New Graphic Novel About Patrick Cleburne and Black Confederates Forthcoming

Cleburne1 I opened up the latest issue of one of the major Civil War magazines today and noticed a full-page spread announcing the publication of a graphic novel titled Cleburne by Justin Murphy, which tells the story of  his plans to arm slaves.  You can read an interview with the author here.  Check out these choice quotes from that interview:

Ultimately, Cleburne is not so much about African Americans fighting for the Confederacy, as it is the idea of it, and what that idea ultimately cost the South’s most promising military leader.  It is the story of a true underdog who challenged the institutions of the very society he fought to defend.

What many today do not know is that there were a large number of Confederate officers and enlisted men who were opposed to slavery. Every one of General Cleburne’s regimental commanders put their names on his proposal to free and arm the slaves. This was a huge career risk for them and they would not have allied themselves with him unless they strongly believed in his idea.  So what then were they fighting for if not to preserve slavery?  The truth is many Southerners felt they had no choice but to defend their home states, and others were fighting against what they believed to be an over-reaching Federal government (a problem Americans are still dealing with today).

I’m aware of the political-incorrectness of such a subject and I’m also aware of the sensitivity of the issue.  Some historians and educators may speak out against this book and accuse me of fabrication, but I’m ready for them.  The truth is I’ve probably spent more hours studying the subject than they ever will.  As far as speaking at schools, I will admit it can be difficult to stand in front of a classroom full of black students and try to explain why they should care about someone who (they’ve been told) fought for a government that wanted to keep their ancestors enslaved.  It’s an uphill battle and I don’t blame them for being a little suspicious. There’s very spotty evidence for black confederate soldiers, but the proof is still there in the eyewitness accounts, and the concept seems to capture public’s imagination.  That is why I have used the image in so much of my advertising.

Cleburne Murphy's responses are a clear reflection of the sloppiness that often accompanies discussion of so-called black Confederates.  First, it is unclear to me why we are so fascinated with Cleburne and his proposal to arm slaves.  If I remember correctly, he wasn't even the first; Gen. Richard S. Ewell proposed a similar plan in 1861.  Also notice the inference that because an officer supported the plan they must have been anti-slavery or that this plan was meant as a first step towards general emancipation.  What Murphy never mentions, of course, is that the plan was debated throughout the Confederacy and throughout much of the war, and from what historians can tell it never really had a chance.  That the plan was only passed in the final weeks of the war suggests that few white Southerners were able to contemplate such a development.  In fact, the passage of the proposal, along with R.E. Lee's support, was meant as a way to save the Confederacy and slavery and not as a step towards general emancipation. 

Murphy also falls into the trap of failing to distinguish between the outlines of Cleburne's plan and the experiences of individual slaves who were present with Confederate armies.  Their presence had nothing to do with Cleburne.  They served as slaves in various capacities and a few may even have picked up a rifle and fired it at a "Yankee" at one point or another.  This ought not to be confused with serving officially as Confederate soldiers, although there may even be some exceptions in this case. 

If you are interested in the history of Cleburne and black Confederates I recommend Bruce Levine's Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War and if you would like to learn more about Cleburne himself, check out Craig Symonds's Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War.  Finally, here is a brief trailer for Murphy's graphic novel.  Enjoy.

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36 comments… add one

  • Harry Oct 15, 2008

    Great point on the tenuous connection between Cleburne’s proposal and support for it and an underlying opposition to slavery. Also, over the years I have become convinced that the proposal was not the “career killer” that Cleburne admirers claim it was. I think they use it as an excuse for his never being promoted to corps command. Hopefully Lee White will chime in here, but IIRC even Cleburne’s friends did not find him most qualified for corps command openings when they became available. Cleburne’s claim to fame as a “hard fighter” seems to be more firmly based on the high casualties he routinely suffered than on tactical successes.

    • Robert Lee Baker Sep 30, 2010

      I disagree, when you look at his flank at Missionary Ridge, and Ringgold Gap that tale is quite different. He also has several battles where yes he did take heavy casualties but he also inflicted significant amounts of damage to the Union lines as well.

  • Tim Abbott Oct 15, 2008

    It would be refreshing to set an historical treatment comparing the evolution of attitudes concerning the arming of slaves (and freedmen)during the American Revolution, when slavery was legal in every state and the British were actively recruiting slaves to fight against their colonial masters, and during the Civil War. Anyone know of such a study?

  • Patrick L Oct 15, 2008

    I love this guy! CH-CH got an advance of this a while back… and we haven’t stopped laughing since. “Ireland was his home: The South was his land: The slave was his Cause” lol. Lee White was temporarily muted from the sheer weight of hilarious ignorance that fits between these covers.

  • Kevin Levin Oct 15, 2008

    Patrick, — I look forward to hearing from Lee White.

  • Justin Murphy Oct 16, 2008

    I love all this chatter about my book. It might be a good idea to read it first before you make too many assumptions about what is (or isn’t) in it based on one article. But hey, publicity is great for business (good or bad) so keep it coming.

  • Kevin Levin Oct 16, 2008

    Mr. Murphy, — Thanks for taking the time to comment. I assume you mean the “chatter” about your own words given in an interview. It’s quite telling that you make no attempt to defend your own words. Please feel free to follow-up with additional thoughts if you so choose. I made no claim to having read the book. My commentary was squarely based on your interview and the brief trailer which was quite humorous. This is a very complex topic.

  • Richard Williams Oct 16, 2008

    Mr. Murphy:

    No disrespect meant to our gracious host, but you are in a den of lions here when it comes to this subject. Know your subject well and be aware that many (but not all) of the folks commenting here are intelligent, educated, and well read. That being said, they do bring a particular perspective to the debate, as everyone does to one degree or another. Though many of these folks are educated, they often fall into the trap of making unfounded assumptions regarding this subject matter, as you’ve already found out. Education does not always produce wisdom.

    I would resist being drawn into “defending your own words.” You will not change any minds here and you should not feel the need to defend yourself. (If you do, do it on your own blog or site.) Your book should speak for itself. If the critics are really interested in your perspective, let them read your book. My own experience has been that my most ardent critics have not read my book, or, if they did, they weren’t paying attention.

  • Justin Murphy Oct 16, 2008

    Of course it’s a complex topic, but I find nothing humorous about anything relating to that tragic war. My book never claims the Confederacy was in support of arming slaves. Quite the contrary. It sheds light the conspiracy against Cleburne by Generals Bragg and Walker and shows how much his forward thinking cost him. The truth is many black southerners flocked to the Confederate recruiting stations at the opening of the war, but were turned away because of their color. That being said, they did serve as teamsters in the armies and Northern accounts even claim that they were “carrying all sorts of weaponry and mingled in with the entire Rebel horde.” Carrying all sorts of weapons sounds to me like a soldier, official or not. That is conveniently left out of most history books. I consulted several historians while researching this story, including Thomas Cartwright and Craig Symonds, so I know my facts are straight. While you are correct that other Confederates proposed arming slaves, Cleburne was the only one to make it official on paper. He even said he would take a demotion in rank and lead a regiment himself, if the South could find no white officer willing to do the same. That is why he is credited with the idea, because he made it more than an idea, he tried to advance it as official policy. There weren’t many Union generals who would have risked as much with their careers. As for Cleburne’s military skill, that is undebatable. He saved the Army of Tennessee at both Missionary Ridge and Ringgold Gap and even received the official thanks of the Confederate Congress. He was even called, “The Stonewall Jackson of the West.” I think Patrick Cleburne himself said it best, “It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision.” All I’m asking is that we examine his side of the story. That’s something any historian should be willing to allow.

  • Kevin Levin Oct 16, 2008

    Richard, — Yes, this is a den of lions, a den of lions who are serious about history and who approach it with an analytical and sometimes skeptical stance. Just because we approach this issue with a different set of assumptions does not imply that they are “unfounded.” As I’ve stated over and over I am willing to believe anything about this issue, but it must be based on solid research and careful thinking. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.

    Justin, — I appreciate the follow-up. Of course, I agree that we should examine the slave-master relationship in the context of the war. Unfortunately, there has been very little analytical research on the subject which in turn ought to prevent us from making sweeping generalizations about the loyalty and “service” of slaves in Confederate ranks. That Confederate armies included thousands of black men is beyond dispute. Understanding how the war altered the master-slave relationship in camp and on the battlefield is a worthy topic for serious scholars. The image that is included in this post is simply misleading and a product of a deeply-engrained strand of Civil War memory that has worked to distance the Confederate experiment from slavery and white southerners from the institution of slavery during the antebellum period. Good luck with your book.

  • Richard Williams Oct 16, 2008

    Kevin:

    Rrrroooaaaarrr! We disagree. (Surprise, surprise.) I am working on a very lengthy post on my blog that will touch on your comment:

    “a den of lions who are serious about history and who approach it with an analytical and sometimes skeptical stance.”

    I hope to post it early AM Friday.

    Best,
    RGW

  • Lee White Oct 16, 2008

    Well, Im going to disagree as well. But my main comments are directed at the “conspiracy” against Cleburne. I have studied Cleburne and his command for a long time, even published an essay on his company of the 15th Arkansas. Since that time I have also started studying the level of support of Bragg within the Army of Tennessee(check my blog for more on that), and have found that up until October of 1863, that Cleburne was in high esteem of Bragg, then he signed the petition to oust Bragg. I think that did more to hurt Cleburne’s chances than anything, also being Irish did’nt help. Also factor in Jefferson Davis’ bias against anyone being elivated to Lieut. Genl. who was’nt a West Pointer. I don’t think Cleburne’s propsal helped him, but it was’nt the only or IMHO the main reason for him not being promoted further.

    Lee

  • Chris Paysinger Oct 16, 2008

    Is Thomas Cartwright the director of the Carter House in Franklin, Tn.? If so, I’ve been there a few times and while he has good intentions to educate the public about the battle/war, my students (and me) considered his presentations extremely biased towards a Lost Cause agenda. I do think though that he has done wonders in regard to preservation in that area.

    Chris

  • Lee White Oct 16, 2008

    Ok, well to wade into this, after all. First of all I do read Graphic Novels, Im a big fan of Alan Moore’s, so I appreciate the medium. Im not going to rehash some of the points here about Cleburne and the proposal, other than to add from my research I don’t think the idea was original to Cleburne, as others have stated the idea for the proposal was being brought out in the press and by others for some time, one writer using the nom de plume, Culloden. Culloden was actually General Thomas C. Hindman, the man who Cleburne took a bullet for in a gunfight before the war. I think with his star sinking that Hindman influenced Cleburne to make the proposal since his name certainly carriend more weight after Missionary Ridge and Ringgold Gap.
    So, as with almost any issues a lot of different perspectives.

    Lee

  • TF Smith Oct 16, 2008

    I’m very interested in this statement:

    “The truth is many black southerners flocked to the Confederate recruiting stations at the opening of the war, but were turned away because of their color.”

    What evidence supports it?

  • Robert Moore Oct 16, 2008

    OK, coming up for breath from my comps for a bit here…

    On a sidenote regarding the comments herein, that comment…

    “It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision”

    … Cleburne said this???

    Also, the quote is a curious one and I find the belief coming up time and time again among the modern Confederate-learners, but I disagree, with evidence to back it up. Actually, there was a great deal of work going on between the Confederate veterans and the SCV in the late 1800s and early 1900s to make sure the text for the history books distributed (I am most aware of one publisher in particular) in the South read to fit the Confederate side of history. It’s worthy of a post all unto itself.

    Robert

  • Michael Lynch Oct 16, 2008

    The trailer reminds me of that series of close-ups in the ’89 Batman movie, where Michael Keaton is dramatically suiting up to go fight the Joker.

    Michael

  • Lee White Oct 16, 2008

    “It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision”

    … Cleburne said this???

    Yes, or words very similar, I will try to look it up later. Cleburne made these remarks in a speech in October of 1864.

    Lee

  • Kevin Levin Oct 16, 2008

    Thanks for the comments. Again, I don’t consider this to be a den of lions, but a community of serious students of the war who care about how the past is presented.

    Lee, — You are right to point out the complexity of factors that may have led Cleburne to make public this proposal. Craig Symonds does a good job of this in his biography. It’s not clear at all that Cleburne was doing this in the name of a progressive cause. And thanks for clarifying the Cleburne passage cited by Robert Moore.

    TF, — The statement you quote is absurd and just another example of the ease with which we throw around historical claims.

    Robert, — Thanks for following up on that point. The UDC spent a great deal of time and money overseeing the publication and approval of history books for public schools. You can read more about this in Karen Cox’s study of the UDC which is quite good.

  • Justin Murphy Oct 16, 2008

    Debate is fun. It’s what keeps America interesting and free. We may never all agree or even know all the “facts” about history because we were not there. I do not claim to have all the answers, I can only write what I find in my research. We all have our own biases and opinions, so be it. I’m just happy to help bring a piece of this man’s life into the forefront through the comics medium. Long live graphic novels and long live the memory of Patrick Cleburne. Signing out.

  • Kevin Levin Oct 16, 2008

    Justin, — Thanks again for chiming in. All I hope to do with this blog is to raise issues and engage my readers. Please remember that you are more than welcome at any time to share your thoughts on this site. Good luck with the book.

  • Justin Murphy Oct 16, 2008

    Will do Kevin. In the words of Old Abe, “with malice toward none and charity for all.”

  • TF Smith Oct 16, 2008

    Kevin –

    I agree with you that the “The truth is many black southerners flocked to the Confederate recruiting stations at the opening of the war, but were turned away because of their color” statement is absurd; I was curious what, if any, evidence, Mr. Murphy could provide for it.

    Since he has “signed off” apparently he has none to offer and – to be collegial about it – has “assumed facts not in evidence.”

    Keep up the fire

  • Robert Moore Oct 16, 2008

    Kevin, Did your spam filter eat-up the comment I sent with the link to the Virginia Reconsidered book on GoogleBooks? Great article from 1995 about Free Press and the Lost Cause.

  • Kevin Levin Oct 16, 2008

    Robert, — Not sure what happened to it, but I have been dealing with comment problems recently. I actually have that collection of essays. Thanks.

  • toby Oct 17, 2008

    I am Irish, and have read all the biographies of Cleburne I could find, as well as Bruce Levine.

    I would be more sensitive than most to Cleburne’s early years. As is well known, Celeburne spent some years as a Non-Commissioned Officer in the British Army. His family might have been able to buy him an officer’s commission, but he had actually run away to join up without his family’s approval.

    After a few years, he was able to buy himself out with a small legacy, and emigrated to the US.

    While he was in the British Army, Cleburne must have been struck by the number of Irish Catholics in the lower ranks. Estimates run from 40% TO 50%, probably over 60% among the lower ranks, and 100% in Irish-raised regiments like the Munster Fusiliers. Not only that, these were from the poorest, labouring classes whose social position would not have been far above slavery.

    The 1840s, when Cleburne served in the British Army, were the years known as the Great Hunger in Irish history. A terrible potato famine swept the land – potatoes were the food of the poor, and it is estimated that about 12% of the population died of starvation and disease.

    Much of Cleburne’s duties at this time were guarding Government food stores (used for distribution to the starving), and he must also have been struck about how the Irish soldiers stuck by their duties, and did not mutiny in support of their desperate fellow-countrymen.

    I think that Cleburne’s experiences fed his instincts that slaves would fight for the Confederacy, if promised liberty for themselves and their families. He was not a starry-eyed idealist promoting liberty. Just as the sons of the oppressed Irish peasant could be turned into a good soldier of the Queen, so could the son of a black slave be turned into a good soldier for the Confederacy.

    There is on record a conversation with Cleburne were he confirmed much of the above. Incidentally, time has proved him right. The majority of the South African army during the Apartheid years were blacks, who were thoroughly efficient in carrying out the orders of the state.

    Cleburne’s proposal came too late, and Levine shows that the Confederacy could not accept it anyway. However, just as well, if the Confederacy had adopted it whole-heartedly at an early stage, it is hard to see how the Union could have won.

  • Mikolaj Lenczewski Oct 17, 2008

    I am looking forward to see this comic book :) I only hope that general J.B.Hood will be portraied fairly, when it comes to Atlanta and Franklin there is always a lot of lies about his actions.

  • Lee White Oct 17, 2008

    What it all comes down to is that Cleburne is very complicated. His background, upbringing, etc. is very different than most. There have been several things that I have tried to figure out about the man over the years, and one of those being his friendship with Thomas Hindman. Hindman was a fire eater and Cleburne’s opposite in so many ways. So a lot of work still needs to be done.

    Lee

  • Woodrowfan Oct 18, 2008

    I’ll give him credit though, he managed to get the entire roster of actual black Confederates into one picture, all three of them.

    I’ve been reading the memoirs of a Confederate veteran from Tennessee who was in the war from start to finish. Funny thing. He was careful to mention race (as well as ethnic groups, German, Irish, Cajun,) but while he often mentions black servants/cooks/teamsters, etc. in the Confederate Army and black Union soldiers (which he thought were cowards and ‘forced’ into battle by the North) he neglected to mention even a single black Confederate soldier. An oversight, I’m sure.

  • tf smith Oct 19, 2008

    Arguing that if the Confederate States of America had raised combat units made up of enslaved men of African ancestry the CSA would have gained its independence is rather like arguing that if only the SS and Wehrmacht had organized “Judengrenadier” divisions then Germany would have won World War II…

    The CSA would not have existed if not for slavery, any more than Nazi Germany could have existed as a state that provided equal rights for religious minorities.

    Nazi Germany without ant-semitism would not have been Nazi Germany (it wouldn’t have even been Wilhemine Germany); in the same way, the Confederacy without slavery would not have been the Confederacy.

  • John Oct 21, 2008

    There are at the present moment, many colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty…as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders and bullets in
    their pockets….” Frederick Douglas, (Fall, 1861)

  • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2008

    Thanks for the comment John. Remember that Douglass was working to convince Lincoln to accept black soldiers into Union ranks. He was not reporting first-hand observations of black southerners serving as soldiers in Confederate ranks.

  • Johnny Reb Nov 28, 2013

    Those brave men and boys fought for a just cause in witch they believed was right.
    If more people researched the war’s causes then there wouldn’t be any room for debate THE SOUTH DID NOT FIGHT FOR SLAVERY this is what i learned in my five years of study on the war here are the myths about the war that I shall hence forward and forever more disprove 1.the confederate flag aka the rebel flag WAS NOT THE NATIONAL FLAG OF THE Confederate States Of America 2. THE SOUTH DID NOT FIGHT FOR SLAVERY 3. THERE ARE YANKEE EYEWITNESS ACOUNTS OF BLACK Confederate SOLDIERS DATEING AS FAR BACK AS 1863
    look up jullis howl intervew and lit a veteran speak for himself and his long dead brothers in arms HARATAGE NOT HATE

    • Kevin Levin Nov 28, 2013

      Thanks for the comment, Mr. Reb.

      • Johnny Reb Nov 28, 2013

        my grate grate uncle benjamen west his father abrose and ambrose’s brother david (abrose and david kia petersburg 1864) SALUTE YOU SIR 26th virginia infantry HARATAGE NOT HATE

  • Johnny Reb Nov 28, 2013

    “A mans education is never complete until he dies”
    Robert E. Lee

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