Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Mustering Black Confederates

Posted in African Americans, Media by Andy Hall on August 24, 2011

A new page added to the blog, indexing by category my previous postings on black Confederate soldiers.

Image: Ransom Gwynn (seated) with white Confederate veterans at what was billed as the “Last Confederate Reunion” at Montgomery, Alabama in September 1944. Rev. Gwynn attended at least two Confederate reunions (1937 and 1944) on the claim that he had been a “body guard” to his former master, but historical records indicate Gwynn was likely not more than 11 years old, and perhaps as young as 8 or 9, when the war ended. Alabama Department of Archives and History.

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  1. Scott Manning said, on August 25, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Very useful. Thanks!

  2. jeff bell said, on August 25, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Andy, what do you believe was the motivation for Rev. Gwynn in attending these reunions? Jeff

    • Andy Hall said, on August 25, 2011 at 10:37 am

      Jeff, I don’t know. There were quite a few African American men who attended reunions like this, and I imagine they had all sorts of reasons for doing so. Absent some specific documentation, I don’t think one can divine the motive of Ransom Gwinn any more than that of some random private in the ranks all those decades before.

      What I have found, though, in looking at contemporary written accounts of these reunions is that there are common elements in almost every case, and their involvement (both in the war and at the reunion) is carefully circumscribed. They are never referred to as fellow soldiers by the white veterans; they’re invariably described as “Uncle So-and-so” or servants or cooks or “body guards” — whatever that last term means. They are often described as attending the reunion accompanying or invited by some white veteran, as opposed to participating on their own. Accounts go on and on about their ongoing loyalty to their former masters, and so on. They also sometimes served as comic relief; I read one newspaper account where, in the reunion parade, the African American men were all grouped at the rear, carrying live chickens to “commemorate” their skill at foraging on the march. Crock Davis, the former servant and cook with the 8th Texas Cavalry, even appears to have been obligated on occasion to use his former master’s surname (Hill) when attending reunions, even though he didn’t use that name day-to-day.

      It’s worth noting that, in the write-up of the “Last Confederate” Reunion” in the contemporary Alabama Historical Quarterly, Gwynn is not included in the main listing of veterans attending, and is only mentioned (as “Gwynne”) because he appears in the photo with the white veterans.

      I don’t doubt that men like Rev. Gwynn were welcomed (up to a point) at those reunions, and had a good time. But it’s also clear that in doing so they were (wittingly or not) reaffirming the old social/racial order of the antebellum South, were welcomed specifically for that reason.

      • jeff bell said, on August 25, 2011 at 1:30 pm

        Perhaps in the pre-civil rights era Rev.Gwynn and others like him were participating in such events to protect what little social status they had; just surviving. You might see an African-American dressed in a Confederate uniform at a contemporary event however I doubt you would see any dressed for the role of teamster or camp-cook. So I guess contemporary history manifests itself in the way which agrees with the version we perceive to be true, accurate or not.

        • Andy Hall said, on August 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm

          Without being able to say how this applied to Rev. Gwynn specifically, the story of African Americans in the Jim Crow South is entirely one of doing what one needs to, to get along. That applies to virtually every aspect of daily life. It was surely a hard thing, to carve out autonomy and influence for oneself and ones family, while at the same time not directly challenging the existing power structure and making oneself a target. It’s a minefield that each individual had to find a way to navigate on his or her own.

          I’m continually reminded of the famous Dick Gregory line, that rings so true: “Up North, they don’t care how big I get, so long as I don’t get too close. And down South, they don’t care how close I get, so long as I don’t get too big.”

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