12 September 2012

Black Confederates Agree With Me - Roles Reversed?

Jefferson Shields

Kevin Levin recently posted some interesting comments at Civil War Memory. A passage from The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves prompted Kevin's comments:

After the war, a slave named Luke would ask for a parole when his master, a Confederate colonel, surrendered to a Yankee officer in Columbia, Mississippi.  “Luke, you don’t need one,” said his master.  “You never been a soldier.”  “Yes, I has been a soldier–for four years,” Luke replied.  “Now you and that man don’t want to do me that way.”  The Yankee officer declared that Luke “made more sense” than the colonel did, and gave him his parole.

Here's what I find rather ironic about the passage above, as well as Kevin's comments. Kevin, and others like him, today often find themselves in the position of the Confederate soldier ("that man" in the words of the black soldier) cited in this passage - denying soldier status to blacks who served (not necessarily fought) in the Confederate Army. (I've blogged about this whole silly argument before.) And in another role-reversal, descendants of Confederate soldiers are taking the position of the Union soldier cited in the passage - recognizing the service of these men with ceremonies, headstones, etc. One way to look at this debate is that the various heritage organizations are attempting to right a wrong, while those opposing these efforts apparently want to keep these men from the recognition they deserve because they question the motives of those same heritage organizations. How can they legitimately do that? Are they clairvoyant?

Clearly, as Kevin points out, the black Confederate wanted to be recognized as a "soldier" and I have little doubt the reasons are as Kevin pointed out:

It’s not simply the status he is interested in, but the respect and acknowledgment that he had suffered and exercised the same virtues as any other man in the army. 
There are other reasons blacks who served in the Confederate Army wanted recognition - financial. I wrote about one such case in my book about Stonewall Jackson's black Sunday school class- Jefferson Shields:

Numerous articles and books have reported that Shields served as General Jackson’s “body servant” or cook during the war. Shields’s claims were accepted at face value by many Lexingtonians and veterans. But there are no Civil War–era records or accounts of Jackson, nor any of his staff, mentioning Jefferson Shields. That does not necessarily prove that Shields never cooked a meal for Jackson’s staff or for some members of Jackson’s army, but it casts doubt on the *veracity of Shields’s assertions that he served Jackson regularly. Shields also professed to have cooked for the Stonewall Brigade and Jeb Stuart. Likewise, while there is nothing to dispute this, there are no dependable historical records to prove it either.
It would be easy to speculate that the veterans exploited Shields’s desire for fame, but one could also conclude that it was Shields who actually gained the upper hand from this relationship, because his fame “assured him a comfortable income to the end of his earthly pilgrimage.” So comfortable, in fact, that he purchased a lot on what is now Davidson Street in Lexington and built a handsome brick home that still stands.

I agree with Kevin about the "status, respect, and acknowledgement" desired by some black Confederates and have made that same observation myself. But it begs the question - why do so many in the Civil War community wish to continue denying these men "the same virtues as any other man in the [Confederate] army"?

I think Luke and I make much more sense.

*Shields actually served in 27th Va Infantry, Stonewall Brigade, and was a body servant [slave] of Colonel Edmonson's.


13thBama said...

A slave serving the confederacy is the equivalent of a million year old fossil of a house cat. Neither fit the left's belief system, so they are discounted out of hand.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Yeah, that's pretty much it. I've never bought the line that there were tens of thousands of armed black men shooting at yankees - there's just no credible evidence of that. But there were a few and, beyond that, those who served in other capacities still deserve some recognition - in my humble opinion. I agree with Luke.

13thBama said...

Another example:

"In August, 1866, a troop of Federal cavalry was riding by Forrest's place, as much out of curiosity to see him as for any more definite reason. Forrest's war horse, King Phillip, was grazing in the front lot. As the blue-clad cavalry filed into the lot on the way up to the house, King Phillip's training in many a melee reasserted itself, and he rushed the bluecoats, teeth bared and front feet flailing. When some of the soldiers, astonished at his onslaught, struck at him, Forrest's wartime body servant Jerry- whom the other Negro's in the Forrest command had referred to, and obeyed, as "the Gin'ral"- rushed out to defend the horse. After Forrest himself had come out and the horse was back in the stable and things had quieted down, the Federal captain observed, 'General, now I can account for your success. Your negroes fight for you, and your horses fight for you.' "

Taken from http://www.freeinfosociety.com/article.php?id=184

But I have read it other places.

Joel said...

I think the problem stems from how the southenr heritage advocates want to see the role of blacks in the southern army vs. how the pro-Union bloggers see them.

CHA want to see these men as soldiers regardless of what their actual status was, therefore ending the discussion of slavery as the major cause of the war.

On the other hand, pro-Union bloggers want to put these men in their proper historical place as slaves, but still honor them for what they did. This then rubs against the agenda of CHA's and the back and forth begins and the honoring part get left by the wayside.

Just my thoughts


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


But, again, this involves assigning motives to the CHA's collectively. I don't think that's legitimate. I think both sides have been, at times, guilty of "using" these men for their own agendas. That being said, I see absolutely nothing wrong with honoring these men for their service - whatever that service entailed. I doubt Luke's attitude was unique or isolated. Obviously, he thought of himself as a soldier even thought his service may not have actually included the use of weaponry.

We've had this discussion here before and I'm not going to get into that whole argument again - you can read the old posts if you'd like. The focus of this post was how Luke viewed his service and the irony of how the various factions view that today. I find it all quite intriguing.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.