Thank You Pelican Press

I am slowly gathering materials for my next book project on “black Confederates” that I agreed to write for Westholme Publishing.  A few weeks ago I ordered the two volumes on the subject published by Pelican Press, which includes Black Southerners in Confederate Armies and Black Confederates – both edited by Charles Kelly and J.H. Segars.  In addition to these two books I also have on hand James Brewer’s study of Virginia military laborers, Ervin Jordan’s study of slaves and free blacks in Virginia, and Bruce Levine’s excellent analysis of the debate to arm slaves in the Confederacy.  Of course, there will be plenty of additional material utilized for this study, but there are very few decent book-length treatments of this particular subject.

Given the quality of books published by Pelican I have to say that these two books will be extremely helpful, but I suspect not for the reasons intended by the editors.  Both books include a wide range of primary documents, including newspaper accounts, pension files, cartoons, service records, photographs, and historical markers.  There is very little commentary and what is included is entirely useless as historical analysis, but very helpful when it comes to understanding how the subject has been remembered.  These books can be found as references on many neo-Confederate websites and SCV sites that focus on this subject.  What is so striking, however, is that even a cursory glance at the information provided in these two books reflects and incredibly complex and fascinating subject and yet most people can’t seem to get beyond the Lost Cause language of “loyalty” and “devotion” along with the common refrain of numbers and claims of cover-ups.  I’ve never seen primary sources so poorly interpreted and under utilized for their historical value.

Both Pelican books include references to Silas Chandler.  A few days ago I received an email from a descendant of Silas Chandler, who has agreed to provide me with archival material that she has collected over the years.  Better yet, this individual has agreed to co-author an article with me on Silas for one of the Civil War magazines.  This will give me the opportunity to explore questions and issues that will be addressed in much more detail in the book-length project.  It will be quite satisfying to be able to use the Pelican books for their primary sources on Chandler and at the same time demonstrate just how shallow and, at times, inaccurate the information provided is.

11 responses... add one

I visited Fort Macon a few weeks ago and was surpised to see the book you have featured in the gift shop.

Kevin, I have the Levine book, but just haven’t gotten to it yet. Shocks me that, as I get older and my family grows, books on subjects of great interest to me moulder on my shelf.

I have Robert Durden’s The Gray and the Black and learned a lot. Any thoughts on it?

I’ve read parts of the Durden book and it’s not bad. I would definitely find the time to read the Levine book.

Pension records and service records, along with discharge papers signed by an OIC ( officer in charge )…. without these things, one is not a soldier.

Black Southerners in Gray includes a classic example of twisted editing. The late Richard Rollins provided a chapter, “proving” the widespread presence of BCs by quoting Yankees reports that they had observed Rebel blacks. He then reprinted a autobiographical sketch by John Parker, a slave, who was impressed into helping man a Confederate battery at First Manassas. But Rollins edited out Parker’s expressed desire that the Yankees would win and free him. The source Rollins used was _Reading Journal_, repeated in _Douglass Monthly_ IV (March 1862): 617, and reprinted in McPherson, _The Negro’s Civil War_, pp. 26-28. If anyone is interested, I have copied the entire article from McPherson and indicated the parts ignored by Rollins. When I posted this on the Gettysburg Discussion Group back in 2001, Rollins responded, denying he changed the meaning. I also have his responses which I would be glad to send along.

A book on my shelves is a secondhand copy of “The Grey and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation” by Robert F. Durden, published in 1972 by Louisiana State University Press.

I bought this on line a few years ago when I became interested in the Confederacy and slavery, but it was a big disappointment. I think I came across it by accident. Durden takes himself totally out of the picture and features the debate by regurgitating lengthy passages from speeches, letters and newspapers. I found it extremely hard going and eventually gave up. Not much of it sticks in my memory.

Durden’s refusal to offer any sort of historical judgement was irritating. The flyleaf states that “there was still a resevoir of good will between the white and black races in the South” – I am not sure how the book demonstrated that on the side of blacks. I had to wait for Bruce Levine to get the type of history book which offered evidence and interpretation on this subject, which anyone can agree or disagree with.

Kevin, you might find the book useful on the earlier historiography about blacks as Confederate soldiers. In fairness to Durden, it may not be a bad attempt to tackle a difficult, emotive subject at the time. My book’s copy has a big “WITHDRAWN” stamp on the inside cover – not sure what that means.

Snap! I see someone else mentioned Durden above. At least you have my 2c.

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