Loyalty Has Its Limits

Published:June 1, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

One of the great myths of the Lost Cause and its “Confederate heritage” advocates today is the loyal slave. Gone with the Wind has a classic example, and the always excellent blog Dead Confederates gives us a newer example. All of which is to say that I was thinking about these supposedly loyal slaves while looking at one of our site’s newest media objects, the Confederate government form below.

Dated May 1864, it represents Confederate private Lycurgus Rees‘s request for an exemption from military service based on his ownership of “fifteen able-bodied slaves.” This was all by-the-book, but Rees’s wife, Sarah Jane, submitted to the local justice of the peace a separate affidavit requesting her husband’s exemption in light of her duty to care for her seven children and, she wrote, her need for “the protection of a white man, and aid in the management of the negroes” because she lived “in a community where there is a heavy black population but few white males.”

But if the slaves were loyal to the cause, per the experience of Scarlet O’Hara, then what on earth did Sarah Jane have to fear?

IMAGE: A screen shot from the film Gone with the Wind (1939) in which loyal slaves march off to labor for the Confederate army

Discussion

2 Comments on “Loyalty Has Its Limits”

  1. Andy Hall

    The 2003 film Gods and Generals skirts right up to the edge of depicting black Confederate soldiers without quite going there. (Maybe it’s too ludicrous a stretch even for Ron Maxwell — who’d a-thunk it?) Early in the film, the scene showing jubilant and enthusiastic Confederate recruits include a couple of African American men, laughing and joking with their white counterparts as they head for the enlistment station. Later, after the white men are enrolled and formed up in ranks (still in civilian clothes), those same two men are shown standing around behind the military formation. I don’t think they’re shown again.

    Maxwell released a “director’s cut” of the film last year which has been derided in certain quarters because John Wilkes Booth is “portrayed in an extremely negative light,” and the prime mover and shaker behind the film, Ted Turner, “has completed his conversion to a no good Scalawag, a liar, and a traitor to the South.” All-righty, then.

    I haven’t seen the newer version of the film, so I don’t know if changes were made to the recruiting depot scene. But I am surprised that advocates for the existence of large numbers of black Confederates don’t routinely cite <i.Gods and Generals as “evidence” of their existence, as they do with the Ang Lee film, Ride with the Devil.

  2. Brendan Wolfe Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Andy. A year or two ago I was visiting the Civil War museum at Tredegar in Richmond, and in the gift shop they were playing “Gods and Generals.” It was difficult enough just being in brief proximity to that film; I can’t imagine having to watch the whole thing!

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