Weary About Weary

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?)

Rice Burial Group Photo

I note that Rice’s family did not choose to don Confederate farb garb.

10615374_376747029117255_920057809789003618_nThe 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.

Carl Roden Rice Service 1Fallgers at Rice Service 1

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.


19 thoughts on “Weary About Weary

  1. Brad October 27, 2014 / 4:32 am

    I will be honest: I haven’t paid much attention to this controversy but that picture is a travesty — using a person’s death for your own narrow purposes. Shame on them.

  2. John Foskett October 27, 2014 / 7:20 am

    Answer to your question: They apparently have an inordinate fondness for red trim, bad fuses, and poor metallurgy, and can’t count all the way up to 6.

  3. Rob Baker October 27, 2014 / 8:32 am

    “Brace yourselves, the farb wars have begun.” (Re-enactors will get the meaning).

    One has to appreciate the irony of the pictures. Using the same flag under which soldiers fought to subjugate a race of people to eternal servitude, the “Flaggers” (VA and others) are revising history to depict a people’s past as one of loyal and happy slavery. CBF oppression all around.

  4. C. Meyer October 27, 2014 / 9:10 am

    I thought…and maybe this is just petty of me…but the fact that “Judy Smith Photography” in the corner is bigger than the “Title” of the panoramic image is telling of their priorities.

  5. Ken Noe October 27, 2014 / 9:25 am

    All these years and I didn’t realize that Confederate depots produced camo haversacks.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 27, 2014 / 9:38 am

      Farb is farb. He was carrying his “adult” Hey Arnold “action figures” inside.

      • Ken Noe October 27, 2014 / 8:35 pm

        I had no idea, thanks.

      • C. Meyer October 28, 2014 / 6:12 am

        That is just Carl being fancy. Most of the time reenactors try to be more non-descript and look as the commons soldier looked, but now and then you get reenactors that want to jazz things up and add equipment or do impressions that they have only one example of. Not usually well received by the reenacting groups as a whole. IMHO.

        • Rob Baker October 28, 2014 / 6:56 am

          I can agree with that. Usually when doing a Confederate impression, my friends and I used hand sewn canvas bags.

  6. Buck Buchanan October 27, 2014 / 1:17 pm

    (By the way, why do so many of these heritage-advocates-as-reenactors choose the artillery as their branch of service?)

    As a graduate of Benning School for Boys I would have to say…..

    Because they are not good enough to be Infantrymen!!!

    And looking at most of the “uniformed” masses I see a serious case of TWG* Syndrome.

    * tubby white guy

  7. jarretr October 27, 2014 / 2:35 pm

    What always drives me crazy about the people who want to promote the “black Confederate” myth is a simple fact: the Confederacy explicitly prohibited blacks from serving as soldiers. Now, you would think that if the original Confederates made that clear, than the neo-Confederates would have to respect this fact. But, apparently, taking into consideration ACTUAL CONFEDERATE LAW interferes with their little fantasy world.

      • jarretr October 27, 2014 / 6:13 pm

        I’m honoured. Heck, I don’t even write about the Civil War full-time!

    • Jimmy Dick October 27, 2014 / 5:34 pm

      Remember, it is not about reality, but about a need to sustain their ideology. The idea of black confederates is nothing but a smokescreen to shield the racism of the neo-confederates.

  8. Rosemary October 27, 2014 / 2:57 pm

    Their heritage is revisionism.

  9. hankc9174 October 28, 2014 / 3:11 pm

    equal effort should be spent at the graves of the other 402,405 enslaved South Carolinians…

  10. lunchcountersitin October 29, 2014 / 6:58 am

    RE: “I note that Rice’s family did not choose to don Confederate farb garb.”

    To really be period appropriate, the family would have to dress like slaves.

    Now that would have been a sight to see.

    – Alan

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