Another Black Confederate Website

Black Confederate Soldiers has more of a professional look to it, but the information and commentary provided is as misleading as anything you will find online.  You will find all of the standard accounts on the “History Facts” page as if to assume that serious history involves a simple listing of facts without any attempt at analysis or confirmation.   The bibliography is nothing more than an assortment of neo-Confederate/Sons of Confederate Veterans propaganda that fails to draw any distinction between secondary and primary studies.  The authors of this site invite readers to share their own sources on the subject.

Interestingly, both Kevin Weeks and Ann DeWitt are African American.  DeWitt seems to be responsible for much, if not all, of the content of the website.  As in the case of Edward C. Smith I get the sense that we are looking at another example of wanting to acknowledge the presence and importance of African Americans in our collective memory.  And as I’ve said before, this is certainly understandable.  In this case, however, there is something very personal at stake for DeWitt:

Born and raised in the south, I was taught forgiveness. (Matthew 18:21-22).  During my research, I visited a 19th century church in Oxford, Georgia called “The Old Church.” Sitting in the front pew during a tour, I finally understood that one cannot completely understand the complexity of the American Civil War and its ties to slavery until there is complete forgiveness. The people I met on this journey gave an open reception and led me down the safest trails in obtaining the facts about Black Confederate Soldiers. For this, I am grateful.

Perhaps, Christian slaves forgave and picked up arms to fight for the little they acquired during their years on American soil. Not until we set aside our differences can we have the necessary dialog about everyone, regardless of color, family lineage, political, or military affiliation, who made tremendous sacrifice from the first shots fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861 until the the final surrender of General Robert E. Lee at the Appomattox Court House in April 1865.

I have no interest in critiquing what motivates Ms. DeWitt to explore American history and the history of race relations specifically.  That said, there is something very honest about the above passage and I certainly sympathize with the ways in which understanding history can help to bring about understanding and reconciliation.  Unfortunately, this site does little more than promote the same tired myths and moves us even further away from understanding how the war effected the master-slave relationship.

12 thoughts on “Another Black Confederate Website

    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Marc,

      It bears repeating that the problem is that most of these sites are set up by people who aren’t even aware of the relevant secondary literature on the subject. The individual accounts are plucked out and somehow we are supposed to read them and ignore everything that has been written about the extent to which Confederate authorities refused to allow free and enslaved blacks into the ranks as soldiers. I suspect that Ms. DeWitt isn’t intentionally ignoring anything. Rather, it’s a reflection of how little she understands about the subject.

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  1. Margaret D. Blough

    What does forgiveness have to do with it in a case where the sinner denied that any offense existed and was still conducting the offense on a massive scale with every intent to do continue to enthusiastically commit the sin in perpetuity? The final debate in the Confederacy on authorizing Black soldiers makes it clear that there were a substantial number of prominent secessionists who, if the price of Southern independence required according any human dignity to blacks (especially slaves), were quite willing to let the Confederacy die and risk losing everything they’d ever acquired.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Margaret,

      I don’t really want to attempt to interpret this individual’s emotional/spiritual state. That’s a very private affair. What I can surmise based on the limited information available is that she seems to be imposing her own attachment to forgiveness onto the past. That’s a dangerous thing to do in my view.

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      1. Margaret D. Blough

        Kevin-I wasn’t attempting to interpret Ms. DeWitt’s subjective intent nor yours. I was responding to the concepts of forgiveness that she set forth in the quoted statement. As a philosophical concept, they seem riddled with internal contradictions.

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  2. Margaret D. Blough

    Kevin-I went to the website & went through it. It’s just sad. It’s mostly grasping at straws. Ms. DeWitt does not appear to understand the distinction between enlistment/the draft for white soldiers and impressment of slaves for labor. I don’t see a single reputable scholarly source in her bibliography. I notice that she completely disregards the Confederate reaction to the U.S. Government’s authorization for black men to enlist in the Union army, including its adamant refusal to treat captured black Union soldiers as prisoners of war.

    I believe an honest history of the US MUST acknowledge the contribution that Blacks have made, whether voluntarily or under coercion, to this country but I don’t believe the answer is replacing one fable with another. An honest discussion of the terms and conditions and barriers that Blacks have faced since the first slave was brought & sold in British North America is essential to understanding the barriers that any black had to face in making any accomplishment.

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    1. Andy Hall

      I e-mailed Ms. DeWitt about one of the men mentioned on her site, and got a very prompt and polite response back. Ms. DeWitt acknowledged that she didn’t know much about the man, but was looking into it. It’s clear to me that she is sincere and well-intended, if perhaps distracted by misinformation and mislead by ambiguities or inconsistent language in historical records that are unfamiliar. Ms. DeWitt would not be the first, and there are plenty of people out there peddling misinformation (Earl Ijames, I’m lookin’ at you) who would seem, to the general public, to bring very solid credentials to the debate.

      In this particular case, it was a slave who went to war with his master — the company commander — and served as a drummer. Many years later, the man raised money for old Confederate veterans in his town, and was closely affiliated with the Confederate Home there. His grave is marked with a standard Confederate headstone, with the designation “drummer.” I’m sure to an actual Old Confederate, that headstone would tell the tale pretty clearly, but not so much to the modern observer.

      A big part of the problem is, like with pension records, many would-be researchers make no distinction between those who “served” the broader sense — musicians, body servants, cooks, teamsters — and those who were actual soldiers, who held rank, were paid, issued weapons and rations by the government, and so on. As you say, we must do a better job of recognizing and understanding these mens’ contributions whether they were willing or not. We’re not doing any favors, to ourselves or to them, by misrepresenting them or their motivations.

      As an aside, Joseph T. Glatthaar has a good chapter on African Americans going to war with the Army of Northern Virginia in General Lee’s Army.

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      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Andy,

        I am glad to hear that Ms. DeWitt was quick to respond. The wonderful thing about the internet is that anyone can contribute to it. The problem with the internet is that anyone can contribute to it.

        The Glatthaar book is a must read. He does indeed provide a concise chapter on African Americans, but the more important aspects of his study challenge the “Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight” thesis as well as the way Glatthaar lays out the importance of slavery to both slave and non-slaveowners. It’s a brilliant book.

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        1. Andy Hall

          Just got the book last night, but you’re right — he completely guts the oft-repeated claim that only a tiny, tiny fraction of Confederate soldiers had any link to the institution of slavery. While the proportion of newly-enlisted soldiers who owned slaves themselves was small — which is to be expected of young men with little wealth or property of their own — roughly half of them in 1861 came from households in which at least one person owned a slave. It was an institution that utterly permeated the Southern culture, and was openly recognized as the issue on which the war turned. I laughed out loud at the Irish immigrant enlistee who quipped that he didn’t own any slaves, but maybe ought to buy one so he’d have something to fight for. That’s how how central and obvious it was.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for passing this newspaper clip along. I will have to go and locate the full article, but this is a wonderful example of a newspaper using these stories to push the recruitment of black Union soldiers. You are correct in pointing out, however, that plenty of people will look at this as proof of the existence of entire units of black Confederates.

      Reply

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