Did slaves fight for the Confederacy?
Below find my letter to one Davon Gray, who seems to be incensed over Joy Masoff’s book (“Our Virginia, Past and Present”) finding its way into Virginia’s public education system. He is apparently disturbed over Masoff’s contention that slaves would “fight for the Confederacy.”
I suppose one could argue that most of these men were not soldiers in the strictest sense of the word and that while a few did get involved in the actual fighting, most did not. Most, in fact, were body servants and support personnel who simply did their duty as they saw it.
But that’s not what is getting under Mr. Gray’s skin. What’s got him (and others like him) so perturbed is the idea that black men might have chosen not to join the Yankees in “trampling out the vintage,” especially since that “vintage” was a place that they called “home”! What has stirred the anger of Gray and those like him is that slavery might not be the “holocaust” that they have been trying to make it out to be, and the possibility that at least some slaves might have chosen a path different from the path that the Yankees felt was best for them.
A few thoughts about people like Mr. Gray – My friend Valerie Protopapas brought out a number of fine and relevant points in her recent post on this subject. No, I am not some northern reincarnation of Nathan Bedford Forrest as she so colorfully opined. What I’m referring to is her contention that the attempt by some of us to engage people like Mr. Gray in polite conversation or debate in an attempt to “educate” them is not worth the effort. I concur wholeheartedly. But don’t listen to us. After all, neither one of us is exactly one of your own. We’re from New York. Listen instead to the words of one of your own, Dr. Clyde Wilson, who commented on this very subject some years ago in a fine article that is featured on Lewrockwell.com.
“The people who want to do away with Confederate symbols are not people who will come around when you argue a little historical interpretation with them, or when you point out (as you know to be true) that your forebears were not fighting for slavery, or prove that you are a loyal American whose heart contains no hate and violence. They do not care! They have no heritage of their own and do not know what a heritage is. They believe in their own self-interest and fashionable abstractions.”
Take careful note of the last two sentences. “THEY HAVE NO HERITAGE OF THEIR OWN AND THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT A HERITAGE IS. THEY BELIEVE IN THEIR OWN SELF-INTEREST AND FASHIONABLE ABSTRACTIONS.” Take what Dr. Wilson says to the bank! It is most assuredly true. Remember it, learn it, memorize it and live it!
I know it is in your nature as Southerners to be ladies and gentlemen. Your hospitality, your gentility and your easy going nature are a large part of who and what you are. But those virtues are wasted on riff raff. An open/intelligent mind is one thing. But these people are not open minded, they are not people of good will, and their followers are a long way from being the sharpest tools in the shed. You can’t deal reasonably or politely with people like this. Either ignore them and focus instead on reaching out to those people who don’t yet have an opinion, or if you do choose to confront them, be prepared to poke them in the eye (figuratively speaking) and make them howl.
And while I’m on the subject, don’t forget to tell your children about their heritage! It is something that a few of us "up here" wish we had but don’t. Remember that if you don’t tell these things to your children that both you and they will reap the consequences. If you don’t tell them, then you will lose them. They too will wind up having only “fashionable abstractions,” and your heritage will eventually disappear.
Gee, sounds like Masoff’s book shook up your little world, eh? Life is much simpler when you can skip along merrily thinking of it simply as a passion play of good vs evil. Too bad life isn’t that way at all. I don’t know Masoff personally nor have I read her book, but if she used the internet as a source, there’s a good chance that my work provided her with some insight. And unlike you, I have read a few sources on the subject. Read it and weep. Unlike your hysteria-filled column, everything here is documented.
Yes, some slaves did indeed “fight” for the confederacy. So did a number of free black men. Most did no fighting as they were technically not soldiers. Instead, they functioned in support positions – cooks, drummers, teamsters, laborers, body servants, etc. A number of those in these positions did take up arms and fight however. And fight or not, most of them believed wholeheartedly in what they were doing.
The use of the word “soldiers” or the word “fought” can be argued of course. The union did not technically allow black men into that role officially until 1863, the Confederacy not until 1865. But among those who served the South, no matter in what capacity, the support was there. I read the entire WPA “Slave Narratives,” a project which took 11 months. There was plenty of support voiced by the ex-slaves for the South in that body of work. Did you read the “Narratives”? (Didn’t think so).
Also, could you please provide some references to the alleged “cutting off of limbs….” and other such horrors supposedly endured by slaves that you cited in your column? I may have missed it but I don’t recall you citing any sources. My guess is that you simply pulled that contention out of your a**, or that perhaps you’ve watched “Roots” one too many times? If you did the first, you need to see a proctologist. If it’s the second then I regret to inform you that Haley’s story has been proven to be nothing more than the product of an overactive imagination. Talk about fairy tales!?
“I am home, I don’t know for how long. Master Eddie says he wants me to go with him, I will go and do the best I can for him. I am willing to do anything I can to help out our struggling country.” – Washington Wills, body servant, North Carolina, in a letter to his master, 1864
(From “Rebel Boast, First at Bethel, Last at Appomattox”, by Manly Wade Wellman, Republished Blue Gray Books, 2000)