Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Kevin Levin and "faithful slaves"

Kevin Levin has an article, "A Confederate General and His Slave,"  published at the History News Network.


It is about Confederate general Edward Porter Alexander and a slave Gen. Alexander called Charley.

Levin explains that:
Regardless of the trust and privileges extended to camp servants, eventually some form of discipline was necessary. While soldiers in the ranks were disciplined to maintain order within a complex hierarchy, officers disciplined their servants as a reminder of their absolute authority. Alexander recalled giving Charley “a little licking but twice—once for robbing a pear tree in the garden of the Keach house, in which we were staying on the outskirts of Richmond below Rocketts, & once in Pa. just before Gettysburg, for stealing apple-brandy & getting tight on it.” It is impossible to know whether Charley considered his punishment a “little licking.” The ability to discipline a servant not only ensured continued compliance to certain expectations, but also likely reflected the servant's willingness to challenge those set boundaries. A whipping or "licking" constituted the most direct way to reset the master-slave relationship.
This discipline was necessary to who? I don't think Charley thought this discipline was necessary. He didn't have a choice, he was a slave. Free he could have chosen his own employment and not have to live in a dangerous environment in a racist pro-slavery army.

Then there is this statement:
It is unknown how long Charley was gone for and it is likely that he spent a good deal of time out from under Alexander's direct view, but with the Union army opposite Fredericksburg, he would have had an opportunity to escape as did many other camp servants by the middle of the war. It is difficult to speculate as to why Charley never followed other camp servants to freedom.
If you were caught trying to escape you were killed. Making the attempt wasn't a stroll.  Kevin is hinting that maybe Charley didn't want to escape.

However, the conclusion of the article is really a whopper.
Close to four years of close interaction must have generated strong bonds of affection between the two, but we must never lose sight of the fact that whatever emotional connections existed they did so within a strictly defined master-slave relationship.
"must have generated strong bonds of affection between the two"? Really getting beaten by a man who is compelling you to labor and ordering around all the time for no pay is going to generate bonds of affection? It might have, but "must"? I don't think so.

The article isn't very informative about history but is very informative about Kevin Levin who is unfortunately an all two common type in the world of Civil War enthusiasts.

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