Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Frederick Douglass’ Black Confederate

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 20, 2015

FredA few weeks ago Harvard historian John Stauffer published an essay in The Root entitled, “Yes, There Were Black Confederates. Here’s Why.” Stauffer’s essay was largely an expansion of a talk he gave in 2011, which itself reflected little more research than Googling around the web for well-worn anecdotes. Stauffer’s Root piece was mostly panned by historians who have closely studied the “black Confederate” theme, particularly by my blogging colleagues Kevin Levin and Brooks Simpson. Both continued that discussion through follow-up posts. I wrote about it as well, pointing out that Stauffer identified one of Frederick Douglass’ sources in 1861 as an African American man who claimed to have seen “one regiment [at Manassas] of 700 black men from Georgia, 1000 [men] from South Carolina, and about 1000 [men with him from] Virginia, destined for Manassas when he ran away.” Unfortunately Stauffer appears not to have followed up on the source of that quote, which actually appeared in the Boston Daily Journal and Evening Transcript newspapers in February 1862, roughly six months after Douglass wrote about them in his newsletter.

Douglass was making the rounds as a speaker that winter, and the man Stauffer cited as Douglass’ source had appeared with him at an Emancipation League at the Tremont Temple on February 5, 1862. That address must have given Douglass great satisfaction, as just fourteen months previously Douglass and other abolitionists had been forcibly ejected from that same venue on orders of Boston’s mayor.

But, as so often happens with historical research, nailing down the answer to one question raises several others. In this case, who was the “fugitive black man from a rebel corps”[1] who gave the account of thousands of African American troops, organized into whole regiments, at Manassas? My colleague Dan Weinfeld, author of The Jackson County War: Reconstruction and Resistance in Post-Civil War Florida, decided to take on that question. He began by tracking down other accounts of Douglass’ speeches from this period as reproduced in Douglass’ Monthly newsletter. Sure enough, the March 1862 issue included not only the text of Douglass’ addresses, but also summaries of the remainder of the program. On February 12, one week after his speech in Boston, Douglass presented his program at Cooper Union (emphasis added):

At 8 o’clock, the [body] of the hall was nearly filled with an intelligent and respectable looking audience – The exercises commenced with a patriotic song by the Hutchinsons, which was received with great applause. The Rev. H. H. Garnett opened the meeting stating that the black man, a fugitive from Virginia, who was announced to speak would not appear, as a communication had been received yesterday from the South intimating that, for prudential reasons, it would not be proper for that person to appear, as his presence might affect the interests and safety of others in the South, both white persons and colored. He also stated that another fugitive slave, who was at the battle of Bull Run, proposed when the meeting was announced to be present, but for a similar reason he was absent; he had unwillingly fought on the side of Rebellion, but now he was, fortunately where he could raise his voice on the side of Union and universal liberty. The question which now seemed to be prominent in the nation was simply whether the services of black men shall be received in this war, and a speedy victory be accomplished. If the day should ever come when the flag of our country shall be the symbol of universal liberty, the black man should be able to look up to that glorious flag, and say that it was his flag, and his country’s flag; and if the services of the black men were wanted it would be found that they would rush into the ranks, and in a very short time sweep all the rebel party from the face of the country.[2]

Although the man who “had unwillingly fought on the side of Rebellion” is not identified, evidence strongly suggests it was John Parker, the escaped slave who had served a Confederate artillery battery at Manassas. Just a few pages after the passage above, the Douglass Monthly reprints Parker’s “A Contraband’s Story” that had appeared earlier in the Reading [Pennsylvania] Journal. As Kate Masur noted in a New York Times Disunion essay in 2011, Parker had arrived in New York at the end of January 1862, where he was interviewed again about the Battle of Bull Run and Confederate losses there.[3]

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Rochester NY Union & Advertiser 1862 Cropped
Notice in the Rochester, New York Union & Advertiser, February 12, 1862, announcing Douglass’ speech that night at Cooper Union, promising an appearance by “a rebel negro, in his regimentals, a deserter from Dixie.”[4]

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Additional material published at the time strongly indicates that the man announced to appear with Douglass was, in fact, John Parker. He was speaking in the same area at the same time as Douglass. For example, on February 19, one week after the Cooper Union event, Parker was the featured speaker at a Presbyterian church across the Hudson River in Newark, New Jersey. “Parker was hired by his master to the rebels at the breaking out of the rebellion,” according to the Newark Daily Advertiser, and “has worked at Winchester, Richmond, and Manassas, and is in possession of facts and incidents which the public are invited to listen to.”[5]

Parker told his story to many people, including giving an extended interview to the New York Evening Post. Parker’s account of Manassas is vivid but badly muddled; when asked how many black persons there were “in the [Confederate] army there, he asserts that there were “one whole regiment of free colored persons, and two regiments slaves among the white regiments, one company to each.” A few paragraphs later, though, he claims that the number of black Confederate regiments at Manassas had since increased to “twelve regiments of negroes in the vicinity of Bull Run and Manassas Junction” (emphasis original). These twelve regiments, Parker again states, “are distributed one company in a regiment,” a claim that makes no sense at all.[6] A normal infantry regiment of the time consisted of ten companies of about a thousand men in aggregate; Parker’s description is profoundly unclear in terms of organization and numbers of men.

The rest of Parker’s account of First Manassas equally questionable. In his New York Evening Post interview he claimed to be “sartin” (certain) that there were 3,600 Confederate dead, and 4,000 Federals. His estimates were off by an order of magnitude; the actual numbers were around 387 and 460, respectively. He gave the number of Confederate wounded as about 5,400, which is several times the actual number.

Of course, Parker was not a trained soldier, and none of the press accounts during his speaking engagement explicitly characterize him as such. Throughout his interview with the Evening Post, Parker made it clear that while he served a Confederate gun in action, neither his sympathies nor those of his fellows lay with the Confederate cause. In his earlier interview with the Reading Journal, reproduced in the Douglass Monthly in March, Parker asserted that “we would have run over to their side but our officers would have shot us if we had made the attempt.” He claimed that “our masters tried all they could to make us fight. They promised to give us our freedom and money besides, but none of us believed them, we only fought because we had to.” To the New York Evening Post, he claimed that a slave from Alabama had been assigned by his master to serve as a sharpshooter, and in that capacity killed three Federal pickets. When he himself was killed soon after, it “was a source of general congratulation among the negroes [sic.], as they do not intend to shoot the white soldiers.”[7]

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Loading Cannon
An illustration from Harper’s Weekly, May 10, 1862, showing Confederate slaves being forced to serve a cannon at gunpoint. John Parker claimed he and other slaves were put in a similar position at the Battle of First Manassas, saying that “we would have run over to [the Federals’] side but our officers would have shot us if we had made the attempt.”

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Parker said that he and the other slaves manning the guns adjusted the elevating screws to fire over the heads of Union troops during the battle at Manassas. Recounting a prayer of thanksgiving given after the Confederate victory, one full of “southern braggadocio and bombast,” Parker said that “the colored people did not believe him, nor that the Lord was on that side.” Parker predicted that many slaves would continue to serve the Confederate cause, for fear that “the Lord was on the side of the South, and that they had got to be slaves always.” As for himself, Parker said, he would turn his artillery piece on Confederate forces and “could do it with pleasure,” though he dreaded the prospect of ever being in another battle again.[8]

Was Parker exaggerating his experiences for an audience that was eager to believe the worst about the Confederates? It’s certainly possible. Did Douglass, who appeared with Parker on stage and published his story in the Douglass Monthly, have doubts about the man’s account? We cannot know. But whether he was telling exaggerated stories about First Manassas or not, the best evidence of Parker’s feeling toward the Confederacy lay in the fact that he began his speaking tour soon after learning that his wife and two youngest children – a son, eight, and a daughter, six — had successfully escaped to Union lines and were now on free soil, where they were safe from any retaliation that might occur as a result of his speaking. Two older sons, seventeen and fourteen, remained in the South, the elder as an officer’s servant and the younger, sold off to another owner six months before the war. (Parker gives his owner’s name as “Colonel Thomas Griggs,” who was likely William T. Griggs [1828-83], who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia Militia but served during the war as an enlisted soldier in the Fifteenth Virginia Cavalry.) At the time of his interview Parker had been informed that his wife and two younger children had arrived in New York but had not been able to link up with them; when they were reunited, he said, he hoped they would all continue on to Canada because he was still “not quite sure of his safety here.”[9]

As Glenn Brasher points out in his 2012 volume, The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom, Parker’s speaking tour and that of another former slave, William Davis, gave a boost to both the cause of emancipation and for the enlistment of black soldiers in the U.S. military. (Davis also spoke at Cooper Union, on January 15, 1862, four weeks before Douglass. But Davis had come from Fortress Monroe, and did not claim to have present at First Manassas, or to have served the Confederates in any military capacity.) Thousands of people had heard Parker, Davis, or Douglass speak on the subject, and many thousands more read about it in the New York and Boston area papers. “Allegations that Southerners were coercing African Americans into combat continued to be a regular feature in the speeches and editorials of emancipationsists,” Brasher writes. “In pushing for both emancipation and the recruitment of black troops, the abolitionist newspaper Principia maintained that the Confederates ‘have been fighting in close companionship with negroes, from the beginning!’ Southern blacks, the paper claimed, ‘are regularly drilled for the service. And the proportion of negro soldiers in increasing.’”[10]

Douglass himself went on to promote Parker’s story in print, in the March 1862 issue of his newsletter, a few weeks after having made the lecture circuit in New York and Boston. Parker’s arrival in New York was fortuitous for Douglass and other abolitionists, and who pointed to Parker’s account as evidence of claims they had been making for months. Parker’s claims of vast numbers of black troops in Confederate ranks isn’t corroborated by contemporary sources, but whether they reflected a misunderstanding on his part, or an intentional exaggeration for an appreciative northern audience, matters little. The widespread belief in their existence in the first months of 1862 helped drive the national narrative that began with the appearance of the first “contrabands” at Fortress Monroe in 1861, the First Confiscation Act in August of that same year, and through the preliminary announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, that opened the door to enlistment of African American men in the Union army the following year. By August of 1863, Douglass would be making his case for equal pay for black soldiers to Secretary of War Stanton and to President Lincoln in person, within the walls of the White House itself.

Many thanks to Dan Weinfeld, who did the hard work of tracking down the source material for this post.

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[1] Boston Evening Transcript, February 6, 1862, 1.
[2] Douglass Monthly, March 1862, 623.
[3] Kate Masur, “Slavery and Freedom at Bull Run,” New York Times Disunion blog, July 27, 2011.
[4] Rochester, New York Union & Advertiser, February 12, 1862, 1.
[5] Newark Daily Advertiser, February 19, 1862, 2.
[6] New York Evening Post, January 24, 1862, 2.
[7] Douglass Monthly, March 1862, 625; New York Evening Post, January 24, 1862, 2.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Glenn David Brasher, The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2012), 78.; New York Times, January 16, 1862; Brasher, 78.

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Real Confederates Didn’t Know About Black Confederates

Posted in African Americans, Education, Media, Memory by Andy Hall on January 8, 2015

Kevin reminds us that today, January 8, is the sesquicentennial of Howell Cobb’s famous letter to the Secretary of War, James Seddon, rejecting the notion of enlisting slaves as Confederate soldiers. Under the circumstances, it’s worth revisiting this old post of mine from October 2010.

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Lots of folks are familiar with Howell Cobb’s famous line, offered in response to the Confederacy’s efforts to enlist African American slaves as soldiers in the closing days of the war: “if slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” It was part of a letter sent to Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, in January 1865:

The proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R. E. Lee, given as authority for such a policy. My first hour of despondency will be the one in which that policy shall be adopted. You cannot make soldiers of slaves, nor slaves of soldiers. The moment you resort to negro [sic.] soldiers your white soldiers will be lost to you; and one secret of the favor With which the proposition is received in portions of the Army is the hope that when negroes go into the Army they will be permitted to retire. It is simply a proposition to fight the balance of the war with negro troops. You can’t keep white and black troops together, and you can’t trust negroes by themselves. It is difficult to get negroes enough for the purpose indicated in the President’s message, much less enough for an Army. Use all the negroes you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don’t arm them. The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong — but they won’t make soldiers. As a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier. Better by far to yield to the demands of England and France and abolish slavery and thereby purchase their aid, than resort to this policy, which leads as certainly to ruin and subjugation as it is adopted; you want more soldiers, and hence the proposition to take negroes into the Army. Before resorting to it, at least try every reasonable mode of getting white soldiers. I do not entertain a doubt that you can, by the volunteering policy, get more men into the service than you can arm. I have more fears about arms than about men, For Heaven’s sake, try it before you fill with gloom and despondency the hearts of many of our truest and most devoted men, by resort to the suicidal policy of arming our slaves.

No great surprise here; earnest and vituperative opposition to the enlistment of slaves in Confederate service was widespread, even as the concussion of Federal artillery rattled the panes in the windows of the capitol in Richmond. What’s passing strange, as Molly Ivins used to say, is that Howell Cobb is a central figure in one of the canonical sources in Black Confederate “scholarship,” the description of the capture of Frederick, Maryland in 1862, published by Dr. Lewis H. Steiner of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. In his account of the capture and occupation of the town, Steiner makes mention of

Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in this num­ber [of Con­fed­er­ate troops]. These were clad in all kinds of uni­forms, not only in cast-off or cap­tured United States uni­forms, but in coats with South­ern but­tons, State but­tons, etc. These were shabby, but not shab­bier or seed­ier than those worn by white men in the rebel ranks. Most of the Negroes had arms, rifles, mus­kets, sabers, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. . . and were man­i­festly an inte­gral por­tion of the South­ern Con­fed­er­ate Army.

This passage is often repeated without critique or analysis, and offered as eyewitness evidence of the widespread use of African American soldiers by the Confederate Army. Indeed, Steiner’s figure is sometimes extrapolation to derrive an estimate of black soldiers in the whole of the Confederate Army, to number in the tens of thousands. But, as history blogger Aporetic points out, Steiner’s observation is included in a larger work that mocks the Confederates generally, is full of obvious exaggerations and caricatures, and is clearly written — like Frederick Douglass’ well-known evocation of Black Confederates “with bullets in their pockets” — to rally support in the North to the Union cause. It is propaganda.  Most important, Steiner’s account of Black Confederates under arms is entirely unsupported by other eyewitnesses to this event, North or South. Aporetic goes on to point out the apparent incongruity of Steiner’s description of this horde being led by none other than Howell Cobb:

A drunken, bloated blackguard on horseback, for instance, with the badge of a Major General on his collar, understood to be one Howell Cobb, formerly Secretary of the United States Treasury, on passing the house of a prominent sympathizer with the rebellion, removed his hat in answer to the waving of handkerchiefs, and reining his horse up, called on “his boys” to give three cheers. “Three more, my boys!” and “three more!” Then, looking at the silent crowd of Union men on the pavement, he shook his fist at them, saying, “Oh, you d—d long-faced Yankees! Ladies, take down their names and I will attend to them personally when I return.” In view of the fact that this was addressed to a crowd of unarmed citizens, in the presence of a large body of armed soldiery flushed with success, the prudence — to say nothing of the bravery — of these remarks, may be judged of by any man of common sense.

The Black Confederate crowd doesn’t usually include this second passage describing the same event, or explain Cobb’s apparent profound amnesia when it comes to the employment of African Americans in Confederate ranks. How is it, one wonders, that the same Howell Cobb who supposedly led thousands of black Confederate soldiers into Frederick in 1862 found the very notion of enlisting African Americans into the Confederate military a “most pernicious idea” just twenty-seven months later? How is it that the general who called on his black troops to give three cheers, then “three more, my boys!” came to believe that “the day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution?” How is it that the commander of successful black soldiers felt that “as a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier?” But set aside Dr. Steiner’s propogandist account for the moment; it’s unreliable and unsupported by other sources. Events at Frederick aside, how is that Howell Cobb, in January 1865, was unaware of the thousands, or tens of thousands, of African Americans soldiers supposedly serving in Confederate ranks across the South? Howell Cobb’s Confederate bona fides are unimpeachable, and throughout the war he was irrevocably tied in to both political and military affairs. In his career he was, in turn, a five-term U.S. Representative from Gerogia, Speaker of the U.S. House Representatives, Governor of Georgia, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Speaker of the Provisional Confederate Congress, and Major General in the Confederate Army. He was a leader of the secession movement, and was elected president of the Montgomery convention that drafted a constitution for the new Confederacy. For a brief period in 1861, between the establishment of the Confederate States and the election of Jefferson Davis as its president, Speaker Cobb served as the new nation’s effective head of state. In his military career, Cobb held commands in the Army of Northern Virginia and the District of Georgia and Florida. He scouted and recommended a site for a prisoner-of-war camp that eventually became known as Andersonville; his Georgia Reserve Corps fought against Sherman in his infamous “March to the Sea.” Cobb commanded Confederate forces in a doomed defense of Columbus, Georgia in the last major land battle of the war, on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865, the day after Abraham Lincoln died in Washington, D.C. Perhaps more than any other man, Howell Cobb’s career followed the fortunes of Confederacy — civil, political and military — from beginning to end. And yet, after almost four years of war and almost three years of commanding large formations of Confederate troops in the field, in January 1865 Howell Cobb seemingly remained unaware of the thousands, or tens of thousands, of African Americans now claimed to have been serving in Southern ranks throughout the war. It is passing strange, is it not?

A Little Knowledge. . . .

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 21, 2013

Over at Mid-South Flaggers, the admin there has been doing a little independent research on Confederate pensions from Washington County, Mississippi, and is disturbed by what he’s found — or rather, what he’s not found:

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Just a few records from Washington County MS. I find it telling that the word “slave” does not appear on any of this paperwork, NOR is that word on ANY paperwork of the period. AND in searching for pensioner records with just names, one will not find a difference in black or white…lists of names only.
 
Things were NOT the way we have been told. We have been lied to.
 
I’m not happy about it.

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He’s right; the word “slave” does not appear on the documents he’s looking at. Instead, they’re referred to as “servants,” and there are thirteen of them listed on the page he posted to illustrate his findings:

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WashingtonCountyMississppi

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True, an example servant’s pension application he posted requires applicants to identify “the name of the party whom you served,” and the military unit “in which your owner served,” but it doesn’t use the word slave, and that’s what matters, right? :wink:

Yes, Mid-South Flagger, you’ve been lied to. Just not by who you think.

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GeneralStarsGray

“Southern people have not gotten over the vicious habit of not believing what they don’t wish to believe”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 28, 2013

ExtraBillyWe recently looked at an editorial from the Atlanta Southern Confederacy, arguing loudly against the arming of slaves during the winter of 1864-65. But that view was not universal. The governor of Virginia, William “Extra Billy” Smith (right, 1797-1887), was one of the first prominent Confederate office-holders to urge the Confederate congress to seriously consider the idea, calling upon them to “give this subject early consideration, and enact such measures as their wisdom may approve.” Smith’s call was taken up by an editorial in the Charlottesville Chronicle, that was reprinted in the Richmond Sentinel just before Christmas 1864:

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The Message of Gov. Smith takes the bull by the horns. He is not for any mincing experiments. Governor Smith may be surpassed in a certain kind of talent by some of the school that formerly controlled the old Democratic party, and now control the destinies of this country; but he is essentially a practical man, and used to act with the great practical rank and file of the Democratic party. Very sublimated political philosophy he did not pretend to; he knew little of subtle theories and the nicer disputes about States Rights; but he devoted himself to carrying elections, and fighting the battles of the party he belonged to. He has exhibited greater command over the people, and greater political vitality than any other man in Virginia. After his career was supposed to be closed, he came back from California, and wrested his Congressional district from all competitors and all combinations, and held it until the dismemberment of tl1e country. He then — seventy years of age — put himself at the head of a regiment, and plunged into the active operations of the war. Soon he was a brigadier general– and just as bad a one as the rest of our political generals. Then he had himself returned for the Confederate Congress-a general in the army and a member of Congress; and on this he became Governor of Virginia-the second time Governor of Virginia-by the popular suffrage and when there was a conservative feeling prevailing, and we were in the midst of a revolution. . . .
 
When such a man winds a new note on the bugle, people may well prick up their ears — he has never missed the temper of the popular heart yet — even when he wavered on the Know Nothing question, he was the reflex of the popular feeling, which also wavered  — but he missed those shoals, on which that ship stranded. Governor Smith has now taken the boldest step of his life; he has lifted his voice above all his associate leaders; and the key which he has struck will ultimately find its echoes throughout the length and breadth of the land. It is not one measure — novel and startling in its character-that he proposes; but he propounds three grand theses, each one calculated to produce the liveliest sensation, at once: he is for arming the negroes [sic.]; for calling in the Confederate currency; for a law of maximum prices. One scratches his head. . . .
 
The recommendation about the slaves is also prophetic. They will go in the army, if the war goes on through next year. They will be needed next spring. There will be a storm of opposition; a thousand good reasons will be urged against it; but one imperious consideration will weigh down them all — we shall want men, if the war continues, and it is just simply ridiculous to assert the contrary, without pointing out precisely the grounds for the assertion. Our Southern people have not gotten over the vicious habit of not believing what they don’t wish to believe. Shall we go through another eight months campaign, next year, without meeting the new drafts of the enemy? We certainly have no special fancy for the measure, but just now we are speaking of what is to be — not of our own preferences and objections. Gov. Smith sniffs it in the wind. He will be followed by other Governors, and by Legislative bodies. We shrewdly suspect the Confederate Government is behind Gov. Smith. . . .
 
On the whole, we like the message, though dissenting to the extent we have signified. We despise the wishy-washy way of doing things one observes in Congress. They seem utterly bewildered. Gov. Smith is at least in favor of something, and he does not shrink. No movement like this can be steered by any timid helmsman. Men are trying to grasp at the future and cling to the past at the same moment. We must elect. If we want to keep the negroes out of the army and avoid other extreme resorts — peace will do it. [1]

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[1] Richmond Sentinel, December 21, 1864. Quoted in Robert F. Durden, The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1972), 146-47.

GeneralStarsGray

Research Exercise: “Sam Cullom, Black Confederate”

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 27, 2013

CullomThe name Sam Cullom is a new one to me, but it seems he’s been celebrated in and around Livingston, Tennessee as a local Black Confederate for a while. A military-style headstone was placed over his grave about ten years ago (right), with the legend, “Pvt. Sam Cullom.” His story is told a number of places, like this 2008 piece in the Crossville, Tennessee Chronicle:

 
Pvt. Sam Cullom of Overton County (Livingston), a slave of the Cullom family, went to war with his owner’s son, Jim Cullom. They were among the first unit to leave for Confederate duty from Overton County. They fought together in numerous campaigns until Jim Cullom was killed in the battles of the Atlanta campaign. Sam Cullom buried Jim and continued to fight with the unit until the end of the war, when he returned to Overton County. Sam Cullom’s application for a Tennessee Black Confederate pension was approved in three days of its arrival at the Confederate Pension Board in Nashville. Sam is buried in the Bethlehem Methodist Church cemetery just outside Livingston, in an area where Sam and his family were major landowners. Land in the area where the Overton County Fairgrounds sits once belonged to Sam Cullom, Black Confederate.
 

So here’s an assignment for those who may be so inclined. See what you can find in the way of historical documentation that supports or refutes this profile of Cullom. To get you started, here’s his 1921 pension application from the State of Tennessee, and his listing in the decennial U.S. Census for 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 (two pages).

Please feel to post links to other, primary sources that are useful in documenting Cullom’s life. Have fun.

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GeneralStarsGray

Pension Records for Louis Napoleon Nelson

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on December 16, 2012

NelsonOne of the best-known “black Confederate soldiers” is Louis Napoleon Nelson (right, c. 1846 – 1934), due in large part to the advocacy of his grandson, Nelson Winbush. There are any number of claims made for the nature of Nelson’s service, such as these:

[Winbush’s] grandfather, Louis Napolean Nelson, was a private in Co. M, 7th Tennessee Cavalry of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Private Nelson was a slave at the start of the war. He began his military service as a cook, then a rifleman, and finally a chaplain.
 

Virtually nothing, however, has been offered in the way of documentation of such claims. So in the interest of injecting something tangible into future discussions of Nelson’s activities during the war, here is his 1921 Tennessee Confederate pension file (PDF).

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generalstarsgray9

“. . . how many may be of use without putting guns in their hands.”

Posted in African Americans, Leadership by Andy Hall on September 25, 2012

While doing some research on another topic recently I came across a reference to this item from the Richmond, Virginia Examiner of January 13, 1864. In the third winter of the war, things were looking dim for the Confederacy — though not nearly as dim as they would eventually be — and there were already suggestions that African Americans be enlisted as soldiers in the Confederate army. In this piece, an anonymous “officer of distinction” in Confederate service rejects that idea, and instead argues that more extensive use of black laborers would “restore to duty in the field forty thousand white men.”

 
EMPLOYMENT OF NEGROES IN THE ARMY. — An officer of distinction in the Confederate army writes as follows:
 
The subject of placing negroes [sic.] in the army is attracting some attention. The following memoranda shows approximately how many may be of use without putting guns in their hands. Premising that we have in the field one hundred brigades, allow for each as:
 
Engineer laborers……………………….50……….5,000
Butchers……………………………………….5………….500
Blacksmiths………………………………….2………….200
Wheelwrights……………………………….2………….200
Teamsters……………………………………50………5,000
Cooks………………………………………….40………4,000
Hospital nurses and cooks & c………40………4,000
Shoemakers…………………………………20………2,000
Total…………………………………………………….20,700 [sic., 20,900]
 
To which may be added for the various mechanical departments under the control of the Government, as labourers, & c………………………………………….10,000
And as labourers on fixed fortifications…….20,000
 
Making a total of……………………………………..50,700 [50,900]
 
The employment of this number would restore to duty in the field forty thousand white men.
 

There are three things that are worth noting about this piece.

First, the writer is explicitly opposed to the idea of African Americans serving under arms. He makes no distinction between enslaved persons and free men of color — neither, in his view, is appropriate for service in the ranks as soldiers. Indeed, the writer’s stated intent is to show how these men may be used “without putting guns in their hands.”

Second, the author makes no mention whatever of personal servants to white soldiers, who even then must have numbered in the thousands. This is relevant, because this group includes a majority of individuals hailed as “black Confederates” today. This suggests that this “officer of distinction” in Confederate army did not view those servants as being part of the national government’s greater military effort, which indeed they are not — personal servants are personal servants, period, full stop.

Third, the citation to this news item was found in some handwritten notes from decades ago, taken from a thesis written decades before that. But the notes, and likely the thesis from which they’re taken, record it as a summary of “Negroes in employed in the Army (by the 100 brigades then in the field).” But that’s wrong; this is not a report of current status, but a prospective look at what might be done in the future. (The note-taker almost certainly did not have access to the original newspaper.) This underscores how easy it is to misconstrue an original source, which original error gets repeated by those who follow. It would be interesting to know if other secondary works report these numbers as an actual accounting, rather than a projection based on a proposed policy.

Above all, the author gives no recognition of the modern assertion that there were large numbers of African American men in the ranks, considered soldiers under arms. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: real Confederates didn’t know about black Confederates.

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Update: In the comments, Rob Baker makes a very important point — this newspaper item comes just days after Patrick Cleburne’s now-famous proposal that the Confederacy embrace emancipation and enlist large numbers of black troops. While no public acknowledgement was made of Cleburne’s proposal at the time, it seems possible that rumors of it were circulating in Richmond. Could this short piece, penned by an anonymous “officer of distinction,” be part of the Confederate government’s effort to quash the idea?

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Black Confederates, A Subsidiary of Dixie Outfitters

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 9, 2012

Update, August 10: Near the end of this post, I wrote that “as far as I can tell, neither Barber nor Edgerton have ever explicitly claimed Heritage 411 to be a non-profit organization.”

I was wrong. They claim both non-profit status and that donations to Southern Heritage 411 are tax-deductable for donors:

To those of you who would like to make a tax deductible contribution to a non- profit organization and support H.K. Edgerton now, please make your checks payable to: Southern Heritage 411 and send it to:’
 
Southern Heritage 411, Inc.
P O Box 220
Odum GA 31555-0220
 
Dewey Barber
Owner, Dixie Outfitters
 
 

Judging from the Internet Way-back machine, this claim has been posted on the Heritage 411 website since (at least) July 2008, more than four years ago.

Kevin has made a couple of posts recently poking fun at H. K. Edgerton, and his frequent display (when not in Confederate uniform) of different shirts sold by Dixie Outfitters, frequently one with his own image emblazoned upon it. But there’s a method to this, and Edgerton’s sartorial choices need to be understood in the context of his business relationship with Dixie Outfitters. Southern Heritage 411 is a for-profit corporation, registered as such with Georgia Secretary of State from 2006 to 2010, when its license was dissolved because the company repeatedly failed to file its required annual re-registration. Although it is sometimes described as a non-for-profit organization (e.g., on Clint Lacy’s blog), and Edgerton solicits donations constantly, Heritage 411 has never been registered as such with the IRS or any state agency that I can find.

Did you ever wonder why Southern Heritage 411 is located in Georgia, when Edgerton lives 300+ miles away in North Carolina? Turns out, that’s easy — because Southern Heritage 411 is run by Dewey Barber, not H. K. Edgerton.


Dewey Barber, H. K. Edgerton and musician Terry Warren, via TerryWarren.net.
 

The Heritage 411 website is scattered with praise for Dixie Outfitters owner Dewey Barber, and an acknowledgment of Barber’s support for Edgerton (e.g., “HK’s main benefactor is Dewey Barber, who uses HK to sell merchandise from his business Dixie Outfitters“). But in fact, Edgerton is (or at least was, until 2010) effectively Barber’s employee, a junior officer in the company reporting to Barber, who has always been the primary contact for Heritage 411, and from 2007 t0 2010, was the CEO as well. The core truth, as outlined in official filings made by Heritage 411 in Georgia (accessible at the link above) is that Southern Heritage 411 is a for-profit business, run by Dewey Barber, with H. K. Edgerton as the public face of that business. It’s a deeply cynical arrangement, one that takes commercial advantage of Edgerton’s popularity among Confederate Heritage™ groups who embrace Edgerton and his theatrics as a sort of vaccination against being accused of some of the uglier attitudes and beliefs commonly associated with the Confederate flag. Barber’s Heritage 411 operation is, at its most benign interpretation, a sort of under-the-radar marketing enterprise, firing up the True Southrons and encouraging them to (not coincidentally) purchase Dixie Outfitters’ merchandise. It probably brings a good return on investment, too, given the effectiveness of a popular and high-profile representative like Edgerton.


Edgerton with (r.) Clint Lacy, whose blog, “Across Our Confederation,” falsely describes Southern Heritage 411 as a “non for profit resource.” Image via the John T. Coffee SCV Camp No. 1934.
 

As far as I can tell, neither Barber nor Edgerton have ever explicitly claimed Heritage 411 to be a non-profit organization, but they do seem perfectly content to let people believe they are, and to let others make that claim on their behalf. And Heritage 411 sure makes itself sound like a charitable organization. There’s nothing illegal about soliciting “donations” to a for-profit business like Heritage 411, but I’ll leave it for others to decide how ethical it is, given Edgerton’s continual solicitation of donations — he routinely appends an address for PayPal payments to his e-mails — and presenting himself as a lone voice, a committed and uncomplicated individual fighting the good fight for Southern Heritage™, without mentioning his formal business and legally-binding links to one of the best-known vendors of Confederate-themed merchandise in the country. I suspect there are a lot of folks, taken in by Edgerton’s apparent sincerity, who’ve donated money to Heritage 411 — money they may have been hard-pressed to give — thinking that they’re donating to a non-profit enterprise, when in fact Southern Heritage 411 is just another branch of the Dixie Outfitters’ marketing outreach.
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Stonewall Jackson’s “Regiment of Free Negroes”

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 20, 2012

Within the smoke-and-mirrors, ignore-that-man-behind-the-curtain game that constitutes advocacy for black Confederate soldiers, one often comes across the claim that Stonewall Jackson commanded two battalions of African American troops. It pops up all over the place, including (briefly) in grade school textbooks in the Old Dominion. Remarkably, with 27 bazillion books published to date on the Civil War, and a fair number of those specifically about Ol’ Blue Light himself, no one’s ever bothered to name those two battalions by their official designation, identify their officers, or point them out on the order of battle for a specific engagement.

I’m not sure where the claim about these battalions originated, but it may be at least in part based on this news item from the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer of November 27, 1861:

FROM THE UPPER POTOMAC POSITION OF THE REBELS — A FREE NEGRO REGIMENT
 
A letter from Darnestown, Md., dated to-day, says. . . .
 
Gen. JACKSON, who, as Colonel, formerly commanded at Harper’s Ferry, is engaged at Winchester in organizing, arming, and equipping a regiment of free negroes [sic.], said to number fully a thousand. The negroes are reported to be very enthusiastic in their new position.

Rumors and second-hand accounts of African American troops in Confederate service appeared frequently in Northern newspapers, especially during the early part of the war. We’ve seen how a single mention of black troops — from a source that seems dubious to start with — got rewritten and embellished and recycled, over and over, for weeks after the Battle of First Manassas. That one took in a lot of people, including (it seems likely) Frederick Douglass.

So now we’ve got a date (November 1861) and a location (Winchester, Virginia), for at least one (anonymous, second-hand) account of Jackson’s black troops. Anyone who has further details on this regiment — its commanding officer, its official designation, the actions in which it fought, or citations to it in Confederate sources, please drop it in the comments.

I have Fold3 open and waiting.

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How — and Why — Real Confederates Endorsed Slave Pensions

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 13, 2012

In another forum recently, there was a lively discussion going on about the historical basis for present-day claims about black Confederates. One of the topics, naturally, was the pensions that some states awarded to African American men who had served as body servants, cooks, and in other roles as personal attendants to white soldiers. One person asked why it was that the former states of the Confederacy were so late in authorizing pensions for these men, or (in some cases) did not authorize them at all. It’s a good question, that I’m sure defies a single, simple answer.

But in the process of looking for something else, I came across this editorial in the October 1913 issue of the Confederate Veteran, calling on the states to provide pensions for a “a particular class of old slaves.” I’m putting it after the jump, because it’s peppered with racial slurs and stereotypes that are hurtful to modern ears, but were wholly unremarkable for that time, place and publication. So let me apologize in advance for the language, and hope that my readers will appreciate the necessity of repeating it here, in full and in proper context, in order to be crystal clear about the author’s meaning and intent. There are times when polite paraphrasing just doesn’t do the job.

As you read this editorial, keep in mind that the Confederate Veteran, by its own masthead, officially represented (1) the United Confederate Veterans, (2) the United Daughters of the Confederacy, (3) the Sons of Veterans (i.e., the SCV), and other groups. The magazine was mostly written by Confederate veterans and their families, to be read by Confederate veterans and their families. While the editorial may not reflect formal UCV/UDC/SCV policy, its appearance in the magazine does indicate that its perspective is one that would be shared by the magazine’s readership, and its call for action would reach a willing and receptive audience.

In short, if you want to know how real Confederate veterans viewed the purpose and necessity of pensions for former slaves, start here:

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