Monday, July 28, 2008

Honoring Veterans

Some folks have probably wondered why I have not yet commented on all of the ink being spilt regarding Union County’s Weary Clyburn. I had a chance to attend the memorial service a couple of weeks ago for Mr. Clyburn, but chose not to. I did have the opportunity to talk with the family.

Since several other very thoughtful and intelligent writers have already presented excellent articles on this subject, I don’t wish to become a mere redundancy. It is exciting to see lively and respectful debate between smart, creative individuals. I only have one concern that has not already been nicely handled by some of my distinguished colleagues. My position on the matter of blacks, both slave and free, serving within the Confederate army is simple. Were there tens of thousands of black Confederates? No. Were there some? Yes. If you have kept up with my blogging over the past year and a half, you know of my own researching into the matter, namely the story of the Cousins brothers.

What puzzles me is this: we honor those who were conscripted to fight (and did so honorably) in both the Confederate and Union armies. We honor those who were drafted into the service for other wars, like WWII and Vietnam. Why should we not honor those who were camp servants, teamsters, cooks, etc? The tens of thousands who were drafted and sent overseas to fight in Vietnam did not want to be there. They were forced into the service, yet we engrave their names (and rightfully so) on the same wall as those who volunteered and were killed. What is the difference? I don’t imagine that any of us today will be able to come up with an easy answer to this complex problem, but it does stem from a heartfelt passion that motivates many individuals and groups: to see that all veterans, regardless of the level of their service or even their means of entering such service, are recognized and remembered for their sacrifices.


Kevin M. Levin said...

The same point was made by Richard Williams in one of his comments on my blog at Civil War Memory. I understand your comparison, but it seems to me that there are some salient differences. Most importantly, the coercion involving Confederate slaves was a function of absolute control by the master. We honor the draftee because their service was carried out in the name of the United States regardless of whether they served voluntarily. We could even go on and justify their forced service by referencing the implied contractual arrangement between the federal government and its citizens. The federal government is responsible for protecting our civil liberties and at times is justified in demanding our sacrifice for just that purpose.

The slave, on the other hand, was an extension of the master's will. As I stated in my own posts re: Weary Clyburn, I have no problem with a commemoration, but it should be done as a slave and not as a Confederate soldier. After all, that is what he was.

By the way I would be very interested in hearing more of your thoughts on Weary Clyburn, other cases that you've discovered, the methodology employed and how you differentiated between a slave and soldier.

Kevin at Civil War Memory

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Yes, I made the same points you have made and, of course, agree. The discussion has been civil and interesting and motivated me to do more research as well.

I think Kevin and some of the others are splitting hairs on the issue. Certainly there are differences as Kevin has pointed out, but that does negate the reasonable desire to honor these men for their service.

I'm not going to rehash all those points here, but Clyburn and others deserve to have their service commemorated as a soldier while at the same time acknowledging they were slaves.

Old Virginia Blog

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

PS: As far as I know, you and I are the only ones posting on this who have actually spoken to descendants of these "Confederate soldier/slaves."

Their unique perspective, while certainly not universal, is worth considering and one that is often overlooked.


Brock Townsend said...

"Why should we not honor those who were camp servants, teamsters, cooks, etc?"

Absolutely, and they would have MOS' in today's army.