Kevin Levin’s Missed Opportunity

Kevin Levin decided to forego staying at Gettysburg for this week’s events. Instead, he headed to Montreal, presumably to brush up on his sadly lacking hockey acumen, although anyone could have told him that Montreal is the last place a Boston Bruins fan (and I use this term very, very loosely) is welcome.

In choosing as he did, Kevin missed an excellent chance to enrich his study of Civil War memory, and, given his interests, he may have cause to regret nothing quite so much as the heaven-sent opportunity contained in today’s The Evening Sun, “serving the Greater Hanover and Gettysburg areas.”

Black re-enactor with Rebels says that ‘image needs to be portrayed’

By ASHLEY MAY

Behind Confederate lines stands a man with blue pants, a white shirt and a black face.

Shane Williams, from Canton, Ohio is a Confederate re-enactor with 1st Tennessee Company H. He’s set up camp on the Redding Farm during the battle re-enactment recognizing the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Richard Adams, a private of the same company, said there aren’t enough black re-enactors in the Confederate ranks. And he believes there should be more to represent black people who served as slaves and, he said, might have fought.

“The way I see it, whether slaves were forced to fight or they were volunteers, it’s an image that needs to be portrayed,” Williams said.

Rachel Edgar, a Union re-enactor who passes bread to the troops, said she hasn’t heard of any black Confederate soldiers, but under rare circumstances, it could have been possible.

There are no historical accounts of black men under arms fighting for the Confederacy, but there are accounts of slaves staying in Confederate camps with their masters.

“Most slaves had never been off of their Southern plantations,” Williams said. “They didn’t know anything else. They came with their masters.”

Williams said many black men wanted to fight for what they knew was theirs — the land that belonged to their master.

“I’m going to fight for what I know is mine,” he said.

Historians say there were slaves whose primary loyalty was to their master or plantation, but the Confederate government refused to arm slaves.

Runaway slaves, or those liberated by Union soldiers, were far more likely to enlist in Northern regiments when the government accepted their service in 1863. By the end of the war, about 180,000 black men served in the Union army.

Williams’ role as a black Confederate soldier is met with some controversy among his friends. Williams also belongs to the 5th U.S. Colored Troops, Company G, an Ohio re-enactment group.

“Because most blacks in the South were slaves, they feel that it’s disrespectful to my heritage,” Williams said.

But, he said he wants to teach the public about U.S. history. He’s been a part of re-enactments for 10 years, and has portrayed a Confederate soldier for four years.

Many high-ranking officers had slaves with them in Gettysburg, working as servants and cooks.

Adam Bell, of the 33rd Virginia, Company E, said some slaves came simply because they liked their master and wanted to care for them, but it wasn’t incredibly common.

Mitch Riggs, a Confederate re-enactor with the 33rd Virginia Volunteer Infantry Company E, plays the part of a German soldier in a small Irish unit. He said too often people believe slavery was the only reason behind the Civil War, but many soldiers didn’t have a solid opinion on the matter.

“Not a lot of people know their history,” said Riggs,of Pulaski, Pa.

Few in the ranks of the Confederate army owned slaves themselves, and were poor farmers “one step above slaves,” Riggs said.

“A lot of them couldn’t write their names,” Daniel Hall said.

Hall, also in the 33rd Virginia Volunteer Infantry, said the original 60 men in the company previously were railroad workers.

“In railroad work, they wouldn’t want to lose a slave, because that would cost money,” he said. “If they lost an Irishmen, they wouldn’t have to pay anything.”

In the Union army, opinions on slavery weren’t all that different. Most Northern soldiers enlisted to save the Union, and some resented the increased attention on freeing the slaves later in the conflict. At the same time, a significant number of Union soldiers were committed abolitionists who saw the war as a struggle for freedom from the beginning.

There are not a lot of details on black men in the Confederate Army, and Williams doesn’t claim to represent a particular person within a specific unit. But, he plans to further develop his role.

“I’m not a slave,” Williams said. “I’m still researching.”

My, oh my. Here was your chance, Kevin.

Finally, for those of you wanting to have more fun at home, I direct you here.

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32 thoughts on “Kevin Levin’s Missed Opportunity

  1. Plenty of southern boys, starting with Robert E. Lee, were fighting for “states Rights” – not slavery. There were black slave holders in LA who sided (don’t know if they actually ‘fought) with the Confederacy. People like KV are trying to squeeze the complex Civil war into the their simplistic neo-Marxist band-box. Southerns = Bad, Racism = bad.

    • More southern boys were ignorant and didn’t want blacks freed because they could not handle the competition. I would like to see some real statistics on the plenty fighting for states rights. The only state right that I have seen them fighting for is the right to own slaves. And yes, racism is always bad.

    • I’m waiting for the “equine confederates” to show up – they had almost as much personal agency as the enslaved labor auxiliaries of the rebel armies did…

      As far as “Southerns=bad” that’s not true: there were a lot of southerners on the side of right in the War of the Rebellion – Frederick Douglass, Robert Smalls, Andre Cailloux, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, George H. Thomas, BF Davis, William Terrill – the list is long and worth remembering.

      As has been pointed out ( http://books.google.com/books/about/Lincoln_s_loyalists.html?id=Owp3AAAAMAAJ ), the loyal volunteers from the rebel states (~100,000 “white” and ~150,000 of the ~200,000 “colored”, USA and USN), amounted to about one-sixth of the total personnel mobilized for the US and rebel forces during the war from within the rebel states…

      As always – the Union forever:

      Best to all true Americans…loyal, true, and brave

      • I’m also tired of hearing of the black slaveholders of Louisiana. Cultural and even legal patterns regarding free or freed blacks in Louisiana were largely fixed during the periods of French and Spanish rule. There were very few slaves freed for ideological reasons. However, unlike the pattern in the English speaking North America, wealthy white men who fathered children with slave mothers, recognized the children and often freed them and sometimes provided well for them. These freed offspring occupied a middle range, well above slaves, and identifying heavily with the whites on whose good will their privileges depended.

        • Good points.

          The career of Capt. Andre Cailloux, AUS, should also put the lie to the pap often spouted regarding the Louisiana Native Guards, as well.

          Best,

    • Could you explain something to me, please? I’ve asked this question many times and never got a satisfactory answer. What particular states rights were they fighting for? What rights were Southerners in danger of losing?

      Thanks in advance.

      • To be blunt, in their eyes, the right to own livestock, and drive that same livestock into US territories and other states and then return them to the Southland…and, obviously, to have sex with it.

      • W.G., they left over the perceived threat to slavery. The election of 1860 meant Southerners had, in their minds, lost control of the federal government, and were sure that the Republican Party would begin to attack slavery. Again, there was no actual threat, no actual tyranny; just a perception. But they recognized they were going to be on a demographically challenged trajectory, and decided to try and go their own way.

  2. >>Adam Bell, of the 33rd Virginia, Company E, said some slaves came simply because they liked their master and wanted to care for them, but it wasn’t incredibly common.<< Apparently Mr. Bell doesn't have a clue as to the nature of slavery.

    • I’d imagine there is a little truth behind Bell’s statement. Surely some black slaves developed something akin to Stockholm Syndrome with their masters? And some of those with greater responsibilities valued their position and perhaps preferential treatment which, if far below that of any white man, still made them “better” than the rest of their fellow black slaves? Such things were probably rare, but it seems very reasonable to me that it did happen sometimes.

      • Joshism-All of what you say is likely true, both about Stockholm syndrome and slaves with higher level positions valuing that and, even, in the case of some retainers, genuine affection. However, and that is the true core of slavery, is that while coming to some sort of emotional accommodation with their lot might have made life more tolerable emotionally for the enslaved person, it was totally irrelevant to the system that controlled them. Even if a “good” master was involved, if that master ran into financial reverses, his creditors could seize his slaves just as they could any other property and sell them. If he promised them freedom and provided for it in his will, courts were very sympathetic to heirs seeking to invalidate such provisions or, as also happened in documented cases of a master-slave union that actually seemed to have been based on love and at least affection, where a master tried to provide for the woman and their children in the will, the family just plain ignored the provisions of the will. It’s not like the courts were open to the cheated slaves.

      • Oh course the vast majority of the time, the slaveholders were shocked and dismayed when their supposedly “Loyal servants” -decamped for the Union Army and Freedom. Its hard not to smile as you read the Masters Lament… “After all I did for them…” LOL! But plenty of slaves were loyal and did like their masters. Definitely a minority. Someone just wrote a book about what a gamble it was for slaves to be disloyal. After all, they didn’t have a crystal ball and being disloyal could have had negative consequences. Others, simply didn’t have the imagination to see life as anything other than the way it had been. Of course, that’s true of most Southern whites too. And people today.

    • aparently neither do you Mr. M.D. Blough. There was a loyalty there and a bond that many shared with their masters that they grew up with them and played with them. Read the story of Holt Collier and educate yourself. Also do the history instead of spouting off your uneducated opinion.

  3. Well, there it is in a nutshell, finally…

    “Williams said many black men wanted to fight for what they knew was theirs — the land that belonged to their master.”

  4. “But, he said he wants to teach the public about U.S. history”. Maybe he ought to learn some first. And there’s no way Kevin would learn a damn thing about hockey in that mental asylum. As opposed to how you tie up the 911 system when there’s a hard hit along the boards.

      • Buck: I can speak from lengthy personal experience, having been in both the Forum and Bell a few times. I had the feeling that I was a resident assigned to Bellevue. I believe it was Mr. Dryden who once said that they’re great fans who worship you if you wear that sweater – depending on how the most recent period went. Then there’s the old Lorne Worsley story about being. lifted in a game, skating to the bench, and a few minutes later noticing that a long knife had been inserted in the back of the home bench about 4-5″ deep.

  5. Actually it was state rights that the Rebels were fighting *against*: read their Declaration of Causes. The slave states were very frustrated that the audacious Yankees were, state by state, granting protection to accused escaped slaves and hindering the efforts of Southern slave catchers to scoop up African-Americans and drag them south.

    • That’s what I’ve always found remarkable about many of the declarations of causes (and which convinces me that people who see President Lincoln and the Civil War as the beginning of “big government” either haven’t read them or are ignoring them) is how MUCH of the various declarations recited grievances against free states over which the federal government had no control or where the federal government had actually supported the slave states. These grievances include attacking free states for denouncing “as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States” i.e., for not those states not suppressing their citizens’ rights of free speech and association and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances.

      • Exactly. It’s on the subject of the Fugitive Slave Act that we see a complete reversal on the supposed Southern commitment to state rights. The slave states were perfectly comfortable with using Federal power to force individual free states to support, at their own expense, an institution which was illegal within their borders. The Southern leaders thus had no problem with “big government” as long as it was protecting slavery. In these declarations of causes, they made that very clear.

  6. TF thanks for linking to that fine performance of a great song. It brought tears to my eyes. I believe the singers call themselves Committed. Just wanted to make sure they get credit. Union forever! Hurrah!

  7. Supposedly, few of NB Forest’s “servants” willingly rode with him into combat. Never bothered to verify it though.

  8. John Parker, a former slave reported that the “Richmond Howitzers were regiment partially manned by black people. They fought at the 1st Battle of Bull Run where they operated the second battery. A black regiment also fought for the confederates during this battle. John parker states “many colored People were killed in action.[4]

    Frederick Douglass reported, “There are at the present moment many Colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal troops and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government and build up that of the rebels.” [4] James Washington was a black confederate non-commissioned officer. He was the 4th Sergeant in a rec Co. D 35th in the Texas Cavalry in the Confederate Army. This man served on the State militia level in Louisiana instead of in the regular C.S. Army.[4]

    Lighter-complexioned blacks were used in the Louisiana Native Guards, know in French as the Corps d’Afrique. On Nov. 23, 1861, the Louisiana Native guards fought along the Mississippi next to the white regiments. The Guards consisted of at least 33 black officers and 731 black enlisted men. Hollandsworth wrote “Free blacks joined the Louisiana militia for varied and complex reasons, Some free blacks thought that would lose their property, Others fought for economic self-interest.”[4]

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