A few of you have asked if I could put together an overview of the many posts that I’ve done on the subject of black Confederates. This is a start and it’s something that I will come back to to update and expand. This will hopefully answer common questions that new readers have about my own position on this subject as well as provide a reliable list of resources for further reading. You can find a link to this post in the navigation menu at the top of the page.
Regular readers of this blog are all too familiar with the frequency of posts on the hot topic of black Confederates. It is safe to say that the largest number of posts on this blog have been devoted to the subject and collectively constitute what I hope is a helpful resource for those who are trying to wade through the morass that defines this divisive topic and public debate. With so much attention focused on this subject it may be difficult for readers to know where to begin. This page is meant to serve as a road map to help readers to better understand the evolution of my own thought about this subject as well as advice on where to go for credible information and what to avoid. I should point out that my writing on this subject is not meant or intended as an authoritative or final word on the subject. I’ve used this blog to ask questions and to offer some of my own ideas about various aspects of the subject and on how others have approached the subject.
You will find a wide range of posts on this issue, but all of them revolve around a basic assumption that this subject is part of a broader discussion of slavery and race relations during the Civil War. Most of the posts on this site can be found under a category heading, titled, “black Confederates.” [Keep in mind that you are reading them in the reverse order in which they were published.] I suggest that you begin with my two earliest posts on the subject in which I begin to sketch out my own interest in the subject in response to the publication of Bruce Levine’s book, Confederate Emancipation [Part 1 and Part 2 and here]. One of the biggest problems is the lack of any consensus on language and how to describe the presence of free and enslaved blacks in Confederate armies. In my view we must begin by assuming that blacks were not soldiers based both on the refusal on the part of the Confederate government as well as the almost complete lack of wartime evidence (enlistment papers/muster rolls, etc.)
I’ve also written extensively about individual black Confederates. No story has been more distorted than that of Silas Chandler, who is the subject of one of the most famous wartime photographs. I am currently co-authoring an article about Silas with his great-granddaughter for publication in one of the popular Civil War magazines. You will also find multiple posts about Weary Clyburn [Click here for a 9-part post on Clyburn and the SCV] and John Venable of North Carolina. Both of these individuals have been the subject of a great deal of debate on this blog owing to the controversial work of archivist, Earl Ijames of the North Carolina Museum of History. A great deal of the misinformation about this subject can be traced to the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans. Click here for a recent article by Bruce Levine on their efforts to distort this history.
Anyone interested in this subject must wade through a great deal of misinformation both online and in print. Online sources are the most notorious because this is now where most people are going to gather information and satisfy their curiosity. Many of the websites that you will come across include the same standard accounts and a careful perusal will reveal a certain amount of cut and paste. References to legitimate historians as endorsing the presence of thousands of black Confederate soldiers can be found, including Ed Bearss. Some of the most popular sites can be found here, here, and here. You will notice an almost complete failure to cite sources, include proper analysis or identify individuals in photographs. I highly recommend that you consider sites that have some kind of institutional affiliation such as a college or university and make sure that you can identify the author of a site as properly credentialed to discuss the subject. Remember, anyone can build a website. Other names to watch out for Online include Bill Vallante, who relies heavily on WPA slave narratives and a confident dismissal of anything that smacks of scholarship. Click here for a wonderful example of the cut and paste method accompanied by little to no analysis as well as a response to my own writing on the subject.
Printed sources are just as problematic, though there are plenty of reliable studies that I will point out. Once again, it is important to note that the availability of a book does not guarantee good scholarship. The black Confederate library is filled with studies written by individuals with questionable credentials and many of these books have not gone through any kind of peer review. A few of the more popular titles in this area that are equally problematic include:
Black Confederates by Charles Kelly Barrow, J.H. Segar, and R.B. Rosenburg (Pelican Press)