A Quick Note on Robert E. Lee’s Orderly
I bought Al Arnold’s book and have now read it. These comments apply to the Kindle version; if the print version differs, someone speak up.
The book’s subtitle is A Modern Black Man’s Confederate Journey, which seems about right, because it’s largely a stream-of-consciousness narrative of the author’s beliefs and thoughts on history, faith, culture, and his discovery of his Confederate heritage. Detailed discussion of his ancestor, Turner Hall, Jr., occupies only a small section in the center of the book. What Arnold knows or concludes about Hall seems to be entirely based on brief newspaper items from the 1930s and 40s when Hall attended several veterans’ reunions. There are no nineteenth-century documents cited that I see in telling Hall’s story.
The connection to Nathan Bedford Forrest seems to be that Hall, in his final years, possessed a sum of Confederate currency that he said was given him by Forrest. Arnold concludes that Hall must have been owned by Forrest at some point before the war, during the future general’s slave-trading days. Arnold speculates that later, while acting as a body servant to two unnamed Confederate soldiers during the war, he encountered Forrest and the general gave him the money “as part of a dynamic relationship that had been forged between the slave master and the slave.”
Arnold acknowledges that Forrest and Lee did not meet during the war. His source for his ancestor’s service to Lee is a 1940 Hugo, Oklahoma Daily News story that mentions that Hall was an orderly for Lee and was present at Appomattox. Arnold speculates that “Turner would have traveled with his Confederate comrades throughout the theater of the war and at some point been introduced to General Robert E. Lee. . . I gather he was likely introduced to Lee as ‘one of Bedford’s slaves.'”
These issues of substantive content aside, Arnold could have used a proofreader, just for consistency. Frederick Douglass is referred to twice as “Fredrick Douglas.” There is mention of both the “Battle of Brice Crossings” and the “Battle of Brice’s Crossroads.” At least twice he includes a citation to a 1919 manuscript by Charles Wesley, “The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate Army,” and gets both the title of the article and the spelling of the author’s name (“Wesle”) wrong. In one paragraph, Arnold gives the plural of orderly as orderly’s and orderlies.
Some of it is just plain weird, like when Arnold explains that “Nathan Bedford Forrest was like the one white boy back in the neighborhood that could really jump. . . the Larry Bird of basketball.” He lists Robert Smalls, who stole the steamboat Planter and turned it over to the U.S. Navy, and William Tillman, an African American seaman from New York who led the capture of the Confederate privateer Jeff Davis, in a section called, “Black Confederates on Record.” Arnold says that “slavery existed over three hundred and ninety-six years under the American flag” before being ended in 1865. Some materials cited in the book have parenthetical source notations, but there’s no bibliography or index.
It’s a very odd book, and much more about Al Arnold’s thoughts and beliefs than about the life of Turner Hall, Jr. It’s similar in some ways to the late Anthony Hervey’s Why I Wave the Confederate Flag, Written by a Black Man, although more explicitly grounded in Arnold’s faith and optimism. If that’s your thing, fine, but there’s not much there for a researcher to find useful.