Tagged: Blacks in the Civil War

Faithful Slaves Monument: Thanks, But No Thanks

This is a monument in York County, South Carolina, to memorialize the “Faithful Slaves” of the the Civil War.


Faithful Slaves Memorial, York County, South Carolina; from The Historical Marker Database

The monument reads in part:

Dedicated to the faithful slaves who loyal to a sacred trust toiled for the support of the army with matchless devotion and sterling fidelity guarded our defenceless homes, women and children during the struggle for the principles of our Confederate States of America.

Full details of the monument are here. The comments at the link say that the thirteen-foot marble monument “is a tribute to the faithfulness of the Southern negro to the women and children of the South during the war… (and) probably the only one of its kind in the South.”

The folks who built this monument may well have been heartfelt in their motivations. But looking at it from my own vantage point, I find the thing disturbing and perverse.

I am going to describe the memorial with a metaphor that some might find objectionable… don’t say I didn’t warn you. To me, this memorial is akin to a rapist thanking a rape victim for being quiet during the act, thereby not alerting others to what was happening.

In both cases, thanks are being given for an action that benefits the victimizer, but does nothing to help the victim.

I can see why these folks would feel gratitude toward the slaves that are honored by this monument. In 1860, there were over three and a half million slaves in the South. But by the end of the Civil War, some estimates say that over 500,000 slaves fled their masters to go to contraband camps, head North, or otherwise seek freedom. Many males slaves joined the Union army or served the army in support roles. Meanwhile, many of the slaves who didn’t flee aided and abetted the Union effort by serving as spies, guides, or providing other support.

So, any slave who stayed with and supported their masters and masters’ families was undoubtedly seen as a blessing.

The thing is, this memorial is all about what the slaves did for their masters. I think it’s fair to ask, what did the slaves receive in return? Did they receive their freedom? Did they receive land or property, or reimbursement at a fair wage for their labors? Did they receive any political rights? The answer to these questions appears to be no.

Ultimately, I find this memorial to be self-serving and hollow.

I’m sure that the monument’s builders believed they were doing a good thing. But thanking a slave for being a good slave… that doesn’t resonate with me at all. If I was a slave, my reaction would be “thanks massa… thanks for nothing.”

Now, here’s a memorial I’d like to see. It features a huge statue, with a group of white men on one side, and a group of slaves on the other. The white men include Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy), Alexander Stephens, (Vice-President of the Confederacy) or John C. Calhoun (a leading proponent of slavery and secession prior to the Civil War). Their mouths are open, their faces etched with a mournful apology. On the other side, the slaves have a blank but measuring stare, as if they are trying to make sense of words that they never expected to hear.

On the base of the monument, there are two words: “We’re Sorry.”

Are there any such monuments in the South, or anywhere in this country? There should be.

(Hat tip to cwmemory.com )

Obama Sends Wreath to African American Civil War Memorial Site (Plus Details of My Visit to the Memorial)

In response to a controversy over the honoring of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War, Barack Obama became the first president to send a wreath of flowers to the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC.

As reported by the New York Times,

Last week, a group of university professors petitioned the White House to end a longstanding practice of sending a wreath to a monument to Confederate soldiers on the cemetery grounds. The petitioners, including William Ayers, the University of Illinois at Chicago education professor whose acquaintance with Mr. Obama has been controversial, said the monument was “intended as a symbol of white nationalism” and gave “encouragement to the modern neo-Confederate movement.”

Instead of ending the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate monument, historian Kirk Savage, writing in the Washington Post, offered this:

Many of my colleagues in academia are urging President Obama to pull the plug on this tradition. I doubt that he will, for the simple reason that the men buried around the Confederate memorial sacrificed, suffered and died just as the black and white soldiers of the Union did. Most of the descendants of those Confederates, whatever their political stripe today, would be loath to deny their ancestors a simple gesture of recognition.

President Obama, why not send two wreaths? One to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington Cemetery and another to the African American Civil War Memorial in the District, which commemorates the 200,000 black soldiers who fought for liberation from slavery in the Union armed forces. Here is an opportunity to remind us what real reconciliation, in this day and age, would mean. Send two wreaths with one common message: that the descendants of slaves and the descendants of slaveholders should recognize each other’s humanity, and do the hard work of reckoning with the racial divide that is slavery’s cruelest and most enduring legacy.

Obama seems to have followed Savage’s advice. As mentioned in the Times article, Obama did send a wreath to both the Confederate monument and the African American Civil War Memorial.

It remains to be seen if this will quell the controversy. As the comments to this posting on the liberal/Democratic blog Daily Kos indicate, there are many people who are upset with honoring the Confederate soldiers under any circumstances… and many people on the Democratic side who favor honoring the Confederate soldiers.

I do hope that this will result, at the least, in increased awareness of the role of blacks in the Civil War. I happen to live in Washington, DC, where the African American Civil War Memorial is located. I visited the site today (Memorial Day), and I was disappointed at how few people were visiting it. I was there for about an hour around noon, and no more than a handful of people beside me were there to visit. Note that, the Memorial is located right at a subway stop, so the site is certainly not hard to get to.

I took some video of the site, which immediately follows. The Memorial includes a life size sculpture; a wall that includes the names of all the soldiers who fought in the Civil War Colored Troops, as their regiments were called; and a small Museum.

As an aside, there were two wreaths at the site, neither of which was spectacular. It wasn’t obvious to me that either was from the White House, but I wasn’t looking for that when I made my visit. The wreaths are not quite visible in the video; I moved them aside while shooting the footage.

See also: 20 Years of Glory; In Memorial to the Colored Troopers of the Civil War

20 Years of Glory; In Memorial to the Colored Troopers of the Civil War

This is the 20th anniversary of the Academy Award-winning film Glory, that magnificent ode to the African American soldiers who served during the Civil War. Glory is considered one of the best Civil War movies ever made, due to its outstanding cinematography, excellent use of civil war reenactments, and inclusion of the perspective of African Americans on the Civil War (which was shockingly absent in many previous Civil War films).

The film, which was released in December 1989, did a modest box-office of $26,593,580. I understand that it’s had good video rental and sale numbers, fueled in part by its use in schools.

The fact-based movie, which was directed by Edward Zwick, stars Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Cary Elwes. Washington won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film also won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing.

Glory-Morgan-Freeman
Morgan Freeman in Glory

Glory is a war film about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th was one of the first formal units of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of African-American men (not including the officers). As described in Wikipedia,

The regiment was authorized in March 1861. The 54th Massachusetts primarily was composed of free men. A number of the recruits were from states other than Massachusetts, with several coming from Pennsylvania and New York. Two of the recruits were sons of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The 54th trained at Camp Meigs in Readville near Boston. While there they received considerable moral support from abolitionists in Massachusetts including Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The film is told mainly from the viewpoint of the 54th’s Commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). The movie shows how Shaw and his black soldiers grow from an initial period of unease bred of ignorance and lack of trust, to feelings of respect and pride in each other.

In July of 1863, Shaw volunteered the 54th for the honor of leading the charge against South Carolina’s Fort Wagner, a mission that means almost certain death. The end of the film, which stunningly showcases the horror and destructiveness of war, is a classic piece of moviemaking.

One of the most chilling and memorable scenes in the movie is the flogging of Private Trip, a runaway slave played by Denzel Washington, for insubordination. When Trip defiantly removes his shirt so that he can be whipped, it reveals a back filled with scars from prior beatings. These scars symbolize both the horrors of slavery, and the desire to face all afflictions, no matter the source, in order to achieve freedom.

Historians have pointed out that flogging was banned in the Union Army in 1861, and that it was unlikely that a private like Trip would have been whipped, at least by someone such as Colonel Shaw, who was known to be a stickler for rules.

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