Patrick Cleburne and Black Confederates Take Hollywood

[Hat-Tip to Lee White]

Back in 2008 I commented on a graphic novel that tells the story of Patrick Cleburne’s plan to arm slaves in exchange for their freedom.  I expressed a number of concerns in that post and I appreciate the author of the novel for offering his own perspective.  Now it looks like that story is coming to the big screen.  Unfortunately, it looks like the misinformation and blatant abuse of history that is present in the graphic novel will make it into the movie.  Consider the web page on the history behind the subject.  It begins with the standard list of half-truths and outright falsehoods about the roles of blacks in the Confederate army as well as the views of some of the more prominent Confederate such as Forrest and Jackson.  Ed Bearrss is cited as having spoken out in support of the black Confederate narrative even though he has denied ever making such a claim.  And can someone tell me where Ervin Jordan describe this as a “cover up”?  I can’t seem to find it in his book, but perhaps I am looking in the wrong place.  You will also notice the doctored photograph of the Louisiana Native Guards at the top of the page.  Consider the following choice “facts” about black Confederates:

  • Many Black Confederates actually engaged in combat including the Battles of First Manassas, Chickamauga, Seven Days, Thompson’s Station, Franklin, and others.
  • Black Confederates were known to frequent veteran reunions years after the war and many posed proudly for photographs with Confederate Battle Flags.

Such a sloppy description of how free and enslaved black southerners functioned in the Confederate army raises more questions than anything approaching understanding of such a complex subject.  But it gets even worse.  Consider the brief description of Cleburne and his proposal:

On a cold winter night in January 1864, Patrick Cleburne put forth a controversial plan to the Confederate high command. It was a written proposal to free over 300,000 slaves and enlist them as soldiers in the Southern armies. He made few allies and many enemies, and from that moment on, his career would come to a dead halt. Cleburne was no ordinary commander. He had never lost a battle and was even called the “Stonewall Jackson of the West”. None of this would matter once his revolutionary views were made known to the Confederate government and President Davis.

Ironically, Black troops had already been serving as teamsters in the Confederate ranks for years, but what Cleburne proposed was not merely service, but official military enlistment. He even went as far as to imply that the entire plan would begin the steps toward the complete emancipation of all African Americans from slavery.

The movie presents Cleburne as having “fought two wars.  One with the North, the other with the South.”  Such a description makes it seem as if Cleburne was operating in a vacuum when his proposal surfaced.  Actually, the debate about arming slaves had started back in 1861 and Cleburne wasn’t even the first Confederate general to offer such a proposal.  More importantly, we must not lose sight of the fact that these proposals do not reflect a desire to end slavery in the South.  In fact, they tell us much more about the extent to which white Southerners would go to gain independence as a means to preserve the institution of slavery.  That fact tells us why most white southerners were not willing to arm slaves and free blacks.  You can expect that I am going to closely follow this story

As bad as all of this is what truly disappoints me is that one of my favorite actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman, is slated to play the role of Judah Benjamin.

94 responses... add one

I take issue with the very basis of this whole narrative, that is that Cleburne somehow paid a price for his proposal. As Lee has pointed out quite convincingly, it is far more rational to deduce that Cleburne was “passed over” in favor of more senior, more experienced, and more connected officers.

That's right and if I remember correctly, Craig Symonds makes just that point in his biography. The problem is that this narrative makes it seem as if Cleburne initiated this discussion.

Once again I have to recommend Bruce Levine's _Confederate Emancipation_ for anyone who is truly interested in the history behind Cleburne's proposal as well as the broader debate that took place throughout the Confederacy on whether to arm a limited number of slaves.

This is actually scary. Someone of stature in the field needs to discuss this with the actors and producers and make sure they know how tenuous is the “history” here.

Interesting to read that Stonewall Jackson supported Cleburne's proposal, since he was, well, dead when Cleburne proposed it.

I do wonder what's up with this film. The website says that Ron Maxwell is directing, but according to Variety, the director is the author of the graphic novel (who also wrote the script and seems to own the production company as well).

Well, that interesting little “fact” will fit neatly into the “Stonewall Jackson Sunday School Teacher/Civil Rights Leader” narrative.

There are a number of questions about this film that I am looking into.

Are you looking into the cast? All the major stars, Hoffman included, are listed as “in negotiations.” I don't speak Hollywood, but doesn't that mean they're not really signed up yet?

The Benjamin role has “cameo” written all over it. Frighteningly, however, it's not unusual for actors to appear in historical films with the conviction that the film is historically correct. As we know, that's seldom the case. And actors are judged on their ability to portray a character as written and directed, not on their intellect.

How about the howler of Cleburne never losing a battle? He WAS part of the Army of Tennessee wasn't he? By January 1864, among other engagements, he'd been in the Battle of Missionary Ridge. True, his unit's performance was about the only bright spot for Confederates there and blunted Sherman but it was still a crushing Confederate defeat. As for whether or not he suffered repercussions for his proposal, that's hard to tell because I think he was already pretty well ensconced on Bragg's enemies list prior to that.

It's very upsetting to see America's most commemorated event skewed for popular culture, even though that has been the case since after the war; regardless, you think with 150 years after the war we would acknowledge the reality of the war, not simply lean to one extreme and then to make up for that, lean to another. In my opinion, if America wants to commemorate the Civil War in popular culture it should be done so with facts and the reality of the war, not with this nonsense based on tenuous history that pleases people.

There have been a number of pretty good Hollywood movies about the Civil War, but this movie would set us back decades in our popular understanding of the war. This is unfortunate.

What is everyone so worried? I would think that this movie would provide an excellent opportunity for people who detest this sort of thing to bring that discussion to a wider audience and to take these folks on–and I don't simply mean on a blog. I think it's an ideal teaching and learning moment. I'd think it would be wonderful to confront the actors with the message they are helping to transmit. I think it's an excellent chance for Ed Bearss to confront this story of what he supposedly said.

Instead of writing about Civil War memory, you have a chance to shape it. Period.

Of course, I agree that this offers an opportunity to challenge this narrative from a number of angles. Unfortunately, I think this also reflects the extent to which this has become a legitimate and widely accepted interpretation. You know me, I will certainly put up the good fight.

I myself am very worried. Consider the doctored (ie, fake) photo of the Louisiana Native Guards that was mentioned earlier. This fraud has been exposed, yet, the photo is still widely circulated on the web… in fact, its use seems to be spreading.

I appreciate Kevin's efforts here, and those of a few others I've seen. But those efforts represent a tiny slice of the communications spectrum (TV, radio, newspapers, etc.)

To really challenge this movie, it's required that
a) people who are knowledgeable, credible, and possessed of the appropriate communication resources (and time) are able to make an effective pitch that sets the record straight.
b) people who see the movie are sufficiently skeptical that that they are willing to listen to alternative voices that contradict what they've seen or believe.

I don't know if either (a) or (b) will happen. We'll see.

PS: It's amusing to see this stream of interpretations of men like Lee and Cleburne as anti-slavers who had plans to emancipate the slaves. At this rate, the entire South will be portrayed as anti-slavery by the end of the 2010s.

No doubt, it's an uphill battle. I've always tended to see this site as an extension of my teaching. It's a “tiny slice of the communications spectrum” but it is mine and I can do my best to set the right example of what it means to take the past seriously.

Brooks, there are two problems: (1) This idea of “black Confederates” has been challenged repeatedly in the last 15 years, and seems almost immune to logical discussion. (2) If the movie gets made, the movie will exist and be shown and will be what people remember.

I tend to agree with you. How many times have you seen it on this site. Someone references a photograph or a document w/o anything approaching serious analysis from which they draw conclusions. The problem is that most people do not know how to evaluate sources. More problematic is that the general public does tend to believe what they see on the big screen.

The problem is that bloggers tend to confuse the blogosphere with the world of historical discussion. Most people simply don't pay attention to these discussions, or fail to do so in much depth. Now you get to wage this contest on a broader stage … if you're up to it. If not, don't complain.

I agree with you that online discussions are just a drop in the bucket. At the same time I am proud of what this site has evolved into. I would like to think that it functions as an intelligent forum for those with a serious interest in history and historical memory. It attracts a wide range of readers and this feed is picket up by a number of listservs and newspapers around the country. I would like to think that I have gone above and beyond the call of duty in shedding some light on the problems related to this discussion of black Confederates.

As I've said before, this site is just one aspect of my career as an educator.

Kevin, my comment aren't an attack on the site or on your work. They are a rather sharp-edged set of observations on all the reactions this issue has generated. Virtually every comment has expressed serious reservations about the historical accuracy of the film and its import for our understanding of Civil War memory. I see this as an opportunity and as a challenge.

Blogs have potential. They also have limits. As a blogger, I realize this. Nor should the response to this film be limited to one blog or blogger. But I do sense a defeatist attitude in some of the comments, and I have to say that's out of place … or it should be. But if folks want to concede the struggle over memory before it's really underway in this instance, well, I for one will be disappointed.

That's one reason why I'd welcome Hoffman's participation, so this debate would get some attention.

Sorry, folks, if I don't join in the head-shaking and mourning about popular ignorance, or the futility of contesting a particular view of history on the eve of the sesquicentennial. And if that arouses some anger against me, well, all I'll wonder is why you're angry.

Once more: people can talk about Civil War memory (and that includes all of you), or you can try to shape it. Here's your chance.

I should have been clear that I wasn't responding to what I perceived to be an attack/challenge by you. In fact, I pretty much agree with everything you've said. Blogging does have a very limited influence. I was simply pointing out that I believe that this site does matter because I've worked so hard to address specific issues in a responsible and intelligent manner. Of course, not everyone would agree with that assessment, but that these same people spend significant time here speaks volumes.

I am not skeptical in any way about our ability to add to and even shape these important discussions. If I did have any doubt this site would not be in operation. Thanks Brooks.

No, Jim, it's not been challenged effectively on a broad-based public forum. It also hasn't been advanced in that way. We are talking about relatively small numbers of people who seem to confuse the internet with broader-based discussions. Most people interested in the Civil War (and most historians) don't participate in these discussions.

FDR was right: the only thing you have to fear is fear itself. Unfortunately, instead of seeing this as an opportunity, I see a lot of fear in these responses. This is a golden chance to expose this sort of stuff for what it is. And, if people really think this is important, they will rise to the challenge. If not, well, please don't complain about the ignorance of a public you've declined to enlighten.

It's not just the Internet, it is all over the letters columns of mags like North & South. I do agree that sunlight is a good disinfectant, and there is a species of an opportunity here, but I am not confident that intelligence and accuracy will win this fight.

To you I have only this to say:

“Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! “

Oh God, this really could be a the radical SCV/neo Confederate wet dream. I like Pat Cleburne, but this whole thing is really nonsense. Cleburne has become a virtual myth because of his death at Franklin and I could go on and on about how much silly, overhyped praise I hear about him. He was certainly not the God he is often made out to be. My opinion about the movie is don't worry – I doubt it will reach an audience any wider than the one which already believes the premise of the novel's story.

Also there are a lot of other errors as well, distorting the timeline of Army of Tennessee leadership by having Johnston taking command of the army directly from Bragg, and my own favorite that Bragg tried to punish Cleburne by taking away his distinctive battleflags, while it was Johnston who tried to do that, and not for punishment. But you quickly get Saint Joe and Devil Bragg from this, and that of course is topic of interest to me.

Kevin observed …

“I was simply pointing out that I believe that this site does matter because I've worked so hard to address specific issues in a responsible and intelligent manner.”

Of course. Without CWM we would not be discussing this in a virtual forum, and the blog brings together people (and attracts certain lurkers) to learn about and discuss these issues. We know and appreciate how you keep us informed and how you respond to these issues.

In this case, CWM can serve as a way to mobilize and inform, and be the starting point of a response. In doing that it performs a very valuable service. But it can't shoulder the entire effort, and this should not turn into “let Kevin do it.” Even if you are a superhero with special powers …

What do you suggest, Brooks? The film's website has an email contact address, and I availed myself of it to point out to the filmmakers a couple of the problems with their claims. I agree with your admonition not to be defeatist, but also agree with others here that there is a segment of the population that has an agenda and will never be swayed by evidence or rational argument. You pointed out that this is a good opportunity for those, such as Ed Bearss, to publicly confront the use and misuse of their names to push the black Confederate narrative. How might this happen? Is there a way to engage with the filmmakers and historians, and bring the questions involved to a larger public?

Marc, your point of departure, I think, is flawed. Generally speaking, the filmmaker's already sold on the issue at hand. Distributors are a different issue. So are movie companies. I'm not worried about the people I won't be able to convert. I'd address the audience I might in fact be able to persuade, and I would not restrict myself to the internet, blogs, etc. For example, I recall that some people associated with CW publishing read this site. And how about HNN?

As for Bearss, it's time for him to say something in public, something easy to circulate, to denounce the misleading use of his words. Again, information packets, contacts with media, etc., are among the steps one should take, and one might actually think about organizing all this stuff.

Frankly, it's the other side that's more organized. If I was to ask you to point to a single website where all of these tales are treated dispassionately and with a respect for evidence, could you point one out? If I asked you to show me a place where I could see collected the evidence that counters this film's claims, could you point this out?

Look, not too long ago there was a person who posted on this site who claimed he wanted to know the “truth” about this very question. It did not take me long to discover that the poster in question already had decided on what that “truth” might be, because he shared it on other blogs (including the bogus Grant quote about “good help is so hard to find”). We know of other bloggers who are beyond persuasion. Let that go. You're looking at the wrong audience, and you'll be reduced to a bystander bemoaning yet another manipulation of Civil War memory.

For example … if you're concerned about Hoffman taking a role in the movie, contact him through his agent, and suggest the flaws in the film/graphic novel with a fact sheet. Point him to this blog. Prepare a more comprehensive rebuttal that one can access easily. Work the media. Take the initiative. Be creative. Be assertive. Be aggressive. And agitate! Agitate! Agitate! Be the change you want to see. And so on.

Don't tell me you think this is important. Show me how important you think it is by how you respond to this challenge and how you use this opportunity.

{…this should not turn into “let Kevin do it.”}

Brooks, I think we’re all on the same page here. We all recognize and appreciate Kevin's efforts and leadership. Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic deserves some recognition also. But this will take the support of a lot of others to make this work.

One thing I hope doesn't happen is that this is seen as a conflict between so-called Southern Heritage folks on one side, and history academics (read by some as liberals) and blacks on the other. This would result in some (the media) seeing this as a clash of extremes, thus causing them to focus on the conflict and not the issues; and also cause the media to make the easy (careless) calculation that the real truth lies somewhere in the middle of the issues.

I hope we can get a lot of different voices to speak out on this subject.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Again, I’m thankful to Kevin for his attention and leadership.

It struck me this morning that if Maxwell does indeed end up directing–and that's also “in negotiation”–critics and movie goers will inevitably compare it to his last movie, a franchise-killing $56 million critical bomb that almost made back $13 million at the box office. So while this movie will attract the same devoted following, in the end the producers probably already have marginalized it.

That's a really good point, Ken. That Maxwell is even thinking about this even before finishing his little Shaara trilogy is also telling. You are right that if he takes it on it will be a limited release.

Well, I love the fact that Trace Adkins is listed as playing Nathan Bedford Forrest. That's a gift from heaven, if one knows how to use it.

Ah, but which song?

For example, here's Forrest preparing to met Bragg:

That said, making Adkins face up to the content of the movie in which he wants to play Forrest is sure to lead to some pondering about whether he'd want to get involved in a mess.

I am not sure if anyone has pointed this out before, but the historical Cleburne Proposal narrative and the Black Confederate narrative basically contradict each other.

If blacks (and slaves, too) served in the Confederate army from the start of the war (they are mentioned at First Manassas and the Peninsula on the website), then why did Cleburne even have to bother making a formal proposal to enlist slaves at the end of 1863?

You might say that Cleburne was offering slaves their liberty, what they had not been offered before. But this is significant – at one point in his proposal Cleburne asks the question “Will the slaves fight?” He give four examples of fighting slaves – two examples of those who fought as slaves (Spartan helots, Christian galley slaves at the Battle of Lepanto) and two of those who fought as free men (Haitian rebels & Jamaican “Maroons”). I think it is significant that Celburne does not mention a single instance of an organized force of slaves fighitng for the Confederacy. Surely, if such forces existed, he would have argued that they merited their liberty in return.

It also invites the question – if black slaves in the Confederate forces were so unremarkable, then why did Celburne's proposal provoke such an outcry among some of his fellow officers. Why did Jefferson Davis order all copies of the proposal destroyed?

I am sure that the film will string together some sequence, by inventing some events and eliding others, to make a convincing narrative. But it will probably be no more accurate conerning the Civil War than the film “Gladiator” was about the reign of the Emperor Commodus.

Is this suppose to be a “300″-type comic book movie with brutal slow motion shots of decapitation? Although I love “Gettysburg,” I feel critics would brush this off as more pro-Confederate propoganda from Mr. Maxwell (and maybe that's what it is). But anyway, I'd like to keep an open mind about the movie because I'd like to see some sort of Civil War film released in the Sesquicentennial time period. I share all of your concerns about the accuracy, however.

I would like to see a Western Theater Civil War film. I wish it could be more about the battles of Cleburne and the Army of Tennessee because there should be a film depicting the horrors of Civil War battles and the brutal Western Theater fighting of 1864. Cleburne is one of my favorite generals of the Western theater even though I know he was flawed as every General fighting in the Civil War was.

There are many Civil War films done with large dollops of inaccurate history, rightly or wrongly. 'The Horse Soldiers' by John Ford with John Wayne is a terribly inaccurate film. It shows the Confederates as true incompetents charging down a single street in a town and getting slaughtered to the man and youthful cadets marching out to meet the Union troops and being literally 'spanked'. The Cadets at New Market did not get 'spanked' and helped contribute to the Confederate victory there. These types of films help spread disservice about the American Civil War, too.

'U-571' is another example of flawed history in movie making. Where was the hue and cry over it? It depicts the Americans capturing the first Enigma machine in WWII when the British actually did it. 'The Patriot' is an inaccurate depiction of the Southern war in the American Revolution. It shows the British burning down a church with women and children in it! That is some serious historical inaccuracy. I point these out as examples of Hollywood badly twisting history.

I say let the film on Cleburne come out first and then critique it and use it as a teaching tool. Use it as a tool to talk about the myth of the black confederates. Also use the film to talk about the Confederate tactics of 1864 of going on the offensive with seriously depleted forces.

The Battle of Franklin deserves a huge cinematic depiction but I wish the work adapted would have been a truly great novel such as Howard Bahr's 'The Black Flower' or 'The Judas Field'. Those are two excellent works that use the battle of Franklin in a very moving, accurate way.

Thanks for the comment, Chris. I agree that we should wait to critique the movie as a whole. My comments and concern are based on what I've seen thus far. The problem is not my inability to use the film constructively in a classroom, but the inability of most moviegoers to judge between good history and fantasy.

Historians have always raised questions about the accuracy of the history being offered in the screen. That includes movies such as Glory, Gone with the Wind, Birth of a Nation, Santa Fe Trail, and so on. But I would not rank all of these issues as equal. A movie that suggests that the Confederacy was actually pro-emancipation, that in its publicity plagiarizes bogus claims offered on neo-Confederate and white supremacist sites, an that makes claims about the eagerness of black Americans to fight voluntarily and willingly for the Confederate cause (including the continued enslavement of African Americans) has a social impact far beyond, say, errors in The Horse Soldiers and U-571. Some other movies, including The Patriot, have come under scrutiny.

Tremendous movies could be made about Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Franklin, among others. But this proposed movie isn't a movie about the Civil War in the Western theater. It's a movie about something else that happens to take place in that setting. It's not even a film about Cleburne. It's a film about a cartoon character from a graphic novel who is loosely based on Cleburne.

Hopefully some day there can be a series of movies on battles in the Eastern and Western theaters in the vein of 'Band of Brothers' and 'The Pacific'. These stories should be told and are so incredibly interesting.

I wish the Cleburne film would have just been about Cleburne's battles but it is very hard to do something on the Civil War and not be enmeshed in controversy. 'Gettysburg' seemed to get away with it because both the Confederates and Federals are portrayed in a very human, moving fashion. Both sides are allowed to get their say. That is always what I enjoy about Michael Shaara's book isthe incredible evenhanded depiction of the two sides.

If there's ever a movie version of a Bahr novel, Chris, I'll be the first in line to see it. It's a shame that more people don't know those incredible books.

I agree. Bahr's books are quite spectacular. They contain some of my favorite writing on the war fiction or nonfiction.

Part of the proposal Jefferson Davis later considered was that slavery would cease to end within 20 years from 1860. Though with the cotton prices collapsing and the advent of better machinery it would have may have ended sooner.

Oh, goodness me! The revisionist historian rightwingers of the American Deep South love to extol the virtues of Cleburne and what a liberal he was! Whilst I am an Irishman and proud of my country’s contribution to defeating an inglorious rebellion fed on the abject disgrace of slavery and the south’s so-called Christian ethos of the African-American knowing their place, I must completely disagree with the flawed logic and lack of reason which dominates your thinking. Cleburne (the Irish Protestant who only reached the heights of Major General by virtue of not being Catholic, whilst many common Confederate Irish soldiers remained in quasi bondage because of the erroneous belief in loyalty to States’ Rights) fought for the Confederacy. Anybody worth their salt and at the height of European revolution in overturning the dominance of ruling classes, realises that the rebs were not revolutionary, but a bunch of misled supremacists who were fighting to maintain a status quo. A status quo where they knew their place, in servitude to the white planter (who had a vote, and they did not!), African Americans (by God!) knew their place, and that awful band of Godless, invading northern Yankees would obviously rape and and plunder those “good ole” southern homesteads. What bloody misinformed rubbish which denigrates and besmirches the legacy of those brilliant northern men – White American, African-American, Irish/German et al who fought and died for the Union which you boys continually undermine by your poorly researched and bigoted conclusions drawn from falsehood. Thank God the north won. Can you imagine a country dominated by southerners and their apologists? Cleburne was Irish – I am not proud of that. I am more proud of Thomas Smyth or Michael Corcoran or Denis O’Kane. But when will the southern apologists for slavery, State’ Rights and totalitarianism finally realise that the South lost (and badly so, particularly in the West) and that what they stood for was the closet thing to vile until the Nazis came along. Stop apologising and eulogising Confederate heros. There is no such thing.


First, thanks for taking the time to comment. You said: “What bloody misinformed rubbish which denigrates and besmirches the legacy of those brilliant northern men – White American, African-American, Irish/German et al who fought and died for the Union which you boys continually undermine by your poorly researched and bigoted conclusions drawn from falsehood.”

You are right in noting that Cleburne has evolved into the poster boy for those who wish to reshape the history of the Confederacy into some kind of progressive movement that works to minimize the role of race and slavery during the antebellum years and the Civil War specifically. But it is also easy to miscast the majority of northerners who marched through the South. Many of them were not interested in racial equality and historians debate the extent to which they fought to end slavery. This is a roundabout way of wondering what you mean when you refer to “those brilliant northern men.”

One of the reasons that Cleburne didn’t get into more trouble for his proposal was that many of his fellow officers believed that, due to his foreign origin, he simply didn’t understand the Peculiar Institution and what was wrong with his proposal. It didn’t hurt that he was a brilliant officer and that gave him some protection from the worst of Bragg’s malice (Bragg hated him before the proposal because Cleburne answered honestly when queried about Bragg’s performance). I doubt, though, given Bragg’s subsequent position as Davis’s military adviser, that Cleburne, if he had lived, would have ever seen another promotion.

Likewise thank you very much for your comments. As you can see, my passion for all things ‘Union/Federal’ does indeed come from years of teaching this subject to British high school students, fending off revisionists and apologists for the glory of “the Lost Cause’ and genuine interest in a scintillating theme/era of history that, to me, America is still living. Having read nigh on everything I possibly can on the war I am in full agreement with you as to the average northern fighting man’s attitude towards the south and indeed slavery. No-one encapsulates that attitude more than the Thousands of irishmen who fought for the north and had absolutely no love for the emancipation of the African American or for African Americans themselves, for bigoted and economic reasons. the vast majority fought merely to save the Union “as it is” or even to pick up the pay cheque. However, the numerous accounts of rape and pillage and dastardly deeds perpetrated by northerners in, say, Sherman’s March to the Sea inter alia are exaggerated, relentless and malicious. Whilst I have no doubt that these things did happen, I do not believe they occurred on any thing as grand a scale as made out by the likes of the “Daughters of the Confederacy” and various Confederate veterans and their descendants down the years. The rural idyll myth perpetuated by revisionists of the Deep South and Confederacy, has been taken as ‘honest truth’ by an emerging generation of Civil War aficionados who have not read MacPherson or Trudeau or Foote et al and want to believe the convenience of the revised remarks. The Confederacy and everything it stood for was rotten, self-interested and completely undemocratic. Even when we take the disgrace of slavery out of the equation, it was nothing more than a feudal society with a rancid, impossible class divide and ‘caste system’. The South itself (with the exceptions of East Tennessee and parts of N. Carolina) totally supported the rebel war effort, which is another reason for the brilliance of Sherman’s and Grant’s Total War strategy. In addition, I do believe the Irishman Cleburne (a very capable General, I know) is a poster boy for what really never happened (a Confederate victory) and I really believe that they should be taking the example of Ron Maxwell (unfortunately an awful rightwinger and the antithesis of everything I believe in) and make a film on the Irish Brigade of the Union Army of the Potomac, Michael Corcoran’s valiance in battle and before the Prince of Wales in New York City, in order to verily show the intellect and grit of the immigrant in the Civil War. Maxwell deals with it in ‘Gods and Generals’ and it is, indeed, quite a moving piece of cinema, to see Irish Rebs mow down and slaughter Irish Union men.
I sincerely hope all is well and that you have a very relaxing Easter weekend break. Highest Regards.

I don’t get it. I’m not Southern, I’m Southern apologist and I’m all for good history. I haven’t read this graphic novel so I cannot comment its historical value, or lack there of. If however you deny that incidences of armed black men fighting against the north occured you are viewing a spectacularly naive view of history. How many fought is subject to much debate, but anyone who claims to know the number has been misled or is being deliberately false. Perhaps it was 10, perhaps 100, perhaps 1,000. We don’t know. Period.

My concern would not be that they portray black men fighting alongside white Confederates, but that they overlook the story of slavery itself, white wash it, downplay it, or otherwise deny its causal effect upon the Civil War. My disgust with people who try to make it a secondary issue is only equaled by my disgust with people who portray the North as a place of racial happy co-existence, where blacks were welcomed with open arms, while the stalwart knights in Union Blue rode into the South on white chargers with noble hearts, giving their lives to free the slaves. Both views are equally laughable.

It would be nice to see the truth portrayed for once: That the awful institution of slavery caused the war, that the men of the North, who were just as racist and white supremacist as their estranged brothers in the Confederacy, marched South to preserve the Union. That the Slaves were freed by Lincoln primarily as a war aim, that he also preserved slavery in the border States to keep them from leaving the Union as well. That towards the end of the war many Southerners came to the conclusion that their independence was more important to them than was the institution of slavery and they, likewise as a war aim, with little to no humanitarian thought, sought to arm slaves to preserve the Confederacy. It would be nice to see this, because it is quite simply the truth without embellishment or white-washing by either side.


Thanks for the comment. I’ve written extensively on this issue and recommend that you read further by clicking on the corresponding tags and archive links. From my perspective the interesting question is not whether 1,000 or 100,000 fought, but rather how the Confederate war effort opened up opportunities for slaves and free blacks as well as how the conflict altered the master-slave relationship. I am planning on beginning a major work on this issue over the summer. Again, I urge you to browse the archives for much more on this issue.

Patrick Cleburne was certainly a very brave and exceptional man . He wanted independence for the south and recognized that slavery was wrong . For him and for many southerners the fight was not about owning slaves it was about independence . General Lee himself urged his Confederate congressman in writing to end slavery immediately . Though the initial issue with the wealthy in South Carolina that brought on secession was slavery, few rebel soldiers owned slaves nor did their families , they fought because they loved the south and because Lincoln invaded and started that terrible. war . You might enjoy looking at old issues of Harper`s Magazine which was published in NYC during the war . One issue has an article and drawing of blacks with guns fighting for the south


Thanks for the comment. The referencing of what percentage of white southerners owned slaves is a common refrain, but it doesn’t tell us everything. First and foremost, it doesn’t tell us how white Southerners benefited from slavery. Slave and non-slaveowners’ understanding of liberty and freedom hinged on slavery. Recent studies by Chandra Manning, James McPherson, and Joseph Glatthaar should help to flesh out your understanding of this aspect of the war.


I agree that a small proportion of Confederate soldiers personally owned slaves. War is, generally speaking, a young man’s game, and a relatively small proportion of rank-and-file Confederate soldiers would have had the sort of capital to be slave owners in their own right. (To make a very crude analogy, I suspect that relatively few soldiers serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan own their own homes, compared to the U.S. population as a whole.) The incidence of slaveholding would be higher, of course, among officers, who tended to be both older and wealthier than the men they commanded.

The larger problem is that Confederate apologists often throw out statistics selected to minimize or outright deny to pervasive presence of slavery in the South. My own state, for example, asserts in its Confederate History Month resolution that “despite the fact that 98 percent of Texas Confederate soldiers never owned a slave and never fought to defend slavery. . . .” I have no idea where this number comes from (though I suspect it’s such a tortured statistic as to be fictitious), but regardless, it’s deeply dishonest in representing how widespread the institution of slavery was throughout the South. Like any historian worthy of the title, we need to go back to primary sources, and those present a very different picture than that presented by those who argue that the war wasn’t about slavery.
Take Texas as an example. Pulling figures from the 1860 U.S. Census (, we see that Texas had a free population of 421,649, and a slave population of 182,566. Those slaves were owned by 21,878 individual slaveholders, about 5% of the total free population.

But here’s where it gets more complex. The census recorded 76,781 (free) families in Texas, which suggests an average family size of about 5.5 persons — which sounds about right for the antebellum period. If one takes it as typical that the vast majorities of families held a single slaveholder-of-record — there would be some exceptions to this, where the same household encompassed more than one — then that suggests strongly that more than a quarter of free Texas households, roughly 28.5%, held slaves. While this number is a rough estimation, it clearly demonstrates that argument that some very tiny percentage — 2%, 4%, 5% — of Confederate soldiers were slaveholders is highly misleading, and indeed intentionally so.

Although the proportion of free- and slave population differs a lot from state to state across the South, this pattern holds true — the proportion of free families that owned slaves is far, far, higher than that ever acknowledged by Confederate apologists.

State Families (Free) Slaveholders Slaveholders to Families
Alabama 96,603 33,730 1 in 2.86
Arkansas 57,244 11,481 1 in 4.99
Florida 15,090 5,152 1 in 2.93
Georgia 109,919 41,084 1 in 2.68
Louisiana 74,725 22,033 1 in 3.39
Mississippi 63,015 30,943 1 in 2.04
North Carolina 125,090 34,658 1 in 3.61
South Carolina 58,642 26,701 1 in 2.20
Tennessee 149,335 36,844 1 in 4.05
Texas 76,781 21,878 1 in 3.51

Aggregate 826,444 264,504 1 in 3.12

The proportion of slaveholders to families varied from one slaveholder for every two families in Mississippi, to one slaveholder for every five families in Arkansas. And of course, the numbers would vary further within a state — here in Texas, for example, slaveholders in the German settlements in the Hill Country were few and far between. Nonetheless, across the South, the proportion was about one in three — very roughly, one in every three or four free families owned at least one slave. Even with all the appropriate caveats (it’s a somewhat crude estimation, to be sure) to me this is a much more useful — and in that sense, much truer — number.

It is indeed more revealing to look at families as opposed to individuals. In the end, however, you did not need to be a slaveholder to understand the consequences of a Confederate defeat, especially after 1863. The letters themselves attest to this.

Kevin-The statistics also don’t take into account the widespread practice of leasing slaves. Especially as slave prices soared in the 1850s, it enabled whites who couldn’t afford to buy slaves outright to still utilize slave labor. It allowed slaveowners with seasonal businesses or crops to use the slaves to generate income while shifting the expenses of providing food and shelter for the slaves during slack periods. It also was quite common to will slaves to widows and/or minor children precisely in order to be leased out and generate income for the heirs.

Thanks for the statistics! As we often point out, our kids did not “own” their cars until they graduated from college and moved out of state. And somewhere I have read that it was not until about 2000 that a majority of American families owned stock — and much of that was in mutual funds. Yet, tea partiers to the contrary, the Socialist Party has never done well in American elections.

Sorry the table didn’t come out clearer. Hopefully it’s decipherable.

I’d encourage anyone interested to dig through that site — it includes other censuses (censi?) than 1860, and is pretty easy to use. Includes data down to the county level. My facility with stats is a little rusty, so I’d certainly welcome anyone else to look over the same numbers and report their own conclusions — corrections to my interpretation welcomed, too.

Consider this in your accusations: “It is now pretty well established, that there are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate army doing duty NPT ONLY as cooks, servants and laborers, BUT AS REAL soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops, and do all that soldiers may to destroy the Federal Government” Frederick Douglass


First of all I don’t engage in accusations. I can’t tell you how many times readers have referenced this particular account. It tells us very little. Do you have any idea from where Douglass got his information? Where did this passage appear and for what purpose. Part of the problem is that people simply throws these quotes around without any attempt at analysis. Even you fail to provide any kind of analysis.


Have you come across in your research any contemporary (1861-65), primary source documentation that explicitly identify these men as soldiers, i.e., with military rank, muster rolls, etc.? I’d really be interested to see that, but haven’t found anything so far. The other day, for example, I was poking around in the records of the 44th Mississippi, and found more than 30 pages of service records on Andrew Chandler, but not a mention of Silas, who is claimed to have served as a soldier alongside him.

Can you help me out?

I am sorry for the delay, yes I know the source of the quote would have thought everyone would:
Frederick Douglass, Douglass’ Monthly, IV [Sept. 1861,] pp 516 – “there are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate Army – as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops, and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government…and he was describing exactly what the Newport News paper woulld later write that a “a large group of coloured had attacked the picketts of of Hookers left flank causing a delay that was latter exploited by General Longstreet”….

There were such soldiers at Manassas and they are probably there still.” “Negroes in the Confederate Army,” Journal of Negro History, Charles Wesle, Vol. 4, #3, [1919,] 244-245 – “Seventy free blacks enlisted in the Confederate Army in Lynchburg, Virginia. Sixteen companies of free men of color marched through Augusta, Georgia on their way to fight in Virginia.” “The part of Adams’ Brigade that the 42nd Indiana was facing were the ‘Louisiana Tigers.’ This name was given to Colonel Gibson’s 13th Louisiana Infantry, which included five companies of ‘Avegno Zouaves’ who still were wearing their once dashing traditional blue jackets, red caps and red baggy trousers. These five Zouaves companies were made up of Irish, Dutch, Negroes, Spaniards, Mexicans, and Italians.” – Noe, Kenneth W., Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle. The University of Kentucky Press, Lexington, KY, 2001. [page 270] From James G. Bates’ letter to his father reprinted in the 1 May 1863 “Winchester [Indiana] Journal” [the 13th IVI ["Hoosier Regiment"] was involved in operations around the Suffolk, Virginia area in April-May 1863 ] – “I can assure you [Father,] of a certainty, that the rebels have negro soldiers in their army. One of their best sharp shooters, and the boldest of them all here is a negro. He dug himself a rifle pit last night [16 April 1863] just across the river and has been annoying our pickets opposite him very much to-day. You can see him plain enough with the naked eye, occasionally, to make sure that he is a “wooly-head,” and with a spy-glass there is no mistaking him.” The 85th Indiana Volunteer Infantry reported to the Indianapolis Daily Evening Gazette that on 5 March 1863: “During the fight the [artillery] battery in charge of the 85th Indiana [Volunteer Infantry] was attacked by [*in italics*] two rebel negro regiments. [*end italics*].” After the action at Missionary Ridge, Commissary Sergeant William F. Ruby forwarded a casualty list written in camp at Ringgold, Georgia about 29 November 1863, to William S. Lingle for publication. Ruby’s letter was partially reprinted in the Lafayette Daily Courier for 8 December 1863: “Ruby says among the rebel dead on the [Missionary] Ridge he saw a number of negroes in the Confederate uniform.” Federal Official Records, Series I, Vol XVI Part I, pg. 805: “There were also quite a number of negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.” Federal Official Records Series 1, Volume 15, Part 1, Pages 137-138: “Pickets were thrown out that night, and Captain Hennessy, Company E, of the Ninth Connecticut, having been sent out with his company, captured a colored rebel scout, well mounted, who had been sent out to watch our movements.” Federal Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLIX, Part II, pg. 253 – April 6, 1865: “The rebels [Forrest] are recruiting negro troops at Enterprise, Miss., and the negroes are all enrolled in the State.” Federal Official Records, Series I, Vol. XIV, pg. 24, second paragraph – “It is also difficult to state the force of the enemy, but it could not have been less than from 600 to 800. There were six companies of mounted riflemen, besides infantry, among which were a considerable number of colored men.” – referring to Confederate forces opposing him at Pocotaligo, SC., Colonel B. C. Christ, 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, official report of May 30, 1862 “Sargt said war is close to being over. saw several negros fighting for those rebels.” – From the diary of James Miles, 185th N.Y.V.I., entry dated January 8, 1865 Black Southerners also demonstrated loyalties based not on ownership, subservience or fear. The Confederate Burial Mound for Camp Morton, Indiana, at Indianapolis, Indiana, has bronze tablets which list the nearly 1200 Confederates who died at that camp. Among those names are 26 Black Southerners, seven Hispanic Southerners and six Indiaan Southerners. At a time when those Black Southerners could have walked into the Camp Commander’s office, taken a short oath and signed their name to walk out the gates free men obliged to no one they chose instead to stay even unto death. Your understanding of that choice is likely nonexistent.

Warm Regards


Thanks for taking the time to list these sources, some of which I am familiar with. You will notice that just about all of them are Union sources. Where are the official Confederate records that would substantiate these claims? I have no doubt that plenty of Union soldiers acknowledged the presence of black men in Confederate ranks, but where is the confirmation that these men were soldiers. That they were in uniform tells us nothing in and of itself. As I’ve said before, we can’t simply list sources without providing some analysis. For example, consider your Fort Morton source. How do we know these men were soldiers? Have you done any research into the prison records? Which two “negro regiments” was the soldier in the 85th Indiana referring to? You get the point.

Kevin-And, as you know, there is the very fact of what we do know about the official Confederate position on Blacks as soldiers, including, but not limited to, the reaction to Cleburne’s proposal to arm troops, the reaction of Davis and the Confederate Congress to the news that the Union army was accepting Black recruits, Kirby Smith’s reaction to being informed that Richard Taylor’s troops (ar119_22), Confederate refusal to treat and exchange Black union troops as POWs including for exchange purposes, and the reaction of Howell Cobb and others to Davis’s proposal in the dying days of the war.

It never ends, does it? Mr. Adams, among your sources, you quote me. And I assure you, I never wrote what you said I did. Years ago, someone took a quotation out of my Perryville book, _deliberately_ rewrote it, and stuck it on an internet site to “prove” the existence of willing black Confederates. The original poster dropped it once I mentioned the word “lawyers,” but as I can see, it’s still out there wherever you cut-and-pasted it from. Kindly don’t “quote” me again. Knowing this, too, perhaps the question you should be asking is this, if one of these internet quotations was deliberately falsified, how much should you trust the other ones? Because I assure you, I just spent seven years reading thousands of Confederate soldiers letters, and I didn’t find one writer who described “black Confederate” soldiers in action.


I intentionally ignored that reference hoping that you would step in. Thanks. One of the things that I plan to do with the book on black Confederates is create a companion website that will analyzes all of this online nonsense.

Glad to hear it. Surely comparing the other familiar internet quotations to the actual paper sources will turn up similar distortions in wording–I can’t be an isolated case. In 25 years of primary research, I’ve found exactly one actual contemporary Confederate document that mentions “Negroes” in ranks, the letter I quoted from in Perryville, and even that mention was rewritten and massaged before it turned up online.

It must be incredibly frustrating to have done such careful research only to have it butchered online. I’ve found that most of the examples of “black Confederates” found online are simply copied and pasted. A website can go far to exposing this and pointing a much wider audience to reliable sources.

1st time post, I have been reading your blog for the past hour and am amazed, truly.

I think the important thing is to think about the movie in context. Hollywood vs History type of thing has been seen again and again. I actually am choosing to believe that there are few people in the world that would believe exactly what is on the movie. Having said that, I am hopeful that the actual movie will spark the spirit of interest and invoke people to look up the information for themselves. I think the important thing to look at is the overall spirit of the matter. Though preceded with the document, Cleburne, who is seen as a rather noble character in history is actually getting the spotlight not often got by him due to his attachment to the Army of Tennessee. Although we will be apt to pick apart the movie as it relays to history, much as we do with Gettysburg, Gods and Generals, Glory, so on and so forth, I am hopeful this will spawn a new wave of material on the figures such as Cleburne. Hopefully to show slavery as it existed in the ranks of the Confederate army. if there were actual black soldiers that fought citing empirical evidence. So as my Scottish Professor said about Braveheart, “the history is all wrong but the spirit is all right”. Hopefully we will have a similar response.

Thanks for taking the time to comment. There is absolutely no reason to think that this movie will do anything more than distort this aspect of the past even further. Sorry, but I’ve been at this too long to think otherwise.

you wrote to Gary on May 31st.
“Thanks for taking the time to list these sources, some of which I am familiar with. You will notice that just about all of them are Union sources. Where are the official Confederate records that would substantiate these claims?”
I can tell Y’all never been in the military.
I was in the Air Force in maintenance in the ‘nam years. Sometimes we would either not be authorized, or not have, equipment or supplies necessary to perform the maintenance needed.
We would then go and trade custodianship of various items with other units. If this was not possible, we might change custodianship of some items without the knowledge of the personnel of the other unit – you couldn’t call it theft, as all the relocated property was still owned by the Air Force after the property had changed location.
This was contrary to Air Force regulation, and we certainly would not have documented such actions. In fact the official Air Force records, in at least one case, had the property listed as being a couple thousand miles from where it actually was.

1) It was the official position of the Confederate Government that Negroes were NOT to be enlisted until March of 1865.
2) Generally, only officers and men of the Confederate Army who were a few pecans short of a full pie would DOCUMENT any Negroes actually being enlisted as soldiers.
3) Therefore, official records of the Confederate Government would NOT be as reliable in this area as either observations by Union troops, or civilian sources from either side.

Thanks for taking the time to write. Do you have any evidence at all that recruiting stations engaged in this practice? Remember, historians operate on evidence and not supposition.

Kevin, I just wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that this site is appreciated and to say “Thank you”.

Does anyone else have a really, really bad feeling about this proposed movie? I’ve read extevsively about the Civil War and own close to 300 books on the subject, including the graphic novel mentioned (in which I found errors, by the way). My special interest is the Army of Tennessee and Cleburne in particular. If there’s a Civil War book published and Cleburne’s name is in the index, I have it. Sorry I came so late to the discussion, but suffice to say, I’m here now and intend to defend historical accuracy against Hollywoodization of history.

Thanks for the comment, but I have not followed up on this story since this post. I have absolutely no faith that it will offer a serious interpretation of Cleburne.

Hey, Kevin. Have you heard anything about this movie lately? I doubt it will actually happen.

Also, did you read the actual graphic novel? All historical issues aside, the book was damn good (for the illustrations if nothing else). And it didn’t really make any false Black Confederate claims in the comic itself. There was one black confederate “soldier” who was clearly equal to the whites, but NEVER accepted. And the context of the story made it pretty clear that he alone in his “support” of whites who didn’t want him. Most of the Rebs were blatantly racist and opposed to any notion of black soldiers.

Granted it’s full of ungodly errors, and Cleburne is made into a Christ-like hero, but I was in a comic book store looking for a comic book with good art and no Spandex, which I found. I’d like to hear your thoughts if you ever do read it.

No, I didn’t read it. My comments were based on the information available at the time. It looked pretty bad in terms of historical accuracy, but it looks like it could have been much worse. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

The inaccuracies are mainly in the portrayal of Cleburne, which the author acknowledges as biased. General Hood is made into the villain of the piece, effectively sending Cleburne to his death over the proposal. Cleburne’s character is a very 20th Century Lost Cause character, though everyone else is obviously pro-slavery. In a big leap of inaccuracy, Cleburne actually advocates “emancipation of the entire race” in his speech, which contradicts what I’ve read of his real life quotes where he referred to “slaves and other property.” So yeah …. Cleburne is insanely whitewashed.

Likewise, General Walker is made into a severe villain. There is a black guy named Ned trying to be a Reb solider, and Walker hates him. He tries to pay him to leave, and when that doesn’t work, he puts a gun to his head and says “get on home, nigger.” I don’t anything about Walker, but it seems wrong to write such violent and racist actions into someone’s life if it never happened. Even if he was a violent and racist man, I don’t like making up damning things about real people. Murphy should’ve used a fictional character for that scene.

Speaking of Ned the token Black Guy, he is so hated by the other Rebs that someone kills his mule (probably General Walker). If Murphy was trying to show a kinder, gentler South, he didn’t succeed. Cleburne ends up being a lone Oscar Schindler in a sea of Nazis. At the end of the novel, Cleburne gives Ned the location of his lost wife and children, and allows Ned to dessert before the Battle of Franklin. Cleburne laments the failure of his proposal, and says he failed Ned. Ned replies, “No sir, you didn’t fail, you saw us as something no one else would … you saw us as men. God be with you, General.” And Cleburne replies, “And you, Soldier.” (The dialog was sugary enough to cause diabetes). But its pretty obvious that there weren’t any Black Confederates (except for the fictional Ned) and that no one wanted them.

On the last page, Murphy recommends a book about Black Confederates, “Black Southerners In Gray” by Arthur W. Bergeron Jr (which has Silas Chandler on the cover). So Murphy has a Black Confederate agenda, but he pretty much left it out of the story. If I was a total newbie reading his novel, I would come away thinking there were NOT any Black Confederate soldiers.

Forester-You’re right. There’s no basis for that characterization of Gen. Walker. According to Craig Symonds’ biography of Cleburne, Walker was “a pedantic and literal-minded stickler for detail.” That makes Walker obtaining the copy of Cleburne’s proposal that he sent to Richmond from Cleburne himself very much in character for Walker. In making the request, Walker informed Cleburne as to why he wanted a copy before Cleburne turned it over to him.

The idea of a slave going around the Army of Tennessee or any Confederate army announcing he wanted to be a soldier stretches credulity beyond recognition.

From Symonds’ characterization, Cleburne, as a relative newcomer to the South, was indifferent to slavery & to slaves, although he realized as a practical matter that no proposal to make slaves into soldiers could possibly be successful without a commitment to free the slaves and their families. His focus was on the fact that the Confederacy was rapidly exhausting its supply of white males of military age & that, if it did not come up with an another source of supply, defeat and the end of an independent South was inevitable. Cleburne seems to have totally failed to comprehend what the implications of his proposal would mean to fellow officers born and raised under Calhoun’s doctrine of slavery as a positive good.

When Andy mentioned this entry on his blog, it made me curious about the status of the Cleburne movie.

I really don’t think this movie is even gonna happen. As of today, July 2 2012, all cast and filmmaker links have been removed from his website (You can find the old page by a Google search, but Murphy’s website will not link to it anymore). The graphic novel’s page has been removed from Facebook, and the book itself is selling for $0.01 for used copies on Amazon. Murphey’s upcoming work is a comedy, and he seems to have abandoned the Civil War for an indefinite period of time.

I question the ethics of listing an actor as “cast” when they’re still “in negotiations.” This doesn’t sound like it was ever a serious consideration, hence the present attempt to bury it.

Interesting update on the movie (or non-movie, as the case may be). This will displease the Southrons, though, who are just now getting over having the vapors about all the Confederate vampires in the current Lincoln fantasy movie. That seems to have caught them by surprise, even though it was a central element in the original book, published two years ago. A cynical person might say that suggests such people don’t read, but far be it from me to suggest such a thing.

From an interview with Ron Maxwell (

GC: Lastly, your name is/was attached to an upcoming Civil War film called Cleburne. Are you going to be involved with this?

RM: I know about the project and wish them well, but am not and have never been attached to it in any way. I was told there’s a website about this movie which claims I’m the director. Categorically false.

There we have it. Total hoax, just as I expected. Was Murphey himself behind the hoax? I’d love to hear his side of the story. I don’t really want to believe it since I respect his artwork and talent …. :-/

Surprised at misrepresentation? Remember “Ride With the Devil.”
I hear no more about the Cleburne movie you describe.

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