Some portray them as devoted manservants who rescued the wounded and remained lifelong friends with their masters. The true picture is far less romantic.
Virginia African American teamsters pose near a Confederate signal tower (Library of Congress)
One of the things that jumps out at you when you look closely at the profile of the African Americans celebrated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans as "black Confederate soldiers" is that they were all body servants. The best examples include Aaron Perry, Weary Clyburn, and Silas Chandler.
- They "followed" their masters to war
- Identified closely with the Confederate cause
- Rescued their master on the battlefield (dead or wounded) and brought body home
- Were awarded pensions for their "service"
- Remained life long friends with their former owners
I've suggested before that this narrative owes its popularity to its close connection to the mythology surrounding the loyal slave that took hold even before the war. What is interesting, however, is that body servants were not representative of how the Confederacy utilized slave labor during the war. In fact, we know that the number of slaves brought into the army with their masters as servants dropped by the middle of the war for a number of reasons.
More representative of the experience of "Confederate slaves" were those impressed by individual states and the Confederate government for various war-related projects such as the building of fortifications and roads. In fact, as the number of body servants dropped, the number of impressed slaves continued to rise as a result of legislation on the state and federal levels. Yet, the SCV/UDC have little to say about these men.