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.