Giving Professor Carol Sheriff the Last Word (for now)

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It’s been a fascinating week as we’ve watched this story about a 4th Grade Virginia history textbook and a reference to black Confederates blossom into a national news event.  Thanks to Professor Carol Sheriff of William and Mary for taking the initiative to expose the inaccuracies contained in Our Virginia: Past and Present.  For now, I am going to give Professor Sheriff the last word from a recent interview she did with The Virginia Gazette:

The error in question is a matter of fact, not of opinion or interpretation.

There is no credible evidence that two battalions of African American soldiers fought under the command of Stonewall Jackson. After consulting with three of my William and Mary colleagues who also teach and research Civil War history, who also had never encountered any such evidence, I wrote to James I. Robertson, a Virginia Tech professor who is the foremost scholar of Stonewall Jackson, and asked him if he had ever seen any evidence to corroborate this point. He stated categorically that no such evidence existed. Prof. Robertson explained to me, “Had there been Confederate black units surely some officer in an official report would have mentioned it. Yet the 128 volumes of the mammoth Official Records [of the War of the Rebellion] are completely silent on the subject.” I also contacted Prof. Joseph Glatthaar, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor, who has written a highly claimed book called General Lee’s Army. He declared the claim “simply wrong.”….

There is not a historian in the world who can claim with certitude that her or his work is free from mistakes. From what I have learned from the story reported in the Post, what now concerns me most is the textbook author’s uncritical reliance on Internet sources, and the publisher’s lack of an adequate review process to catch such mistakes.

What has surprised me most is how my main points have been misrepresented, intentionally or unintentionally. To my knowledge, there is no evidence that would suggest a coordinated effort by state educational officials to rewrite history for the purpose of instilling in children pro-Confederate sympathies, or to confuse them deliberately. Furthermore, I am not denying the fact that African Americans took up arms for the Confederacy. They did—but in very small numbers and improvisationally, not as organized units; this compares strikingly to the more than 180,000 African Americans, many of them Virginians, who fought for the Union in organized regiments. Stonewall Jackson did not have two black battalions under his command. Those African Americans who fought with the Confederate army were relatively few, and they were generally not there of their own volition. Their existence, while noteworthy, does not in fact reveal anything new about why the North and the South went to war.

As we approach the war’s 150th anniversary, I sincerely hope that we can focus on understanding the past in the ways it actually unfolded rather than on how we wish it might have unfolded. There are elements of both sides of the story, Union as well as Confederate, that are deeply regrettable, and no doubt mythologies have grown up around both sides as well. It is the historian’s job to make certain that we get the history right, and where those mythologies appear, to scrutinize them in light of the historical record.

75 comments… add one

  • Matt McKeon Oct 23, 2010

    Listen, she, and Glattaar, and Robertson are elitest academics. Records were destroyed. My gggggrandfather didn’t fight for slavery.

    I want to believe what I want to believe.

    I’m very upset. I’m going to the 37th Texas website now, take some deep breaths and soak in my preferred brand of truth. Southern Comfort isn’t just a delicious drink.

    • Andy Hall Oct 23, 2010

      Matt, go and boot up your Blu-Ray of Gods and Generals. That should help, too.

    • MAHistorian Oct 23, 2010

      As a historian, my only responsible, to this poster statement is that it perhaps proves the idea that people, regardless, of the situation, for example, about telling, true history, which, all, of these three professors and other professors, concerning, race, slavery, and their central roles that they played, in, during the Civil War, have told, time and time, it does not matters, to the true believers, who will still deny, the facts, of this historical truth, to believe, in a false truth, of history.

  • RobH Oct 23, 2010

    The sad thing is that the winners write the history. Second sad thing is, is that political correctness drives what is entering history books. Black DID indeed fight on both sides during the civil war. This was tought until the late 1960s. Another slavery related fact, free blacks were almost twice as likely to be slave holders as whites. Some of the wealthiest people in the south were black, slave owning, cotton plantation farmers. But lets looks at complete falsehood that are taught as fact even today. Columbus discovering America, fact is, is that Columbus never set foot on the North American Continent. People in Columbus’ time thought the world was flat, fact is that everyone knew the world was round. The midnight ride of Paul Revere. Fact is he never made it to Concord, he was arrested for violating cerfew.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 23, 2010

      Please don’t waste my time with references to “political correctness.” If you want to be heard than make your point by referencing the scholarship that you base your claims on. I am particularly interested in the claim that “free blacks were almost twice as likely to be slave holders as whites.” Please provide a scholarly reference along with page numbers. This is a patently absurd claim and Columbus and Paul Revere don’t help at all.

    • Margaret D. Blough Oct 23, 2010

      In the case of the Civil War, the losers did a pretty fair job of writing the history because they were very leniently treated. I have no idea where you got your “statistics” but it makes no sense whatsoever. BTW, of those free blacks who did own slaves many “owned’ family members in order to protect them. I’m with Kevin; what are your sources?

      As for discovering “America”, America consists of North, Central and South America and nearby islands so your great bombshell about Columbus is a dud. You also misrepresent Paul Revere’s ride. Yes, he was arrested without reaching Concord, but only after he accomplished his initial mission. After it was learned that British troops were moving out to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington and to burn Patriot stored goods in Concord, Dr. Warren sent Revere to warn Adams and Hancock, which he did. They took refuge with Lexington militia men and then, along with their host, Clarke, sent Revere and Dawes to warn Concord while Lexington, warned by Revere, prepared to resist the British. When Revere was captured on his way to Concord, he did everything in his power to mislead and divert the British from where Adams and Hancock were, even when being interrogated with a gun to his head. He escaped and returned to warn Adams and Hancock that their place was not with the resistance & helped persuade them to leave. More than one rider was sent to Concord and Concord was warned. The “shot fired round the world” was fired at Lexington, which Revere warned.

      If what you have above is indicative of your idea of rebuttal, I’m not impressed.

    • Jonathan Dresner Oct 23, 2010

      Columbus, for all his faults and failings, did discover new land where most believed there was only empty sea, and he developed a method of using Atlantic trade winds to safely and reliably go back and forth between the Americas and Europe. Nobody’s seriously done the “flat world” thing for decades, though there are always some teachers and writers behind the curve.

      • Ed Darrell Oct 25, 2010

        Columbus’s voyages created a turning point in history — the conscious exploitation of the Americas and Americans. To the extent that the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico are American waters, Columbus stumbled into America, regardless whether he put a foot on the North American continent. Odd, by the way, that the writer doesn’t seem to be concerned that Columbus didn’t walk on South America, either.

        Paul Revere road his horse. Longfellow embellished a little — but of course, Longfellow’s point was that we had another war coming, and that patriots would rise, take up arms, and defend the right. Longfellow wasn’t writing about Paul Revere so much as about the pending war over slavery. But to the extent that Paul Revere did ride in fact, though he was captured by the British en route, that story with embellishments is more accurate than a claim that Stonewall Jackson had two battalions of slaves fighting behind him.

        Minor inaccuracies don’t excuse gross distortions. Errors in telling one story don’t justify the creation of entire voodoo histories.

        • Ed Darrell Oct 25, 2010

          Should be “rode,” of course. Errors of grammar and spelling don’t affect the point.

  • Sherree Oct 24, 2010

    “Columbus, for all his faults and failings, did discover new land where most believed there was only empty sea……”


    Most Europeans believed that there was only empty sea, perhaps you meant to say? Long before Columbus sailed, the Tainos were certainly aware that land was present in the area of the world that came to be known as the “Americas”, as I am sure you know. The “New World”, as it used to be called in history books, was not new to the men and women whose ancestors had lived here for thousands of years. I know a man of Taino ancestry who would take issue with this characterization of Columbus. Just helping to keep the facts straight in this part of the discussion. Facts are facts, and to many men and women of Indigenous ancestry, the failure to consistently maintain a narrative of history that acknowledges and explores the reality of America’s founding within the context of the colonial past is as much of an affront to their sensibility and threat to their present reality as the Black Confederate myth is to the sensibilities and present reality of African American men and women. By present reality, I mean how myths that pass as history function to both create and perpetuate beliefs that translate into discriminatory practices. Indigenous men and women are still fighting the “savage” and “noble savage” myths created by white men. That is just incredible and not acceptable–as incredible and unacceptable as the Black Confederate myth. I know that you did not mean to imply any of this in your comment. Just fleshing it out a bit, and attempting to get to a deeper understanding of our history. Thanks, and thanks to Kevin for the forum.

    • Jonathan Dresner Oct 24, 2010

      Given the relative populations of Europe and the Americas at this time, and the general Native American indifference to questions of trans-oceanic geography, I think “most” was adequate qualification for my statement. Your dissent is noted.

      • Sherree Oct 25, 2010

        Thanks, Jonathan. I hope that this brief exchange was productive.

        This blog focuses, in large part, on memory, and on how memory affects the present. Albeit, the area of our national memory explored is that pertaining to the Civil War. Nevertheless, the concepts examined can be applied elsewhere. The manner in which the narrative of history is cast does indeed matter. For quite a long time, the idea that Columbus discovered America, and that America was a vast wilderness waiting to be claimed for “civilization” after the “Indians” were properly subdued, underlay and informed many well entrenched myths concerning both American identity and the identity of the men and women of the over five hundred Indigenous nations that had to be subdued–myths that still resonate today. Language matters, and so does consistency. To many Indigenous men and women, Columbus is as popular as Robert E. Lee is to African American men and women. That is, perhaps, not fair to Columbus, since the myth of Columbus did more harm than Columbus, himself did. Yet, it is so, all the same.

  • Keith Yoder Oct 26, 2010

    OK, so I have pulled my 4th grader’s history text out of her backpack tonight to see for myself.

    The paragraph that follows “…under the command of Stonewall Jackson.” reads:

    “The fight to end slavery was a major cause of the Civil War. As a result, the war affected African Americans in a huge way. As the Union Army drew closer and closer to Virginia, many enslaved men and women threw down their rakes and shovels, packed up their meager belongings, and fled their homes, drawn by the sweet promise of freedom. Some quickly joined the Union Army, where they fought bravely and with honor.”

  • Sherree Oct 27, 2010

    Is this passage from the same textbook? If it is–as it appears to be– then Professor Sheriff does have the last word–ie, there is no “coordinated effort” at the state level to indoctrinate Virginia’s children into a neo Confederate view of history. A true neo Confederate writer determined to attempt to turn back the clock on civil rights by rewriting the history of the Civil War would never acknowledge in a narrative of that war that slaves in Virginia fled their masters and joined the Union Army when the opportunity arose. I doubt those words could even cross the lips of a neo Confederate, much less make their way into a textbook.

    It seems that something else is at work here, as indicated in commentary: faulty research, poor editorial review, and a glancing nod at achieving a text that satisfied multicultural requirements, exposing what a hollow shell multiculturalism can become when it is divorced from its original purpose of helping to achieve diversity and manipulated for political or economic reasons, such as publishing a marketable book. At least–and finally–Virginia has been forced to require that its textbooks discuss slavery as slavery was, and not in the context of the faithful slave narrative.

    On another point touched on in this discussion–how is Columbus discussed today in the textbooks of elementary school age children? Does anyone have a relevant quote? Although I said in an earlier comment that the myth of Columbus did more damage than Columbus himself did, I am not so certain of that. I was not aware that Columbus was governor of Hispaniola. His record with the Taino is just atrocious. That further explains why my friend’s Taino descended husband does not celebrate Columbus Day. Should everyone else celebrate it? What exactly are we celebrating? How does that differ from the proposed celebration of Confederate history month? Is there a double standard here as well? The white narrative of history concerning African American men and women changed when African American men and women forced that change. Is that what Indigenous, Native, Native American, American Indian–the Cree, the Cherokee, the Ojibway, the Taino, the Creek, the Choctaw, the Lakota–must do too–force the change?

    I am asking these questions in all sincerity and I am interested in any suggested reading material, for I quite simply cannot answer the questions of my Native colleagues and friends concerning why cultural blindness still exists in the white community, sometimes even among the enlightened. I am already aware of Larry Cebula’s book and one written by a former student of Brooks Simpson. I have not read either book yet, but expect each to be worthy studies, given interactions with Professors Cebula and Simpson on this blog.

  • Karen Apr 30, 2011

    Sheriff backpedled significantly from where this started. Yes, it’s true that Stonewall Jackson did not have two battalions of black troops. This statement is assuredly in error. But let us recall that (a) this IS a 4th grade textbook and (b) neither its author NOR Carol Sheriff are military historians, and as such as prone to interchange terms of art with more general usage of military teminology.

    The jist of what the textbook printed, with regard to Jackson’s command, is not as “obviously” wrong as Sheriff initially claimed.

    Look again at her Q&A with the Washington Post:

    Not only does she insist that those few instances of blacks taking up arms were spontaneous abberations in the heat of battle, but she sets up the following false syllogism:

    (a) It was illegal to arm blacks before 1865
    (b) Stonewall Jackson died in 1863
    Therefore (c) Stonewall Jackson couldn’t have had units of armed blacks.

    Well, that’s of course only true IF you assume that laws automatically reflect the opinions and practices of the majority of the citizenry over whom they are enacted. But as countless modern examples can testify, that’s simply not the case. Because a law is on the books does not mean it goes enforced.

    Put simply, the Confederate government did indeed have a series of statutes preventing the arming of blacks. However, states, localities, and individual units could — and did – ignore these laws throughout the war.

    For a sampling of wartime testimony to the presence of armed Confederates, I would suggest people explore the citations to primary source material found in Charles H. Wesley, “Negroes in the Confederate Army,” Journal of Negro History 4, no. 3 (July 1919): 239-53.

    So her first contention (as made in the Washington Post) — that there weren’t armed blacks save in the heat of battle — is contested by some evidence.

    Now it happens that a disproportionate number of the sitings of “black Confederates” in the extant sources (as hinted at even in Wesley’s sampling) involve Louisiana troops. (Given Louisiana’s unique experience with race as a social and legal construct, this comes as no surprise.) And indeed, in 1862, Dick Taylor’s Louisiana brigade WAS with Jackson in the Valley. The famed “Louisiana Tigers” — otherwise known as Wheat’s battalion — appears to have had quite a number of … clearly non-whites in its ranks. The same appears to be true for at least one unit in the brigade; all units within it appear to have at least one such soldier.

    None of the units with Jackson were “black” battalions in a formal sense (in contrast to units such as the USCT, or the Union’s 1st SC). But there do appear to be at least two battalions that fought under Jackson that had a statistically-significant number of what appeared to eyewitnesses to be blacks fighting in them.

    Is that the same as the statement in the textbook? No. But is it as completely cut from whole cloth as Sheriff (who’s specialty is not the military aspect of the Civil War) stated? Again, no.

    As for its larger claim of tens of thousands who fought — that too depends on what your definitoon of “fought” is. It is in fact the case that the vast number of balcks connected witht the Confederate army served as laborers on fortifications. There are quite a number of USCT regiments that did precisely that and nothing else for the entire war. Are they not soldiers? Many blacks served as cooks, musicians, and teamsters. Again, is the company bugler (white or otherwise) not a soldier? Particularly if he is in the combat zone? Is the black teamster driving a wagon under fire in the Pennsylvania Campaign and less a soldier than, say, Gulf War II’s most famous captured truck driver, Jessica Lynch?

    Examined objectively, the textbook is flawed, but the flaws are not as egregious — or necessarily agenda-driven — as Sheriff alleges. And the preconceptions and biases that led her to speak so dogmaticlly about “absurd” contentions that on closer examination prove not as groundless as she and other critics claim, point to a danger that is all too rampant in the Sesquecentennial.

    It is to be desired that the omission of slavery and race that marked the 100th anniversary not be repeated as we construct a new narrative model for the 150th. The historical community should be striving for a more perfect paradigm that gives slavery and race its proper position. But too often thus far, the effort has not been to get race and slavery back into the discussion of the Civil War, but instead to make the Civil War anniversary merely an excuse to discuss race and slavery, often to the detriment of accuracy when it comes to the complexities of the event itself.

    The new paradigm is surely more racially inclusive than before. That’s not the same as being more historically accurate. Diversity should be a conseqeuence of the sesquecentennial’s re-examination, not its purpose.

    • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011


      Thanks for taking the time to comment on this issue. Most of these claims have been dealt with at one point or another. The basic point that Sheriff was making re: Jackson is that his death took place two years before the Confederate government authorized the enlistment of slaves into the army as soldiers. Two very small units were organized in the last few weeks of the war.

      You said: “Put simply, the Confederate government did indeed have a series of statutes preventing the arming of blacks. However, states, localities, and individual units could — and did – ignore these laws throughout the war.”

      Please provide evidence for this claim. Which states and localities ignored these laws?

      I am quite familiar with Wesley’s account, but he does not analyze testimony to the point where he locates specific men in the muster rolls and enlistment papers.

      Historians have been aware of Louisiana’s unique situation for some time now. There are indeed a few examples of men serving, but there are just as many examples of these same men being forced out of service owing to their racial identity.

      Which battalions in Jackson’s corps are you referring to. James I. Robertson, who is considered one of the country’s foremost experts has stated publicly that the claim is false. Please provide the relevant evidence that counters Robertson’s statement.

      The Confederate government impressed thousands of slaves to perform various roles in the army and officers also brought their personal servants to camp to perform various roles. None of this is controversial. They were not considered soldiers. In fact, I have yet to find one letter or diary from a Confederate soldier that acknowledges the existence of black comrades in arms. How do you explain this?

      I don’t see why you would want to defend Joy Masoff’s book given what we know about how she went about her research. The claims are misleading and patently false. They serve to remind us of the dangers of doing research Online and the need to teach basic media literacy in the classroom.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

      • Karen May 1, 2011

        Kevin, you’re such a big one from lecturing people about reading the sources carefully. Try reading Sheriff’s original answers in the Wasington Post Q&A.

        She states explicitly that the fact Jackson died two years before the passage of Confederate laws regarding the arming of blacks proves that Jackson couldn’t have had armed blacks. That is a fallacy of logic.

        You haven’t seen letters from soldiers mentioning blacks in arms. I have — from Union and Confederate alike. It wasn’t widespread, it wasn’t systematized, and for social historians who write about millions of people as if they were as indistinguishable as piston rods, they may even be statistically insignificant.

        But they did exist. And that’s the point.

        As for the presence of some people who were perceived to be non-white fighting with the Louisiana brigade, there are scattered mentions through a number of sources.

        James Robertson knows a good deal about many things. He knows a good deal of things regarding Stonewall Jackson. Few in the field would recognize him as an expert on all aspects of the Confederate Arny, or on the constituent elements of forces that served under Jackson for a short time.

        But what Robertson SAID in the above quote was simply that “There were no black COnfederate units.” Which is true. But that’s not the same thing as saying “there were no blacks IN Confederate units.” And THAT was Sheriff’s original contention.
        call into question

        And there is at least enough anecdotal evidence call into question Sheriff’s (and your) sweeping declarations that no blacks ever had combat roles in any Confederate unit.

        Enough at least to suggest that someone was not COMPLETELY pulling things out of thin air when, in the crafting or a 4th grade textbook on US history, he or she misinterpreted accounts of black soldiers in two of Jackson’s units (feel free to spend some time with Union and Confederate accounts of Wheat’s Confederate battalion) to make the larger, untrue, assertion that there were two battalions with Jackson formally organized as all-black units.

        Yes, the evidence of regulalry serving black combat soldier is largely anecdotal — or more precisely, found in passing references in reports and diaries and soldiers’ letters. That’s how these individuals were encountered — as discreet, rare events.

        If you were expecting it to be otherwise, I question your familiarity with primary sources.

        • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

          If you have references to Confederate soldiers who acknowledge the existence of black Confederate soldiers I suggest you share them on this forum.

          You said: “You haven’t seen letters from soldiers mentioning blacks in arms. I have — from Union and Confederate alike.” Again, let me specify that I am referring to Confederate soldiers who acknowledged black men as soldiers in the ranks.

          Historians have known for quite some time abut the racial dynamic of Louisiana and that a few managed to serve in Confederate ranks. Keep in mind that the original Native Guard was rejected for service in the Confederate army owing to race.

          You are free to interpret Sheriff’s words as strictly as you like, but that does not negate the fact that Jackson died two years before the Confederate government passed legislation that allowed for the recruitment of freed slaves into the army. This is not in dispute by historians. Again, we already know that thousands of blacks were present in the Confederate army and it seems clear that a few on occasion picked up a rifle and fired it at Federal soldiers.

          Other than this you have failed to provide a shred of evidence for your claims about the existence of black Confederate soldiers.

          Finally, you seem completely unaware of what was involved in Joy Masoff’s research for this book. That, in and of itself, constitutes grounds for questioning the veracity of the claims made.

          • Karen May 1, 2011

            No one’s talking about the Guard. I was talking, for instance, about Wheat’s battalion.

            Thank you, btw, for so condescendingly giving me leave to interpret Sheriff’s words as I like. So I’ll intepret them exactly as she wrote them. And if you’ll be so generous, allow me to do the same with yours above.

            The fact that the CS army did not pass a law allowing something until two years after Jackson died is not in itself proof that something may not have been occurring before that date.

            Look too at what else you just said: “Thousands of blacks were present int he Confederate army.”

            That was PRECISELY the statement that set Sheriff off on this jeremiad in the first place. Yet suddenly we’ve gone from “That’s crazy talk!” to a FAR more subtle drawing of distinctions between language that says “Did they fight formally as combat soldiers on the line?” versus “were they present in some capacity.”

            I am not unaware of Joy Masoof’s research. In fact, I’ll go so far as to state (as I believe I did in my first post) that I’ll even stipulate that she not only made technical errors in the presentation of that single fact, but then attempted to use that fact to imply a more fundamental truth about the Confederacy which — even if he fact were properly stated — was not true.

            She likely had an agenda, and it colored he approach to the question.

            I woudl submit that the same is true of those of her critics, such as Sheriff, who used the sledghammer of broad, sweeping, and INCORRECT statements to correct a far more subtle (and understandable) error.

            • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

              You are accusing me of being condescending? Oh come on, Karen. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and I am doing my best to respond.

              The claim that set Sheriff off was that there were thousands of black Confederate soldiers in the ranks. That claim also set off any number of historians that are familiar with this subject.

              There is no evidence that she had an agenda. Masoff’s mistake was with her inability to conduct a proper Online search and a failure to properly judge the websites she visited.

    • Andy Hall May 1, 2011

      For a sampling of wartime testimony to the presence of armed Confederates, I would suggest people explore the citations to primary source material found in Charles H. Wesley, “Negroes in the Confederate Army,” Journal of Negro History 4, no. 3 (July 1919): 239-53.

      That’s part of the problem. The examples Wesley mentions are grouped in two paragraphs of the entire manuscript, spanning pp. 244-45, and most trace back to a secondary work, Horace Greeley’s The American Conflict, that itself is without citations. So Wesley is a full step removed from the original, primary source. I don’t don’t know what historiographic standards were nearly 100 years ago, but that would be a problem in the discipline today.

      The other thing that stands out is that Wesley’s examples all come from the first, heady months of the war, and refer to units supposedly raised or drilled or seen marching through town. There are a lots of mentions of these sorts of things, usually anonymous at second-or third hand, that don’t identify the unit or its officers, or provide any information that would enable someone to corroborate it. There’s no indication how long these units lasted or how they were used, and no mention of them in combat. They’re interesting assertions, but fragmentary and lacking any verifiable detail. So what, exactly, are we to make of these?

      Finally, Wesley’s manuscript was written while he was a graduate student; years later, when he published his major work, The Collapse of the Confederacy, he devoted the last part of the work to “Negro Soldiers” (pp. 152-166), but while he describes early war proposals for arming slaves, he omits any mention of the units alleged in his earlier journal article. It would seem like a telling omission given that — as with the debate over arming slaves in 1864-65, that he discusses in detail — being able to point out those earlier examples would have gone a long way to establishing the precedent. But just as Lee and Benjamin (and Cleburne before them) never cited those supposed black Confederate combat units, neither does Wesley.

      • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

        Thanks Andy. I suspect that most people who cite Wesley have never bothered to read it. The other thing that stands out in Wesley is that he refrains from making broad generalizations about he loyalty of free and enslaved blacks. You are right that most of the examples he cites are from the beginning of the war and at no point does he pursue individual accounts to track down enlistment papers and muster rolls.

      • Karen May 1, 2011

        Historiographic standards were rather poor 100 years ago. I only point out Wesley, as a starting point, because there are references in there to newspaper accounts.

        Those accounts are not meant to conclusively prove anything. But how many times must independent people in independent places suggest they saw the same thing before you have to start saying, “Perhaps one of them is telling the truth.”

        Kevin, like as not many people haven;t read Wesley, nor bothered to backtrack through his sources. I’m not one of them.

        • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

          Thanks for the follow up, Karen. Glad to hear that you are familiar with Wesley’s article. It is indeed a starting point. He includes a number of first- and second-hand accounts of black men in Confederate ranks. Historians have known for some time that thousands of blacks were present with Confederate armies. They performed essential support roles as slaves. What Wesley’s article does not point to are significant numbers of soldiers. You would have to follow up on these observations and he simply does not do that. In fact, no one that I know has successfully followed up these kinds of claims though there are many and they are trotted out in typical fashion on a regular basis.

          Now, do you have anything to add to this discussion that would get us from Wesley’s observations to specific claims about black men serving as soldiers in Confederate ranks. In other words, do you have enlistment papers and muster rolls or anything official that can demonstrate this? I would love to see it. Thanks again.

          • Karen May 1, 2011

            On the heels of my lengthy post of 6:44 am (which was intended as a direct repsonse to yours here; in the interest of accuracy, please feel free to readjust the message tree to reflect this), I’m thinking of the logical implications of your statement that the absence of formal Confederate records (enrollments, muster rolls) stating explciitly that actions were taken in contravention of Confederate law mean that the law could not have been routinely contravened.

            Go to the Department of Labor. Find me the evidence that US corporations employ undocumented workers.

            When you can’t find any I-9s that show the hiriing of illegals, am I free to state categorically that there are therefore no illegals in the employ of US corporations?

            That’s in effect what you’re arguing.

            With regard to the evoication of “experts,” I would note that the current discussion among academics in regard to these issues operates on something of a closed set. “Experts” are defined as those who agree with a certain proposition; and then that self-selection is used as evidence to support the conclusion that “All experts agree….”

            Which is good rhetoric, but poor logic. (Or, I’d argue, intellectual inquiry.)

            James Robertson is a biographer, not an expert on the rank and fil of the Confederate Army or even the Louisiana Brigade. (And even at that, where was this all-deferential approach to Bud’s ex cathedra pronouncements when he was happily endorsing “Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend”? An argument for another time.) Joe Glatthaar?? More than one critics has pointed to the glaring analytical flaws and outright falsification of statistical data in “General Lee’s Army.” So let’s not take them as THE final word.

            With regard to the the Louisiana brigade, Terry Jones is to date the person most versed in that particular unit. I wonder if anyone has ever asked him about whether he has or has not come across references to black combat participants with that unit.

            As for larger questions of blacks in combat with the Army or Northern Virginia, let alone black service in non-combat roles and whether or not they were perceived to be a part of the Army, I would be curious to know what Robert K. Krick has to say on the subject.

            I’ve have taken excpetion to many statements Mr. Krick has made over the years, but there is a consensus among the broader community of Civil War historians that he is the leading authority on explicitly military questions regarding the Army of Northern Virginia as a corporate entity. I wonder how he would answer the question, and what evidence he would provide to either side of it.

            • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

              The Department of Labor analogy doesn’t work for me. Given the culture of the slaveholding South before the war, including laws barring blacks from owing guns I find it curious that the men in the ranks failed to comment on what anyone would have acknowledged as a very strange site and one that challenged ideas about the proper place of African Americans in a slaveholding society. I just finished a book-length manuscript on the battle of the Crater. The first chapter offers a detailed analysis of how African Americans responded to a an entire division of black Union soldiers. If at any time they would have a reason to acknowledge their own loyal black Confederate soldiers this would be it and yet I can’t find a single reference. Even during the public debate over the arming of slaves I can’t find one editorial or other source that acknowledges that blacks were already fighting as soldiers.

              I will check out Terry Jones’s study.

              I don’t point to any historian as the final word on anything. Robertson is relevant to this debate because one of Masoff’s claims referenced the Stonewall brigade which he has written about. No one knows more about the Army of Northern Virginia than Bob Krick. Here is more on Krick:

              • Karen May 1, 2011

                I didn’t necessarily say I was curious as to what’s in Jones’s book (the index for which is limited to essentially proper nouns, and so difficult to use in this discussion). I said I’d be curious to ask him what he may or may not have come across.

                His book as I recall is now close to 20 years old, and was intended as a coporate study. Such works often omit individual outliers that suggest characteristics not shared by the group as a whole. Then too, I think even the most progressive of minds would have to acknowledge (and I’m not saying this was the case in Dr. Jones’s work) that historians within academia would have any number of incentives to avoid wading into the question of black Confederates, particularly when the focus and purpose of their work was another topic entirely.

                One can be forgiven for not willingly thrusting one’s hand into ever beehive he happens to pass.

                As for Masoff, I don’t want to get bogged down trying to defend her — particularly as I do not have a copy of the textbook in front of me and have been working from what her opponents said she wrote.

                BUT my understanding of the passage in question is that it claimed that the units in question (which, again, I admit she mistakenly described as BLACK units) fought UNDER Jackson (which the Louisiana brigade did during the Valley campaign). I don’t BELIEVE that she said they were in the Stonewall Brigade itself. (I WOULD accept Robertson as an expert on the makeup of THAT particular unit.)

                But if she did, again — I am not defending her qualifications as a historian, and I CERTAINLY am not crediting her with beign a military historian. Thus, under the category of “a little knowledge beign a dangerous thing,” I can easily see someone not very familiar with the organization of the Army of the Valley to mistakenly equate Jackson’s entire command with the Stonewall Brigade.

                • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                  You said: “Then too, I think even the most progressive of minds would have to acknowledge (and I’m not saying this was the case in Dr. Jones’s work) that historians within academia would have any number of incentives to avoid wading into the question of black Confederates, particularly when the focus and purpose of their work was another topic entirely.”

                  I am not quite sure what point you are making. HIstorians have not entirely ignored this subject. In fact, we know quite a bit about the roles that slaves and free blacks played while with the army. Most historians have correctly treated this subject as an extension of the history of slavery – more specifically, how a slave-based economy/society went to war.

                  Masoff claimed that a battalion of black soldiers served under Jackson, which is false. You are correct that she did not imply the Stonewall brigade specifically. I was simply pointing out that Robertson has spent a significant amount of time on Jackson and his command. Bob Krick has also written about Jackson’s men and he is very clear on this issue.

                  • Karen May 1, 2011

                    The point I was making is that, if one is to read though Jones’s “Lee’s Tigers” and not find any discussion therein of black Confederates, that NEED not necessarily imply that Jones never came across any. Hence why I wondered alound if Jones was aware of any of the mentions in the source material by persons who believed they had encountered blacks fighting as members of the Louisiana Brigade.

                    I was merely offerign alternate theories as to why a particular dog may not have barked. I didn’t say that WAS the reason (for all I know, there MAY be such mentions in Lee’s Tigers; I haven’t read it since the mid-90s).

                    At the risk of of quoting the Bible, do you knwo the one about the mote in someone else’s eye and the beam in yours? It’s a tad self-aggrandizing to speak of what “we historians” know about the role free blacks played in the army when YOU yourself, in a post from earlier today, first stated that the only such blacks were there as slaves.

                    Now, I KNOW you know that statement was incorrect. And I suspect it may not have been what you intended to say when you said it.

                    But at the risk of suggesting that you may not be approaching contrary positions with an open mind or a willingness to debate, you can’t make a false, sweeping generalization (blacks only served in support role in the CS Army as slaves), take BACK the statement when the error is pointed out, and then act as if it’s absurd for anyone to suggest that anyoen could possible subscribe to the very same sweeping generalization with which opened the discussion?!?

                    If we’re going to rewrite the history of the last three hours, a discussion of what people did or didn’t write 150 years ago is pointless.

                    As for Robertson, he studied the Stonewall Brigade in great detail. He knows what other elements of Jackson’s various commands DID. He is hardly an authoirty on what they were.

                    • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                      You still have not offered a compelling reason as to why Terry Jones would have not disclosed the existence of these men. He is a top-notch historian and is considered one of the experts on this particular unit.

                      I am perfectly willing to acknowledge the existence of black men who served as soldiers in the Confederate ranks. In fact, I already noted that a few Louisianans did just that. The best scholarship on this subject suggests that if they existed they did so as the exception to the rule. My concern about this debate has always been with those who argue for large numbers and who attempt to paint a picture of slave loyalty to their masters and the Confederate war effort.

                      I mentioned Robertson as one example, but I also referenced Krick, who you acknowledge as one of the foremost authorities on the Army of Northern Virginia. I don’t know of an academic historians who differs with Robertson and Krick on this issue.

        • Andy Hall May 1, 2011

          But how many times must independent people in independent places suggest they saw the same thing before you have to start saying, “Perhaps one of them is telling the truth.”

          That’s a poor standard of evidence when it comes to history as a discipline; it applies equally to UFOs and Sasquatch as to BCS. ;-)

          More seriously, the premise “perhaps one of them is telling the truth” is properly followed by the question, “which one?” That seems to be a brick wall in terms of research. These newspaper accounts are, to me, very much like claims from various descendants that their ancestor was a BCS, in the absence of any contemporary documentation: interesting, intriguing, but in terms of research, a dead end.

          I agree that these accounts can be seen as a starting point, but after that first step, it’s a very, very short journey.

          • Karen May 1, 2011

            To disprove the contention that something NEVER happened, one only needs to find a single countervailing example.

            No reasonable person is arguing that it was a commonplace.

            • Andy Hall May 1, 2011

              I’m pretty sure your comment wasn’t directed to me, because I haven’t ever said it never happened. I’ve said repeatedly that, in a place as large and complicated as the Confederacy, there were probably a handful of men — dozens, not hundreds or thousands — who, entirely unofficially, achieved (through a combination of personal skill and patronage) something close to serving as soldiers. Holt Collier is a possible example of this, although the extant pension records for him make it clear that he was officially considered a body servant.

              What I have said, and continue to say, is that the vast majority of what’s presented as “evidence” of BCS is simply wrong. It’s either too fragmentary to firmly establish anything specific (e.g., the new accounts mentioned in Wesley’s 1919 manuscript), unreliable as evidence of a man’s status during the war (e.g., pension records from the early 1900s), misrepresented (e.g., Fremantle’s account from the Gettysburg campaign), or (in a few cases) flat-out fraud. BCS are the proverbial needle in the haystack; finding them is difficult when Southron Heritage types are continually throwing fistfuls of hay in one’s face, saying “look! Here’s one! And here’s one! And here’s four more!”

              You say that “no reasonable person is arguing that it was a commonplace.” True enough, but you’re citing the same evidence and making the same rhetorical arguments as those who say exactly that.

              Regarding your mention to Kevin about musicians, of course they were part of the Confederate army. But if you look at Confederate army regulations from the war (available online in annual editions for 1861-64 through Open Library), they make explicit distinction between non-commissioned officers, privates and musicians, with the last have different standards for enlistment and training. The present-day Marine Corps has a saying, “every Marine is a rifleman first, and a [cook, mechanic, pay clerk] second.” But that was not true of the Confederate Army in 1861-65. That, ultimately, is where the “sides” in this discussion part ways — one “side” openly acknowledging the presence of African American men in wide range of logistical and support roles, but calling for specific and detailed documentation supporting claims that these men were considered co-equals to the privates in the ranks, at the time — while the other “side” refuses to be held to an objective standard of documentation or definition, masks its advocacy behind nebulous terms like “Black Southern Loyalist,” and call people “deniers” for challenging the quality of their work.

              At the end of the day, I suspect we agree much more on the evidence than we disagree. But you do, candidly, make some of the same arguments that those you would call “unreasonable” do.

              • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                You said: “At the end of the day, I suspect we agree much more on the evidence than we disagree. But you do, candidly, make some of the same arguments that those you would call “unreasonable” do.”

                I think this is true as well.

                • Karen May 1, 2011

                  Admittedly, but not for the same reason. And that is what you two gentlemen fail to distinguish.

                  In your occasional self-righteousness, you neglect to acknowledge that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

                  As a textbook, the one is question is glaringly deficient. But Sheriff — in a display with which the two of you have yet to disagree with — took a erroneous statement with some basis in fact and accused it of being wholly fictionalized.

                  Sheriff is right that the textbook was wrong. the argument she laid out in that Washington Post article as to WHY the textbook was wrong was, however, incorrect.

                  And the fact that she did so while simultaneously proclaiming that her argument was incontrovertable is a conceit to which far too many historians fall prey.

                  And that is what I was objecting to.

                  If these were genuinely free form any basis for debate, we wouldn’t need CIvil War historians.

                  I’m not so arrogant as to adopt that position.

                  • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                    Sheriff’s position on this subject is accepted by most academic historians who are familiar with how the Confederacy utilized its black population during the war as well as the debate that took place between 1864-65 over the recruitment of slaves into the army.

                    • Karen May 1, 2011

                      No, Kevin, Sheriff’s position is accepted by most academic historians who agree with Sheriff’s position….

                      As before, pls. stop defining “experts” as “those who agree on the proposition.” Bud Robetson holds one view. Go ask Peter Wallenstein at the other end of the same hallway if he agrees.

                      I am sure that every you agree with agrees with you. But much of academic historiography is defined circumscribed in much the same manner as you sometimes do with this blog: certain views in contradiction to an orthodoxy are deemed illegimate, only to have the “truth” of a proposition then rest on a tallying up of those opinions that are selected as valid at the start.

                    • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                      Peter is a friend of mine and an excellent historian. That said, I don’t know if he has a view on this subject.

                      Instead of making a claim about academic historiography you should go ahead and point to those historians that you’ve read who have shaped your view of this subject. Thanks

                    • Karen May 1, 2011

                      If he’s a friend of yours, go ask him. He’d be happy to share his opinion on the extent to which the hisotrical community has thoroughly botched the discussion of race, slavery, and the sesquecentennial of the civil war.

                    • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                      I don’t need to ask him. I am quite familiar with Peter’s scholarship, especially his studies of the history of interracial marriage as well as “Virginia’s Blue Laws and Black Codes.” What does this have to do with the subject at hand?

                    • Karen May 1, 2011

                      It matters, Kevin, because you cited the fact that people like Bud Roberston held a position that the the experts “agree” on the matter. And more to the point, you didn’t cite some written work of scholarship on the subject (in fact I’d argue that the vast majority of the peopel you cite on that subject have themselves never done any specific reasearch INTO the question, and are merely repeating the same conclusions from those few who did). You cited a statement he made to Sheriff.

                      So, in the game of “dueling experts,” I merely pointed out were you to ask an equally accredited historian (and Peter has done a fair amount of work in the CIvil War era as well; and one could argue that on questions of social history of the Civil War he is more credentialed than Bud) in the same history department of the same university, you’d get a radically different response to the question of the “cause” of the war. (Beginning, it’s worth noting, with an objection to the notion that there IS a single answer.)

                      Now Peter Wallenstein’s opinion is hardly definitive either. But it does differ. And apart from his institutional similarity to Bud, I cited him PRECISELY because no one in their right mind would accuse him of being a Cpnfederate apologist or of dismissing questions of race and slavery. I also chose him because I KNOW you know and respect him.

                      I say “talk to him” because I do not want you to take my word for it as to his opinion. He will GIVE it to you. You can’t read it because he hasn’t yet written it! Indeed, professional commitments to oher projects may well prevent him from EVER doing so.

                      But in a conversation I had with him last week, he stated that this critique of the current narrative regarding “the Cause” of the war I so crudely outlines (and again, these are comments on a blog post, not perr-reviewed journal articles) is “precisely” the article he wished he’d written.

                      You, and a number of the other respondents on this blog, have strongly implied that all “serious” thinkers are uninimous in a given opinion on the subject of causation and the war. It may give one a sense of comfort to imagine that people disagree with you through their own ignorance, but I’m merely positing the supposition that tehre are peopel as intelligent as you, equally credentialled and versed in both the scholarship AND the source material, who disagree.

                      I notice an all too common failing on the part of one side in this discussion to grant that respect to the other.

                      BTW: I can’t help but notice that several times now, I’ll say something in response to one of your points, you fire back with “What does that have to do with it? Why are you bringing that up?” and then I walk back through the text of our own discussion to show precisely how my point relates to one of yours. Is that just a tactic you employ to throw opponents off their step, or do you merely skim people’s responses?

                    • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                      Perhaps I will contact Peter. I did not know that he was writing about this particular subject.

                      I have cited those historians who have helped me to better understand this subject. Here is a nice overview of the subject written by Jaime Martinez, who is an excellent historians and is working on her own study of impressed slaves during the war. We will be speaking together on a panel on the subject in October. At the end of the entry is a list of resources for further reading. I recommend every book on that list as essential reading.

                      Now, this is the second time that I am asking you to share those scholarly works that have shaped your understanding of the subject. I would also include Stephanie McCurry’s book, “Confederate Reckoning” to that list.

              • Karen May 1, 2011

                No, it wasn’t you. It was directed back at Carol Sheriff — more explicitly, in what she herself stated categorically in the Washington Post Q&A with which the essay began.

                As for the question of numbers, this whole controversy stated in evidence when someone, very possibly for ideological motives, said tens of thousands of blacks WERE with the Confederate army. And in some of the subsequent responses by Sheriff and by Kevin (for the latter, see our endless back and forth) they both initially rejected every word in that sentence.

                Later, they both the backtracked to admit the general truth of the “tens of thousands” part, but then restated the proposition that none of these people could be considered as part fo the army — which is to say, as soldiers.

                Now we’re getting into a bit of Jesuitical territory here, I admit. Reasonably peopel can have a legitimate (and perhaps ultimately unsolvable) disagreement over whether such peopel shoudl be considered soldiers or not.

                But as I argued with Kevin, you too are unfarily (and a bit presumptuously) rigging the terms of the debate. The specific form of evidence you demand need not be the only acceptible form of proof (indeed, as I argued, it’s the form least likely to appear), nor must one prove that blacks were in any way considered to be equals by whites in order to state that they have any claim to being considered a part of the group.

                This constant return to the question of “equality” is curious for many reasons, not the least of which is that it flies in the face of most of human existence.

                Take race out of it. You are positing that each component of the group has to acknowledge every other component of the group as an equal in order for it to be the case that all are in fact components.

                Every British officer of the day (and arguably, up to ten minutes ago) would beg to differ with that proposition. ;)

                • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                  I have not backtracked on anything.

                  You said: “Take race out of it. You are positing that each component of the group has to acknowledge every other component of the group as an equal in order for it to be the case that all are in fact components.”

                  How can you take race out of this discussion. Race is central to it. The question of how Confederates viewed black men in the army is an important question because it helps us to better understand how the war affected race relations and a society based on white supremacy.

                  In the end, you have not shared much of anything that adds anything new to our understanding of this subject.

                • Andy Hall May 1, 2011

                  This constant return to the question of “equality” is curious for many reasons, not the least of which is that it flies in the face of most of human existence.

                  Take race out of it. You are positing that each component of the group has to acknowledge every other component of the group as an equal in order for it to be the case that all are in fact components.

                  No, I was not calling for evidence that white Confederate privates thought of African Americans as their social, intellectual or moral equals. When I used the word “equal,” I meant in a much more simple sense, in terms of official status in the army, a recognition that the black men held the same positions, with the same privileges and expectations that they themselves did, regardless of what they thought of them personally.

                  There are ample accounts, for example, of Union soldiers speaking with great bitterness about the USCTs recruited in the latter part of the war, and dismissing their value as fighting troops. It’s critical to understand that the foundation of much of that resentment is that the Union officially recognized those USCTs as troops on at least a nominal par with the white ones. Racial bigotry and prejudice was always present; what infuriated many whites, North and South (as Margaret mentions elsewhere in the thread), was the Union’s designating black men explicitly as combat troops.

                  • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                    And you see this explicitly among Confederates following the Crater. The outrage was not simply a function that black soldiers were armed by the United States, but that they were armed at all. That image had a rich cultural and historical significance for many white southerners.

    • Margaret D. Blough May 1, 2011

      You mention Richard Taylor. The basis for the laws of war regarding the treatment of POWs is reciprocity: mistreatment of enemy POWS risks mistreatment of your soldiers who are POWs in enemy hands. Nevertheless this correspondence from after Taylor’s transfer to the Trans=Missippi (in the OR) makes it very clear that they did NOT regard black Union soldiers as soldiers (they refused to even use the term soldiers in discussing them; they used the terms “negroes in arms” instead.

      >>O.R.–SERIES II–VOLUME VI [S# 119]

      Shreveport, La., June 16, 1863.
      General S. COOPER,
      Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.:
      GENERAL: I have the honor to inclose you two letters, addressed to Major-General Taylor, in regard to the disposition to be made of negroes and their officers captured in arms. Unfortunately such captures were made by some of Major-General Taylor’s subordinates. I have heard unofficially that the last Congress did not adopt any retaliatory legislation on the subject of armed negroes and their officers, but left the President to dispose of this delicate and important question. In the absence of any legislation and of any orders except those referred to in the inclosed letters, I saw no other proper and legal course for me to pursue except the one which I adopted.
      I have the honor to be, general, your obedient servant,
      [Inclosure No. 1.]
      Shreveport, La., June 13, 1863.
      Maj. Gen. R. TAYLOR, Commanding District of Louisiana:
      GENERAL: I have been unofficially informed that some of your troops have captured negroes in arms. I hope this may not be so, and that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma. If they are taken, however, you will turn them over to the State authorities to be tried for crimes against the State, and you will afford such facilities in obtaining witnesses as the interests of the public service will permit. I am told that negroes found in a state of insurrection may be tried by a court of the parish in which the crime is committed, composed of two justices of the peace and a certain number of slave-holders. Governor Moore has called on me and stated that if the report is true that any armed negroes have been captured he will send the attorney-general to conduct the prosecution as soon as you notify him of the capture.
      I have the honor to be, general, your obedient servant,
      Lieutenant-General, Commanding.
      [Inclosure No. 2. ]
      Shreveport, La., June 13, 1863.
      Maj. Gen. R. TAYLOR,
      Commanding District of Louisiana:
      GENERAL: In answer to the communication of Brigadier-General Hébert, of the 6th instant, asking what disposition should be made of negro slaves taken in arms, I am directed by Lieutenant-General Smith to say no quarter should be shown them. If taken prisoners, however, they should be turned over to the executive authorities of the States in which they may be captured, in obedience to the proclamation of the President of the Confederate States, sections 3 and 4, published to the Army in General Orders, No. 111, Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office, series of 1862. Should negroes thus taken be executed by the military authorities capturing them it would certainly provoke retaliation. By turning them over to the civil authorities to be tried by the laws of the State no exception can be taken.
      I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
      S.S. ANDERSON,
      Assistant Adjutant-General.

      Furthermore, your statement "But too often thus far, the effort has not been to get race and slavery back into the discussion of the Civil War, but instead to make the Civil War anniversary merely an excuse to discuss race and slavery, often to the detriment of accuracy when it comes to the complexities of the event itself." is puzzling. What complexities are being overlooked in your view? I've read a great deal of original material from the antebellum period and the Civil War. To characterize the current scholarship into the period as merely an excuse to discuss slavery is like saying that getting into oceanography is merely an excuse to discuss water to the detriment of discussing the complexities of the subject. As early as the Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison, a slaveowner, said, in the debates of July 14, 1787, "It seemed now to be pretty well understood that the real difference of interests lay, not between the large & small but between the N. & Southn States. The institution of slavery & its consequences formed the line of discrimination."

      • Karen May 1, 2011

        What Taylor may have allowed as a brigade commander in the field with regard to the Louisiana Brigade (a unit, btw, he did not raise, and did not command for very long; whatever its composition was was something of a settled issue for him in the valley campaign) and what positions he might have articulated to Union authorities when speaking as a represenative of the position of the Confederate government, can contradict.

        Further, inasmuch as I began by admitting that black combat participation was never a formally recognized or structured event, but occurred when it did in individual instances, even if one could disprove any and all instances of it in one military department would not mean the conclusion can be extended across all departments.

        With regard to the last paragpah, that’s an entirely differnt thread. (I will right here merely raise an objection to the notion that a proposition regarding the motivations of an entire country are true because Jimmy Madison said it.) However, I didn;t characterize “current scholarship” — I was speakign of the current narrative for the 150th, which is one solely focused on slavery as THE cause of the conflict.

        At the risk of tryign to express a very complicated argument in a very few sentences, SECESSION is the cause of the war, and secession takes place in two very distinct waves for two very distinct reasons.

        The Deep South undeniably seceeds over threats perceived to the institution of slavery. But the event which we are supposedly commemorating over the next four years — the continent-wide, utterly transformative four-year bloodbath — would not have occurred without the second wave of secessions — those of the upper South.

        The Upper South, while no less committed to the institution of slavery and a defense of it, did not believe the election of Abraham Lincoln constituted a threat to that right. Hence its rejection of the Deep South entreaties to seceed. ONCE hostiolities were begun at Sumter, however, and Lincoln not only announced an intention to use armed force to suppress the rebellion in the Depp South but forced (in his call for volunteers) the states of the Upper South to actively participate in that suppression or else themselves be in rebellion, the terms of the debate changed (hence Virignia’s two distinct votes on scession, one 2/3 against, the next 2/3 for — with no change in any positions of the Union government regarding slavery).

        Would a war of some sort, driven by slaevry, have broken out by 1861? Absolutely. But a Confederacy deprived of the men, material, and landmass of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee would have put up a much, much smaller fight, resulting in a much different war.

        And considering that one of the final acts of pre-war federal government in Washington was the passage of a 13th amendment guaranteeing a right to slavery for all time in places where it existed (the Corwin Amendment), it’s very possible that such a war would have ended with a complete Union victory AND the retention of Southern slavery. (The same case can be made, btw, with regard to McClellan’s peninsula campaign, had he taken Richmond in the summer of 1862.)

        But as the current narrative conflates secession as a single event, with every state merely reenacting the path (and thoughts) of South Carolina, these points are entirely omitted. And with it, I suggest, a proper understanding of the nature of the war and the role of race and slavery within it.

        • Margaret D. Blough May 1, 2011

          (1) no one was communicating with the Union army in the Taylor/Price correspondence. That was strictly internal within the Confederate army. My point, which you either missed, or refused to acknowledge, is that, such treatment of Union soldiers who were black makes no sense if blacks were serving as soldiers in the Confederate army.

          (2) “Jimmy” Madison?!?!? If you want to be taken seriously, mocking the opinion of one of the leaders of the movement FOR a constitutional convention, the Secretary of the Convention, one of the primary drafters of both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the leader of the successful pro-ratification forces at the Virginia Ratification Convention, and one of the two primary co-authors of the Federalist Papers, written to sway opinion during the critical New York Ratification Convention, is probably not the way. Certainly, there was a lot of debate over the Constitution and what it means, from the Convention on, and no one said Madison spoke for everyone. However, the statement was made on the floor during the debates of the Constitutional Convention. I noticed no disagreement on this statement, which is not surprising, considering that delegates from Georgia and South Carolina explicitly stated that, if protections for slavery were not put into the Constitution, both states would refuse to ratify the Constitution.

          You set up a straw man regarding secession, knock it down, and claim victory over something that I do not find in modern discussion of secession. The distinctions in the process are well known and frequently discussed. However, one point you evade. The only states considering secession were slave states and only slave states need apply to the Confederacy as its Constitution made clear. Many of the so-called Unionists in Virginia and other upper South states who ultimately voted for secession were what were called “conditional” Unionists. Only if the US government let the rebel states go along with a host of other onerous conditions were the conditional unionists willing to consider staying. Caving into that would have involved effectively giving the pro-slavery minority a veto over the majority, as John Calhoun championed. BTW, a refusal to provide troops by itself or otherwise actively participate in suppressing the rebellion would not have meant that a state was automatically considered in rebellion. BTW,the Militia Act of 1795 was expressly designed to deal with that situation.

          • Karen May 1, 2011

            You are correct on point (a). I misread the addressee. The official position of high Confederate officials is nevertheless irrelevant as to what may or may not have prevailed in the field at the small unit level.

            As for the flippant reference to “Jimmy Madison,” I did it deliberately to suggest the ridiculous historiographic burden to which you were attempting to put that one sentence. The fact that slaveholder Madison felt that the only distinction between the North and the South was slavery is no more definitive than is the statement by equally slaveholding Jefferson that blacks were, by the very nature of their existence, inferior. That may tell me what Madison, or Jefferson, thinks on a given subject at a given time; it proves no larger point.

            Which, btw, is a failing I find common to many of the social historians with whom Kevin is so entranced. They make broad claims from entire communites, states, nations, races, etc — and then support that generalization by quoting one or two people from with that group.

            As for the final paragraphs, I would suggest you spend a little more time studying the phenomenon of secession in the Upper South. Virginia is the best case because that first vote on secession does provide a quantifiable baseline. Whatever conditions may or may not have been demanded as a condition of staying in the Union, the delegates from Virginia did not believe at the time of the first vote that such guarantees could not be expected.

            If you want to say that Virginia’s secession was driven by a defense of the institution of slavery, please explain to me what the actions the Union took with regard to slavery between Virginia’s decision to remain and Virignia’s decision to seceed that caused Virginia to swing to the other column.

            Or to put it another way: if Virginia Unionism was only conditional, what condition relative to slavery changed?

            (A more useful way of addressing this question of union or independence separate from the question of the institution of slavery is perhaps to look atthe question from the Union perspective. In this regard, Gary Gallagher’s latest book on Union itself as a war aim is illustrative; if elements of one side are fighting solely for Union, it is within the realm of possibility to suggest that at least some of their opponents may be fighting solely for the opposite.)

            With regard to Lincoln’s, refusal most assuredly would constitute rebellion. It’s not an invitation for states to send men IF THEY CHOSE. The operative language issued to each governor by the War Department specified a quota.

            Implicit in the idea of a quota is a mechanism for the issuer to enforce it. Such at least, if you read the responses from Upper South governors as reprinted in OR #1, or in the published debates of the Virginia Secession convention, is PRECISELY what they understood it to mean.

            • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

              You said: “Which, btw, is a failing I find common to many of the social historians with whom Kevin is so entranced.”

              Perhaps you can provide an example of the historians that I am so entranced by. LOL I find it funny that the further you remove yourself from making a constructive contribution to this discussion about black Confederate soldiers the more easily you slip into making it personal.

              • Karen May 1, 2011

                One example? The one who STARTED THIS thread: Carol Sheriff.

                There is nothing in her extant reserach that suggests she has any particular standing to make many of the statements she did in attempting to demolish something in a textbook that I began by admitting was wrong.

                As evidence I look at the WAY in which she went about attacking the textbook statement. Wrong as the book is, the arguments she made to refute it were themselves inaccurate (both as a question of fact and as a question of logic).

                Of course Sheriff thinks it’s absolutely crazy to suggest that there were two black battaliosn with Stonewall Jackson. She herself doesn’t know the subject well enough to know what the textbook author was misquoting.

                If Sheriff did, she’d have been less incredulous as to how ANYONE could possibly say what tehy said in that book. She’d know precisely what had been misunderstood by the author.

                As for no longer adding anything to this discussion, well if you define (as you have) “value-added” as the degree to which I embrace your opinion, then no, I guess i have nothing to contribute. But I’d ask YOU to take a seocnd, macro-level look at our talk today.

                It began with Sheriff (and others who shall remain nameless) positing the proposition that it was preposterous to suggest that thousands of blacks participated in the CS Army.

                After I raised some objections, the question from the other side of the asile was recast as: “There were thousands, but they were slaves.”

                After more objections, that in turn got recast yet again as “Ok, there were, thousands. And some number were even free. But they were merely teamsters and musicians and cooks operating outside of the coprorate identity of the Army.”

                Now we can (and I am sure, WILL) argue all day long about WHAT the role and position of this body of blacks, exercising some degree of autonomy, was relative to the Confederate army. “What DEFINES a soldier?” is I think a legitimate argument to have, and I’m not yet convinced there IS one right answer. (I think it depends on how you want to define your terms, one definition being no less valid than another.)

                But that’s far different terrain on which to argue than where we began.

                And while I can’t help but note that at least a few of posts made today in oposition to my own implied strongly that my line of inquiry was motivated by some malevolent desire to “whitewash” (you’ll pardon the term) the undeniable racism inherent in ANY discussion of 19th century America (a statement equally valid on either side of the Potomac), let me state (at the risk of triggering a whoel different thread) that my problem with what seems to be an attempt to simpyl laugh aside or brush away any sentence containing “black” and “Confederate” is that I fear that ITSELF risks marginalizing and ignoring the indidual experiences of individual blacks whose genuine experiences do not correspond to modern preconceptions. (Kevin complains that I never cite actual books, so I would in THIS regard direct people to Annette Gordon-Reed’s discussion of this tendency as she expounds it in the first third of “The Hemingses of Monticello.”)

                If the current dialogue sets as Ground Ruel One that “There’s no such thing as blacks as independent agents with free will in the Confederate Army,” then we shut down any opportunity to tell the story of those four black musicians that my colleague is wrestlign with in his roster of the 1st SC Infantry.

                They were four individuals. They have stories to tell. Those stories may (and likely do) have NO larger meaning to the overal social history of the Civil War. They’re just four guys.

                But they existed. And if you object to the very premise OF social history (and yes, “serious” people can), if you feel that discussions of groups and societies by necessity marginalizse the real experiences of individuals, and IF you approach the pursuit of history with, as one of your goals, an examination of persons who HAVE been traditionally marginalized — then I would argue that I DO indded bring something to the table when I want to refocus the question to “What role, unequal and inferior as it may have been, DID these people have in their society and institutions?”

                • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                  First, I am going to interpret this response as evidence that you are not familiar with the relevant scholarship on this issue.

                  Second, you seem to be completely unaware of Sheriff’s recent co-authored study, “A People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America’s Civil War.” A quick glance through the bibliography suggests that Sheriff is indeed familiar with the relevant scholarship. Just because she has not published directly on this subject does not in any way prevent her from reading up on the subject and offering an assessment of where the current scholarship stands.

                  I shared with you a short list of books that have shaped my understanding of this subject. If you have a problem with those studies you should state your objections.

                  • Karen May 1, 2011

                    A bibliography on what, Kevin? The issue of bxs in combat? As we argued hours ago that’s scattered anecdotally in the primaries. On the flawed model of causation being pushed now? I say my influences are Freehling’s vol TWO (in which he retracts key points), Rable’s CS Nation, Jack Davis Gov of our Own, and Dew’s Apostles of Disunion (because of the flaws in his argument). Id also cite Shenck’s Secession of VA (old but still the only full length treatment on the convention) and freeman’s unpublished dissertation (which exists in Lib of Cong mss, but is scattered in several Places).

                    More important are the PRIMARIES that influence me: specifically the four vols of the VA convention, the three supporting vols of docs, and papers of many of the participants (many of which are within a. Ninety min radius of richmond)

                    I’ve read sheriff. Nothing in her book relates to the flags I raised in her Q&A. Im glad you’re so impressed by her bibliography. Most amateur historians are dazzled by the secondary literature. Those of us who work in the field try to privilege primaries.

                    And to that point, I had to pass orals for my PhD. Youre welcome to challenge my interpretation of the literature, but don’t kid yourself that you’re more well read than I.

                    So yes, let’s end this thread. Im happy to debate contending views. But you want to lecture and pronounce sentence. And frankly, you don’t have the standing.

                    • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

                      Wow, you really are insecure. Thanks for sharing your list of books on causation, but I asked for a list that specifically relates to the issue of black Confederates. You are the one who brought up the cause of the war not me.

                      I never said that Sheriff’s book itself addressed the issue of black Confederates directly. I was simply pointing out that one doesn’t have to have done original research to be able to comment intelligently about the state of the historiography on this issue. At no point did I suggest that I was more familiar with the scholarly literature. All I’ve asked is for you to share those sources that have influenced your thinking on the issue of black southerners and the war effort. No one is lecturing you and no one is pronouncing any sentence. You can freely choose to come here and read what I have written and comment on it. I am free to respond. Let’s not get all dramatic.

                      If I haven’t said this already, I do appreciate that you have taken the time to read and comment.

  • Karen May 1, 2011

    They were NOT always slaves. You like to talk experts? Ask Teresa Roane of the Museum of the Confederacy to provide you with evidence of free blacks performing non-line services with the Confederate army.

    Then block out some time.

    When you say, “Historians have known for years that thousands of blacks were present with Confederate armies,” you fudge the issue. Yes, it’s known — but the SIGNIFICANCE is routinely underplayed. You yourself just took pains to assert that they were all slaves and performing whatever tasks they were performing unwillingly. Would YOU care to support that? Because I’ve seen countless receipts for payment made to black Southerners themselves.

    Are there nothing but riflemen in armies? Is a clerk not part of an army? A surgeon? A teamster? A quartermaster? You have tens of thousands of blacks performing essential services with the Army, yet you are automatically segregating (forgive the verb) their experience as something independent of that Army itself. The evidence of white participants — Union and Confederate — suggests that that was not how they experienced their fellow black participants. (Some of the materail provided in Kent Masterson Brown’s “Retreat From Gettysburg” is illustartive on this score.)

    You also appear to be playing with a rigged deck. We both acknowledge that the laws of the Confederate government and army formally forbade the enlistment of blacks. Yet the only evidence you are willing to accept of facts to the contrary are … written statements from the officers of units to their superiors to the effect that the orders of their national command authority are beign ignored in the field!

    Of course one won’t find any such thing there. One woudl find it in the cursory, observational glimpses in letters and diaries and newspaper accounts that you pre-emptively dismiss as “anectodal.”

    Which doesn’t mean you are necessarily WRONG. I’m merely saying that the case you are currently putting forward doesn’t necessarily mean you’re RIGHT — or that suggestions to the contrary are nothing more than the fevered fictions of bedsheet-wearing revisionists.

    But to play in your court again for a second, you state, “They performed essential support roles as slaves.”

    OK, as I recall you once spent some time working on the letters of an officer of Hagood’s 1st South Carolina.

    If you have Footnote, look up the CSRs of four colored musicians in that regiment: Oliver, Stewart, Swinton, and J. Williams. All four are marked as having been paid (THEY, not their masters).

    [A colleague of mine is doing some work on this particular regiment, which is how I happened to learn of this particular case.]

    Now this doesn’t prove ANYTHING on the macro scale. But four examples of blacks who freely provided service to the Confederate army ARE three more than is necessary to disprove the assertion that no such people ever existed.

    And we’ll leave for another time the ramifications of the fact that the United States War Deprtment, when faced with evidence of the existence of these four people, though that teh appropriate way to handle this data was to create four additional Confederate Compiled Service Records and treat them as members of the regiment.

    • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

      Thanks for the reference to Teresa Roane at the MOC.

      I completely disagree that the significance of black participation in the army is underplayed. A number of historians, including Joseph Glatthaar, Stephanie McCurry and Ervin Jordan have written extensively about the work that free blacks and slaves performed for the Confederate army. It sounds like you are familiar with these studies. I am going to have to go back and review Brown, but from what I remember at no point did he suggest that the thousands of black men or even a small number were present as soldiers. Perhaps I am wrong about this.

      You said: “You also appear to be playing with a rigged deck. We both acknowledge that the laws of the Confederate government and army formally forbade the enlistment of blacks. Yet the only evidence you are willing to accept of facts to the contrary are … written statements from the officers of units to their superiors to the effect that the orders of their national command authority are beign ignored in the field!”

      That’s not what I said. I was trying to make the point that I find it interesting that I can’t find one Confederate soldier who acknowledges a black man as a soldier even after the United States introduced black soldiers to the battlefields in Virginia.

      I am perfectly willing to acknowledge the existence of these men as soldiers, but we are not going to get there with newspaper editorials and first- and second-hand observations. We need their enlistment papers and muster rolls. Do you have such evidence?

      Musicians are an interesting aspect of this story and I am quite familiar with the fact that they were paid. That clearly points us to the fact that the black presence was complicated. I do have Footnote so I will look them up, but can you tell me whether they were listed as soldiers? Were these men viewed as soldiers and do you know whether they were treated as equals? Thanks for the reference.

      • Karen May 1, 2011

        Kevin, have you ever spent time with soldiers? Ask a Marine if ANYONE is his equal. Ask an air assault trooper what he thinks of infantrymen. Ask any servicman in a combat position how he views anyone with the same uniform who is not. ;)

        If you are going to establish full equality as the basis for accepting the proposition of membership within a given set, I would suggest — at a minimum — that you are applying a decidedly anachronistic standard to 19th century relations.

        Per my previous posts (and I’m going to stop for a moment now after this, because I fear you and I are writing faster than we can read the most recent response), do you not see something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in stating “only this form of evidence is acceptable” — when the form you are insisting upon is the one LEAST likely to provide your answer (written confirmation by officers in the field to their superiors in Richmond that they were violating the laws explicitly promulgated by Richmond).

        Is it not likely that inferiors who disobey their superiors made a point not to acknowledge that fact in wriitng? Is it not possible FOR a superior to formally make an pronouncement, and yet allow it to be ignored — perhaps even encourage it to be contravened by subordinates provided plausible deniability can be maintained? (My use of a decidely modern expression here shoudl give some indication of the correct answer.)

        Which again doesn’t mean you are NECESSARILY wrong. But to put this in geometric terms, you are putting forward as givens in your logical proof statements that in fact are not assertions that can be questioned. That’s all.

        And I don’t have to be a neo-Confederate to poitn those out. ;) (Let the record show that I AM NOT accusing Kevin of accusing me of being one.)

        To step back from all of this, my whole point in wading into this subject at all was merely to express a word of caution. The Civil War — like any major event — is a tremendously complicated subject. It is easy to make sweeping statements and oversimplifications — particularly in the service of attacking equally sweeping statements and oversimplifications fromn the opposite direction.

        To contend that there were thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of blacks who participated in the Confederate Army, some undetermined number of whom may even have rotuinely served as combat soldiers, does not NECESSARILY disprove other contentions about the centrality of race and slavery in the event.

        Too often, these ideas are treated (by both sides) as self-negating pirnciples, with advocates of one invested, incorrectly, in the idea that the other cannot have any basis in fact for the other to be true.

        ***Now on those ist SC musicians, let me just make a few points:

        (1) Those cards ARE of course UNION abstracts, so one shouldn’t expect them to provide us with an understanding of how white Confederates in that unit understood the status of these men. (Though, in that regard, perhaps we need to ask what the presence of some blacks on post-war Confederate pension rolls and as participants within Confederate veterans’ organizations suggests as to how these men were perceived.)

        (2) The cards ARE explicit that these are musicians, not privates. But I can think of related examples with white soldiers (surgeons, chaplains). They have no rank, but they are considered by nearly all military historians to have been part of the unit.

        • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

          I reference the absence of Confederate accounts of these so-called black Confederate soldiers because observations by Union soldiers are constantly put forward as evidence. I am simply pointing out what I see as a problem. Did I in any way suggest that you are a neo-Confederate? I rarely use that reference in my posts.

          I appreciate the comment, but I am well aware that the Civil War is a complex subject. If anything I have tried to expand the terms of the debate beyond the silliness that you will find Online.

          Again, I am well aware of the presence of musicians in the Confederate army and that they were sometimes paid. I have never denied their existence nor have I ever suggested that no black men fought in the army as soldiers.

          Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      • Karen May 1, 2011

        “I can’t find one Confederate soldier who acknowledges a black man as a soldier even after the United States introduced black soldiers to the battlefields in Virginia.”

        Really? I can find examples during the debate over formal admission of blacks into the CS Army in late 1864 of soldiers in the ranks supporting the idea.

        Again, note carefully what I am and am NOT saying. The fact that some white Confederates were open to the possibility of black soldiers fighting on their side in 1864 is NOT evidence ethat such people did in fact exist in, say, 1862. But it does–by definition–negate your assertion that no white Confederate was EVER willing to conceive of a black man as a soldier.

        • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011


          You are putting words in my mouth. I never said that Confederate soldiers could not conceive of a black man as a soldier. I have also seen accounts of soldiers who argued that it was necessary as a means to winning the war. What I said is that I have yet to see an account from a Confederate soldier who acknowledged that black men were already serving as soldiers.

          • Karen May 1, 2011

            Kevin, do you see my first sentence? Do you see the quotation marks around it? That’s cause I copied it from YOUR post. Not to get bogged down in “definitions.” but that means YOU put those words in your mouth…. ;)

            That might not be what you MEANT to say. But it is in fact what you DID say (just as you earlier stated that those blacks who provided material aid to the Confederate army did so solely in the capacity of slaves). But I’m happy to allow you to revise and extent your remarks — you own the platform, after all. ;)

            As for the neo-Confederate charge, I believe I EXPLICITLY went out of my way to state that you NEVER accused me of that. That is in fact the very sentence in which the phrase “neo-Confederate” came into this discussion — when I said KEVIN LEVIN MOST ASSUREDLY is not calling me one.

            You’re starting to get a touch defensive. ;)

            • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

              Perhaps this is a good place to end this thread. If I am getting a touch defensive it is because we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. In fact, I believe we probably agree about a great deal. Thanks again for the comments.

  • Karen May 1, 2011

    Kevin, on the whole you probably add more to the discussion of the Civil War than you stifle it. But I would submit that your contribution to the field would be greater if you didn’t “define” progress as the degree to which everyone agrees with you.

    I’m sorry if your felt this discussion was unproductive. I never went into it expecting to chaneg your mind. I was satisifed to raise some wuestions for further thought, and to perhaps encourgae EVERYONE to rethink some of their assumptions they posit as fixed and undeniable truths.

    There are far fewer of those in history than many historians would care to admit.

    • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

      Actually, I have learned an incredible amount about this subject as a result of my blogging and I have been forced to revise my understanding on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, you have not added anything to my understanding of the subject, though I appreciate you raising some of these questions.

      You may have noticed that I have been reading and writing about this subject for a few years now so I’ve considered quite a bit from my readers.

  • Karen May 1, 2011

    You have, and as I said, you make a net plus. But you have a tendency, at a certain paoitn, to fall back on, “Well, all the experts agree…” rather than be open to the possibility that only SOME of the “experts” agree, or that what you are taking to be consensus among a certain group is nothign more than an echo chamber of people simply quoting one another.

    (It’s not a failing unique to historians; journalists do it all the time — quote one another and then say, “Hey, everyone’s saying the same thing, so it must be true.”)

    A proposition is true or false independent of what the majority may believe. Majorities make mistakes.

    After all, one re-elected George Bush…. ;)

    End of the day, it’s your blog, who am I to tell you what to do with it. But I do wish — as someone who HAS read you regularly for many years — that you’d be a little more willing to be open to the possibility that the meaning of the historical record is not as certain or as fixed as you believe it to be in certain instances.

    What I take away from your discussion today is that there are no competing historical models on this subject. In which case, there’s no need for historians to bother digging here anymore.

    I for one don’t think there’s ever a “final” version of history. I would’ve expected someone who focuses on historical memory to be more in agreement with me on that score.

    • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

      There is a reason for the overall consensus among historians who focus on related aspects of this large subject. I have never suggested that there is a final version of history. I am in the middle of a book-length project on this subject and I find that I am constantly learning and revising my understanding of the subject.

      You said: “What I take away from your discussion today is that there are no competing historical models on this subject. In which case, there’s no need for historians to bother digging here anymore.”

      You couldn’t be more mistaken here. When you actually dig into the secondary sources you will notice that historians disagree on any number of issues, especially as they relate to the experiences of free blacks in the South. That said, there is a growing consensus, but that has not prevented historians from continuing to dig.

      • Karen May 1, 2011

        At the risk of soudning like you, may I ask YOU for specific citations in the literature? I ask that because I’ve found that much of the dialogue by academics cited by the general media (this is after all a blog about MEMORY) as in the current discussion of the sesquecentennial (which to date has been SOLELY focused on the question of “causation”–and has been for the past two years now), the “experts” are people who do indeed work in the field of 19th century American history, often even indeed in the Civil War, but do not themselves have any particular expertise with the specific question under discussion or experience with the evidence.

        Hence one reason for my caution about reading too much into this supposed “consensus” of opinion.

        It’s one thing for 20 PhDs to investigate a subject independently and come to the same conclusions.

        It’s quite another for one to do so, and for the other 19 to simply nod in agreement by the argument he presents in the absence of any direct research of their own..

        I’m obviously simplifying for effect, but there IS a distinction. And that problem groes ever more palpable when these “experts” wade into a forum that states as a predicate that no “serious” thinker believes otherwise than in the proposition under discussion.

        • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

          I just provided you with a link to those historians who have written on this subject. I then asked you to provide a list of historians that have shaped your understanding. Are you prepared to share that list?

          I just emailed Wallenstein and look forward to a response.

          • Karen May 1, 2011

            Yes, Kevin I’ll put together a list for you. I am familiar with the books you cite.

            Let me note here, though, that for someone without a PhD, you certainly express one of their more frequent conceits — specifically that “historian” and “academic historians” are synonymous.

            Not every historical expert in a field holds tenure and cranks out monographs. Public historians earn their pay too. And there are at least half a dozen credible ones at repositories, museums and battlefields in Richmond alone who have expressed to me a complete disagreement with Ed Ayers’ “Future of Richmond’s Past” model that says the sesquecentennial needs to be all about the CAUSE of the war, and that the cause is nothing but slavery.

            The field of history is larger than what can be contained in a bibliography. ;)

            • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

              It sounds to me that you are the one feeling defensive or insecure here. I never suggested such a reductionist connection.

              I simply cited the books that have been influential. Again, if you have a problem with what I’ve read you are free to offer a counter-interpretation. I have no idea why you feel a need to cite Ayers and FRP. You are really reaching now.

            • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

              I just finished corresponding with Peter Wallenstein. He has not written anything or does he have plans on writing anything on this subject. There is a brief reference to this issue in his recent history of Virginia, but it doesn’t add much of anything to this discussion. In other words, you can stop barking up this particular tree. :)

  • Karen May 1, 2011

    Lol. He probably ISN’T going to write about it. As I said this came up in a very recent conversation a week or two ago. Part of the question is, “To whom does one PRESENT that counter narrative?” To fellow academics? To the general public?

    My sense was that the discussion we had was sparking him to think, “What a great Richmond Times op/ed this would make.” Unfortunately, at precisely the time the 150th started (and the popular media had an interest in asking academics), he was working on the op/ed that appeared last week relating to Barbara Johns.

    But I for one hope he will give us his take on the current approach to the sesquecentennial — particular is Virignia’s story is currently being told. Because his interpretation is quite unique.

    • Kevin Levin May 1, 2011

      OK so Peter has not written on this subject, but a number of historians have and you should familiarize yourself with their interpretations.

  • Sherree May 7, 2011


    This was an excellent debate between you and Karen. Thanks to both of you.

    It was an actual debate involving two qualified proponents of differing views, rather than a “faux “debate in which one side is heavily outmanned from the outset and the outcome is predictable. Refreshing.

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