Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Christmas Picket

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 25, 2016

[This post originally appeared on December 25, 2011.]

One hundred fifty years ago today, a nineteen-year-old Confederate soldier named Valerius Cincinnatus Giles (right, 1842-1915) went out on picket duty along the Potomac.

On Christmas morning a detail of twenty men was sent from the Fourth Texas Regiment to relieve the picket guard along the river. This detail was commanded by Lieutenant R. J. Lambert.

The post assigned me was on Cock Pit Point, about 100 yards from the masked battery. This battery of four guns was planted twenty feet back from the edge of the bluff. completely hidden from view by an abatis of pine brush felled and stacked, with the sharpened ends of the trunks pointing outward. as a crude defense. From my post I had a splendid view of the river for two or three miles in each direction. The low range of hills on the Maryland side opposite were covered with white tents and log cabins, the winter quarter of General Daniel E. Sickles’s New York Brigade.

The war had just fairly begun, and this was new to me. The novelty of the situation, the magnificent view before me, the river rolling majestically along between white hills and evergreen pines so charmed and captivated me at first that I felt not the bitter cold. The snow was gently and silently falling. deepening 011 the hills and valleys, melting as it struck the cold bosom of the dark river. I had been on post but a short time when I beard the signal corps man sing out from the crow’s-nest high up in a sawed-off pine tree, saying to the officer in charge: “Look out, Lieutenant, a gun boat is coming down the river!”

I could hear the artillery officer giving orders to his men, but from my position I could not see them. Looking up the river I saw a cloud of black smoke rising above the tops of the trees. All was excitement at the battery. and I could hear the artillerymen ramming home their shells, preparing to sink the approaching boat. Directly the steamer turned a bend in the river with volumes of black smoke pouring from her smokestacks. She was in the middle of the stream, coming dead ahead under full steam. It was really a disappointment to the fellows at the battery as well as myself, when the soldier in the crow’s-nest called out again: “0h, pshaw, Lieutenant, don’t shoot! She’s nothing but an old hospital boat, covered over with ‘yaller’ flags.”

Of course a Confederate battery would not fire on a yellow flag any more than on a white one.

The boat came steadily on down the river until she got nearly opposite Cock Pit Point, when she blew her whistle and turned toward the Maryland shore. As she made the turn she came within 200 yards of the Virginia bank and I could distinctly read her name on the wheel house. It was the old Harriet Lane. named in honor of the accomplished niece of President James Buchanan, who was queen of the White House during the administration of that eccentric old bachelor. In the winter of 1861 the Harriet Lane was in the employ of the Hospital Corps of the Army of the Potomac. A few days after that, she left her mooring on the Maryland side and pulled out down the river. She subsequently became a warship of some kind and met defeat at the Battle of Galveston in January, 1863.

After the boat bad landed and the excitement was over, a melancholy stillness settled around me. The novelty and fascination of my surroundings soon lost their charm. The lowering clouds above me and the white silence about me became monotonous and I began to feel restless and uneasy. If you are in a forest or on a prairie on a still summer day and will stop and listen attentively, you can bear the songs of birds, the chirping of crickets or the drowsy hum of insects. hut in a piney woods in midwinter, when the earth and green branches of the trees are covered with snow, with not a breath of air blowing, the stillness is oppressive. I must have bad a slight attack of homesickness, for I began to think of home and my mother and father away out in Texas waiting and praying for the safe return of their three boys, all in the army and all in different parts of the Confederacy — one in the Tenth Texas Infantry at an Arkansas post, one in Tennessee or Kentucky with Terry’s Rangers, and one in the Fourth Texas Infantry in Virginia. . . .

While I stood at my post on the banks of the Potomac I knew I was perfectly safe from any personal danger, yet something seemed to warn me of approaching evil. I tramped through the snow, half-knee-deep, although I was not required to walk my beat. I tried to divert my mind from the gloomy thoughts that possessed me, but all in vain. Suddenly I was startled from my sad reflections of home and kindred by distinctly hearing a voice I new — my brother Lew’s voice — calling my name. I turned quickly, looked in every direction, heard nothing more and saw nothing but the white world around me and the dark river below me. He was two years my senior, had been my constant companion and playmate up to the beginning of the war.

It was then 4 P.M., December 25, 1861. I was not sleeping or dreaming. and firmly believed at the time that I heard my brother calling me, but it must have been a delusion of the imagination.

However, Lewis L. Giles of Terry’s Texas Rangers, Troop D, Eighth Texas Cavalry, was mortally wounded at the battle of Mumfordsville, [Woodsonville] Kentucky, December 17, 1861, in the same charge in which Colonel Terry was killed. He was removed by his comrades to Gallatin, Tennessee. and died at the residence of Captain John G. Turner, a lifelong mend of my father. He breathed his last precisely at four o’clock on Christmas Day. 1861, while I stood picket on the banks of the Potomac.[1]


[1] Mary Lasswell, ed., Rags and Hope: The Memoirs of Val c. Giles, Four Years with Hood’s Texas Brigade, Fourth Texas Infantry, 1861-1865 (New York: Coward-McCann, 1961), 59-62. The compiled service record of Private Lewis L. Giles, Co. D, 8th Texas Cavalry, gives his date of death as Christmas Eve, December 24.

___________

Image: Private Val Giles in the spring of 1861, at the time of his enlistment in the Tom Green Rifles, a company later rolled into the Fourth Texas Infantry. From Voices of the Civil War: Soldier Life.

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Christmas Picket

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 25, 2013

Cockpit Point Map

One hundred fifty-two years ago today, a nineteen-year-old Confederate soldier named Valerius Cincinnatus Giles (right, 1842-1915) went out on picket duty along the Potomac.

On Christmas morning a detail of twenty men was sent from the Fourth Texas Regiment to relieve the picket guard along the river. This detail was commanded by Lieutenant R. J. Lambert.
 
The post assigned me was on Cock Pit Point, about 100 yards from the masked battery. This battery of four guns was planted twenty feet back from the edge of the bluff, completely hidden from view by an abatis of pine brush felled and stacked, with the sharpened ends of the trunks pointing outward. as a crude defense. From my post I had a splendid view of the river for two or three miles in each direction. The low range of hills on the Maryland side opposite were covered with white tents and log cabins, the winter quarter of General Daniel E. Sickles’s New York Brigade.
 
The war had just fairly begun, and this was new to me. The novelty of the situation, the magnificent view before me, the river rolling majestically along between white hills and evergreen pines so charmed and captivated me at first that I felt not the bitter cold. The snow was gently and silently falling, deepening the hills and valleys, melting as it struck the cold bosom of the dark river. I had been on post but a short time when I beard the signal corps man sing out from the crow’s-nest high up in a sawed-off pine tree, saying to the officer in charge: “Look out, Lieutenant, a gun boat is coming down the river!”
 
I could hear the artillery officer giving orders to his men, but from my position I could not see them. Looking up the river I saw a cloud of black smoke rising above the tops of the trees. All was excitement at the battery, and I could hear the artillerymen ramming home their shells, preparing to sink the approaching boat. Directly the steamer turned a bend in the river with volumes of black smoke pouring from her smokestacks. She was in the middle of the stream, coming dead ahead under full steam. It was really a disappointment to the fellows at the battery as well as myself, when the soldier in the crow’s-nest called out again: “0h, pshaw, Lieutenant, don’t shoot! She’s nothing but an old hospital boat, covered over with ‘yaller’ flags.”
 
Of course a Confederate battery would not fire on a yellow flag any more than on a white one.
 
The boat came steadily on down the river until she got nearly opposite Cock Pit Point, when she blew her whistle and turned toward the Maryland shore. As she made the turn she came within 200 yards of the Virginia bank and I could distinctly read her name on the wheel house. It was the old Harriet Lane, named in honor of the accomplished niece of President James Buchanan, who was queen of the White House during the administration of that eccentric old bachelor. In the winter of 1861 the Harriet Lane was in the employ of the Hospital Corps of the Army of the Potomac. A few days after that, she left her mooring on the Maryland side and pulled out down the river. She subsequently became a warship of some kind and met defeat at the Battle of Galveston in January, 1863.
 
After the boat bad landed and the excitement was over, a melancholy stillness settled around me. The novelty and fascination of my surroundings soon lost their charm. The lowering clouds above me and the white silence about me became monotonous and I began to feel restless and uneasy. If you are in a forest or on a prairie on a still summer day and will stop and listen attentively, you can bear the songs of birds, the chirping of crickets or the drowsy hum of insects. hut in a piney woods in midwinter, when the earth and green branches of the trees are covered with snow, with not a breath of air blowing, the stillness is oppressive. I must have bad a slight attack of homesickness, for I began to think of home and my mother and father away out in Texas waiting and praying for the safe return of their three boys, all in the army and all in different parts of the Confederacy — one in the Tenth Texas Infantry at an Arkansas post, one in Tennessee or Kentucky with Terry’s Rangers, and one in the Fourth Texas Infantry in Virginia. . . .
 
While I stood at my post on the banks of the Potomac I knew I was perfectly safe from any personal danger, yet something seemed to warn me of approaching evil. I tramped through the snow, half-knee-deep, although I was not required to walk my beat. I tried to divert my mind from the gloomy thoughts that possessed me, but all in vain. Suddenly I was startled from my sad reflections of home and kindred by distinctly hearing a voice I new — my brother Lew’s voice — calling my name. I turned quickly, looked in every direction, heard nothing more and saw nothing but the white world around me and the dark river below me. He was two years my senior, had been my constant companion and playmate up to the beginning of the war.
 
It was then 4 P.M., December 25, 1861. I was not sleeping or dreaming. and firmly believed at the time that I heard my brother calling me, but it must have been a delusion of the imagination.
 
However, Lewis L. Giles of Terry’s Texas Rangers, Troop D, Eighth Texas Cavalry, was mortally wounded at the battle of Mumfordsville, [Woodsonville] Kentucky, December 17, 1861, in the same charge in which Colonel Terry was killed. He was removed by his comrades to Gallatin, Tennessee. and died at the residence of Captain John G. Turner, a lifelong friend of my father. He breathed his last precisely at four o’clock on Christmas Day. 1861, while I stood picket on the banks of the Potomac.[1]


[1] Mary Lasswell, ed., Rags and Hope: The Memoirs of Val c. Giles, Four Years with Hood’s Texas Brigade, Fourth Texas Infantry, 1861-1865 (New York: Coward-McCann, 1961), 59-62. The compiled service record of Private Lewis L. Giles, Co. D, 8th Texas Cavalry, gives his date of death as Christmas Eve, December 24.
___________
Images: “Blockade of the Potomac,” map by Robert Knox Sneden (1832-1918), Library of Congress; Private Val Giles in the spring of 1861, at the time of his enlistment in the Tom Green Rifles, a company later rolled into the Fourth Texas Infantry. From Voices of the Civil War: Soldier Life.

Christmas Picket

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 25, 2012

One hundred fifty-one years ago today, a nineteen-year-old Confederate soldier named Valerius Cincinnatus Giles (right, 1842-1915) went out on picket duty along the Potomac.

On Christmas morning a detail of twenty men was sent from the Fourth Texas Regiment to relieve the picket guard along the river. This detail was commanded by Lieutenant R. J. Lambert.
 
The post assigned me was on Cock Pit Point, about 100 yards from the masked battery. This battery of four guns was planted twenty feet back from the edge of the bluff, completely hidden from view by an abatis of pine brush felled and stacked, with the sharpened ends of the trunks pointing outward. as a crude defense. From my post I had a splendid view of the river for two or three miles in each direction. The low range of hills on the Maryland side opposite were covered with white tents and log cabins, the winter quarter of General Daniel E. Sickles’s New York Brigade.
 
The war had just fairly begun, and this was new to me. The novelty of the situation, the magnificent view before me, the river rolling majestically along between white hills and evergreen pines so charmed and captivated me at first that I felt not the bitter cold. The snow was gently and silently falling. deepening 011 the hills and valleys, melting as it struck the cold bosom of the dark river. I had been on post but a short time when I beard the signal corps man sing out from the crow’s-nest high up in a sawed-off pine tree, saying to the officer in charge: “Look out, Lieutenant, a gun boat is coming down the river!”
 
I could hear the artillery officer giving orders to his men, but from my position I could not see them. Looking up the river I saw a cloud of black smoke rising above the tops of the trees. All was excitement at the battery. and I could hear the artillerymen ramming home their shells, preparing to sink the approaching boat. Directly the steamer turned a bend in the river with volumes of black smoke pouring from her smokestacks. She was in the middle of the stream, coming dead ahead under full steam. It was really a disappointment to the fellows at the battery as well as myself, when the soldier in the crow’s-nest called out again: “0h, pshaw, Lieutenant, don’t shoot! She’s nothing but an old hospital boat, covered over with ‘yaller’ flags.”
 
Of course a Confederate battery would not fire on a yellow flag any more than on a white one.
 
The boat came steadily on down the river until she got nearly opposite Cock Pit Point, when she blew her whistle and turned toward the Maryland shore. As she made the turn she came within 200 yards of the Virginia bank and I could distinctly read her name on the wheel house. It was the old Harriet Lane. named in honor of the accomplished niece of President James Buchanan, who was queen of the White House during the administration of that eccentric old bachelor. In the winter of 1861 the Harriet Lane was in the employ of the Hospital Corps of the Army of the Potomac. A few days after that, she left her mooring on the Maryland side and pulled out down the river. She subsequently became a warship of some kind and met defeat at the Battle of Galveston in January, 1863.
 
After the boat bad landed and the excitement was over, a melancholy stillness settled around me. The novelty and fascination of my surroundings soon lost their charm. The lowering clouds above me and the white silence about me became monotonous and I began to feel restless and uneasy. If you are in a forest or on a prairie on a still summer day and will stop and listen attentively, you can bear the songs of birds, the chirping of crickets or the drowsy hum of insects. hut in a piney woods in midwinter, when the earth and green branches of the trees are covered with snow, with not a breath of air blowing, the stillness is oppressive. I must have bad a slight attack of homesickness, for I began to think of home and my mother and father away out in Texas waiting and praying for the safe return of their three boys, all in the army and all in different parts of the Confederacy — one in the Tenth Texas Infantry at an Arkansas post, one in Tennessee or Kentucky with Terry’s Rangers, and one in the Fourth Texas Infantry in Virginia. . . .
 
While I stood at my post on the banks of the Potomac I knew I was perfectly safe from any personal danger, yet something seemed to warn me of approaching evil. I tramped through the snow, half-knee-deep, although I was not required to walk my beat. I tried to divert my mind from the gloomy thoughts that possessed me, but all in vain. Suddenly I was startled from my sad reflections of home and kindred by distinctly hearing a voice I new — my brother Lew’s voice — calling my name. I turned quickly, looked in every direction, heard nothing more and saw nothing but the white world around me and the dark river below me. He was two years my senior, had been my constant companion and playmate up to the beginning of the war.
 
It was then 4 P.M., December 25, 1861. I was not sleeping or dreaming. and firmly believed at the time that I heard my brother calling me, but it must have been a delusion of the imagination.
 
However, Lewis L. Giles of Terry’s Texas Rangers, Troop D, Eighth Texas Cavalry, was mortally wounded at the battle of Mumfordsville, [Woodsonville] Kentucky, December 17, 1861, in the same charge in which Colonel Terry was killed. He was removed by his comrades to Gallatin, Tennessee. and died at the residence of Captain John G. Turner, a lifelong mend of my father. He breathed his last precisely at four o’clock on Christmas Day. 1861, while I stood picket on the banks of the Potomac.[1]


[1] Mary Lasswell, ed., Rags and Hope: The Memoirs of Val c. Giles, Four Years with Hood’s Texas Brigade, Fourth Texas Infantry, 1861-1865 (New York: Coward-McCann, 1961), 59-62. The compiled service record of Private Lewis L. Giles, Co. D, 8th Texas Cavalry, gives his date of death as Christmas Eve, December 24.
___________
Image: Private Val Giles in the spring of 1861, at the time of his enlistment in the Tom Green Rifles, a company later rolled into the Fourth Texas Infantry. From Voices of the Civil War: Soldier Life.

Christmas Picket

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 25, 2011

One hundred fifty years ago today, a nineteen-year-old Confederate soldier named Valerius Cincinnatus Giles (right, 1842-1915) went out on picket duty along the Potomac.

On Christmas morning a detail of twenty men was sent from the Fourth Texas Regiment to relieve the picket guard along the river. This detail was commanded by Lieutenant R. J. Lambert.

The post assigned me was on Cock Pit Point, about 100 yards from the masked battery. This battery of four guns was planted twenty feet back from the edge of the bluff. completely hidden from view by an abatis of pine brush felled and stacked, with the sharpened ends of the trunks pointing outward. as a crude defense. From my post I had a splendid view of the river for two or three miles in each direction. The low range of hills on the Maryland side opposite were covered with white tents and log cabins, the winter quarter of General Daniel E. Sickles’s New York Brigade.

The war had just fairly begun, and this was new to me. The novelty of the situation, the magnificent view before me, the river rolling majestically along between white hills and evergreen pines so charmed and captivated me at first that I felt not the bitter cold. The snow was gently and silently falling. deepening 011 the hills and valleys, melting as it struck the cold bosom of the dark river. I had been on post but a short time when I beard the signal corps man sing out from the crow’s-nest high up in a sawed-off pine tree, saying to the officer in charge: “Look out, Lieutenant, a gun boat is coming down the river!”

I could hear the artillery officer giving orders to his men, but from my position I could not see them. Looking up the river I saw a cloud of black smoke rising above the tops of the trees. All was excitement at the battery. and I could hear the artillerymen ramming home their shells, preparing to sink the approaching boat. Directly the steamer turned a bend in the river with volumes of black smoke pouring from her smokestacks. She was in the middle of the stream, coming dead ahead under full steam. It was really a disappointment to the fellows at the battery as well as myself, when the soldier in the crow’s-nest called out again: “0h, pshaw, Lieutenant, don’t shoot! She’s nothing but an old hospital boat, covered over with ‘yaller’ flags.”

Of course a Confederate battery would not fire on a yellow flag any more than on a white one.

The boat came steadily on down the river until she got nearly opposite Cock Pit Point, when she blew her whistle and turned toward the Maryland shore. As she made the turn she came within 200 yards of the Virginia bank and I could distinctly read her name on the wheel house. It was the old Harriet Lane. named in honor of the accomplished niece of President James Buchanan, who was queen of the White House during the administration of that eccentric old bachelor. In the winter of 1861 the Harriet Lane was in the employ of the Hospital Corps of the Army of the Potomac. A few days after that, she left her mooring on the Maryland side and pulled out down the river. She subsequently became a warship of some kind and met defeat at the Battle of Galveston in January, 1863.

After the boat bad landed and the excitement was over, a melancholy stillness settled around me. The novelty and fascination of my surroundings soon lost their charm. The lowering clouds above me and the white silence about me became monotonous and I began to feel restless and uneasy. If you are in a forest or on a prairie on a still summer day and will stop and listen attentively, you can bear the songs of birds, the chirping of crickets or the drowsy hum of insects. hut in a piney woods in midwinter, when the earth and green branches of the trees are covered with snow, with not a breath of air blowing, the stillness is oppressive. I must have bad a slight attack of homesickness, for I began to think of home and my mother and father away out in Texas waiting and praying for the safe return of their three boys, all in the army and all in different parts of the Confederacy — one in the Tenth Texas Infantry at an Arkansas post, one in Tennessee or Kentucky with Terry’s Rangers, and one in the Fourth Texas Infantry in Virginia. . . .

While I stood at my post on the banks of the Potomac I knew I was perfectly safe from any personal danger, yet something seemed to warn me of approaching evil. I tramped through the snow, half-knee-deep, although I was not required to walk my beat. I tried to divert my mind from the gloomy thoughts that possessed me, but all in vain. Suddenly I was startled from my sad reflections of home and kindred by distinctly hearing a voice I new — my brother Lew’s voice — calling my name. I turned quickly, looked in every direction, heard nothing more and saw nothing but the white world around me and the dark river below me. He was two years my senior, had been my constant companion and playmate up to the beginning of the war.

It was then 4 P.M., December 25, 1861. I was not sleeping or dreaming. and firmly believed at the time that I heard my brother calling me, but it must have been a delusion of the imagination.

However, Lewis L. Giles of Terry’s Texas Rangers, Troop D, Eighth Texas Cavalry, was mortally wounded at the battle of Mumfordsville, [Woodsonville] Kentucky, December 17, 1861, in the same charge in which Colonel Terry was killed. He was removed by his comrades to Gallatin, Tennessee. and died at the residence of Captain John G. Turner, a lifelong mend of my father. He breathed his last precisely at four o’clock on Christmas Day. 1861, while I stood picket on the banks of the Potomac.[1]


[1] Mary Lasswell, ed., Rags and Hope: The Memoirs of Val c. Giles, Four Years with Hood’s Texas Brigade, Fourth Texas Infantry, 1861-1865 (New York: Coward-McCann, 1961), 59-62. The compiled service record of Private Lewis L. Giles, Co. D, 8th Texas Cavalry, gives his date of death as Christmas Eve, December 24.

___________

Image: Private Val Giles in the spring of 1861, at the time of his enlistment in the Tom Green Rifles, a company later rolled into the Fourth Texas Infantry. From Voices of the Civil War: Soldier Life.

Would Crock Davis be Considered a “Black Confederate?”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on June 16, 2010

Small1913Reunion
Crock Davis (c.) and Eighth Texas Cavalry veterans, San Marcos, Texas, October 29, 1913. From the Online Archive of Terry’s Texas Rangers.

One of the hotter debates in Civil War circles today is the existence of “Black Confederates,” African-American men who (it is claimed) took up arms and served as soldiers in the Southern armies. There’s little discussion of this among professional historians, who for years have looked for contemporary, primary-source documents to confirm the enlisted service of specific individuals, only to find none. On the other side of the question are Confederate heritage groups and individuals who pull together bits and fragments of pension records, newspaper accounts, oral history and outright fakery to make a claim that this man or that one served in the ranks as a soldier. While there are many reasons why and individual might take up such a claim, and a great many of them are sincere and well-intentioned (if poorly informed when it comes to historical methods), it seems very obvious that for the heritage groups pushing the idea (including but not limited to the SCV), it’s part of a larger effort to distance themselves and the Confederate ancestors they venerate from the institution of slavery, and the moral implication that goes with it. What better way to show that the Confederacy was not really about slavery, than to show that hundreds (Thousands? Tens of thousands?) of African American men willingly and voluntarily took up arms in defense of the Confederacy. The Black Confederate is nothing more than the “faithful slave” meme so central, so essential, to the Lost Cause, made more palatable for modern audiences.

No one who has more than a grade-school understanding of the Civil War has ever suggested that the Southern armies were not surrounded by African American men and women. They performed in all manner of roles, as common laborers digging trenches and setting up fortifications. The served as teamsters. They worked in all manner of service jobs, as cooks and launderers and personal “body servants.” The vast, vast majority of these men were slaves, who had no say whatsoever as to where they were to go or what they did. No one who has looked seriously at this conflict denies that African Americans were — mostly unwillingly — a central part of the Confederacy’s war effort.

The difficulty is that individuals and groups are making claims of these men having been soldiers, on little or no direct and contemporary evidence. No one questions that these men went off to war, but like the tens of thousands civilian contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan today, they were not soldiers, even though they “served” (in the broadest sense) in a combat zone. It’s really tricky trying to determine the roles of specific African-Americans who went to war with Southern troops, and given the lack of records, easy to ascribe to them status as soldiers that did not, in fact, apply. Time and again, in those cases where documentation is available, the claim that these men were recognized at the time — or even decades later — as soldiers falls apart.

In many cases, the “evidence” presented for Black Confederates consists of photos of elderly African American men, sometimes in uniform, participating in veterans’ reunions or other commemorations decades after the war ended. These are usually offered without detailed elaboration of these men’s individual histories, or even with identification of them by name. (The practice of posting unidentified photos, not coincidentally, makes it impossible for anyone else to independently check the validity of the claims now being made on their behalf.) The assumption seems to be that, if these men participated in commemorative events all those years later, that in and of itself confirms that they served as soldiers in the war. That’s not true, and the case of Crock Davis gives a good example of how complex these men’s involvement with Confederate veterans’ groups can be.

Recently I was digging through the website for the Eighth Texas Cavalry (Terry’s Rangers), and noticed that in two photos of early 20th century reunions (1905 in Austin and 1913 in San Marcos), there are African American men present in the group. One of these men is Crockett Davis. While (as far as I know) no one has explicitly claimed Davis had been a soldier in that unit, it would be very easy to do so, based on his presence at at least two Ranger reunions. I suspect that much of what is claimed as “evidence”of Black Confederates is based on nothing more than exactly this sort of fragmentary bits of information.

The Ranger reunions were well-covered in the regional press, and the 1913 meeting in San Marcos got extended write-ups in my local paper, on October 29 and 30, 1913. The October 29 story listed him and his hometown among the attendees, as “Crock Davis (colored), Smithville.” That, along with the photo, could easily be taken as evidence of Davis’ having been a trooper in the Rangers. But the next day’s article, tells a more complex story, both about Davis’ wartime service and his status within the Ranger veteran’s group (and with apologies for the contemporary language):

An interested and quiet spectator at all sessions has been an old time “before-the-war” darkey, Crockett Hill, of Smithville, known to all the rangers as “Uncle Crock.” His curly hair is whitened with the years, but he steps briskly and tells with pride that he went all through the war with the rangers as cook and body servant of D. O. and Tom Hill of Smithvllle, and that he never missed a reunion. In the banquet he was not overlooked, but served at a side table along with “his white folks.”

This short paragraph really tells the story. There are three distinct elements here that clearly define both Davis’ wartime status, and his position within the veterans’ group a half-century later.

First, this profile lists Davis’ surname as Hill, the name of his former masters. This was not the name he gave reporters the day before, nor is it the name he went by in his day-to-day life as recorded on multiple census rolls as far back as 1880. But at the Terry’s Rangers reunion — at the meeting where his former master was elected president of the organization — when he’s described by others he’s identified as Crock Hill.

Second, Davis’ wartime role as “cook and body servant” is explicitly defined. There is no suggestion of Davis being recognized as an Eighth Texas trooper. There is no mention (by Davis or anyone else) that he ever took up arms in combat.

Third (and most telling to me), is the note that Davis was an “interested and quiet spectator” at the meeting — showing pretty clearly that he took no active part in the business of the organization. Further, at the veterans’ banquet that evening, he was seated at a side table apart from the white veterans. It’s excruciatingly clear that even fifty years on, the old Confederates did not accept Davis to be a veteran of the same status as they themselves, even though he “went all through the war with the rangers.” (The Hill Brothers were active in the veterans’ group, one of them being elected president at the same meeting. It seems a fair question whether Davis would have been as welcomed at the ranger reunions had the brothers not been present.) Crock Davis was no more considered a trooper of the Eighth Texas Cavalry in 1913 than he had been a half-century before.

My point here is not to suggest that the white veterans of Terry’s Rangers still thought of Davis as a slave, or that he was compelled to attend multiple reunions. I’m certain that there was a real sense of affection and bonhomie on both sides. But it’s equally certain that even after fifty years, there remained an unbridgeable gap between the old men.

To be sure, the Terry’s Rangers website makes no explicit claim that Davis — whom they list as “Hill” — was a soldier during the war, only that he was a member of the veterans’ association. I cannot confirm that he was actually a member, only that he attended the meetings. But it would be very easy for someone to claim that Davis was a Black Confederate, although a little diligent research — say, about an hour’s worth, using entirely online resources — would definitively disprove such a claim. I wonder how many African American men now being identified as Confederate soldiers are like Crock Davis — men who went to war as slaves, and even fifty years later were still not accepted by their fellows as peers.