My point in posting the pension abstract… more on the way in which “Black Confederates” are “honored”

Posted on September 1, 2008 by

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Despite criticism of my motivations behind one of my most recent posts, posting what I did was not merely a matter of convenience in support of my argument. The material does support it, but that’s not the point. This is just laying out the facts as defined, not by me, but by the state and the Confederate veterans themselves. So, considering the criticism, I have to actually wonder why, when presented with this information, it isn’t convenient for those who criticize my post when it presents something made very clear by those who were there (Virginia General Assembly and the Confederate Veterans) at the time the pensions were created. Like I said, no need for interpretation here. If neither the state or Confederate veterans themselves acknowledged African-Americans who served as cooks, body servants, etc. as soldiers, then who are we to make such claims? Also, while this might not be considered a revelation by some, I have to wonder, if they knew about it before, in the discussion of “Black Confederates,” why didn’t they mention it? Was it because it does not support their argument?

Nonetheless, let’s step back for a minute and let’s even take out the fact that the focus of the recent discussion has been on “Black Confederates.” What about the whites who applied for this pension for cooks, body servants, laborers, etc.? So, shall we begin submitting requests for headstones for white laborers, cooks, etc. from the Veterans Administration and ask them to be marked as “White Confederate?” As my example, I have used the application of Peter S. Dovel. He was white, and a laborer, and “served” the Confederate States Government. So,does he qualify for a headstone from the V.A.? If not, what’s the difference between him and the “Black Confederates?” If this does qualify for a headstone, then how? In all, does not the inclusion of laborers, et al into the issuance of Veterans Administration headstones diminish the purpose of the Department of Veterans Affairs?

O.K., that might be a bit extreme, and actually, I am not aware of any headstones for “Black Confederates” to be marked in this manner. So, taking this out of the equation, let’s look at this another way (and, being sporting about it, I’ll even put it back on my own ancestry). I had an ancestor, Rodham Tellis Mayes, who served, on occasion, driving wagons for the Confederate army (I only know this because of a set of letters written by a Confederate soldier). Yet, if you look for a service record, he doesn’t have one. Yet, because he drove a wagon for the 33rd Virginia, does this now qualify him for a headstone (marked as a member of the 33rd Virginia Infantry) from the V.A.? No, I don’t think so, especially when considering the record of another ancestor of mine, Charles Robert Hilliard. Hilliard enlisted in Co. D, 7th Virginia Cavalry, but not long after having enlisted, he was assigned as a courier and drove a wagon for what was left of the Stonewall Brigade. Does he qualify for a headstone (marked as a member of Co. D, 7th Virginia Cavalry) from the V.A.? Yes, he enlisted.

So, technically, ordering V.A. headstones for African-Americans who cooked or served as body servants or in any other capacity (the mention of “guards” really has me wanting to look into this in depth), is getting one over on the Dept. of Veterans Affairs as it is not actually in-line with the policy outlined by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. If the state government did not recognize them as “soldiers, sailors, marines,” then they do not qualify for military headstones provided by an agency of the Federal government (after all, those who served IN the military is what the Veterans Administration IS all about in the first place). It appears that the word “service” is now being interpreted rather liberally, and doing so is quite possibly a matter of convenience.

There is nothing wrong with “honoring” someone’s service, black or white, but there needs to be a clear-cut definition of what that service meant… and what it did not. Otherwise, loose interpretation is nothing but a breeding ground for broad-sweeping generalizations and misperceptions that do not capture the motivations of the people “honored” by the headstone.

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