An Open Post to Keith Poulter

In a recent issue of North and South magazine (Vol. 10, No. 2) which featured an article by Bruce Levine on so-called black Confederates, editor Keith Poulter issued a challenge.  "If there is anyone out there who still believes in legions of black Confederates," writes Poulter, "I invite them to write in, spelling out their grounds for that belief, and their grounds for dismissing the statements of Confederate leaders to the contrary."  The last two issues of the magazine have included a number of letters-to-the-editor and this one in particular takes the cake.  According to this reader, "The records prove…that Georgia raised six regiments of slaves, a total of 5,000 men, designated as the First through Sixth Georgia Colored Volunteers."  A bit further into the letter the author admits that there is "not a single word of documentation of these gallant men, who resisted the War of Northern Aggression.  Yankee revisionists and p.c. historians refuse to admit that the total lack of records proves the existence of black Confederate soldiers."  Now that is a keeper for classroom use on how not to engage in historical reasoning.  With this logic we could demonstrate that every color in the rainbow was represented in Confederate ranks.  What I don’t understand is why Poulter thought it necessary to publish such a ridiculous letter.  I understand that this section of a publication is reserved for readers’ letters, but this silliness only exacerbates the problem by implicitly sanctioning such a view as worth considering. 

More troubling, however, is that in the most recent issue Poulter announced that the author of one of the letters will be contributing an essay which supposedly will demonstrate that roughly 3,870 "Afro-Confederates" from Virginia served openly in Confederate ranks.  Jack Maples will be working with his "genealogist friend" to bring this new evidence to light in the face of denials by "mainstream historians."  They are utilizing the 1850, 1860, and 1870 census reports along with pension records and muster rolls for their research.  Let’s hope they spend sufficient time defining their terms.  In other words, what they need to flesh out is the complexity of race relations before the war and how the contingency of war altered the slave-master relationship.  We need to move beyond questions of loyalty to a more sophisticated perspective that first explores the many reasons why blacks were present with Confederate armies.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe this kind of analysis is forthcoming from Maples and his co-researcher.  Maples is the author of Reconstructed Yankee which tells the story of Caleb and Tom Parker:

Civil War expert Maples tells the fictionalized tale of two North
Carolina friends, one white and one black, who fought together during
that war. Set in 1862, the story follows Caleb Parker, a free person of
color living in the Confederacy, and his best friend, Tom Parker, a
white man, as they join the Union militia and set out on their civil
war adventure. After serving for a time in the army and witnessing the
atrocities perpetrated by the Union side, the two decide to switch
allegiances and join the Confederate Army, where things quickly go from
bad to worse. After the war and Tom’s death during a particularly harsh
battle, Caleb returns to North Carolina and Reconstruction, a world
that has been made unbearable for the newly freed black populace. Caleb
then heads for upstate New York, where he is ultimately disappointed to
find the same racism problems he thought he’d left behind.

In a nutshell: North bad, South good.  If this isn’t enough you may want to take a look at Mr. Maples lecturing a crowd about the loyalty of southern blacks during the war.  What I don’t understand is if all of these black southerners were so loyal to the various southern states and Confederacy during the war than why did it take so long for black Americans to get basic civil rights in many of these places?  How did white southerners justify a system of Jim Crow in the face of such broad-based participation and devotion to the cause? Of course, northern blacks faced discrimination well into the twentieth century, but the argument – as I understand it – suggests that the balance of loyalty was in favor of the Confederacy and not the Union.  Didn’t their love and devotion to their masters and the Confederacy at least justify the right to vote and take part in our democratic system? 

Perhaps there is reason to be optimistic that the research of Mr. Maples and his co-researcher will tell us something new about this divisive topic.  My only concern demand as a loyal reader of N&S is that Keith Poulter ensure that their research meets the stringent requirements that his magazine has upheld from the beginning. 

I for one will cancel my subscription immediately if those standards are not upheld.

7 comments… add one

  • matthew mckeon Dec 16, 2007

    Mr. Poulter is stirring the pot to create some heat, a little sizzle to draw more attention and readership. It’s too bad, because the black Confederate thing is a distraction from actual understanding of the CW, but predictable, and in publicity terms, effective. Long term, real scholars might not want to appear in the same journal as Mapes types, an example of bad money driving out good.

    As far as nearly a century of Jim Crow after the CW demonstrating anything, I’m pretty sure that it will be blamed on the Yankees as well. Did you know that Northern states had slavery too? will become, the North discriminated against blacks too.

  • Happy Dae Dec 17, 2007

    I’ve always believed that with experience and reflection comes maturity. I see that I was mistaken.

    Happy Dae.
    http://www.ShoeStringGenealogy.com

  • Jim Schmidt Dec 18, 2007

    An open post to Kevin:

    Kevin, I enjoy your blog tremendously, and it’s one of the few that I read regularly, but you need to lighten up.

    Couldn’t you tell that Tom Lowry’s letter-to-the-editor was a joke and that he was trying to make a point?!

    For goodness sake, Dr. Lowry is on **your** side!

    If I’m not mistaken, he had a running challenge in another publication for awhile to pay for any information substantiating a regularly-enrolled African-American in the Confederate ranks.

    I too find the constant chatter on “Black Confederates” to be silly, apart from the seriousness that you have applied to asking the question:

    “Why do they want it to be so?”

    That said…I kindly suggest that you mightw ant to give more consideration to points being made in letters-to-the-editor, and – unless I’m proven otherwise – you may want to offer an apology to Dr. Lowry.

    All My best,

    Jim Schmidt

  • Kevin Levin Dec 18, 2007

    Hi Jim, — I appreciate the advice, but do you honestly expect that I should have known that it was a joke? Did Keith Poulter know it was a joke? I don’t remember reading an editorial note along with the comment. That said, I was going to post a note as another reader made the same point. When I first read the letter I thought it might be the Tom Lowry of _Sex in the Civil War_ etc., but I wasn’t sure. Exactly how am I supposed to assume what you ask me to assume given all the nonsense that has been published about this topic? Thanks for the correction.

  • Jim Schmidt Dec 19, 2007

    Kevin,

    Thanks for posting my comment and for your prompt and reasoned reply.

    I suppose the reason I could tell that Tom’s letter to N&S was a joke is that I am more familiar with his “full body of work,” such as it is, and also count him as a mentor and friend.

    In that sense, you probably shouldn;t have been expected to know. I rather wish Tom would have used his wit to substitute some farcical names of engagements to further the satire and make it more clear.

    Your comment that Tom’s letter to N&S has only added to the silliness rather than resolved it is also well made.

    I look forward to continued posts on your part regarding this subject and others.

    All My Best,

    Jim Schmidt

  • Kevin Levin Dec 19, 2007

    Thanks Jim. Lowry obviously has a wonderful sense of humor. Happy Holidays!

  • Border Mar 2, 2008

    In a recent issue of North and South magazine (Vol. 10, No. 2) which featured an article by Bruce Levine on so-called black Confederates, editor Keith Poulter issued a challenge. “If there is anyone out there who still believes in legions of black Confederates,” writes Poulter, “I invite them to write in, spelling out their grounds for that belief, and their grounds for dismissing the statements of Confederate leaders to the contrary.”
    ===========================================

    Is there a money prize involved with this challenge?

    And what will constitute a Legion?

    ;-)

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