The passing of Mattie Clyburn Rice reignited a discussion about her father, Weary Clyburn. That story remains a point of contention for Confederate heritage advocates as well as those who contest characterizations of Weary Clyburn’s activities during the American Civil War.
Simply put, Weary Clyburn was a slave on Thomas L. Clyburn’s plantation near Kershaw, South Carolina. In 1861 he accompanied Thams L. Clyburn’s son, Thomas F. “Frank” Clyburn, when Frank enlisted in the 12th South Carolina Infantry. Weary Clyburn was with his master when Frank was wounded in the fall of 1861 and brought him home. Frank Clyburn was an officer, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel by the end of the conflict. As it was not unusual for officers to be accompanied by a family slave who served as a personal servant, Weary Clyburn’s presence is easily explained.
If one looks through various reports one comes across the claim that “a document also confirmed he performed personal services for Robert E. Lee.” That document appears to be his pension application, and we have no idea what services were performed, if indeed there were any.
After the war Weary Clyburn moved to North Carolina (away from his “friend” the colonel), married at least twice, and applied for a Confederate pension from North Carolina. As he was not a soldier, he received a “Class B Negro Pension.” That expired with his death in 1930.
Details concerning the exact nature of Weary Clyburn’s activities during the Civil War remain vague and contested, in large part because the evidentiary record is so sparse. One could argued that he “served” the Confederacy, but may have done so involuntarily. The extant record does not justify counting him as a black Confederate soldier as the Confederacy defined that term … and that’s the only definition that counts: that someone today might want to claim that he was nevertheless a soldier is an example of substituting one’s own values for the definitions in place at the time, a clear case of “presentism” and “bias.”
Much has been made of Mattice Rice’s efforts to find out what her father did and to seek recognition for what he did. Whatever one makes of the merits of her endeavors, there is no doubt that she was determined, persistent, and to a large degree successful in getting people to remember and to commemorate her father’s activities during the war. Beyond that we know very little, although many people assert much.
For some six years Kevin Levin’s been researching and writing about Weary Clyburn as part of his wider interest in what African Americans who accompanied Confederate forces may have done during the Civil War as well as what people subsequently claimed they did and how they interpreted that activity. You can access those posts here. A review of those posts and the comments that follow them suggest the intensity with which people debate the meaning of Weary Clyburn’s life. That in turn led to a rather loud debate over Levin’s comments in an AP piece about Mattie Rice’s death that appeared just as her remains were being buried at her father’s gravesite.
It was the funeral service that drew my attention. Apparently many white people saw treated the solemn ceremony as a chance to appear in reenactment attire. (By the way, why do so many of these heritage-advocates-as-reenactors choose the artillery as their branch of service?)
I note that Rice’s family did not choose to don Confederate farb garb.
The artfully-edited video (which seems to omit several speakers, including SCV Chief of Heritage Operations Ben Jones) nevertheless suggests that Mattie Rice’s legacy may be subjected to the same sort of controversy as was her father’s.
I love that Michael Givens, the same man who stood by Matthew Heimbach, says that we are all the same. He’s a fine actor.
As you might expect, some of the usual suspects were present.
Some of these folks had a pretty busy week between going to Danville and attending this service. But we’re glad to see them out and about.
I simply hope that Mattie Rice rests in peace.