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68 Chapter Three Camp Slaves and the Lost Cause On Tuesday, June 4, 1929, Steve Perry stepped off a segregated train car in Charlotte, North Carolina, to take part in the thirty-­ninth annual reunion of the United Confederate Veterans (UCV).The city prepared for the four-­day reunion and the large crowds that were expected by decorating buildings with red, white, and blue bunting and by cleaning streets and other public spaces. A variety of Confederate flags flew alongside the Stars and Stripes, while large images of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and other Confederate luminaries adorned storefront windows.Organizers took the necessary steps to ensure that there was sufficient food for the veterans. Makeshift hospitals were constructed to handle any emergencies. Schools closed so that the city’s youth had the opportunity to meet the veterans and hear their stories. For four days Charlotte’s residents and visitors from around the countrycrowded into ballrooms and other public spaces to listen to leaders ofvarious civic groups as well as local and state politicians, including Governor Oliver Max Gardner, who saluted the “magnificent remnant of the finest army that ever trod the earth.”1 The sights and sounds of the reunion were all too familiar to Perry as he walked the city’s streets and interacted with the crowds. By 1929, this “High Ranking Negro” had become a regular sight at these gatherings and always emerged as a crowd favorite.2 Like theother Confederateveterans, Perry had plenty of stories to share about the war, but his reminiscences were those of a former camp slave, not of a soldier. Little is known about Perry’s life before 1865.3 It was not until March 1863 that the son of his owner, Private Patrick S. Eberhart, enlisted inTiller’s Company, Georgia Light Artillery, in the county seat of Lexington. Perry Camp Slaves and the Lost Cause 69 was likely in his late teens when he accompanied Eberhart towaras his camp slave.Unfortunately, there are no surviving letters ordiaries from Eberhart’s military service that might shed light on the relationship that developed with his camp slave. In later years Perry regaled his audiences with stories that placed him and his master in someof the fiercest battles of thewar, including Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg, but this was little more than an attempt to tell a more compelling and entertaining story. Tiller’s Company was stationed in the Departments of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, where the fighting failed to rise to the level of the more significant and costly battles in the Eastern theater. Eberhart and Perry saw limited action apart from the battle of Olustee, which took place in Florida on February 20, 1864. Perry may have caught a glimpse of the three black Union regiments, including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which participated in the battle, though any evidence of what he thought about these men in uniform has been lost to history. Patrick Eberhart was paroled in April 1865 near Goldsboro , North Carolina. Master and slave likely traveled the relatively short distance back to Georgia together. Whatever Steve Perry had experienced during the war, by 1930 the stories he told about himself and his war service bore little resemblance to the historical record. On the final day of the reunion in Charlotte, Perry marched alongside the “bravest of the manhood of the South” in front of a crowd that was estimated at 6,000.4 Attendees of the Charlotte reunion who caught a glimpseof Perry witnessed him playing a role that he had perfected for the sole purpose of reminding the crowds of the undying loyalty of former camp slaves who stood by their masters from Bull Run to Appomattox. Perry’s loyalty to the former Confederacy was evidenced by his ability to “speil [sic] off the causes of the war,” which reinforced the pervasive belief that it was states’ rights as opposed to the preservation of slavery and white supremacy. He invoked his role as a wartime forager by carrying a live chicken under each arm, but it was his attire that attracted the most attention. According toone reporter, Perry “displayed a high silk hat decorated with chicken feathers, Confederate flags on each shoulder, enough medals and badges to outfit two Central American generals, and a gray uniform embellished with every kind ofornament .”5 Perry’s flamboyant attire suggests that at some level he understood the cultural and racial significance of the role he had perfected...


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