Taking The Subject of “Black Confederates” Seriously

One of the skills that I try to impart to my students is the importance of asking the right question when thinking about primary sources.  While we may approach our research with a certain set of values it is incumbent on the serious historian to step back and think critically from multiple perspectives both before and during the research process.  The kind of questions asked will determine to a large extent the level of sophistication in the interpretation.  In the case of those amateur historians who debate the issue of "black Confederates" simplicity rules in more ways than one.  Most approach the subject with a rather juvenile conclusion already in mind and proceed by collecting any and all sources that seem to vindicate that conclusion — a wonderful example of BAD HISTORY.  Thankfully this is beginning to change.  Here is a brief description of historian Peter S. Carmichael’s next research project.

My next book project, “Black Rebels,” will explore the experience of slaves who served Confederate soldiers. This unique master-slave relationship within Southern armies has never been examined by scholars, and to date the subject has only drawn the interest of those who write in the romantic tradition of the Lost Cause. My intention to focus on the master-slave relationship will allow me to examine the traditional subjects of living conditions and resistance. But I also intend to explore uncharted territory such as: how the shared experience of battle reconfigured the master slave relationship, what were the symbolic uses of the “camp servant” in Confederate propaganda, how did lower class whites in the army view slaves, and were camp servants a source of division in the white ranks? This project is in keeping with my interest in the construction and exertion of power in the Old South and the Confederacy.My next book project, “Black Rebels,” will explore the experience of slaves who served Confederate soldiers. This unique master-slave relationship within Southern armies has never been examined by scholars, and to date the subject has only drawn the interest of those who write in the romantic tradition of the Lost Cause. My intention to focus on the master-slave relationship will allow me to examine the traditional subjects of living conditions and resistance. But I also intend to explore uncharted territory such as: how the shared experience of battle reconfigured the master slave relationship, what were the symbolic uses of the “camp servant” in Confederate propaganda, how did lower class whites in the army view slaves, and were camp servants a source of division in the white ranks? This project is in keeping with my interest in the construction and exertion of power in the Old South and the Confederacy.

I look forward to seeing the final product.  A dissertation at the Louisiana State University was recently completed by Colin E. Woodward which is titled, "Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army, 1861-1865.  It is well worth reading and can be found at the following link: etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-04122005-162104/unrestricted/Woodward_dis.pdf – (notice that it is a pdf file).

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