That’s a euphemism for slaves who were forced to work for the Confederate government during the war or who accompanied a master into the army. Of the ten men who will be recognized today in Union County North Carolina, nine were slaves. All received pensions after the war, but not for their service as soldiers. The marker reads: “In Memory of Union County’s Confederate Pensioners of Color,” and lists their names: Wilson Ashcraft, Ned Byrd, Wary Clyburn, Wyatt Cunningham, George Cureton, Hamp Cuthbertson, Mose Fraser, Lewis McGill, Aaron Perry and Jeff Sanders. I have the pensions for most of these men, including Clyburn’s whose file includes a letter confirming that his pension was not a recognition of service as a soldier – just in case there was any confusion.
It will be interesting to see whether event organizers, including speaker Earl Ijames, will mention that these men were indeed slaves. It is nice to see that at least one newspaper includes a reference to these men as slaves. That inconvenient fact is almost always ignored, but without it the history of these men makes absolutely no sense.
As I’ve said before, there is nothing wrong with remembering these men, but Confederate slaves ought to be recognized for surviving the Confederacy.
Coulda’ been worse; they coulda’ set up a fake cemetery like they did in Pulaski, Tennessee a few years ago.
It’s interesting how the debate over ‘black Confederates’ quickly wanders into the weeds with stories of some individual slave or ex-slave who was willing to fight for the Confederate ’cause’.
The question is not whether there were (legally) back folks who supported the Confederacy — undoubtedly there were some, perhaps even some who were not themselves ‘passing’ as white. From my perspective, of course, the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ comes to mind, but I’m sure some of these folks were indeed of sound mind and body, acting in their own best interests.
Rather, the question is whether the Confederacy itself was — at the time — willing to recognize their service as a sacrifice made by citizens for their state and nation. And the answer, it seems clear, was ‘absolutely not.’ Very simply, the idea of recognizing slaves or ex-slaves as citizens was anathema to the slave system’s ideology of white supremacy.
I would argue that they get just far enough into the weeds to get a name, dates, and a few other historical datum points, but absolutely no farther — and that’s by design. The less one knows about another person — whether today or someone who lived decades ago — the easier it is to make up a happy fantasy about them, that may or may not have any resemblance to their actual experiences. That’s why much of the “evidence” for “Colored Confederates” — a retrograde term if ever there was one — consists of little more than pictures of anonymous old black men at reunions and vague references in contemporary newspapers to Confederate regiments that no one’s ever bothered to identify. When one actually does start digging into individual mens’ stories, they’re often quite complex and not remotely like the way they’re promoted by the Confederate heritage movement today.
True enough… which would be a reason to systematically avoid the easiest cases: the ‘civilized’ indian tribes who threw in their lot with the Confederates: things there get too messy too quickly… especially because, well, they were fighting for the Confederacy to protect their property in slaves.
It’s ridiculous to talk about “passing for white.” If they served in the Confederate Army, then they WERE white. There was no hard and fast one-drop rule. You were white if you exercised the rights and privileges of whites.
John Wilson Buckner
Grandson of William Ellison
I fail to see your point in this Kevin. Whether or you believe it or not these men are Confederate Veterans. (A person who has served in the armed forces) You can try to dispute it all you like but they did service for the military whether it be as volunteer or not is not relevant. By your argument that they did not fire weapons and did not have muster rolls holds no water. If that were the case men who served as militia would not be considered veterans because they are not listed in the Confederate Army. A majority of these Colored men were not even listed in the 1860 census prior to the war. Then you may try the argument that they were just cooks, or built fortifications or drove wagons, or even just body guards well here again our soldiers today need cooks, fortification builders, (aka engineers) and truck drivers, (teamsters). (Not to mention body guards need weapons to for protection as seen in photos of slaves with their masters.) Many of these men did not see military combat but yet they are still veterans. The argument that no person of color ever served willingly is also another failed attempt to discredit these men. Of course many if not most of them had no choice. But news flash! After 1862 when the conscription laws were set in place most of the men in the war had no choice to be involved in the war in some way. My ancestors are a perfect example. James Myers, 40 years old, conscripted into service, captured and made POW. After his capture the Conscription Officers came after his brother Jesse who died from battle wounds. Both men forced to serve in the military. And don’t even get me started on the number of US. Colored Troops that were forced to wear the blue. Keven there is a reason you are not taken seriously as a historian and just a blogger and it is posts such as this that shows it. You were not even at the event to have a say in the matter yet alone try to criticize Mr. Ijames on his speech in which you did not hear. He did a wonderful job on his speech mentioning the service of both the slave and free men of color who contributed to the Confederacy. There is a reason he is a Curator at the NC Museum of History and is taken seriously and you are not. I would love for you to have been at the event and try to discredit these men in front of their decedents. You would have been run out of town.
Thanks for the comment. You said:
“You can try to dispute it all you like but they did service for the military whether it be as volunteer or not is not relevant.”
They didn’t give service to the Confederacy. They served their masters as servants or the Confederate government as slaves. The distinction mattered to Confederates and it should matter to how we remember these men. Describing these men as “Confederate Pensioners of Color” does nothing but obscure this fact.
Your argument makes little sense because we know for a fact that 9 of the 10 men were slaves. I have their pension records. None of them were soldiers. I’ve heard Ijames in person and have written quite a bit about him on this blog. Whether I would be run out of town tells me nothing more than that the crowd was filled with people who choose to remember a past that did not exist.
“Keven there is a reason you are not taken seriously as a historian and
just a blogger and it is posts such as this that shows it.”
I will let my resume speak for itself. Perhaps you should say that you don’t respect me as a historian, which is fine. Thanks for the comment.
Here is where you discredit yourself as a historian. You
“They didn’t give service to the Confederacy. They served their masters as servants or the Confederate government as slaves. The distinction mattered to Confederates and it should matter to how we remember these men.”
Do you seem to completely ignore that there is substantial evidence of men of Color in the camps with the regular soldiers. There are numerous photos and recorded accounts of former slaves and freemen of Color at the veteran reunions. You try to say they their White counterparts cared about the status as free or slave. Yet there they stand together years after the war In the days of segregation when it was not popular to be seen together. They had a brotherhood from the service together in the war.
British observer Captain Arthur Fremantle, attached to General Lee’s Army at Gettysburg witnessed many accounts of Colored men showing loyalty to the Southern Cause, including a case of a Colored man in uniform in charge of White Union prisoners.
Levy Carnine was a slave of a Mr Hogan and left with Hogan when he enlisted with the Pelican Rifles. When Levy’s master was killed in battle Levy saw to the duty of burying him. He would then report to Col. Jesse Williams and stay with him until the Colonel would also die in battle. Later in the war Levy would be asked by the men of the regiment to take money and supplies to their families after contact was cut to the western States. Levy would do this going behind enemy lines and delivering the mail and money to the people he cared for. He would become a local hero. But he would not stop there and would later in the war join one of the last units to be raised in Louisiana and volunteer to be a bodyguard to a relative of his former master.
Still you say no slave ever volunteered to aid the Confederate Cause?
You also seem to forget or wish to not even mention that there were also free men of Color who served the Confederacy. What obligations would these men have? As they do not have masters to tell them what to do. They are also outside of the conscription laws; they would not be forced to do anything.
Jeff Sanders was born to a free woman of color in 1845 in the Lynches River area of South Carolina. Sanders was a laborer and cook who spent time during the war with the brother of Confederate Brig. Gen. Nathan George “Shanks” Evans.
He did this on his own account. No one forced this man to do anything. But in your mind he does not exist and does not deserve to be honored as a Confederate.
Maybe you should actually watch a news clip from the event. Hear what the decedents of these men have to say, rather than trying to deny them of the honor they deserve.
The pensions themselves say this. No one is denying that Confederate armies included thousands of blacks. The question is their status and the historical record is clear about this. I suggest you read Bruce Levine’s book Confederate Emancipation. Nothing you’ve cited here constitutes evidence for anything.
I appreciate you taking the time and thanks for the link, but with all due respect you are not saying anything worth serious consideration.
Jamie, here is where you discredit yourself as an historian. If you go back and read Fremantle — who was a Lieutenant Colonel, not a Captain — you will notice that (1) the African American man in question is explicitly identified as a slave, not as a soldier, (2) he was wearing a Union uniform, apparently liberated from the prisoners, and (3) he was escorting the single prisoner because the two white Confederate soldiers who were supposed to be doing so had got drunk. Far from being routine, as Fremantle notes, it was a spectacle unusual enough to cause General Longstreet to stop the pair and demand to know what was going on. Corps commanders on the march, as I recall, didn’t much get involved in the routine handling of individual prisoners.
I understand well enough that the Southron Heritage movement, particularly when it comes to black Confederates, is built up on misrepresented anecdotes and a deliberate elision of critical elements in the historical record. But just because this sort of dishonest foolishness passes among the true believers, who won’t be bothered to verify the source, doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t know the material.
I would be more interested in hearing what the scheduled speakers had to say, actually. I know they didn’t go speechifying off-the-cuff; can you post the prepared remarks given at the event, please?
Thanks Andy. I just don’t have the patience.
To the extent that Jeff Sanders’ story is true as you tell it (hard not to think of the tragic SGT Vernon Waters in “Soldier’s Play” — “they still hate you.”) the tragedy is that his Confederacy would have preferred to believe he did not exist, and certainly didn’t believe him worthy of respect or honor.
Perhaps it is a hopeful sign that folks such as Mr. Funkhouser are now struggling to unearth stories like that of Mr. Sanders: the more one seeks to understand the experience and motivations of people like him, the more repugnant Southern society appears.
The problem is that what is cited is so fragmented that they don’t tell us much of anything at all. On top of that we have the same old accounts from Freemantle, Steiner, etc. that have been discredited over and over.
I’m a Yankee with impeccable pedigree and more-than-passing acquaintance with ‘white liberal guilt’ — probably dating back to my Republican ancestors. As such, I find it interesting to watch the Southron manifestation of the same psychology — they too, it seems, are hoping to find a ‘magic negro.’
This is basically the point you made at the end of your November Op-Ed in the Times: I agree it’s a good one — part of what is happening is a kind of Southron Voodoo: Mr. Sander’s bones are being disinterred and reanimated in the service of Confederate memory, but there are all sorts of reasons to doubt we are actually hearing echos of Sanders’ own experience, motivations, or spirit.
Yes, the historiography of these Southron myths is probably much more telling than the myths themselves.
That said, people’s motives and motivations are rarely as noble or straight-forward as we would like them to be: e.g. Peter Novick long ago made a strong and convincing argument that the French Resistance ‘expanded’ radically after France was liberated (i.e., there was a lot more collaboration and cowardice, a lot less heroism than we might wish).
In terms of our own history, it’s a distasteful but all-too plausible that slavery and white supremacy involved a fair degree of acquiescence and/or collaboration — Frederick Douglass spent a fair amount of time in Life and Times trying to make sense of the motivations of the slave who betrayed his first escape attempt.
Given these realities of human nature, it strikes me that the whole ‘black Confederates’ argument is an odd one. We know that Southern society was complicated, so it seems inevitable that the Southrons — if they actually bother themselves to do primary research, instead of recycling their tired myths — will be able, eventually, to find some person of color/ex-slave/(legally ‘black’ person passing as white) who really did “die fighting for the Confederacy” (cough, the cough, ‘civilized tribes’ would be one place to look).
The sad thing is, it won’t matter: Southern society was still divided between slave and free, and its ideologists were successfully promulgating the ideology that slavery was a ‘positive good.’ Black citizenship was anathema to this ideology. More importantly, perhaps, it was likely to depreciate the value of Southern property. And so — as a matter of policy — any slave foolish enough to try dying for the Confederacy was all too-likely to find an unmarked grave.
You hit on what I think is the most depressing aspect of these commemorations. In their self-serving hope to distance the Confederate experiment from slavery event organizers end up turning these men into something other than full agents. Their motivations and broader outlook revolve around their masters and the Confederacy. In short, they end up using these men and their descendants as a means to an end. It’s dirty.
Absolutely… it also seems like the germ of a Stephen King novel.
“The more one seeks to understand the experience and motivations of people like him, the more repugnant Southern society appears.”
That’s gonna leave a mark. 😉
The point is very simple: whether or not ‘black folks’ were willing to serve the Confederacy, the Confederacy was unwilling to accept their service. (‘Oh hell no’) And, to be frank, given their ideology, they were smart not too, for two reasons:
1) soldiers tend to demand full rights of citizenship — if they’d bothered to look, they could see how difficult it was for the Junkers to stuff the Landwehr genie back in the bottle.
2) point 1 was already going to be a problem: the south’s slave-holding classes had already asked for huge sacrifices from their (white) inferiors… even if they won the war, that bill was going to come due with a vengeance.
Which leads me to wonder, sometimes, whether my ancestors should have left the South to stew in its own toxic juices
I love your last sentence:
“…., but Confederate slaves ought to be recognized for surviving the Confederacy.”
Anything else is nothing more than self serving rhetoric for Confederate and slavery apologists.