There is something deeply disturbing about opinion pieces such as this one by Walter Williams. You would think that someone with a scholarly bent would take one step back and ask whether he is really making a contribution to this debate. He criticizes those who have pointed out the mistakes in the 4th grade history textbook, but apparently has no response to the following: Did two battalions of black Confederates serve under “Stonewall” Jackson? If Williams has evidence then he should provide it. If not, then he should say nothing. Even James I. Robertson, who has written extensively denies the claim. Prof. Williams and others are fond of citing Charles Wesley, whose work is still widely read, but has been revised by subsequent generations of scholars. In this case, Williams references his 1919 essay, “The Employment of Negroes in the Confederate Army” [Journal of Negro History - read it here]. It’s worth reading, but there are problems with it. At one point Wesley states that the Native Guards of Louisiana served in the Confederate army, which is not true. Wesley includes references to free blacks volunteering for service in the military and instances of their impressment, but other than the mistake cited above the author does not draw any conclusions about their service in Confederate ranks as soldiers. It is true that some Confederate states accepted the service of free blacks into their respective militias, but this is a distinction that is important to maintain and Wesley is consistent here. Most of the essay traces the debate that ultimately led to the Confederate Congress’s recruitment authorization at the tail end of the war.
I wonder how Prof. Williams would feel if someone were to comment on his field of study with such disregard for real research, a narrow understanding of the relevant secondary sources, and shoddy reading practices. In the end, Prof. Williams could care less about whether or not African Americans served in the Confederate Army:
Denying the role, and thereby cheapening the memory, of the Confederacy’s slaves and freemen who fought in a failed war of independence is part of the agenda to cover up Abraham Lincoln’s unconstitutional acts to prevent Southern secession. Did states have a right to secede? At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, James Madison rejected a proposal that would allow the federal government to suppress a seceding state. He said, “A Union of the States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”
What does this have to do with whether or not African Americans fought as soldiers in Confederate ranks? What a disgrace.