Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Black Confederate Naval Officer Blown Out of Proportion

Royal Diadem (Ann Dewitt) and the folks at the SHPG are at it again. In their never ending quest to unearth the great and elusive unicorn (Black Confederate);  they have brought up the story of Moses Dallas.

"Gary, we keep presenting facts," yes, but lets look at those facts. Upon making a deeper inquiry, Moses was a slave that was given the rank of Captain in order to drive the boat. This rank carried no authority with it as the rank of captain usually would. In this snippet of information that Royal presents, it appears as though Moses's salary is being increased. This is not the first instance that slaves would be paid for their work in Confederacy. In defense of Vicksburg Gen. Pemberton paid slaves to dig trenches. In most cases the pay was not given to the slave but to the slave's master. There were a few Confederate Naval Pilots that were slaves. This is mainly due to their previous work navigating rivers and coastlines. They were basically being used. In Moses's case, this seems to be exactly the issue. Using a research based narrative entitled  "Water Witch", which can be found on the Georgia Department of Transportation's website, we can see the entire quote: "I have also been compelled to increase the pay of Moses Dallas from $80 to $100 per month in order to retain him. He is a colored pilot and is considered the best inland pilot on the coast." This quote was taken from the Navy and Marine Living Historical  Society. From the quote we can tell that the pay increase was in order to "retain," Moses.  Pay special attention to that word, retain. Why was retention important in a time of war when conscription was already in place? That is because Moses lived as property of another. The Confederacy rose the pay in order to keep him. This means someone at that time moved to get Moses back and pay had to be increased. This makes me think that the pay was going to the master and not to Moses. I cannot assume that for certain as documentation is not provided.

A little more about Moses, he died in a raid in 1864. This was a raid performed by the Confederate Navy on a Union ship. Why Moses was there taking part is not known. He might have been brought by his master, forced to row one of the boats alongside the Union ship. The account given of  his death, doesn't even mention him actually fighting but rather just standing and watching. Until something else presents itself to further our knowledge of his death, it is stuck in limbo. There is an amazing story though about his death being faked and Moses becoming a Union Naval Pilot. This is a great Counterfactual but the story does not have enough proof to be valid in my opinion. Of course when dealing with the definition of proof the SHPG has, maybe there is enough after all. 

Leading the Black Confederate Narrative to the Promised Land

I sincerely hope this is not the best they can do in regards to proving the Black Confederate myth. Snippets from Primary Sources have been used by groups such as the SHPG for some time now to prove their position. It would seem that these 'amateur historians' need to read Marc Bloch or study some historiography. You cannot take random unique accounts and claim them as fact. Why? Because there is no validity in it. If  I wrote down that Russians attacked the United States today, and a hundred years from now someone uncovers that; does that mean it happened? Absolutely not! Find more sources proving the same thing. Cross reference and use cross examination to make sure your sources can stand on their own. I hope they make this effort. Of course, this is the same group that advocated the entire company of confederate cooks, so I won't hold my breath.


  1. Historic Stuggle-
    "Upon making a deeper inquiry, Moses was a slave"

    There are several documents in the O.R.(Navies) that mention Moses Dallas. None of them tell us whether he was free or slave.

    "that was given the rank of Captain"


    "A little more about Moses, he died in a raid in 1864. This was a raid performed by the Confederate Navy on a Union ship. Why Moses was there taking part is not known. He might have been brought by his master, forced to row one"

    Row? He was a pilot.


    Moses Dallas is listed on the muster rolls of the CSS Savannah for November, 1862, and June through December, 1863 (many rolls are missing). That's in O.R. Navies, Series II, Volume 1, page 305.

    Here's another mention of Moses Dallas. Note "The names of the officers are....Pilot Moses Dallas (colored)"-

    "SAVANNAH, June 7, 1864.

    I telegraphed the honorable Secretary of tile Navy on the 3d instant that the late gallant T. P. Pelot, C. S. Navy, had command of the expedition which captured the U. S. S. Water Witch.
    The names of the officers are: First Lieutenant Thomas P. Pelot, Second Lieutenant Joseph Price, Midshipmen H. T. Minor, J. D. Trlmble, Masters Mates H. Golder, J. A. Rosier, A. A. E. XV. Barclay, A. C. Freeman, T. S. Gray, Boatswain L. Seymour, Assistant Surgeons C. W. Thomas, W. C. Jones, Second Assistant Engineers George W. Caldwell, James L. Fabian, Pilot Moses Dallas (colored).
    Touching the vacant commands of the Isondiga and Water Witch, I will write you by this days mail. The subject is too lengthy for a telegram.

    Very respectfully, WM. W. HUNTER, Flag-Officer, Commanding Afloat."

  2. Thanks for commenting Anonymous. I do wish you'd use your name.

    On the issue of Pilot v. Captain, I concede and was in error. I misused the modern captain and pilot with that of the 19th c. My schema was out of whack. That still does not take away from the fact that he was an officer with no authority outside of driving. This was not the usual regulation.

    As far as Dallas' status, he was a slave. The O.R. lists him simply in his terms of service.

    The Dallas family background is told in the testimony of Harriet Dallas, Maria Dallas, Paul
    Jackson, Alice Marshall, and Mana Dollar in National Archives and Records Administration
    (hereinafter NARA), Record Group (RG) 217, Southern Claims Commission Settled Claims,
    1877-1883, Chatham Co., Ga. (Microfiche pub. M1658), case no. 15213.

    He does fit the "happy slave" narrative so feel free.

    Your other accounts are O.R. that simply fit into that same line of thinking. Which is why family history needs to be analyzed. I would also caution on completely relying on the NMLHA, some of that work is a bit off.

    Here is a terrific ten page research paper that is cited quite well. http://www.cnrs-scrn.org/northern_mariner/vol18/tnm_18_3-4_129-138.pdf

  3. "Of course, this is the same group that advocated the entire company of confederate cooks..."

    Not true. Whether a purposeful untruth, or an inadvertent one, it is still untrue. Check before you type.

  4. Actually this is true,as linked up at the top for all to see. The poster of the "Negro Cooks" is a member of the group who makes a considerable amount of posts which you and most on that page take at face value and celebrate. It is safe to consider a part of the group. Therefore the group by association, support, and admiration.

    Honestly how can you even dispute that?

    I would like to thank you however for pointing to the most trivial of matters on this post without doing any actual historical analysis at all. The post was about Moses and not about the Negro Cooks regiment. It really plays up the fact that you comment and engage not to do any historical interpretation but to simply be argumentative.

  5. It always bothers me when people use conjecture and pass it off as fact.

    Because the letter regarding Moses Dallas' pay increase uses the word "retain" you assume that to be a comment about his slave status. That's nonsense. Conscription at the time did not equate to volunteer officers not having the right to resign. We see offers of resignation throughout the war.

    The term "retain" was used throughout the period and was no comment on a person's status. If a soldier's enlistment is about to expire and they reenlist, that person has been retained by the army. If you hire a blacksmith, you retained their services.

    To make a sweeping argument about an officer negotiating with a slave owner for the renting of a slave, based on a misunderstanding of one word in a letter that never even mentions a slave owner, (or that Mr. Dallas was even a slave, though he was) and on zero actual hard evidence, seems downright manipulative.

    The more common theory, which also lacks hard evidence, is that Mr. Dallas planned to tender his resignation because, as an officer, he was responsible for paying for his own uniforms and boarding, but couldn't do so with $80 a month. The circumstantial evidence for this is that he has been established as an early war volunteer, not someone who was rented from his master, and was also a pre-war business owner, who didn't live with his master and was free to make his own business contracts (National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia). Owning his own business, living away from his master, and volunteering himself for military service shows a great deal of autonomy from his master (more common than most people tend to think) and makes resignation by his own volition, plausible. (Facts documented by the National Civil War Naval Museum, Columbus, Georgia.)

    To be clear, I haven't seen hard evidence supporting this conclusion, either, so I don't advocate it as more than a theory. However, it does have much more going for it than a misrepresentation of the term "retain".

    You clearly don't understand naval ranks, discrediting all your statements about Dallas' status and authority.

    A captain can be either a rank or a status. Anyone in charge of a ship, regardless of commissioned rank, is a captain. This was true during the Civil War and is true today.

    It is also absolutely known why he was involved in the capture of the Water Witch. His knowledge was vital to the success of the plan to capture and make off with the ship and his skill as a pilot was needed to actually execute the plan. Without his knowledge of the local waters helping to formulate the plan, the mission would not have been possible and the mission became jeopardized when Dallas was no longer available to pilot the prize to safety, as was intended. (National Civil War Naval Museum, Columbus, Georgia.)

    To clarify his rank, status, and role in the Water Witch mission, Moses Dallas was a Confederate officer with the rank/duty of pilot. Because pilot is a position, and not always a specific rank, he was also considered to be a warrant officer, which is analogous to a senior non-commissioned officer, but with the official status of a commissioned officer. He is listed as the third in command of the CSS Savannah and was without legal authority, but in point of fact can be demonstrated to have wielded authority as a result of his expert knowledge and the vital nature of his position on the Savannah. As pilot and the undisputed expert of the local waterways, he had major control of the mission to capture the Water Witch and it is inconceivable that he wouldn't have been intimately involved in the planning of that operation.

    Additionally, as the pilot of a vessel, he had standing authority on a day-to-day basis, albeit with substantial limitations related to his position, his rank, and his status as a slave. You simply won't find a competent naval veteran who advocates disregarding the directives of the ship's pilot.

    1. Rather than answer this rant here I will post it here,


  6. Robert, do you have any idea where one might find the Dallas family testimony you mentioned online or from some other source. I'd certainly be interested in reading it. Perhaps it would clear up the unsupported claims of Moses Dallas defecting and joining the Union Army. Other claims are that there were actually two different guys named Moses Dallas. I'm just curious about which is actually correct.

  7. Ok, so I did some checking. The Dallas family testimony from the Southern Claims Commission is available on Ancestry.com. In her 1872 testimony, Harriet Dallas states that her husband died about 6 months prior to the Union Army capturing Savannah. This fits the time line of her husband dying in June 1864 as the Capture of Savannah was complete in December 1864, and seems to corrobarate the Confederate citation of gallantry. The similarily named Moses Dallas of the Union Navy (according to the National Park Service Civil War Soldiers & Sailors Records) served as a landsmen on four different Union Navy vessels between 10/1/1863 and 10/1/1867. Since both the Union and Confederates utilized blacks as pilots, would the Union Navy really waste the talents of the best pilot in the area by having him perform the duties of a landsmen (lower than a deckhand)?

    1. Interesting analysis James. I have to tell you upfront that I don't come to this page regularly. I changed my blog format to wordpress however I did revisit the Dallas issues (http://thehistoricstruggle.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/693/) after E.T. Bailey's comments above.

      As far as Moses's "service" in the Union Navy, I mentioned in the original post that it is a pretty unsubstantiated claim. I am more interested in why Moses attempted to climb through a gun port, which ultimately led to his demise.

  8. Yeah, Rob, that climbing through a gun port does seem a bit ill-advised. Of course we weren't there at the time, and can't really evaluate all of the factors that took place during that boarding.

  9. I can agree with that sentiment.

  10. In 1872, Harriet Dallas filed claim against the Federal Government for $987.50. This was the value she placed on personal property taken by Sherman's Army when Savannah fell Dec.21, 1864. This was six months after her husband's death. She also states he had purchased her freedom and that of their youngest child shortly before his death. That they lived in a RENTED home in Savannah with 5 acres of land. and that Moses was "very FRUGAL in handling HIS MONEY." Doesn't sound like he was being "taken advantage of" or "forced" to do anything he didn't want to do.

    1. Moses and his wife rented property, yet were still slaves. Moses always had to use Mrs. Elbert's (his owner) manager; afterwards, Moses was free to negotiate. Although this type of hiring out is normal, in this special circumstance, Dallas was allowed to keep his money; as you stated above. Dallas's wife however, still had to pay her owner, A Mrs. Bacon.

      You are wrong about Moses purchasing his own freedom however. His owner got Dallas's last paychecks, not his wife.

      You should also consider the aspect of "rent," which you put so much emphasis on. What of ownership? Can a slave own property out right? Some claim that Moses owned a slave, which isn't entirely accurate, he rented one. You can choose to side step different aspects of this, but it really comes down to a generalization of benign slavery by using slaves such as Moses Dallas as an example.

  11. LOL !!! You need to get over your revisionist self and take time to actually read what I wrote ! "She also states he had purchased her freedom and that of their youngest child shortly before his death." She also testified they had purchased the house and land before he was killed. Almost $1,000.00 worth of property, for any Black family slave or free, in Civil War Georgia ???? You admitted yourself he was able to "negotiate" and "keep his money." Were typical slaves allowed to do that ? I still hold that Moses wasn't doing anything he wasn't allowed to do and doing nothing he was forced to do. You're looking at Moses Dallas through politically correct tinted (or tainted) 2014 glasses. I choose to look at him through 1864 glasses. By the way, Moses' owner was Harriet Elbert. Her daughter was Harriet Bacon who owned Moses' wife. You really should research more and not depend on someone's blog !

    1. I had typed up a reply, but after reading the claim itself, I find this story to be more interesting than a comment warrants.

      Her claim was also written by another person, it appears Harriet was not literate. The is indicated by the signature line on the claim, where she made "her mark." Harriet dictation includes the words, "my husband said," etc. but she is never entirely sure of the value of her property. She seems more comfortable talking about the poundage of the property. This property, btw, was all food items or farm items. Not simple merchandise.

  12. You'll be able to see it on historicstruggle.wordpress.com

  13. By "farm items" I take it you mean livestock ? Livestock wasn't valuable in Civil War Georgia ? Because she doesn't list "merchandise" then it really didn't mean anything to a widow and 6 children ! The only quote I saw by Harriett about her husband : "My husband was a hard working man and careful did not spend any money foolishly that was the way we were able to buy the property and live comfortably."

    Again, doesn't sound like a "poor old abused slave" to me ! The document I saw from the Southern Claims Commission has her testimony and that of her witnesses. She "makes her mark" in the presence of her lawyer. I don't know what you're reading ! I'm really not interested in carrying on this conversation. I'll trouble you no more. It''s obvious our views of history are radically different. My view of History is about sources. And about the past as it was, not according to my convoluted theories and opinions and not judging the past, just trying to figure it out based on the information one can collect from those sources. Thanks for your time !

    1. I do apologize, I meant to delete the bottom half of that original comment. I am going to re-read the Commission Claim and post a more in depth analysis of the document on the blog I currently use, historicstruggle.wordpress.com

      BTW, if you read the commission report, then you would have saw where Harriet does not write her name, but dictates her testimony then signs with an "x" or, her mark.


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