Some thoughts on Levi Miller

Posted on September 28, 2008 by

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Recently, when doing my daily blog surfing, I came across this post about “black Confederate” Levi Miller at Richard Williams blog. As with every “black Confederate” that pops up on the radar, I was skeptical. However, Miller received a pension under one of the acts that granted veterans pensions (Miller’s was filed under the act of 1902, not the body servants pension act from the 1920s; according to the LVA scan, the pension was prepared and received in 1907). 

I’ve already made clear my stand on the loose interpretation made by some about body servants, cooks, applicants of the body servant pensions, etc. being labeled as soldiers (see 1 and 2). I’ve also made it clear that I am aware of blacks who were actually on the muster rolls (see another post and the different links that lead to more information about my discovery in Charles Brown of Co. K, 10th Virginia Infantry). So, without going into all that again, this post is an effort to satisfy my own curiousity about Miller, and an example of my method (of course, it’s not the only method that I employ to find answers to history-related questions).

First I tried to access the link to a scan of Miller’s Confederate pension at the Library of Virginia site, but was unable to access the site at the time (since then, I was able to access it… note that he applied while residing in Frederick County. Oh, and for those who were not aware that these pensions were online, don’t get excited. The quality of the images are usually so poor that one can hardly read most of the handwriting on the scans). So, I started “Googling” and found a link to Ervin Jordan’s book about Black Confederates (more specifically, the Google Book pages for Jordan’s book, on which Levi Miller is mentioned). 

The story goes that Miller, a slave from Rockbridge County, Virginia, went to war with his master, who was in the 5th Texas Infantry.  I’m a bit confused as to the details of how a slave from Rockbridge County went to war with a master in a Texas unit, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible (I’ve seen stranger things in historical research). I’m also confused over why Virginia granted a pension to a body servant who served in a Texas unit (I really think the legislation was clear that pensions were to go to soldiers who served in Virginia units… I’m going to have to look this up again). Still wanting to know more, and not wanting my information to come from unreliable sources on the Web (I won’t name them, just rest assured, they are out there…), I wanted to find a reference to Levi Miller in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database, but I couldn’t find him. Remembering many of my own situations, where initials were used instead of first and middle names, I checked the database again. In this effort, I found a L.W. Miller in Co. G, 5th Texas Infantry. However, this seems contrary to the facts surrouding the story about his master Capt. John J. McBride. According to the database, McBride was a member of Company C, not Company G. It seems that Miller should be a member of Co. C. I did some more work on Google and found a link to the obituary (transcribed) for W.A. Nabours, a first sergeant from Co. B, 5th Texas Infantry. In this same obit, there was the mention of two comrades, one being L.W. Miller. Yet, this L.W. Miller appears to have been residing in Milam, Texas. It didn’t match-up as Levi resided in Virginia, in Frederick and Rockbridge counties, in the years after the war. So. if this L.W. Miller is not Levi Miller, why doesn’t Levi show up in the military rosters? The stories go, that he not only served, but fought… and was “enrolled as a full-fledged soldier” by “unanimous vote of the Texans.” Yet, he isn’t on the muster rolls.

Like I said earlier, the Library of Va scans are horrible(!!!),especially pages 4 & 5 of Levi Miller’s pension record. I really would like to see these. If anyone has better scans, please send them my way. Nonetheless, the pension cleared the county board before being sent to Richmond, and though he did not secure an “Affidavit of Comrades” or “Affidavit of Witnesses, not Comrades,” he did receive a “Certificate of Camp of Confederate Veterans,” signed by G.W. Kurtz (formerly a captain in Co. K, 5th Virginia Infantry and, at the time of the pension, Commander of the Turner Ashby Camp, U.C.V.), and a “Certificate of Ex-Confederate Soldiers”… all of this is on Page 3 of the pension. However, Page 6 of the pension indicates that there was a problem with the pension as filed. In fact, it appears that there was probably no verifiable record among the combined service records for Confederate soldiers in Washington, D.C. (by experience in dealing with Virginia Confederate pension records, I know that the pension clerk in Richmond had regular correspondence regarding confirmation of service in available Confederate service records in D.C.). This made it necessary for Miller to get a letter from the last captain of Co. C in support of his pension. It’s not clear how long since Miller and Capt. Anderson last saw each other, perhaps they had not corresponded since the end of the war? (Of course, I’m just speculating). In any event, this captain sent a letter, and the contents of this letter satisfied the state pension clerk, L.O. Scott.

Again, a critical piece of information is needed before going further… clear copies of pages 4 and 5. One of those is probably the transcription of Capt. J.E. Anderson’s letter.

This stuff is fun!

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