Item #7479 [Cabinet card photograph of “Black Confederate” Jefferson Shields.]
[Cabinet card photograph of “Black Confederate” Jefferson Shields.]

Sign up to receive email notices of recent acquisitions.

[Cabinet card photograph of “Black Confederate” Jefferson Shields.]

N.p., circa 1890. Cabinet card photo, 5.5” x 3.75”. CONDITION: Good, one crease, wear to edges of photo and .25” chip to bottom right corner; mount worn at extremities, loss to upper middle not affecting photo, pencil note on verso.

A scarce cabinet card photo of Jefferson Shields, a camp slave during the Civil War who later gained fame by claiming to have been Stonewall Jackson’s personal cook, and whose prominent attendance at Civil War reunions helped establish the myth of “Black Confederates.”

Jefferson Shields (1829–1918) was born into slavery in Virginia and during the Civil War was body servant to Confederate judge, businessman, and politician James Kerr Edmondson, who served as a Colonel in the 27th Virginia Infantry Regiment. Confederate officers regularly brought slaves with them as “servants,” and Shields was among several former camp slaves and foragers who later embraced this role, constructing extravagant personas that enabled them to capitalize on the Lost Cause narrative at Confederate reunions. A brief 1903 announcement in the Richmond Times Dispatch states:

“Uncle” Jefferson Shields, the old Confederate negro, who has gained considerable notoriety because of his having cooked for General “Stonewall” Jackson during the civil war, has had a number of photographs taken in his Confederate uniform of gray, recently presented to him by the Daughters of the Confederacy, of Wytheville, Va. He expects to sell a great many of these pictures during the approaching General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian, which will meet here in May next.

A longer article, printed in Columbia, South Carolina’s The State in 1910 was titled simply: “He’s a Confederate. Jeff Shields Wears the Proudest Decorations in the World.” This piece claims Shields as the last living member of “the colored Sunday school class that Gen. Jackson taught at Lexington before the commencement of hostilities between the states” and notes that after speaking at the Stonewall Brigade reunion he was “ordered by a unanimous vote, and applause, to be enrolled as a member” in 1901. Shields was active for at least a decade at reunions, and marched in parades with a live chicken under his arm to represent his role as a forager. Newspapers across the south reported him among the “curious features” of these gatherings, and repeated the story that, when asked at a 1910 reunion in Mobile “what he was doing with the chicken, he replied that he was just carrying his lunch.”

While the labor of enslaved people of color provided vital support to the Confederate war effort, in reality only a fraction of African Americans were allowed to fight on the Confederate side, and then not until the bitter end of the conflict. By granting men like Shields the “privilege” of donning the gray uniform—as well as the ever-increasing number of badges, pins, and ribbons that can be seen in his photos—white southerners promoted the myth of a benevolent slave-holding South filled with loyal “Black Confederates.” Shields may indeed have been loyal to Edmondson and the Stonewall Brigade; regardless of his true opinions or the veracity of his later stories, however, the Confederate reunions and the Lost Cause narrative provided him a forum in which “none can rise to say that Jeff is wrong” (State, 1910), and enabled him to benefit both socially and financially at a time when the economic and civil rights hopes of the reconstruction era were collapsing. Given how few pins and badges appear on Shields’s coat here relative to other known images of him, it seems likely that this is a photograph from early in his reunion career.

A scarce photo of an unwitting party to the Lost Cause narrative.

Item #7479

Price: $1,800.00

See all items in Photographs