I have to admit that I am just a little surprised and disappointed that we haven’t heard from Earl Ijames in response to my most recent post. If you remember, Mr. Ijames left a spirited comment in response to my critique of his position on so-called “black Confederates.” One particular comment included a reference to one John W. Venable, who supposedly served in Co. H., 21st North Carolina. As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, no additional references were given by Mr. Ijames to support the claim. I must assume that while Mr. Ijames most likely believes that many cases can be debated that this particular example is an open and shut case.
Well, it looks like this is not the case at all. My post of May 18 offered a detailed overview of a number of documents related to Venable’s connection to the Confederate army and it even included two updates. All of this information was provided to me by two excellent archivists at the North Carolina Department of Archives and History. At this point and taken together, the evidence clearly provides a sufficient reason to doubt that Venable served as a soldier in the 21st North Carolina. Again, additional evidence may come to light and it may even be possible to interpret the available evidence in a way that connects Venable to this particular regiment, but what I find striking is that Mr. Ijames has not added his own voice to this discussion. After all, Venable is his guy. It looks like Mr. Ijames conducted another one of his “workshops” on the subject at the Greensboro Country Club on May 19. I would love to know what he said about Venable and how he supported his preferred interpretation. Did he do so having read my most recent post on the subject? I welcome a comment from Mr. Ijames on this issue and I am even willing to feature it as a guest post. It would no doubt be instructive for all of us.
Until then I want to leave you with one thought. If this little discussion about Venable has helped with anything it is in reminding us of just how difficult it is to research and confirm the existence of legitimate black Confederate soldiers, as opposed to those who were present with the armies as slaves. How many times has someone offered a piece of evidence and suggested that it alone demonstrates the presence of a soldier? Research takes time; it involves knowing what to look for and, most importantly, how to interpret the documents. For an example of this, take a look at the short essay in North and South Magazine by Thomas Lowry, which focuses on three case studies that involve claims made for the existence of black Confederate soldiers. All of them begin with a primary source and all of them collapse with a little persistence and attempt to confirm and/or supplement the data. I think the problem here is that if you want to find black Confederate soldiers you can. The challenge is doing so in a way that can be analyzed and discussed in a public setting. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to publish findings in in places that include a peer-review process.