More on headstones, pensions and “Black Confederates”

Posted on August 29, 2008 by

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Feeling the need to clarify my thoughts on some things, the following applies…

Regarding the use of pensions to justify ordering a soldier’s headstone

While I do believe that digging into pension records of Civil War era soldiers/sailors can be a means of gathering evidence in support of military service, just as in the case of trying to pin-down individual motivations, pension records need to be examined and considered on a case-by-case basis. I do not say that simply because an approved pension record exist… viola!… a soldier you have! (Great… now I’m sounding like Yoda!). There is tremendous value in the records (Confederate and Union) and I have found that information (and in rare cases, I have actually seen pieces of diaries affixed to records) in the records has filled-in where the military records left a mystery. I have also found where the pension system may have been manipulated by a few Confederate veterans for their benefit (said veterans having been conscripts and joining together to testify on each others behalf to get pensions).

A Dept. of Veterans Affairs (aka Veterans Administration) headstone exists, so then, a “Black Confederate” we have!? (again with the Yoda trend today, geez!)

Er… eh… hold on a minute. Just because a V.A. headstone for a supposed “Black Confederate” exist, “does not a soldier make.” Again, the end product is only as good as the research that went into it. Sadly, looking at one headstone or another, this just doesn’t work. Furthermore, it is regretable that criteria of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs is relatively loose and the quality of the documentation supporting headstone applications is pretty much left up to the person filling-in the application (in all, it can be some rather flimsy support to make it happen).

So just how did the Confederate pension system exist in Virginia?

I’d like to get into this in detail, but at another time. In short, the Confederate pension system in Virginia was an interesting set-up. In regard to Virginia Confederate pensions, there was not a central agency known as the “pension board.” Rather, a board existed within each county. At first these boards were made-up of Confederate veterans who could be (and, in my experience, were) very discriminating in regard to the pension applications received. In time, and as veterans died-off, the seats were filled by people other than veterans… and, in my experience, that is where the potential for misrepresenting the nature of a soldier’s service really started to get out of hand.

So, have I seen any “soldier pensions” for “Black Confederates” from Virginia?

While I have seen Virginia military records for an African-American who was a Confederate soldier (and, strangely, while there was no reference to the soldier — Charles Brown — being black, I have other evidence [see "Cooked for Page Confeds"] that shows that he was not only black, but also a slave), I have yet to see a veteran’s pension submitted by a supposed “black Confederate” from Virginia. I do not believe that the “Servants” Pensions (actually, there was a set of pensions, beginning in 1924, designated for laborers, cooks, teamsters, herdsman and body servants and they were by no means solely for the benefit of blacks/African-Americans) submitted according to legislation from the early 1920s is qualification for a “soldier’s” headstone (and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intent of the Virginia General Assembly… and getting into the exact legislation and wording of it would probably be a great idea for a research project one day while at the Library of Virginia). I’d be curious to see if any pensions from the earlier legislation (I think there were actually four different legislative changes — in 1900, 1902, 1903, and 1934 — to Confederate pensions in Virginia since the first act was passed prior to 1888) made for veterans actually exist for African-Americans who served as Confederates soldiers.

More on “Black Confederates,” pension records and headstones.

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