Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

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:


How to Make a Black Confederate from Nothing at All

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on July 27, 2010

Mary Johnson, granddaughter of Pvt. Samuel Brown, holds an American flag presented to her at the event. Paul Chinn/SF Chronicle

Over the weekend, David Woodbury of Battlefields and Bibliophiles and Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory highlighted a story in the San Fransisco Chronicle, about Samuel Brown, an African American Civil War veteran whose grave in Vallejo, California, was recently marked with a stone commemorating his service with the 137th United States Colored Troops. The event came about because the original stone, which had been on Brown’s gravesite since shortly after his death, designated him as a Confederate veteran. Via the CBS teevee affiliate in San Fransisco, Brown’s grave had originally been marked with a stone that read, contradictorily,

So it was a fnckup at the engravers, simple as that. Someone assumed that a Civil War soldier from Georgia must’ve been a Confederate. Nothing nefarious or conspiratorial. Mistakes like this are unfortunate, but certainly not unheard of. Read the full article here.

What’s most remarkable about this story, though, is not the story itself, but the reaction to it. Corey Meyer, posting at Blood of My Kindred, asks, “is this how Black Confederates are created?

Why yes, Corey. Yes it is.

As Corey points out, the comments section of the original story is already filling with posters who, based on nothing at all, are accusing the ceremony’s organizers with changing Pvt. Brown’s history to conform to modern-day political correctness, and to cover up the fact that Brown was really a Confederate soldier. Commenter levesque writes, “my uninformed guess is that Mr. Brown was a black Confederate soldier who surrendered to occupying Union Army forces in Georgia.” He continues, “As anyone who has seen Gone With the Wind knows. . . .”

An “uninformed guess,” based on watching Gone with the Wind. There’s some scholarship. Watch out, Blight, you effete liberal hack, levesque is gunnin’ for your endowed chair.

Someone calling him- or herself whiteheat uses Brown as a jumping-off point for a Beckian rant about Lincoln and how he started the long, slow destruction of Real America™:

What this article does not mention is that many African slaves did indeed fight for the Confederacy. Lincoln’s ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ was issued two years into the civil war, and was mostly for propaganda purposes, since Lincoln said repeatedly that he would be willing to retain slavery if it would preserve the Union. Lincoln was all about Federal power and Big government. He also believed that whites and “negros” could not live together as equals.

After presiding over America’s most destructive war (quite a feat) Lincoln’s additional legacy is that he got us lurching towards Empire. America’s decline can (in part) be attributed to this magnificent war-maker.

Yet another commenter, blogorama, brings the snark:

How is this a positive story? For almost 100 years this man was laid to rest under a head stone that identified him as an ignorant buffoon instead of a hero. And his family never noticed. Gee, that’s heart warming.

Enfield53 — get it? — also jumps to the defense of the idea of Black Confederates, saying

Thousands of slaves and free blacks did serve with honor in the Confederate Army. Indeed, twenty percent of the Confederate Navy was black as well. There are hundreds of photographs taken of black Confederates taken with their white mess-mates at reunions held decades after the war. . . .

Dead Confederates regulars are already familiar with the pitfalls of relying on Confederate reunion photographs.

It doesn’t look like Private Brown has been credited as a Black Confederate up to now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes. The claims made for Black Confederates are often based on the flimsiest of evidence, and a headstone reading “CONFEDERATE STATES ARMY” is undoubtedly sufficient in this case, especially if one overlooks that the original stone correctly identified Brown’s regiment. That last part is a detail that, I suspect, will get overlooked in the clamor about “political correctness” and denial of Brown’s “true” Confederate heritage. After all, it is the Bay Area. I’m sure somehow this whole thing is Nancy Pelosi’s fault.

Update: The Sacramento Bee has nice coverage of the story with additional details, and the Long Beach Press-Telegram has a story from last March on Brown’s family in the Vallejo area.  Below: One of Private Brown’s pension application index cards, dated January 6, 1894, via Footnote.

Update: Here’s a link to the blog post at Cenantua’s that Craig refers to in his comment.

But Aren’t They All Dead?

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 23, 2010

Cousin Katie‘s gonna haunt me for being flip about Confederate widows.

The new 2010 Texas GOP platform calls for (PDF, p. 6), among other things, “restoration of plaques honoring the Confederate Widow’s Pension Fund contribution that were removed from the Texas Supreme Court building.” That short sentence, of course, leaves out an embarrassing part of the backstory, and lies about another, much more important fact. First, the plaques were removed in 2000 by order of then-Governor George W. Bush, who is widely reported to be a Republican himself, and second, the bronze plaques do not “honor the Confederate Widow’s Pension Fund.” They are actually paeans to the Confederacy and Texas’s role in it, complete with the Confederate Battle Flag and national seal. They have nothing to do with Confederate widows; they’re classic Lost Cause memorials.

I honestly was, and still am, conflicted about the removal of these plaques  a decade ago. They’re offensive to many Texans, but I also dislike the idea of removing established monuments, even when they reflect sentiments that are badly, badly out of touch with current values and history. (Better, I think, to acknowledge that they are themselves artifacts of their time, and interpret them in that way in situ.) I also understand that these were located in not just a public building, but in the state friggin’  Supreme Court — you know, where all people are equal in the eyes of the law, and so on. That latter point, I think, raises the stakes in this dispute for all sides.

I would almost certainly be against the original removal of these plaques had they been as represented by the Texas GOP — “honoring the Confederate Widow’s Pension Fund contribution.” But that’s not what they are. They’re definitely better gone, and placed in a state history museum where they can be both preserved and interpreted as artifacts of their day. As it happens, there’s a pretty good one just up the street. But the question is no longer whether they should stay; the question is, should they be brought back?

And the answer is, “no.” Let them go, folks — we’ve all got more important things to deal with.

Bonus Fun Fact: The Texas Supreme Court Building is so fugly that the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society uses a picture of the Capitol on its website.