Thursday, July 31, 2008

In reply...

In reply to my distinguished colleagues and their thoughtful responses…

Kevin:Thank you for your comments. Since you posted, I’ve been out and about and I’ve had a chance to speak with a few friends who were Vietnam veterans. The overwhelming response to my gentle questioning regarding draftees is this: they felt like their rights were being violated, like they had no choice in the matter. They were forced to go and fight in a war that they did not believe in, saw no use for, and did not see how it profited the United States. A card showed up in the mail, telling them where to report, and if they did not, they were hunted, arrested, at times imprisoned, and then forced into the service.

As I have already stated, my connection with the Clyburn family was limited to just a few minutes. I would like to talk with them further if the opportunity ever comes up.

As far as research goes, my work into the lives of the Cousins brothers (sometimes spelled Cozzens , sometimes two or three other ways) has used entirely primary research, i.e., letters, census records, newspaper clippings, etc. The Cousins were never slaves, they were free persons of color, who volunteered in the fall of 1861.

How do I distinguish between a slave and a soldier? A man who picks up a rifle (or musket) and who under orders fires at another man who is perceived as a enemy, is a soldier. It has nothing to do whether he is there of his own free will, or if his service is compulsory. And it technically has nothing to do with his position within said army. He could be a cook, supply officer, or on recruitment duty; his service should be honored.

Richard: You’re absolutely right. So often, the opinions of the descendants of a honoree are deemed immaterial. The honoring of a person of color for his Southern service does not seem to fit within the framework of “accepted” Civil War scholarship. When is academia going to realize that the racial makeup of a Confederate regiment does not fit within a “black and white” framework?

If I can find two free persons of color who voluntarily shouldered muskets in North Carolina’s smallest county (population/slave/free), imagine what else is out there.


Kevin M. Levin said...

Michael, -- Thanks for your response to my comment. Without going into much detail I think your definition of a soldier is a bit too loose. I plan to comment on this and other issues related to this subject tomorrow on my blog and I would appreciate to get your thoughts if you have the time. Thanks again.

Michael Hardy said...


So the African-American, who was drafted in World War II, and served the entire war behind the lines as a cook, is not a soldier?

I will do my best to check in on your blog. I will be out of town this weekend – I’m off to Cumberland Gap to explore a possible unmarked Confederate cemetery – where 13 members of the 58th NCT might be buried.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Good point Michael. While I understand where Kevin is coming from, I fail to see the logic. I believe, in a nutshell, Kevin believes that since the CSA was associated with slavery, any "service" by African-Americans is not worthy of the title "soldier" - since their service was "coerced". (Kevin, correct me if I'm wrong.) As you and I have already pointed out, there are a number of problems with that analysis.

In any event, I, too, will soon be searching for a possible unmarked cemetery. Ironically enough, this cemetery is said to hold the bodies of both slaves and free blacks. Local lore has is than one of my Confederate ancestors set aside a portion of his land for their burial. I don't know if the cemetery dates before or after the war or, possibly both.

I'll keep you "posted."


Kevin M. Levin said...

Michael, -- Good luck with your search. My distinction is fairly straight-forward. The Africa American who was drafted was indeed a soldier since that follows from the meaning of 'to be drafted.' The coercion is irrelevant in his situation, although it may not be for the individual in question. I think there is a distinction to be made between coerced and one who is owned. The African American in WWII is a citizen while the slave is property. I don't quite see what is so unusual about my position. In my extensive research on the Crater it is clear to me that Confederate soldiers did not view USCT's as soldiers, which is evidenced by their wartime letters as well as the well-documented accounts of the execution of numerous USCTs in Ferrero's Fourth Division. They viewed these men in blue uniforms as engaged in a slave rebellion and not in any kind of official duty.

Kevin at Civil War Memory

Art Bergeron said...

Michael, let me give you another perspective from a Viet Nam War draftee. I was in my first semester of grad school when my "Greetings from the President of the United States" arrived. Deferments for grad students had recently ended. I never gave any thought to trying to run off to Canada or Great Britain to avoid serving, perhaps because my grandfather and father had served in the two world wars and had instilled in me a strong sense of patriotism and duty. Don't get me wrong, I was not anxious to go to Viet Nam. However, I did not and still do not think it was a bad war. It was badly handled by the politicians, especially after Tet in 1968 when we had essentially crushed the VC in South Viet Nam. Winning the war was within reach had LBJ not lost his nerve. I never felt like my rights were being violated because there is no right not to serve our country. As for people being "hunted, arrested," etc., such instances were very rare.

Robert Moore said...

Some African-Americans in World War II, all of whom were free people and citizens of the U.S., were drafted under the laws of the United States to be, in an official capacity, members of the U.S. military, and thereby, as official members of the military, were soldiers, having taken oaths (whether they wanted to do so or not). Though they were discriminated against, they do have military records that entitle them to the benefits allowed them as veterans.

Some African-Americans in the Civil War, under the bonds of slavery, were taken with their masters, with their masters' children, or hired-out by their masters to serve, in different capacities, the soldiers in the ranks of the Confederate army. They were not there in the capacity of soldiers.

While the circumstances of being drafted and being forced (I understand this as some being forced and some were not - it's a matter of looking at each one individually with the sources available) to serve others who were considered soldiers both have similar features, but that is not to say that the circumstances are necessarily the same. So then, can we and should we really use the comparison of being drafted with being taken to the army as a slave? I don't think so.

I see the true difference as a matter of "expectations" of the persons in different roles. What was expected of a person when they were drafted or when they were taken, say, with their master, to the army (the key point, again, was that the master was on the muster rolls and not the slave; the expectations being different).

The expectations of an African-American drafted in WW2 were such that they WERE to defend and protect the Constitution of the U.S., under arms.

The expectations of an enslaved African-American in the service of the Confederate soldier was EXPECTED to SERVE the soldier. However, circumstances may have arisen whereby that slave may have taken up a rifle, but that is not to say all did this (and it should not be assumed that all did). Does one instance of taking up a musket or pistol make that slave a soldier? If so, would that not also mean that those who picked up a weapon in an extreme circumstance, while serving as civilian employees of the U.S. or an U.S. agency working in a war zone, should also be seen as soldiers?

Now, in either case, if the civilian in a modern war, or if those enslaved African-Americans had the opportunity to enlist and were allowed to do so (despite the laws of the Confederacy and the arguments opposed to the very act), then, for the fact that their names are on the muster rolls and have taken on a new set of expectations and duties, they then come under the classification of "soldier."

Whether the enslaved African-Americans wanted to be there or not is up to interpretation and should be measure on a case by case basis. The question before us is, "should they not all be recognized as soldiers?" I say, "no." Furthermore, to label them all as "Black Confederates" can be misleading and assumes a great deal.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


You write:

"They were not there in the capacity of soldiers."

You and Kevin appear to be at odds. He recently stated on my blog:

"They [slaves] could exhibit all of the characteristics of a soldier..."

Which is it?

I think that proves my point that you and Kevin are splitting hairs.

You write:

"The question before us is, 'should they not all be recognized as soldiers?' I say, 'no.' Furthermore, to label them all as 'Black Confederates' can be misleading and assumes a great deal."

I say if they served honorably, "yes". Again, they don't deserve to have that recognition denied them simply because they were slaves. Kevin's point that since the CSA didn't recognize them as such, then we shouldn't now. (?!) So two wrongs make it right? I fail to see the logic.

Some were slaves and soldiers. Labeling them all as "Confederate slaves" is just as misleading and assumes a great deal as well.

I would add that you are entitled to your opinion. If you don't want to honor them as soldiers, then don't - no one is forcing you to do so. On the other hand, I think those who want to do so should be given the same courtesy.

Old Virginia Blog

Robert Moore said...


First, whether Kevin or I appear to be at odds on a part of the matter isn't the issue. I agree with some of what Kevin says, but not everything. It's very likely that he does not agree with me on all of my points. So you can't say "which is it?" and address both of us.

Yes, I said..."The question before us is, 'should they not all be recognized as soldiers?'" I said "no." In response, you state that they should be honored "as long as they served honorably."

Again, you say "as long as they served honorably...," but I ask "served honorably" as what? Shall we honor them for what they WERE, evaluating every one on a one-by-one basis, or for what some make them out to be, under one collective title that implies something that isn't collectively true?

That said, it may well be that the first mistake made in this whole thing was to start off by labeling them as "Black Confederates." I've fallen into that habit as well and I need to be more careful. They were indeed African-American, but that doesn't mean that they were by definition, "Confederates."

Honor and recognize the African-Americans in the various roles in which they were engaged in the war? Absolutely, YES!... but for what they WERE. Classifying all under a label stagnates the possibility and the fact that distinctions were present and that they should be made clear. Some - emphasis on some - would prefer placing all under one category and that's a rather convenient piece of work in an attempt to try and put muscle behind the "it wasn't about slavery argument." It reminds me of a similar attempt made to portray a mythological "solid South" in the war. I think all of us, here, are aware of the variables that challenge previously held ideas of the South, the North, of slavery and of a lot of other things when it comes to the war.

You said, "Some were slaves and soldiers. Labeling them all as 'Confederate slaves' is just as misleading and assumes a great deal as well."

I agree! All who "served" were not slaves. I've already pointed that out with the story of free black John Dogans. Where did I say or imply this??? There were slaves and there were free blacks. Have I not also identified one slave who became a soldier... Charles Brown? I don't think that by enlisting he became free, therefore, he was a soldier who was also a slave. Yet, this does not make it status quo for all.

You say, "I would add that you are entitled to your opinion. If you don't want to honor them as soldiers, then don't - no one is forcing you to do so. On the other hand, I think those who want to do so should be given the same courtesy."

First, where and how am I denying the "courtesy" to extend honors? When some want to recognize all slaves who served in any capacity as a "Black Confederate Soldiers," then there is a problem because it presents historical inaccuracies. Yet, I can't stop them. Because I strongly disagree, the only thing I can do is present a strong disclaimer that others appear unwilling to do. I think that laying down and letting it all go forward without a counter-argument would be the greater dis-courtesy to history.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


We part on this: I believe that a slave could also be a soldier. Not everyone of course, but there were some. I think Jim Lewis is one example. He was a slave, yet he filled many of the duties of a soldier and was with the army until the end of his life.

Of course, other slaves would not fit into that mold and would not be considered soldiers. I've never said that either.

There have been so many posts and back and forths, it is difficult to keep track of the whole discussion.

I acknowledged up front that some folks use these men as pawns, while others do not want to accord them any honor at all. The truth lies somewhere in between.


Matthew Parker said...

I am merely underscoring the role and definition of the combatant, eg, soldier. For clarification, they are, and were, considered one and the same.

All soldiers WERE considered combatants and all combatants WERE considered soldiers. That statement holds merit as "historical precedent" as well as present-day fact.

Also, does “said individual” need to dawn or wear a uniform to be considered the "soldier or combatant?" NO. Historically, that can vividly be seen in the footsteps of the Tories, Loyalists, Patriots, etc.

Applying the so-called '8 Rules of Interpretation' would include an analysis of the treatment of POWs at both Union and Confederate prison camps. Miners, engineers, supply or logistical personnel and even fifers were in that day considered and treated as a soldier/combatant. Yes, a fifer was a soldier.

Moreover, compulsory service/conscription/draft was not the definition of soldier; it is merely the means by which the soldier “served.”

borderuffian said...

This is the defintion of soldier according to Customs of Service for Non-commissioned Officers and Soldiers by General August Kautz:

"In the fullest sense, any man in the military service who receives pay, whether sworn in or not, is a soldier, because he is subject to military law. Under this general head, laborers, teamsters, sutlers, chaplains, &c. are soldiers. In a more limited sense, a private soldier is a man enlisted in the military service to serve in the cavalry, artillery, or infantry. He is said to be enlisted when he has been examined, his duties of obedience explained to him, and after he has taken the prescribed oath."

This was published in 1864 but Kautz had been in the United States military for nearly 20 years.

The above definition was probably the prevailing view held prior to the Civil War.