Interpreting Slavery and the Enslaved on a Civil War Battlefield
This is National Park Service interpretation at its best. In this video, park ranger Christopher Young, who works at the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, untangles the complicated story of Clark Lee, who is often mistaken for a Black Confederate soldier.
Clark Lee, an enslaved man near Ringgold, Georgia, was brought into the war by his enslaver's brother-in-law, just a few weeks before the Battle of Chickamauga. After the war he applied for and was awarded a pension from the state of Tennessee for his presence in the army as a slave and not as a soldier.
How do we know this?
Those of you who have read my book know that pensions are widely misunderstood and misinterpreted and are often used to distort the history of enslaved men who were present in the Confederate army.
I didn’t write about Lee in my book, but I have referenced him on my blog more than once. You will find him on numerous websites purporting to demonstrate the military service of African Americans—a narrative that is reinforced in Lee’s case owing to his headstone and his pension application.
Chris does a wonderful job of breaking down the story of Lee’s pension application and reminding viewers that, as far as the state of Tennessee was concerned, Lee’s “service” was not to the Confederacy, but to his master.
Just as important is where most of this video was shot. I very much appreciate featuring the regimental marker of the 1st Confederate Georgia Infantry on the Chickamauga battlefield. It’s a great example of how park rangers can use Confederate monuments on battlefields to talk about the history of slavery and the presence of slaves in the army.
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