the broadest sense, and sometimes share risks similar to the combat troops they accompany, are not soldiers.

      But ultimately, modern analogies and personal definitions of what constitutes a “soldier” — yours mine, and Kevin’s — are irrelevant. The only definition that matters in this discussion is that applied by the Confederate military and government in 1861-65, and that did not recognize those men as soldiers.

  • Skilled Warrior Nov 17, 2010 @ 6:22

    Quoting you Kevin “vague claims about those that supposedly served as soldiers”. To be a Soldier you do not have to be listed on a roster. There were thousands of Militia troops and some of them would not have signed any paperwork. Some would have walked out of their back yard when they heard the Northern troops were near, picked up a rife and found their nearest Southern troops to help them defend their territory. So are these men also not allowed the privilege of the term “Soldier” with a proper burial if they were know to have fought? What if they went on to fight for 8 months after that? Still they can’t be called soldier? This was a time of War with less care taken to write personal decrees and validate appointments. Skilled willing blacks of that time would not have been strictly used for mundane tasks. I can’t believe anyone could argue that they would have been. Your strictness to semantics is distressful and your tone has changed completely to biased cynicism. definition 3 of “soldier” is “Skilled Warrior” so that settles that. It may be true that with this way of thinking a few extra men may get honored as soldiers when they were truly unwilling slaves, but wouldn’t you rather honor a few extras by mistake than miss out on honoring the ones deserving of it? Are not many of our U.S. Army men cooks and laundrymen? Why are these soldiers and the willing blacks in the Confederate army not soldiers?

    • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2010 @ 6:37

      In such a case you are going to have to provide evidence of such examples. Do you have someone specific in mind or are you just offering suggestions that w/o further research mean very little to the serious historian? What would you like us to do with such a suggestion. I could come up with a very long list of scenarios, but they mean nothing unless you can demonstrate it with specific wartime sources. Can you provide any evidence from Confederate soldiers that substantiates your claim? I am quite interested and thanks for the comment.

      By the way, this post should give you a clear sense of how I approach this subject:

  • Michaela Feb 14, 2010 @ 21:05

    If for a moment we totally ignor the contradiction of a black slave becoming a soldier by free will or drafted to fight for a system that keeps his own people in bondage and does not allow blacks to be armed in a military that gives him no chance for advancement, I would like to go a step further. What is the implication of this interpretation of the Civil War? Does that mean that slaves were in fact content to be enslaved and “chose” to fight to maintain their status? Because once you carry a weapon you could have fought your oppressor. If it was not slavery, but state rights they fought for, which part of the state rights were influencing their lives in a way that it was worth fighting for? And ultimately if a black man was willing to fight for a system that by its definition puts his people either in bondage or if free in the lowest ranking class what does that tell us about his motives? While I personally find discussions about honor not helpful to understand history as they are emotionally loaded and as this kind of judgment is hardly based on facts, I would tend to question the ethical implication of the term “black Confederate soldier”. The Holocaust survivors would certainly approach the topic of a Jew fighting in the Wehrmacht (if that had been possible) from a different angle than “honor”.

  • margaretdblough Feb 14, 2010 @ 1:37

    RE: the bagpipes. I am Scots on my mother's side. Her father was the only member of his family who emigrated to the US. Her mother was born here of Scottish parents, went with them to Scotland when she was 8 and returned after she married my grandfather. He taught himself to play the bagpipes after he retired. The neo-Confederate distortions of and outright falsehoods, regarding Scottish history, particularly the Jacobite rebellions and their aftermath, to further their agenda, infuriate me.

    The piece included another pet peeve of mine, the use of the word ancestors when what the speaker is describing are descendents. If Weary Clyburn's ancestors were there, they'd be holding a seance.

    • Ken Noe Feb 14, 2010 @ 2:07

      Do you know Celeste Ray's book Highland Heritage? It's well worth a read.

      • margaretdblough Feb 14, 2010 @ 5:32

        I don't think I've read it, but thanks for the referral.

    • Richard Feb 14, 2010 @ 2:57

      If anyone is interested in bagpipes they should come to to the Highland games here in my hometown.

      • margaretdblough Feb 14, 2010 @ 5:31

        Very nice. I've heard the Highland Games in North Carolina are spectacular. When I was growing up, we used to go to the ones held at Idlewild Park near Ligonier, PA. However, in 2007, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and as the centerpiece of a two week trip to Scotland attended the Edinburgh Military Tattoo with my cousin and his wife. Absolutely awe-inspiring. Sorry for the thread-creep, Kevin.

  • Corey Meyer Feb 13, 2010 @ 23:22

    My big question is what is Mr. Ijames' motivation for being so hostile and unwilling to have a faithful debate or study done on the real place these men have in history? I cannot think of anything but fame!

    • Kevin Levin Feb 13, 2010 @ 23:35

      Let me be clear that I am not interested in this issue. I encourage you to speculate on your own site, but I am only interested in the claims that he is making in public on this particular issue. I've never met Mr. Ijames, which means that I am not in any position to comment on such matters.

      It is very important to me that we remain focused on the history.

  • Marc Ferguson Feb 13, 2010 @ 19:11

    The Confederate government did not consider Clyburn a soldier. Is there any evidence that Confederate officers or soldiers considered him a soldier? How about Clyburn's owner, any evidence he considered him a soldier? I don't think we've seen any.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 13, 2010 @ 20:28

      I would be happy with a response from Ijames that explains how one man can go from being a soldier, to being a slave, and then back to being a soldier. How does that work?

  • Ken Noe Feb 13, 2010 @ 18:40

    The bagpipes always floor me. Now I like bagpipes a lot. But if you can convince yourself that Confederate army must have included gray-clad, kilted bagpipers because the soldiers were noble Celts (or Afro-Celts), you can convince yourself of anything. Which frankly seems to be what is happening lately.

  • EarthTone Feb 13, 2010 @ 18:30

    This is an unfortunate sight.

    A lot of this is semantics, although the semantics are vital to get right. In Mr Ijames views, there is no problem with identifying someone that he acknowledges was a slave as being a “soldier.”

    But as you note Kevin – and I agree with you – the word soldier has a definite meaning, and it must be used properly: to identify a member of the armed forces. If there is no proof of Mr Clyburn was a soldier, it's wrong to identify him as such.

    If this issue can get laser like focus, and “other” stuff is put aside, then things will get sorted-out properly.

    Having said that, this is a potential minefield situation for you. People are going to paint you as someone who refuses to acknowledge Clyburn's heroism. This is not your intention, but that is the straw man argument that will be made.

  • A New York lawyer Feb 13, 2010 @ 10:40

    “You might be hearing from their lawyer.”

    I very, very seriously doubt it. First, there’s no cause of action for defamation against a dead person. Second, it doesn’t sound like anything you’ve said is untrue. (Defamation requires an untrue statement.)

    • Kevin Levin Feb 13, 2010 @ 20:16

      That's unfortunate as I was looking forward to doing some live blogging from a courtroom.

      • Richard Feb 13, 2010 @ 21:56

        I looked forward to it myself, Id get in the car and drive to see it. Hell, bring the whole family and make a day of it. lol

        • Kevin Levin Feb 13, 2010 @ 23:14

          I envision something along the lines of that wonderful scene in “Animal House” when the fraternity is brought up on charges.

      • margaretdblough Feb 14, 2010 @ 22:06

        Maybe you could persuade a local law school to do it as a moot court project

    • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 14, 2010 @ 17:17

      And if he doesn't hear from that lawyer? Might it be a concession that Kevin's right after all? Sure would look that way to some.

      Perhaps Mr. Ijames should not be making such statements without the permission of the family. They might want to look to dealing with him through the legal system. He's put them in a tight place, especially as his own behavior would come to light during a trial, including his own contradictory statements.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 14, 2010 @ 17:26

        The sad thing in all of this is that the family sees Ijames and the SCV as their allies and me as a threat. I touched on the participation of the Clyburn family and I urge all of you to check it out. It read in part:

        “Is it any surprise that Weary Clyburn’s descendants took part in this commemoration? Here was an opportunity to identify and celebrate American history as well as their family’s history. Clyburn was recognized not as a slave, but as a brave soldier who risked his life on the battlefield and served the great Robert E. Lee. The tragedy in all of this, however, is that Weary Clyburn’s past did not have to be distorted for it to be recognized and honored. The point that needs to be made is that Clyburn is a hero. He survived the horrors and humiliation of slavery and war and even managed to make it through the height of the Jim Crow South. If that is not worthy of remembering and commemorating than I don’t know what is.”

        Read the entire post here:

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