Ed Bearss on Black Confederates

Do a Google search for “Black Confederates” and “Ed Bearss” and you will get 675 hits.  No surprise that many of the sites have been created by SCV chapters and others who believe that significant numbers of blacks fought as soldiers in the Confederate army.  Just about all of these sites utilize all or part of the following quote that is attributed to Ed Bearrs, who served as Chief Historian of the National Park Service from 1981 to 1994:

I don’t want to call it a conspiracy to ignore the role of Blacks both above and below the Mason-Dixon line, but it was definitely a tendency that began around 1910.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate the source of this quote and reliable sources have told me that Bearss has never said anything that would place him in the Black Confederate camp.  While I was not able to find a source for the above quote, I did find this 14 minute video of Bearss that was done for Black History Month.  [Note: You may need to sign in to view the video.]

In it Bearss is asked to discuss the role that blacks played in the Civil War.  What is instructive is what he does not say.  At no time does he suggest that there was any kind of conspiracy surrounding the recognition of black Confederates.  And when he gets to commenting on the Louisiana Native Guard Bearss emphasizes that the first units raised for the defense of Louisiana were never accepted for service in the Confederate army.  Again, decide for yourself, but there is nothing in this video that would suggest that Bearss believes anything close to what these websites attribute to him.

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24 comments… add one

  • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 7, 2010

    As you will see from the below, some of the copy for the Cleburne website is plagiarized. Look particularly at the punctuation in the following 2006 message board post, itself not original, and compare it to the wording (and punctuation) on the Cleburne website …

    http://boards.history.com/thread.jspa?threadID=

  • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 7, 2010

    On the Jordan comment: see …

    http://www.google.com/#hl=en&safe=off&num=30&ei

    Note some of the websites enamored with this quote: they include neo-Nazi/white supremacist sites (please don't confuse Stormfront with your run-of-the-mill SCV site). Hmmm. Think a movie company wants to keep close contact with such groups? What about good old Trace?

    • Kevin Levin Feb 7, 2010

      I looked for the quote in Jordan's book, but came up short. I'm not even sure what he is saying given the complete lack of context in which the passage supposedly appeared. Unfortunately, this is standard procedure on these websites.

  • James Bartek Feb 7, 2010

    “I don’t want to call it a conspiracy to ignore the role of Blacks both above and below the Mason-Dixon line, but it was definitely a tendency that began around 1910.”

    Hm. Of course, there actually was a conspiracy to ignore the role of blacks in the Civil War, right? I mean, the Lost Causers were pretty adamant that racial slavery had NOTHING to do with the war, and white Union veterans were happy enough to forget about the contributions of the USCTs. If Bearss made this comment, surely it was in reference to this “conspiracy,” rather than the alleged silence on the subject of “black Confederates.”

  • jfe Feb 7, 2010

    Kevin—An online friend of mine, Al Mackey (aka “Cash”) asked Ed about this at a conference and Ed, ever the old Marine, bluntly told him there was nothing to it. Contact me offline and I can give you Cash's email.

    • Marc Ferguson Feb 7, 2010

      I was on a battlefield tour in June '08 at Gettysburg with Ed and asked him about black Confederates, and the quotes attributed to him. He bluntly told me that he has been misquoted, said that claims about black Confederates are b.s. [he used the actual words, not the initials], and seemed genuinely irritated that such quotes are still floating about the internet. Perhaps Brooks knows how to contact him so that he might directly confront some of these claims.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 7, 2010

        It would be enough if someone from Civil War Times, North and South, or America's Civil War asked him to clarify his position. Hey Dana Shoaf, you out there?

      • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 7, 2010

        I think Ed has to put something on paper that can be circulated from an unimpeachable source. I've heard enough stories about people talking to Ed, and Ed denying the spin placed on the comments. Yet the quote persists.

  • bobhuddleston Feb 7, 2010

    “It’s pure fantasy,” contends James McPherson, a Princeton historian and one of the nation’s leading Civil War scholars. Adds Edwin Bearss, historian emeritus at the National Park Service: “It’s b.s., wishful thinking.” Robert Krick, author of 10 books on the Confederacy, has studied the records of 150,000 Southern soldiers and found fewer than a dozen were black. “Of course, if I documented 12, someone would start adding zeros,” he says.
    —Wall Street Journal, May 8, 1997

    • Michael Lynch Feb 7, 2010

      One of the highest estimates that I've seen for total number of men serving for the Confederacy during the war is 1.5 million. If Krick's sample of records was typical of Confederate soldiers as a whole, then the number of blacks who were Confederate soldiers was smaller than the number of women who disguised themselves as men and fought. Doesn't say much for all those stories about thousands of armed blacks fighting for the South. You were likelier to run into a cross-dresser on a Civil War battlefield than you were a black soldier in gray.

      –ML

      • bobhuddleston Feb 7, 2010

        Krick’s own estimate is that there were a little over a million men in gray. (see Robert K. Krick, “The Power of the Land: Leadership on the Battlefield,” Aaron Sheehan-Dean, ed., _Struggle for a Vast Future _, Oxford, U.K., Osprey Publishing, 2006, p. 62), so that would make less than a hundred BCs.

  • bobhuddleston Feb 7, 2010

    The Confederate Veteran, Vol. 18 (February 1910), page 62, contains an article by F.T. Roche, Georgetown, Texas.
    In this article Roche comments on an article that appeared in the National Tribune, Oct. 7, 1909, about African American troops in the Civil War. What greatly upsets him is that the editor of the National Tribune mentions the precedent of African Americans fighting in the Continental Army in the American Revolution. Roche criticizes “…[these] statements which I believe grossly erroneous.” The purpose of the whole article is stated in the closing paragraph.
    “In no history of the United States that I have read have I seen the statement that 'Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia had colored regiments' in the Continental army. I do not believe it to be a fact, and I ask the Veteran to have the subject investigated, that the truth may be made known. I regard the enlistment of negroes in the army of the United States as one of the most infamous things done in the War between the States, and I shall be glad to known that it had no precedent in our earlier history. Let the facts be known. “
    This whole article would make no sense if there had been “Black Confederate” soldiers.

  • EarthTone Feb 7, 2010

    As an aside: the quote by itself doesn't indicate that Bearss believes there were Black Confederates (ie, Black Confederate combatants), or, that he believed that there were a large number of such persons.

    There is no context as to the “role” that is being discussed regarding blacks in the Confederacy. And of course, no numbers are cited.

    It's great that folks are trying to get the facts of what Bearss said. But even without that – this quote by itself is neither objective nor even subjective “proof” of Black Confederates. It IS a perfect quote for folks who are seeking conspiracy theories to explain why the proof for their arguments is so hard to find.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 7, 2010

      I think most reasonable people who read this quote are able to draw such a conclusion. The problem is that we are not dealing with folks who are looking to clarify a complex subject and they seem to be completely incapable of anything approaching analysis.

      • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 7, 2010

        I think this observation is to the point, but it also highlights that the proper target should be the people who come to this fresh.

  • margaretdblough Feb 7, 2010

    Something that occurred to me is that, even if the quote is accurate, it does not even begin to establish that Bearss talking about the activities of Blacks above and below the Mason-Dixon line means that he is talking about the existence of so-called Black Confederates. In the clip you linked to (BTW, you don't have to register; you just have to verify that you are old enough to watch mature content), he's talking among others about the Louisiana Native Guards, which the Confederacy did not accept into Confederate Service, and the Black South Carolina regiments in the UNION army.

    Any conspiracy after 1910 would have been to wipe out the contributions of Blacks to US armed forces as Woodrow Wilson became president in 1913 and began to impose Jim Crow on civilian and military federal employees.

  • Cash Feb 8, 2010

    Kevin,

    In January of 2007, in Sarasota, Florida, I asked Ed Bearss directly about that quote. He told me to my face he was misquoted and the idea of black confederates was, in his words, “B.S.”

    • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2010

      Thanks for the confirmation, but I agree with Brooks that it is time for Ed Bearss to issue a more formal statement.

    • Woodrowfan Nov 18, 2012

      I asked him the same thing this spring and got the same response.

  • Earnest L. McBride Nov 18, 2012

    Edwin Bearss is a two-faced deceptive fake historian. He came to Vicksburg (MS) as Park Historian in 1955 and joined forces with the local “Old South” Apologists at the Old Court House Museum, a major shrine to Jefferson Davis and his Confederates. Bears would challenge all positive statements or accounts of black soldiers who played a role in the Union victory before, during and after the siege. The most egregious example came in 1961, when a very old black man in Natchez reported that he had been a Union soldier during the siege. Bears told the Vicksburg Evening Post that the man could not have been a member of any recognized regiment because there were no blacks involved in the siege. If the man had been at Vicksburg, Bearss said, he would have been a servant to some white Union officer.

    Bears left Vicksburg to take up the post of Chief Historian of the Nartional Park Service in about 1985. But he left his trail of outright lies and sometimes subtle deception behind in the form of his protege and loyal lapdog, now-retired Park Service Terrence Winschel. The two men are equally despicable. Both were paid taxpayers’ money to preserve and explicate a national treasure, but both seemed to have gotten some kind of perverse pleasure of joining hands with the apologists of the Old South and perpetrated their fraud against the black soldiers who fought, died, and whose successors occupied Vicksburg for the remainder of the war.

    Yes, that is Bearss’ quote. He made even more asinine statements a thousand times over while employed by the Park Service at Vicksburg and as Chief Historian in Virginia.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 18, 2012

      Mr. McBride,

      You are going to have to do better than this if you expect anyone here to take you seriously. Perhaps a few references will help your case, but without it this comes off as little more than a rant. As for connecting Bearrs to the quote in this post re: black Confederates I would like to see a reference. Without it, you can rest assured that this will be your last comment on this particular issue.

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