A Statement

It’s been quite exciting around here over the past few days and as you might imagine I’ve found it hard to keep up with all the comments.  The subject of “black Confederates” never fails to excite my readers, but the latest post, which has now topped 100 comments, seems to have taken the discourse to a whole new level.  Because of this I want to take a few minutes to make a few points.

First and foremost, I value your comments.  If I wanted this site to simply function as a forum for my own views than I would have turned off the comments option.  That, however, has always seemed to me to run counter to the very idea of blogging.  Over the past few years I’ve learned quite a bit from my readers and have been forced to reconsider positions on more than a couple of occasions.  While I value your thoughts this does not give you the right to insult me or turn this site into your own forum, even if you believe that I am guilty of the same.  Simply put, the First Amendment does not apply here.  A few of you out there will have noticed by now that your comments are not going through.  Please consider yourself temporarily banned from commenting on this site and please do not email me as they will go unanswered.  Let me say again that this will no longer be tolerated at Civil War Memory.  I retain the right to edit, delete, or ban IP Addresses.  You are free to hurl insults about me on other blogs (assuming you are allowed to do so) or you can start your very own blog.  Remember, blogging is free.  There are also countless Message Boards and Listservs that you can join in on and add to the growing chorus against me.  That’s fine and I accept that this is the price for jumping into the blogosphere.  Ultimately, my goal is to further discussion about those aspects of the Civil War that I find interesting and worthy of analysis.  The level of emotion and invective as of late has made that much more difficult to achieve and it has to stop.

Those of you who have been with me for some time now know that I am passionate about certain issues.  I make no apologies for that.  It can be seen in the frequency of certain subjects and especially in my tone.  Through it all, and with a few exceptions, I’ve always tried to provide reasons for my positions.  I claim no authority on any historical subject beyond what I’ve read and what I’ve researched/published.  Most of my posts include references to books, which reflects a strongly-held belief that I have no access to the historical past beyond what I’ve read.  [Click here to tour my library.]  We have a responsibility to question those who engage the public and who have assumed a position of authority within public circles.  They, in turn have the responsibility to respond if they expect to be treated as authority figures.  I expect the same from the students that I teach, from the readers of my blog, as well as those who have read my published work.  In turn, it is my responsibility to defend and explain myself in light of the positions that I hold.

I have written countless posts on the issue of “black Confederates” and have asked very hard and direct questions about those who make extravagant claims about their numbers as well as their role in the Confederacy.  In addition, I’ve read most of the scholarly literature that bears on this subject.  On a number of occasions I’ve questioned the public statements of Earl Ijames.  As an archivist employed by the state of North Carolina and as someone who has given press interviews and conducted countless workshops Ijames has a responsibility to respond to questions and criticisms.  He may not want to and he may question the motivation and the character of the individual issuing the challenge, but that does not relieve him of his responsibility.  You will notice that at no time did I insult him within the content of the post and I even offered him an opportunity to share his research and clarify his position.  Unfortunately, Mr. Ijames chose to respond by insulting me [see here and here] and calling me an “idiot.”  He even went so far as to threaten to include a photograph of me at his next workshop.  Of course, Ijames is free to insult me until the cows come home, but it doesn’t help his standing as an authority on this subject one bit; in fact, it probably does significant damage to it.  Even better, when I requested a list of his publications on the subject he shot back by suggesting that he would reveal his research at some future date and when he is good and “ready to release it”, though he did invite me to one of his “workshops” on the subject.  This is not the response of someone who wishes to be taken seriously.

So where do we stand?  As far as I am concerned Earl Ijames is not an authority on this subject given his inability and/or unwillingness to engage those who are sincerely interested in this subject and who tend not to sit by passively when it comes to consuming historical studies.  Perhaps one day soon we will be lucky enough to learn more about Mr. Ijames’s work that by all indications has not progressed much beyond the collection of various primary sources.  But don’t take my word for it, even one of his former colleagues has questioned his overall view.

You can rest assured that I will continue to question others and work to bring about cordial and enlightening dialog on this blog.  I do so not as an absolute authority on any subject, but as someone who has the ability to think critically and question.  I expect each and every one of you to do the same.  Thanks.

17 responses... add one

Kevin:

I support your right to ban any and everyone you want to – as you mention, this is your blog. The 1st amendment guarantees the right to free speech, but not the right to be heard. No one HAS to listen to anyone else if they choose not to. I like it that way.

Regarding your charge that Mr. Ijames insulted you, the only place I saw that was when he called you an “idiot.” I don’t think that was appropriate. However, it is no less insulting than your mocking of those involved in the SCV, other heritage groups, and others with whom you disagree, including Mr. Ijames. Mockery is sometimes a useful tool in making a point but it can also be taken as insulting. It may not be a direct name-calling, but the result is the same: Personal offense. I’d further venture to say that even an insult is sometimes appropriate. Let’s face it, some folks deserve insults. The rub comes, as with this discussion, as to how we differ on who deserves it and what defines an insult.

I think we would both agree it is often a good idea to pause, take a deep breath and think long and hard before we post something. That goes for me as well.

That said, I consider Mr. Ijames a credible source and look forward to more of his research in this area of WBTS history.

Richard,

Thanks for the comment Richard. We will have to agree to disagree on what I’ve said about the SCV and other heritage organizations. I stand by my characterization of their involvement in a range of events as well as claims made on their behalf or by individual members. Yes, at times I’ve been known to get a bit too emotional, but I do make it a point to provide reasons for my claims.

As for Ijames’s research, you must know something that I don’t because there is nothing publicly accessible that would allow me to judge his work in the archives. Thanks again.

Kevin, I turn my back for a few days and all hell breaks loose at CW Memory!

I have to say, in response to Richard, that in my reading of the post and its 107 comments, Mr. IJames behaved in an unprofessional manner. Professional historians are obligated to conduct historiographical debates by putting their interpretations in print. Mr IJames has failed to do this, even after what looks like years of work, and yet insults Kevin, who has shared his sources and interpretations in a number of venues (only one of them is this blog). Moreover, other comments suggest that Mr IJames has not been open to rethinking his simplistic interpretations of very complicated evidence, even when encouraged by friends and colleagues to do so. This is also unprofessional: historians are obligated to rethink conclusions as their colleagues comment on evidence, interpretation, and methodology. This is something Kevin is very willing to do; in fact, he has done so on this blog, yet Mr IJames apparently will not. I’ll retract that if I see a guest post here or if an article appears in print in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal.

I have had the privilege of meeting Kevin several times and I find him to be a careful and thoughtful historian.

In the time that I’ve come to know Kevin, virtually, through CWM, he has always been courteous, professional, and focused on the topic at hand. While I make no claims to having an infallible memory, I recall no instances of him attacking a person rather than an interpretation, facts, or both.

We should all remember that there is a difference between being employed as a professional in the business of history, and being a professional historian. Kevin is most certainly the latter. Some of the followers of his blog, however, are less than disinterested in promoting their questionable interpretations and turning myths into facts.

Some of the business of history, both factual and interpretative, has risen to the level of sacred: slavery, civil rights, foundation-era topics, the environment, fights against class oppression, etc. But we all know there are religions that respect reality and people, and there are those that don’t. We call those that don’t cults. It appears that some of the cultish aspects of Civil War history need to be relentlessly opposed. One of those battlefields involves historical interpretation and factual myth-making surrounding the minimization of the horrors of slavery, recently here with regard to so-called “black Confederates.”

Kevin’s sometimes heroic efforts to protect the truths about slavery in relation to the Civil War deserve our collective respect. He’s fighting cultish and false movements that attempt to protect historical actors who deserve only pity, if not sometimes scorn. Those movements are on the wrong side of history (i.e. Lost Cause and Moonlight and Magnolias). Kevin, however, is protecting the memory of those who all too often have been either forgotten or deliberately misrepresented.

I for one hope that he remains heartened and vigorous in maintaining sacred memories that correspond with reality and protect those who really deserve our respect.

- Tim

I think that the “Black Confederates” gambit is a make-or-break strategy for Confederate heritage groups in the 21st century. The old moonlight and magnolias approach just doesn’t wash anymore. The whiff of racism around the entire enterprise is too strong. They do not have a useable past.

If they could gain widespread acceptance of their conjured legions of black confederates, they could gain new relevance in the 21st century. If they fail, their organizations will wither away. They have a very weak hand in a high-stakes game.

Rebecca and Tim,

Thanks for the kind words. Tim, I do want to note that my goal is not to bring people to any moral conclusions about the past. I’ve done my best to focus on how we choose to remember that past and the consequences of our doing so. Of course, the line is not always so easily drawn or even discernible.

Larry,

Your characterization of heritage groups like the SCV may or may not be accurate depending on how you look at it, but that doesn’t seem to apply in the case of Earl Ijames, who as far as I know, is not an honorary member of the organization. As far as I can tell based on the public statements that he has made we seem to be dealing with poor interpretive/analytical skills.

Kevin –

My apologies I missed this latest “late unpleasantness” but was buried in work/finals…

That being said, I’m wondering why the UDC and SCV aren’t decorating the graves of those truly long-neglected southron patriots, whose long unsung labors in the service of the Lost Cause deserve their own recognition by the sons and daughters of the southland…

I speak, of course of those noble yet gentle patriots, who left all that they knew, and a comfortable existence among the green hills and dales of our beloved Dixie, to give their all amidst the shot-torn and bullet-broken battlefields from 1st and 2nd Manassas to Sharpsburg, asking nothing more than the chance to serve those they knew best…

I speak, of course, of the “Equine Confederates”…

After all, the amount of free agency in the service of Traveller or Little Sorrel to the glorious cause would seem roughly equal to that of the majority of enslaved southerners who were impressed into the labor service of the Confederate States Army (CSA or PACS), wouldn’t it?

I’m not sure what the equine population thought of the dastardly northerners and their evil tariffs…

Hysterically yours…

Kevin has been patient with this “reformed Confederate apologist” over the last year since I have been visiting his site. He’s been patient and kind in responding to a group of my middle schoolers over on my blog.

While I have not had the opportunity to read any of his scholarly pieces, he has always sought to offer both his sources and his interpretations — the ball is then in my court to do what I will with this evidence. Sometimes my mind is changed, sometimes the commentary strengthens my own position, sometimes I’m not convinced, but continue to study. If anything, that is why open debate about these topics is necessary. It keeps us all searching for the answers, most of which are not easily discernible.

Thanks for your work.

TF,

You said: “After all, the amount of free agency in the service of Traveller or Little Sorrel to the glorious cause would seem roughly equal to that of the majority of enslaved southerners who were impressed into the labor service of the Confederate States Army (CSA or PACS), wouldn’t it?”

It’s always much more effective to state the obvious with a little joke. Well done.

Greg,

Thanks so much for the kind words. It’s readers like you who keep me motivated and focused on discussing the tough subjects. I’ve said it before, that your students are very lucky to have you as a teacher. Best of luck in these last few weeks of the school year.

I have followed over the years the trail of the “Black Confederates” and never found any sort of convincing evidence. I am not even an American (Irish, actually), just a very interested student of this particular war.

On my shelves are books like Bruce Levine’s “Confederate Emancipation” and T.W. Higginson’s “Life in a Black Regiment”, both of which speak of the differing attitudes (by some) by both sides to blacks. I have books about Irish soldiers involvement in the war on both sides (like Symond’s biography of Cleburne), but any deep, scholarly reserach on black Confederate troops, I have never found any in years of assiduous book searches.

The research I have found through Kevin’s blog I do not find convincing that large numbers of blacks fought for the South as serving soldiers. I support Kevin’s counter-arguments, and thank him for the perspective he has given me on the war.

On least four occasions in the war, Union armies captured entire divisions or corps of Confederates (e.g. Fort Donelson, Vicksburg, Sayler’s Creek, Appomattox, Durham Station). It seems extraordinary to me that no Union soldier (as far as I know) recorded seeing entire regiments of blacks among the Confederates taken prisoner. One would think that there were enough pro-slavery or unbiased soldiers or newspaper reporters with the Union armies to record that Southern blacks were not entirely on the Union side.

Instead (from what I have seen) Union soldiers gernerally remark on the welcome given them by blacks, even when the Union troops may have been in no position to offer anything to the slaves except trouble. One account I read recently from a soldier who was a prisoner of war for a while reinforces that.

Now, I would concede that the stories of blacks, who felt themselves to be part of white households and whose loyalty may have overcome any other wish for freedom, are of interest. But to inflate these individual stories into a presentation of general black support for the Confederacy is surely to inflate very thin and dubious evidence beyond any credibility.

Most of the SCV guys I know just want to have a little fun, play dress up, Put flags on Civil War Vets graves, ride in parades and eat BBQ. It has been interesting to see this group trying to move into the area of Serious Academic work by sponsoring their Stephen Lee Institute. Many of the True Academies they had left when they had their power struggle with the League of the South and other far right groups that wanted to get their hands on the SCV money. I would love to see the SCV do more in buying up endangered Battlefield lands and helping kids go to college.

Thanks Kevin for a great place to discuss Civil War History in I hope a Civil Way.

“Now, I would concede that the stories of blacks, who felt themselves to be part of white households and whose loyalty may have overcome any other wish for freedom, are of interest. But to inflate these individual stories into a presentation of general black support for the Confederacy is surely to inflate very thin and dubious evidence beyond any credibility.”

In this comment, the reader states (and states well) a fundamental problem in many of these discussions, in my opinion. There is a set of basic assumptions, founded in historical research, from which trained historians make observations and interpret data. In other words, the intellectual framework is in place. From there, the myriad ways in which generalizations used to interpret and analyze the past do not necessarily hold true in instances of individual behavior can be examined. Sometimes the minority dissenting opinion or action can reveal another viewpoint altogether that forces a rethinking of the prevailing paradigm, as was true when women and African Americans entered universities in large numbers three decades ago. This is not the case with Confederate slaves. The intellectual framework and existing paradigm remain intact. Windows into the complexity of the past are opened, however, by considering the lives of these men. Without reopening a contentious debate, a recent event does lend credence to the validity of an analogy that underlies much of our thinking concerning the Civil War. The ambiguity of the statements of the current Pope on the Catholic Church’s official stance concerning the history of the church and its relation to Jewish men and women is not only disturbing, but truly dangerous. The issues are involved, so I won’t go into them in depth here, Kevin. (If your readers are interested, the article I am referencing is “The Pontiff and the Jews”; Time Magazine; May 18, 2009) But the issues are relevant. As most of your readers know the Pope is German and he was a member of the Hitler Youth as a very young man. He was not a Nazi. He was just a young man caught up in events beyond his control. The Pope even states something to this effect in the article. He also states that there were many young men and women like him, which is also, no doubt, true. Here is where the problem comes in, though: the Pope has apparently allowed some of his early experience to cloud his judgment when it comes to his duties as the leader of the Catholic Church. He has actually reinstated the part of the prayer in Easter services that calls for the conversion of the Jews. As you and I have discussed before, there are some scholars in the church who trace the roots of anti Semitism to the ways in which the Easter story has been taught. My point is that once the Pope pulled one thread loose in what had become the orthodox policy of the church after Vatican II; the church immediately reinstituted a potentially damaging practice. I do not think the Pope did this out of ill intent. I think he did it because his personal past affected his decision making process. Jewish men and women were not responsible for the death of Christ. Slavery was not a benign institution. These are not arguments that need to be rehashed. Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, publicly denounced the Pope for backtracking on this issue. I feel certain that President Obama would do the same, if a prominent figure claimed that slavery was a benign institution. It is the role of university officials to do the same as well. I would have to agree with you, though, that the role of the historian is to pursue the past, no matter where it takes him or her. That is one reason I love your blog! That is what you do, Kevin. It can reasonably be argued that the general perception held by Americans after World War II that we “saved” Europe, blinded us to our own imperfections, including prevalent strains of anti-Semitism in our own culture. We would never see this if the freedom to think is curtailed, however. Sherree

Sherree,

“It can reasonably be argued that the general perception held by Americans after World War II that we “saved” Europe, blinded us to our own imperfections, including prevalent strains of anti-Semitism in our own culture. ”

It could also be argued that the experience of WWII opened American’s eyes to the results of racial prejudice when taken to extremes, which then led directly to the Civil Rights movement and the passage of civil rights legislation. I think generally Americans since WWII have been very self critical in regards to prejudice and oppression.

Bob,

I agree with your overall point. I think we still have some pretty big blind spots, though.

Toby post #12

The Gaps in the records are such I am afraid that we might never get a Historically verifiable answer.

Join the Conversation