Looking beyond Confederate service records and pensions

Posted on March 23, 2009 by

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Just a passing thought this morning (and a relatively light post considering I am deep in my thesis right now), but, I’d like to say something quick about questionable loyalties when it comes to Confederate soldiers. I’ve mentioned it before, but from what one finds in a service record and a pension is not “all-revealing.” Service records and pensions are not the end-all, tell-all set of records that some think they are. Different things reveal questions about the dedication of different soldiers to the “Cause.” I’ve come across a number of sources… letters, diaries, Southern Unionists applications of soldiers’ neighbors, information from the Official Records of the Rebellion, rejected Confederate pensions, questionable Confederate pensions that were accepted (you have to understand the dynamics of the pension boards to understand where I am coming from on this one), etc., etc.,… and even the dates of enlistment that just happen to occur prior to enforcement of Confederate conscription acts) that have revealed much more about the service of soldiers than I would have ever imagined having looked at service records or pensions alone. All of this might mean nothing as stand alone resources, but when considered in conjunction with service records and pensions, the joining of all relevant information raises a number of questions. Even when looking at postwar lives of Confederate veterans, I think there is something that can be said about number of former Confederates who had nothing to do with postwar remembrance (including not being among the membership of the United Confederate Veterans and/or the Grand Camp Confederate Veterans) and/or had nothing mentioned in their obituaries about service in the Confederate army. Again, as items that stand alone, it might mean nothing, but when put altogether, there is a lot more meaning than some, I think, want to consider. This has a lot to do with my questioning the “Civil War memory” of some people and their remembrance activities in contemporary times. Some people think they know, but do they really? As I have mentioned here before, the most extreme example of “Civil War memory” of ancestry gone bad is where I’ve seen people celebrate and praise their ancestor and his service in the Confederate army, and yet records reveal he was a Union soldier or actually one who did all he could to avoid service (note this post about the believed “service” of Francis Perry Cave and also the headstone of Confederate veteran W.J.P. Cave… I have more examples, but this is enough for now). What, therefore, is “honoring” service when we fail to recognize what might have been the real interests (or lack of interests) of the actual soldier?

I hope to post more about this later this spring.

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