This morning I took a few minutes to write one of the authors of the recent articles about Weary Clyburn. I suggested that the next time he writes a story about the Civil War he should consult a trained historian at one of the many fine history departments in North Carolina. Then I received an email from one of my readers with a link to our very own U.S. Army’s website, which includes a page on the history of African Americans in the army. The last sentence reads:
Less known is that several thousand blacks also served with honor in the Confederate Army.
For an organization which prides itself on maintaining a strict code of honor they should be ashamed of themselves.
Addendum: One of my readers was kind enough to send the following comment along via email and I share it with you with his permission:
In my opinion this army history blurb you cited has much deeper problems than the statement about black Confederates in the final sentence. In my opinion the biggest problem is in the first phrase of the first sentence. Does the modern U.S. Army honestly believe that they invaded the southern states in 1861-1865? Did they invade Little Rock in 1957? If the Illinois National Guard drives to Fort Stewart for training, are they invading Georgia? Did the Coast Guard invade Louisiana when they rescued people after Hurricane Katrina?
The Commander in Chief has the right to send the army anywhere in the country that it needs to go, consistent with the Posse Comitatus law (which did not exist in 1861). It reminds me of President Lincoln’s exasperation over General Meade’s congratulatory order to his army after the battle of Gettysburg, when Meade told his soldiers they had chased the enemy from “our soil.” Lincoln felt it was obvious that it was all “our soil.” To distinguish between sections of the country in casual conversation is one thing, but for the commander of the Army of the Potomac to rhetorically grant the Confederacy independence in the wake of a great Union victory seemed to strike Lincoln as an unforgivable misunderstanding of the Union cause.
Yet the army’s web site now frames the war in pro-Confederate language and passes that point of view off as objective history.
Also, the use of Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s quote is nice, but used so out of context as to misinterpret the meaning. When Higginson wrote the quoted passage he was describing how black South Carolinians were superior to northern white soldiers on one specific expedition into South Carolina, because of their familiarity with the local area. The army web site seems to indicate that Higginson was arguing that black soldiers were generally better than white soldiers. He never said such a thing, nor did almost any other proponent of African American soldiers. Think of reading Stephen Ash’s excellent new book on the Jacksonville expedition, Firebrand of Liberty.
94,000 former slaves out of 186,000 USCT’s seems very low. I thought the vast majority of African American soldiers were freedmen. No, I don’t think, I know. Still, that’s a statistic and I’m sure the writer got it somewhere.
Then we get to the statement about “several thousand” blacks honorably serving the Confederacy, an argument that disingenuously equates forced slave labor with duty in the line of battle. You have already addressed that issue better than I could.
This little bit of verbiage may reflect a much, much bigger issue within the military about the Lost Cause and institutional memory. How much would you bet that the writer of this paragraph thinks it reflects an inclusive, even “liberal” view of history? I can’t think of a better description than pro-Confederate.