High School Students Bring The Crater and Loyal Slaves to Life

Samuel LowryLooks like students at South Pointe High School are bringing to life the diary of Lt. Samuel “Catawba” Lowry, who served in the 17th South Carolina Infantry.  Lowry’s diary is well worth reading.  He provides a great deal of detail about camp life, battle, as well as his experiences with his servants.  His final diary entry comes just days before the battle of the Crater in which he was killed.  Lowry’s servant, Henry Avery recovered the body and escorted it home to Yorkville for burial.  On the one hand, I love projects like this.  Unfortunately, it looks like both teacher and students might be taking a bit too much license with the diary.

It is a story about Lowry’s home and his family – a story about his beloved Southland. Most of all, is a story about relationships and bonds of brotherhood.  It is also a story that some of the South Pointe cast members hope will challenge the stereotypes of the Civil War and slavery. Three of the essential voices in the play are Lowry family slaves: Horace, Jesse and Henry. They accompanied young Samuel to war. The diary never uses the word slave. Lowry refers to them as servants or boy.  It was Henry who descended into the crater, recovering Lowry’s body. Henry then found Lowry’s possessions – including the diary – and then brought Lowry home to Yorkville for burial.  South Pointe teacher James Chrismon and students such as junior Nicholas Arsenal turned the diary into a stage play. The play is not literal – some theatrical licenses were taken – but it stays true to Lowry’s beliefs and to his prose….

Anthony McCullough, one of two black students in the play, said the production “makes me realize that black people have come a long way.”  Arsenal said he hopes the play changes some perspective on slavery. “It wasn’t right, but not everyone was treated so badly.  “This play is about equality,” Arsenal continued. “Race doesn’t matter. Anyone can be your family,” he said.

Of course, it would be a mistake to blame students for characterizing the relationship between master and slave as one of equality.  Responsibility for this falls squarely on their teacher. This might be a good time to recommend one of Gilder-Lehrman’s summer Teacher Seminars.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

3 comments… add one
  • Bummer Jan 25, 2013 @ 6:23

    Very few communities would allow this play portrayed in this context. Maybe OK at South Pointe, but not any Bummer can think of. The young folks at this school are not learning the reality of the camp-boy reality.

  • Emmanuel Dabney Jan 24, 2013 @ 16:20

    Yikes! Equality? No. It is true that race doesn’t deny persons from being in the family tree. I should know, my ggg-grandfather was white and my ggg-grandmother was mixed race.

    However, from the photo it is not true that Blacks wore Confederate officer clothing. In fact, there was outrage from a free black in Richmond who bought a lieutenant’s coat and public pressure forced him to strip any evidence of the officer rank from the coat. Why he bought the coat at all is not clear.

    Still there is something useful in here of using first person accounts. Just need more context.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 24, 2013 @ 16:31

      I’ve read a few accounts of servants acquiring uniforms, but not that of an officer. I completely agree that it’s an incredibly creative approach, but as you note it is fundamentally flawed.

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