More on Sam Cullom
As a follow-up to my recent post on Sam Cullom, a reader passes along this 2004 news item on a ceremony held at the cemetery in Livingston. From the Cookeville, Tennessee Herald-Citizen, July 17, 2004:
Black Confederate soldier honored in ceremony Sam Cullom’s army service memoralized at LivingstonA memorial service was held last Sunday at Livingston for a former slave who served as a soldier in the Confederate Army. Descendants of Sam Cullom attended the ceremony, sponsored by the Highland Brigade of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Sally Tompkins chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, at the Bethlehem Methodist Church, near the Overton County Fairgrounds. Keynote speaker was Ed Butler of Cookeville, commander of the Tennessee Division of the SCV. At the outbreak of the War Between the States, Sam Cullom was a slave belonging to Alvin Cullom who lived in Overton County. Sam and Alvin’s son, Jim, joined the 25th Tennessee Infantry and served with the Army of Tennessee at battles in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. At the battle of Atlanta, Jim was killed in action, and Sam buried him. Sam then was granted leave and brought home to Overton County the personal effects of the young soldier. Sam then joined the 8th Tennessee Cavalry and served through the rest of the war. The exact spot where Sam Cullom is buried in the Bethlemen cemetery is lost to history. Cullom’s early story sketchy because of poor records keeping of the day, but he stated in his Confederate pension application that he had been born in Maryland. Overton County Historian Ronald Dishman said he suspects that Alvin Cullom, a judge and member of Congress, bought Sam from George and William Cullom, tobacco farmers who came from Maryland. Congressman Cullom’s family lived near Monroe, north of Livingston, but in later years moved to the Bethlehem area, off what is now Hwy. 84, between Monterey and Livingston. Sam Cullom’s Confederate pension application indicates that he came to Tennessee when he was about 9-years old. There had been a Bethlehem Methodist congregation since around 1801, Oprha Hassell, church historian, said, but Alvin Cullom gave land to build the church and lay out a cemetery were it now stands. The large cemetery adjacent to the church is where the Cullom family, both white and black, including the congressman and his slave, Sam, are buried. Congressman Cullom was a part of a peace delegation that tried to avert the tragic War Between the States but to no avail. When war did break out, Sam was sent away to the Confederate army with Alvin Cullom’s sons, Jim and Ras. Sam, long with Jim and Ras, served in the 8th Infantry Regiment of the Confederate States of America. They were assigned to Capt. Calvin E. Myer’s Co. D, which later became Co. F. James Cullom eventually became captain of that company. Mustered into Confederate service on July 31, 1861, at Big Springs, Va., the 8th Infantry subsequently took part in the Cheat Mountain Campaign; fought at Corinth, Miss.; at Munfordville and Perryville, Ky.; and at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge in Tennessee. After the war, Sam returned home and described for the Alvin Cullom family how their son, Capt. Jim Cullom, was killed in the Atlanta fighting, telling them how it was he who had buried their son. It wasn’t until 1921, when Sam was around 80-years old, that he applied for a Confederate pension after the Tennessee General Assembly passed the “Negro Pension Law.” By then, he had seven children and several grandchildren, and he and wife were living in the home of their son, Mack, a noted blacksmith of the Livingston area. It is not known how many African American served as Confederate soldiers but it is clear that the Confederate Army did include blacks, even those listed as “free men of color,” within their ranks. “Because the North won the war,” Ed Butler said in his address, “they got to write the history books. They would have you believe that all the blacks in the Confederate Army were cooks or valets.” Butler gave an example of a White County Confederate soldier, Churchwell Randals, who was black and who attained the rank of corporal. “You wouldn’t attain that rank by being a cook or a valet,” he said. “Slavery was an abomination which should have been done away with many years before it was,” Butler said. He pointed out a fact, omitted from some history books, that even Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had slaves — and he didn’t free them until Dec. 1865, after the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, several months after the war had ended. One of Sam Cullom’s descendants, Dr. Althea Armstrong, Sam Cullom’s great-granddaughter from Detroit, Mich., also spoke at the memorial service. “This is an historical moment in America,” she said. “Where I come from, the population is 90-percent black. Here, it is 98-percent white. But here we are. It is not a black thing or a white thing. Today it is about freedom.”
What should we make of this? What parts of Sam Cullom’s story changed between this news item in 2004, and the one four years later? Are different claims made, and how does either square against the contemporary historical record? Are there themes or arguments in this story we’ve heard before?