Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Confederate “Body Soldier” Honored with Fake Grave, Yankee Headstone

Posted in African Americans, Education, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on May 29, 2012

Update, June 12: The researcher behind the stone, Julia Barnes, pushes back hard against my piece below:

Andy, as with many issues, reporters make mistakes. The reporter did a good job and was trying to do a public service. The records for Wade Childs stated that he was a “body servant,” not “body soldier.” The burial site for both men, Lewis and Wade Childs, was the West View cemetery in Anderson. This is not supposition. It is based upon the death certificates. Both were buried in the same cemetery, by the same undertaker, about 12 months apart. This is not a fake grave. It is a placement based upon the records of the Anderson Cemetery records office, the South Carolina Vital Records department, and the Pension records found in the SC Archives, which noted his burial location and date. All of this was reviewed by the City attorney for approval of the placement of the headstone.

Fair enough. More in the comments.

_____________________

Even in the muddle of half-understood documents, vague definitions and simplistic, patriotic tropes one comes to expect of news stories about black Confederates, this one’s a mess:

Childs served as a body soldier with Orrs Regiment of the South Carolina Rifles in the Confederate army during the Civil War. He carried the belongings and camp supplies of white soldiers, one of some 20,000 to 50,000 slaves who labored during the war.

[Julia] Barnes believes he might also be one of the 3,000 to 10,000 black Confederates who Harvard researchers suspect fought for the South. The Southern army did not record black soldiers, said Barnes, an Anderson County historian.

I’ve never heard the term “body soldier” before, but I suspect I will again. It’s a modern obfuscation that both sounds substantive and conveniently elides the terms used 150 years ago. It’s not a term real Confederates would have understood or used. Childs would have been known as a “body servant,” or simply as a slave. There is a passing reference to Wade Childs’ being enslaved, but no reference to soldiers Private John Chiles or Captain James S. Cothran, to whom (according to his pension record) Childs was acting as servant. Childs labored for those men, not for the Confederate army. The headstone makes no reference to Childs’ role whatsoever. That’s almost unheard of on such stones, and suggests very strongly that the folks who put it up feel like the less said about that status, the better.

Mike Barnes, the local SCV camp commander, is quoted as saying that “they are considered veterans by the state of South Carolina,” but in fact the state viewed men like Childs very, very differently than it did rank-and-file Confederate soldiers. South Carolina first awarded pensions to disabled white veterans and their widows in 1887, and gradually expanded eligibility for other white veterans in the decades following. It was almost forty more years, though, before men like Childs were made eligible:

Act No. 63, 1923 S.C. Acts 107 allowed African Americans who had served at least six months as cooks, servants, or attendants to apply for a pension. Then in 1924, apparently because there were too many applications, the act was amended to eliminate all laborers, teamsters, and non-South Carolinians by extending eligibility only to South Carolina residents who had served the state for at least six months as “body servants or male camp cooks.”

The evidence for Child’s involvement with the Confederate military seems to rest entirely on his 1923 pension application (read it here), which is fine as far as it goes. (See another example of the limits of Confederate pension records here.) But the pension application is very clear about what Childs’ (or Chiles’, as it’s given in the application) role was during the war as a servant — none of this vague “body soldier” business mentioned there.

It’s also important to note that, as is often the case with such applications, the case for Childs’ worthiness for such a pension was made not only on his wartime service to his master, but also on his continued adherence to the racial status quo antebellum in the South. “Wade has been a faithful, dependable negro [sic.],” his primary sponsor writes, “humble to white people and always willing to serve them.” Contrary to the assertions of the local SCV camp commander, this is hardly a case of Childs’ service being recognized by the state as being anything like that of white veterans, armed and in the ranks.

Make note also of the fact that, as of 1924, African Americans who had worked as laborers and teamsters, men whose activities were arguably more directly beneficial to the South’s military effort, were explicitly excluded from the pension program in favor of those men like Childs who had served individual white soldiers. Cooks and personal servants counted; the men who built earthworks and drove wagons did not. That was the policy of the state of South Carolina.

All of this is par for the course in “honoring” black Confederates, but there’s an additional element here that adds another layer of dubious research findings:

Barnes and her husband discovered that Childs’ brother Lewis was buried at Westview, a historically black cemetery. They concluded that Wade Childs must be buried there, too.

Westview’s military corner facing Reed Street is “wall-to-wall” with unmarked graves, Barnes said.

“I had been looking and found his brother there,” Barnes said. “It’s logical that he would be there since his brother is there. We don’t know where, but when we saw Lewis, we felt his was there, too.”

Yes, you read that right — they have no damn idea where Wade Childs is actually buried. They’re guessing, and placed a stone in that cemetery, on that spot, because they “felt” that was the spot, that it was “logical” to them. It’s a fake grave, just like the ones in Pulaski — with the exception that the folks in Tennessee at least added fine print noting that location of the person mentioned is unknown. No such truth-telling here.

To add an extra bit of irony, these noble defenders of Southron Honour™ put up a stone with a rounded top, like those of of U.S. veterans, not the peaked top usually used for former Confederates. How on earth did they get that one wrong?

I dare say these folks found a local African American man in the South Carolina pension rolls, and ended up so determined to commemorate their very own black Confederate that little details like, oh, actually knowing where he’s buried became irrelevant to putting up a marker and chalking up another “forgotten segment of South Carolina’s past.” Thank goodness these folks are only promoting heritage — if they called this half-baked foolishness history, they’d be laughed out of town.

______________

Update, May 31: I originally put this down in the comments, but it might be useful to explain further why I’m a bit exercised about this “fake grave” business, an action that I (still) consider to be so misleading as to border on willful dishonesty.

Long-time readers may recall my post just about exactly a year ago on Peter Phelps, a white Confederate soldier who’d been named as a “black Confederate” by another website. In researching Peter Phelps, I found documentation not only of the cemetery he was buried in, but also the section. Unfortunately, there is no marker there now to identify the exact spot, so I posted a photo of the area with a caption that it showed the area where he was buried, but the precise location is not known. That’s fair, that’s accurate, and that’s honest. What I did not do is take a picture of an empty patch of soil and state, “this is Peter Phelps’ grave,” which is essentially what the Barnes are doing with Wade Childs.

As for their assumption that Wade Childs is buried next to his brother, the Phelps case is also instructive. Peter’s wife, Lucinda, died several years before he did, and we know (again from interment records) that she was buried in a plot in the same part of that cemetery. But section and plot numbers also make it clear that they are not buried together, as one might assume a married couple would be. While it may seem “logical” to think that Childs is buried near his brother, in the absence of actual evidence of that, it seems foolhardy to me to make that assumption and set it in stone (literally) for future generations. Visitors to that South Carolina cemetery a week from now, a year from now, fifty years from now, are going to be left with the belief that they saw the grave of Wade Childs, when in fact they might not have been within fifty (or a hundred) yards of it. Does that sort of precision really matter? Yes, I think it does, especially when it involves placing a marker that’s intended to last for generations to come.

As I’ve said, there are many ways to recognize a person, or a burial, without setting up a fake grave. It can be done. Even the faux cemetery for black Confederates at Pulaski, which is disingenuous and misleading in so many ways, acknowledges that the men so “honored” do not actually lie under those stones.

For those who want to engage in the heritage vs. history debate, this commemoration of Wade Childs offers lots to chew on. It’s a great example of the difference between two different approaches. Serious historians know the limits of their knowledge of a subject, and are willing to say “we don’t know that; we don’t actually know where Wade Childs is buried.” A serious historian does not go around setting up a simulated gravesite as a means of “honoring” a deceased person, or making up a term like “body soldier” to muddy the waters around the man’s actual role in the war, while ignoring critical elements of the primary, documentary record that undermine the chosen narrative. “Heritage” advocates do that sort of thing all the time, and aren’t even aware they’re doing it, or understand that it’s a problem.

So by all means, “forward the Colours,” y’all. Just don’t think what you’re doing counts as history.

______________
Image: Jennifer Crossley Howard, IndependentMail.com.

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17 Responses

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  1. Rob Baker said, on May 29, 2012 at 9:38 am

    It’s lengths at which people will go to redefine and justify the peculair institution is absolutely amazing.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 29, 2012 at 9:41 am

      In this case it seems to be an effort to avoid the topic altogether. Real Confederates, and the generation of white Southerners who came after them, were not nearly so squeamish about such things.

      I (and others) have often argued that the modern “black Confederate” phenomenon is little more that the traditional “faithful slave” meme, re-framed for a modern audience. That’s still true, but the critical difference is that the “faithful slave” framing (which, one should recognize, is central to Childs’ pension application) is one that puts a benign face of the peculiar institution, while much of what is claimed now about “black Confederates” seeks to push the institution of slavery out of the picture altogether.

  2. isaacplautus said, on May 29, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    I take it those honoring Childs are also supportive of expanding greater access to education and health care for black South Carolinians? ;)

  3. BorderRuffian said, on May 30, 2012 at 8:01 am

    isaacplautus-
    “I take it those honoring Childs are also supportive of expanding greater access to education and health care for black South Carolinians?”

    Probably so.

    http://www.sccb.state.sc.us/about_south_carolina_commission_for_the_blind/board/index.html

  4. BorderRuffian said, on May 30, 2012 at 8:09 am

    It’s not unusual to -not- know the exact location of a grave in an old cemetery.
    Dr. Barnes and all involved should be congratulated for their good work.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 30, 2012 at 8:39 am

      The stone gives no indication that doubt.

      There are innumerable ways to honor or remember someone without planting a stone in a cemetery that others are going to believe marks an actual, specific grave.

      BTW, BR, what exactly is a “body soldier,” anyway? You know good and well that Wade Childs was not considered to be a soldier in 1861-65, nor was he considered to be such by the state of South Carolina in the 1920s. So why make up a confusing and willfully-misleading term like “body soldier” now, if not to distract from that historical reality?

      • Neil Hamilton said, on May 31, 2012 at 3:13 am

        Andy,

        The term “body soldier” is simply more smoke for the mirrors of Confederate Heritage to disguise a less forgiving, factual history.

        Neil

        • Andy Hall said, on May 31, 2012 at 7:27 am

          BR suggests, without evidence, that the term “body soldier” is an error that originated with the reporter, rather than the researcher. That’s possible, but the overall thrust of the commemoration elides Childs’ actual role during the war, and the particulars of South Carolina’s pension program, which drew hard distinctions between men like Childs and white soldiers in the ranks. I don’t think it’s a typo, or garbled teminology by the reporter.

          It’s important to understand that this presentation of Wade Childs is not made up from whole cloth; virtually all “black Confederate” stories start with a kernel of factual information, as does this one. It’s how BCS advocates use (or sometimes ignore) the documentary record and the historical context to misrepresent these mens’ real history that’s the problem.

  5. BorderRuffian said, on May 30, 2012 at 10:05 am

    “Wade Childs 1836-1928
    (exact location unknown)”

    No, I don’t think that’s necessary. No one’s going to dig to find out.
    And Barnes makes it clear in the article that she does not know the exact location.

    “body soldier”

    The writer of the article (Ms. Howard) used that term. Did she get it from Barnes? You will have to ask them.

    juliabarnes@charter.net

    http://www.independentmail.com/staff/

    Would I use that term? No.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 30, 2012 at 12:28 pm

      BR, you have a history of calling on me to do the legwork to verify your assertions. Not my job, dood!

      If Ms. Barnes feels she was misquoted, or that the phrase misrepresents her intent in a substantive way, it’s up to her to either have a correction made, or at least say so in the comments section to the story.

      I said it before and I’ll repeat it here — the absence of any reference to Childs’ wartime role on the stone is glaringly obvious to folks familiar with stones like that, and (to me) suggests a desire not to address that subject much at all.

      • Julia Barnes said, on June 12, 2012 at 10:55 am

        It is not a desire to not address the subject. It is simply that the man carving the stone could not put what I had originally asked. There was not room on the headstone. Further, corrections were made to the story from the original posting.

        • Andy Hall said, on June 12, 2012 at 10:57 am

          Thanks for your comments, Ms. Barnes. I’ve flagged them at the top of the story.

          • Julia Barnes said, on June 12, 2012 at 2:42 pm

            You are welcome. This was really not an effort to whitewash history. I have been working on veterans graves (colonial to modern) for several years. In fact, I have ordered over 40 headstones from the VA for vets who had no stones or had broken ones. I have received permission from the churches, cemeteries, and families involved. It is not a matter of just putting one somewhere on a whim. But for some reason, Mr. Childs had a hold on my heart for about 7 years since I first read about him in an obscure reference in the state archives. It was not a matter of female intuition of where the grave was found or a placement based upon a whim. Once I found the death certificate that made it clear where he was buried, it seemed wrong to not have a headstone for this man. I personally believe that no veteran should be forgotten. I realize that you don’t look at Wade Childs as a vet, but I know that men are now cooks in the military and they are considered active duty. Back in the 1860s, that was not the case. The VA would not provide a headstone for Mr. Childs because he had no military records. They were not being anti-Confederate, racist, or anything other than following the guidelines for approval of headstones and gravemarkers. I felt that it would be wrong to NOT have a headstone for the man but he had no family left that I could find. The headstone does not have a pointy-top because it was a privately carved stone from a local monument company and that is how the carver did the stone, with a rough top. The stone did not have room for all the info without putting it out of the range of affordability for me. This was kind of putting your money where your mouth is to me. I raised the funds to get a headstone for him, and the city cemetery officials put it in for us as a courtesy. I cannot say enough positive things about the city of Anderson in this regard. They have outstanding records, and any family members who are looking for ancestor graves should go see them. You may have to go through old record volumes but many times you will find the records there which you might have thought impossible to locate.

            • Andy Hall said, on June 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm

              I’m going to bump your earlier comment up to the top of the post.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 31, 2012 at 11:07 am

      I’d like to add one additional thing, regarding this business of putting up headstones to simulate a grave, when in fact one knows fnck-all about where the person is actually buried:

      You will recall my post just about exactly a year ago on Peter Phelps, a white Confederate soldier who’d been named as a “black Confederate” by another website. (I know you remember this because you commented several times in the ensuing comment thread.)

      In researching Peter Phelps, I found documentation not only of the cemetery he was buried in, but also the section. Unfortunately, there is no marker there now to identify the exact spot, so I posted a photo of the area with a caption that it showed the area where he was buried, but the precise location is not known. That’s fair, that’s accurate, and that’s honest. What I did not do is take a picture of an empty patch of soil and state, “this is Peter Phelps’ grave,” which is essentially what the Barnes are doing with Wade Childs.

      As for their assumption that Wade Childs is buried next to his brother, the Phelps case is also instructive. Peter’s wife, Lucinda, died several years before he did, and we know (again from interment records) that she was buried in a plot in the same part of that cemetery. But section and plot numbers also make it clear that they are not buried together, as one might assume a married couple would be. While it may seem “logical” to think that Childs is buried near his brother, in the absence of actual evidence of that, it seems foolhardy to me to make that assumption and set it in stone (literally) for future generations.

      As I’ve said, there are many ways to recognize a burial without setting up a fake grave.

    • Julia Barnes said, on June 12, 2012 at 2:50 pm

      The reporter just made a mistake. One little word that she put in wrong. I do hope that this term does not get a bunch of people on a chain of repeating it to enhance false efforts. I have never, ever heard the term “body soldier.” This was just an honest mistake by a reporter. The newspaper did the feature as part of the memorial day coverage that weekend. They did several stories on remembering the military over a wide span of American history. The Anderson Independent-Mail is an excellent newspaper, and we are fortunate to have it in the area.

  6. Julia Barnes said, on June 12, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Andy, as with many issues, reporters make mistakes. The reporter did a good job and was trying to do a public service. The records for Wade Childs stated that he was a “body servant,” not “body soldier.” The burial site for both men, Lewis and Wade Childs, was the West View cemetery in Anderson. This is not supposition. It is based upon the death certificates. Both were buried in the same cemetery, by the same undertaker, about 12 months apart. This is not a fake grave. It is a placement based upon the records of the Anderson Cemetery records office, the South Carolina Vital Records department, and the Pension records found in the SC Archives, which noted his burial location and date. All of this was reviewed by the City attorney for approval of the placement of the headstone.


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