Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Peter Phelps Was Not a “Negro in Grey”

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on May 15, 2011

Update, May 19.

After I posted this essay George Purvis, the author of the Negroes in Gray website, contacted the TSL again, asking for clarification on Peter Phelps. This was their reply, which he has also posted to the website:

In consulting with colleagues, it was discovered that the list of soldiers and widows believed to be African-American used to answer your previous question had been revised with the deletion of the name Peter Phelps and the addition of two other names.

We agree with your research that Peter Phelps is White. The additional names on the revised list are:

William A. Green Rejected of Burleson County
Turner Armstrong 38653 of Franklin County

We apologize for the incorrect information.

So we can call the case of Peter Phelps closed, I guess. For my part, I don’t think the TSL staff has anything to apologize for in this case; what they’d sent originally was an informal list, compiled by their staff over a period of time. It is what it is. It’s up to the rest of us to be careful and diligent consumers of historical information.

Recently one of the more outspoken online advocates for black Confederate soldiers (BCS) posted a link to a site that purports to list African Americans who, in one way or another, were part of the Confederate military effort during the Civil War. This person, who dismisses ideas like historical context, analysis and interpretation as “opinion” and “biased agenda,” insists that he’s only interested in “facts,” and has compiled this website in that vein. No interpretation, no discussion, no larger context. Just “facts.”

So I went to the Negroes in Grey website and, clicking on the menu at upper left, selected “The States, The People.” A fly-out menu lists several states, including Texas, so I clicked there. Immediately I was presented a transcript of a letter (presumably to the site’s owner) from the staff of the Texas State Library, explaining that they have no comprehensive means of searching for African Americans in their files. They did, however, explain that the staff there had, over a period of years,  compiled a list of sixteen applications in which either the applicant or his widow was believed by the staff to be African American, and included in the letter their names, counties and pension numbers. One that jumped out at me right away was Peter Phelps of Galveston County (No. 07720). Being a native of Galveston County myself, I determined to find out more about this guy. Who was Peter Phelps, and was he really a “Negro in Grey?”

Well, no. It turns out that Peter Phelps was a white man who married a mixed-race woman after the war, and it takes about two minutes with readily-available, online records to determine that. So what’s up with this “Negro in Grey” business?