Kopf: Tin Soldiers and a Black Manservant

Last week, I wrote about the statue of Chief Justice John Marshall. I provided some history about Chief Justice Marshall, noting his association with slavery.[i] That resulted in a number of interesting comments that expanded the discussion to, among other things, statues of confederate soldiers. I write next about those statues.

Imagine, if you will, a tin soldier in confederate garb. I am taking about an object a history buff might use in his or her basement to reenact a battle during the civil war. The little figure might be someone like Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.[ii]

This tiny tin soldier in the hands of a history buff would not be offensive to most people, whether they be white or black. But now let’s expand the thought a bit. Assume the tin soldier has been blown up and plunked down in front of a courthouse where blacks and whites go to get justice (whatever the hell “justice” means). Does that change things?

Let me complicate the question even more. What if the full-size sculpture was placed in this spot with the encouragement of a group with an agenda? What if that group dedicated themselves to glorifying the confederacy?

It turn out that “white bronze”[iii] statues depicting confederate soldiers became widely available around the first two decades of the 1900s. “During this time, organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy were looking to reframe and glorify the Confederate cause, and in many states, the descendants of slaves had been stripped of the right to vote, which impeded their ability to effectively voice opposition.” Cara Giaimo, Those Mass-Produced Civil War Statues Were Meant to Stand Forever, AtlasObsura (August 25, 2017).[iv]

The United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded in 1894, is still a thing. Indeed, the United Daughters of the Confederacy is a nonprofit organization and it meets the requirements of IRS Code section 501(c)(3) as a tax-exempt organization.

It was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia on July 18, 1919. As stated in the articles of incorporation, some of the goals of the UDC are these:

  • To honor the memory of those who served and those who fell in the service of the Confederate States.
  • To protect, preserve and mark the places made historic by Confederate valor.
  • To collect and preserve the material for a truthful history of the War Between the States.
  • To record the part taken by Southern women in patient endurance of hardship and patriotic devotion during the struggle and in untiring efforts after the War during the reconstruction of the South.
  • To fulfill the sacred duty of benevolence toward the survivors and toward those dependent upon them.
  • To assist descendants of worthy Confederates in securing proper education.
  • To cherish the ties of friendship among the members of the Organization.

It is not easy to become a member of the UDC. Those eligible for membership are women at least 16 years of age who are lineal or collateral blood descendants of men and women who served honorably in the Army, Navy, or Civil Service of the Confederate States of America, or who gave material aid to the cause. Women who were adopted are eligible only through the bloodline of the biological parent. Also eligible are those women who are lineal or collateral blood descendants of members or former members of the UDC. However, a woman can’t become a member if her ancestor took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States before April 16, 1865, the date Lee surrendered.

Like most snippets of history, there is a twist. Please meet Georgia Benton, a retired math teacher and a member of the UDC:

The story[v] of how she qualified to become a member of the UDC is both fascinating and moving. Benton’s great-grandfather was a slave. He was a manservant to his young master. George W. Washington, the black slave, was 16 years of age when he entered Confederate service in 1862 as the servant of Lt. William Alexander McQueen, who was 22. He stood by his master during the battles of Sharpsburg, Gettysburg and Petersburg. When his master was killed, Washington brought McQueen’s body home for burial after the lieutenant was struck down by artillery fire and slain during the war’s final days.

The former slave, Washington, died in 1911, and a 4-foot-high obelisk was put up by the A.A. Solomons family of Sumter, South Carolina to remember him. Washington worked for the Solomons as a butler and valet for almost 40 years. Ms. Benton often remembered visiting her great-grandfather’s gravesite when she was a child.

One side of the monument commemorates Washington’s Civil War service. When the obelisk needed repairs in 2005, they were paid for by the General P.G.T. Beauregard Camp No. 1458 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Ms. Benton said that George W. Washington could have run off in 1863 when he participated in the Gettysburg campaign. “But he stayed faithful. He stayed loyal. He was a true soldier.”

The United Daughters of the Confederacy would do this divided country a great good deed if it erected a larger-than-life real (not fake) bronze statue depicting the figure of George W. Washington. Mr. Washington was not a tin soldier.

Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)

[i] My primary interest in writing that post was to advance the importance of legal realism. Frankly, I was then not much interested in the wider debate about other figures.

[ii] “Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (1824-63) was a war hero and one of the South’s most successful generals during the American Civil War (1861-65). After a difficult childhood, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in time to fight in the Mexican War (1846-48). He then left the military to pursue a teaching career. After his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, Jackson joined the Confederate army and quickly forged his reputation for fearlessness and tenacity during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign later that same year. He served under General Robert E. Lee (1807-70) for much of the Civil War. Jackson was a decisive factor in many significant battles until his mortal wounding by friendly fire at the age of 39 during the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.” History.com.

[iii]White Bronze” is an alloy of which tin is a significant part (anywhere between 17.5% to 35%.)

[iv] Thanks to Jake DiMare for tipping me off about this article.

[v] Chuck Mobley, African-American Savannah woman takes her place among United Daughters of the Confederacy, Savannah Morning News, (August 7, 2014).

13 thoughts on “Kopf: Tin Soldiers and a Black Manservant

  1. B. McLeod

    While the monuments are referred to by some as efforts at racial suppression, in my opinion, they were part of the nation’s continuing effort to heal the bitter rifts that led to (and were exacerbated by) the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history. Another part of this was a gradual movement toward pensioning Confederate veterans and their survivors. While states such as Alabama had been providing pensions from as early as 1867, the early 1900s found states such as Kentucky, Missouri and Oklahoma joining in. In the 1930s, the federal government extended pensions to Confederate veterans and their surviving spouses, on a nationwide basis.

  2. Jay

    The fact that old men find that faith adorable “which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has little notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use”, speaks more to why they shouldn’t be in power than to the merits of a conflict.

    1. JAV

      Holmes was putting a lot of words in to a lot of mouths. Some soldiers may fight on faith alone, but some, if not many know their reasons.

      There’s some merit to the old saw, “Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight”, but it’s also shockingly simplistic.

  3. Richard Kopf

    SHG,

    In today’s New York Times, Roger Cohen has this Op-Ed “Confederate Statues and American Memory.” All the best.

    RGK

    1. SHG

      Fortuitous timing.

      Nothing, when it comes to memory, is simple. Memory is emotion. There is a danger in the rush to remove these statues. To excise history is to risk being punished by it. I learned that long ago when I covered the Bosnian war. The war was a lesson, written in blood, of the prison that bad or suppressed history can be. To go to Bosnia was to grow familiar with ghosts. Such ghosts are no less potent in the American South.

      The statues now being upended tell a story, after all. Not the story they were erected to propagate — of Confederate valor — but of an attempt in defeat to mask the terrible “great truth” of the Confederacy and by so doing extend for many decades the subjugation and humiliation of American blacks. The statues are part of American history; consigning them to oblivion does not help.

      It’s one denial or another, but it’s still denial.

    1. Richard Kopf

      Jake,

      I enjoyed the article. Her perspective is both interesting and informative.

      However, the more and more I think about such matters the more and more I think those old sayings like “live and let live” and “leave well enough alone” ought currently to have currency. This, of course, flows from my notion that the great defining characteristic of America is pragmatism.

      But I freely admit that I may be playing “the Grand Old Man frowning magisterially on the culturally irredeemable present.” David E. Chinitz, T. S. Eliot and the Cultural Divide, at page 225 n. 29, University of Chicago Press (December 1, 2005). If so, I cling to Eliot’s assertion that “[t]here is not a more repulsive spectacle than on old man who will not forsake the world, which has already forsaken him.”

      All the best.

      RGK

      1. Jake

        “If thou wert my fool, nuncle, I’d have thee beaten for being old before thy time.” -William Shakespeare, King Lear

        Thank you for giving me more of a window into the thinking behind your values and perspective Judge.

      1. Richard Kopf

        SHG,

        This summer, we replaced all our windows with a Pella© product. We picked Pella ’cause the company was willing to install a stained glass window in my bathroom using my image. I took the liberty of having my image enhanced with a scepter in my right hand and a pointy hat (think of Pope Innocent III) on my bald head. In the background, one sees Runnymede, a water-meadow on the south bank of the River Thames.

        I love my bathroom.

        All the best.

        RGK

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