Melvin Patrick Ely Debates SCV on FOX

Why is it that the best evidence for the existence of black Confederate soldiers is typically pulled from Union accounts?  Why is the evidence from Confederate soldiers so sketchy on this topic?  As I’ve said before, I’ve read literally hundreds of accounts by Confederate soldiers during the summer of 1864 and in the wake of the battle of the Crater and have not come across one single reference to a black soldier.  You would think that in the wake of the Crater and in response to their first experience fighting large numbers of USCTs that Confederates would point to their own loyal and brave black comrades.  Listening to this interview reminds us of just how absurd this debate has become.  Melvin Patrick Ely is one of our most respected historians of race relations in Virginia before the Civil War and his study, Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War, is a must read.   Unfortunately, the SCV representative can do little more than cite one of the standard references by Lewis Steiner, which alone tells us next to nothing about black Confederate soldiers.

I also agree with Ely that some southern blacks fought for the Confederacy.  Given the restrictions that were imposed by the Confederate government and the army itself it is likely that these men passed as white.  Their stories need to be told as it complicates our understanding of race relations and gives us a deeper sense of the challenges that freed blacks faced in parts of the South.  At the same time I suspect that the number is probably very, very small.  How does 25 sound?

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47 comments… add one

  • Eric Swanger Nov 7, 2010

    It’s interesting that the moderator had to invent a straw man argument for the SCV commander to attack.

    In defense of both the SCV commander and Ely, this was hardly a debate. The moderator wanted to end it at four and a half minutes into it, after she did nearly half of the talking.

    One fun thing to come out of this “two battalions” passage in the textbook is that SCV folks are now required to defend an extreme/absurd position that most wouldn’t have defended prior to this. There’s a small victory somewhere in there, right?

    -Eric

    • Kevin Levin Nov 7, 2010

      You are right that it wasn’t really a debate. And you are also correct in pointing out the unintended benefits of the specific claim about Jackson’s command.

  • Andy Hall Nov 7, 2010

    It’s hard to question the sincerity of anyone named Frank Earnest.

  • James F. Epperson Nov 7, 2010

    Steiner was NOT a Union Army officer—that statement discredits the SCV guy from the beginning!

    • Kevin Levin Nov 7, 2010

      Even worse is that Earnest actually suggests that the account may not be referencing black Confederate soldiers.

  • Ed Kennedy Nov 7, 2010

    Despite Frank Earnest’s mistake regarding Steiner being a “US” rather than “Sanitary Commission” officer, the fact is that Steiner still recorded 3,000 black Confederates from his own observations. Steiner was not what would be considered a biased observer. His is only one of numerous primary example of blacks serving in the Confederate military. A couple of minutes does not allow for a detailed listing of the many other examples to include images (photos) of soldiers made during and after the war. Dr. Edward C. Smith, American University, is a distinguished black history professor who has done much work in this area of study. He has the credentials to back the assertions of black Confederates. His figures are based on years of research of primary sources. There are several other black historians of note who have done likewise. Too bad they were not interviewed. Many people get ‘hung-up’ on whether they served “in” the Confederate Army. True, they were legally not allowed to enlist until March 1865. That did not stop thousands who were enlisted by officers anyway, or, served with the Army voluntarily. CS Regulations allowed black bandsmen to be paid the same as whites. Date of regulation: 1862. It wasn’t until 1864 that the Union forces allowed for the same pay. There are numerous accounts of black Confederates from personal diaries of Union soldiers, letters, and from the O.R. —- the U.S. military’s Official Records [a notable citation is from U.S. General Stuart after the failed attack north of Vicksburg in December 1862 where he cites black soldiers shooting his soldiers]. The issue of black Confederates absolutely infuriates those who have no knowledge of the issue but argue on their stereotypical views gained by cursory and biased education. One of my favorite arguments by non-believers is that “they were only cooks and teamsters” as if those are not worthy of consideration. Interestingly, many of the blacks who are counted in the Union Army records were “cooks and wagon drivers”. A cook or driver in the US Army today wears the same uniform as an infantryman and gets the same pay. They are every much a soldier as a combat arms soldier. As a career infantry soldier I find the argument that blacks were “made to fight” is so outlandish as to not merit consideration. I suppose the numerous photos of black Confederates at post-war veterans’ reunions demonstrates that they were forced to attend the reunions? Perhaps the pistols to their heads are hidden. I doubt it. Finally, the Confederate Memorial in Arlington was made before P.C. The black soldier immortalized on the memorial in 1915 was made by a Confederate veteran who was also Jewish (yes, thousands of Jews served too). He knew the composition of the Confederate Army from his personal experience. Having taught graduate history at the Army’s staff college and given many presentations on black Confederates, I can assure doubters that black Confederates existed despite the emotional, but unsubstantiated arguments to the contrary. Open minds and education are solutions to emotional arguments. Just ask US Army veteran and proud descendant of a black cavalryman, Nelson Winbush of Kissimee, Florida.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010

      All of your points have been addressed numerous times on this blog. The Arlington monument includes an image of a “faithful slave” and not a soldier. At least that it was the accounts from the dedication ceremony suggest. Find the enlistment papers and muster rolls and you’ve got yourself a soldier. http://cwmemory.com/black-confederate-resources/

    • James F. Epperson Nov 8, 2010

      Steiner did NOT claim to see black Confederate *soldiers*, he claimed they were “manifestly part of the … army.” [Quote approximate.] Steiner’s overall veracity is called into question by a number of questionable anecdotes in his account, as well as the numbers he claimed for the Confederate Army.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010

        That’s a crucial point about this particular account. And it was not a first-hand account. These little – but important – facts always seem to be left out.

    • Andy Hall Nov 8, 2010

      Ed, Steiner also described — explicitly, in detail — those supposed black Confederate troops being commanded by Howell Cobb — the same Howell Cobb who, a couple of years later, dismissed the idea of black soldiers out-of-hand, calling it a ““most pernicious idea,” explaining that “as a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier.”

      There’s no way to reconcile the notion of Howell Cobb — who was as tied in to the Confederate war effort from start to finish — commanding successful African American troops in the field with his own dismissal of the notion that they could possibly serve as soldiers. Steiner is simply not a reliable source.

    • Andy Hall Nov 8, 2010

      Ed, Kevin didn’t say so in his response, but the identification of the African American figure on the monument at Arlington as a “faithful slave” is not a modern interpretation — it’s the description given in the souvenir booklet published at the time of the monument’s unveiling by its sponsor, the UDC. It’s the official description.

      You also mention that you were career military. You are surely aware, then, that a great many of the tasks you describe, perhaps a majority of them, are performed (both in the U.S. and on deployment overseas) by civilian contractors — truck drivers, cooks, construction workers, etc. Last I checked a year or so ago, the United States actually had more civilian contractors serving in Iraq than military personnel While one can argue that these persons also “served” in the broad sense, and in some cases shared many of the same dangers as military personnel, they are not soldiers.

      Finally, the presence of African Americans at veterans’ reunions says little about their status, either in 1861-65 or decades later. I found an example of a black man, a former slave, who attended every reunion he could of the regiment his master had served in, but who was never himself a soldier and, even fifty years later, was not acknowledged to have been a co-equal with the old cavalrymen. Indeed, it looks like for those events he was even expected to attend under his old masters’ surname — hardly a sign of respect from his erstwhile “fellow troopers.

    • Mark Snell Nov 8, 2010

      Ed:

      “A cook or driver in the US Army today wears the same uniform as an infantryman and gets the same pay. They are every much a soldier as a combat arms soldier.”

      No argument there. Except that modern soldiers serving as logisticians actually enlisted in the army and get the same pay as an infantryman, artilleryman, or tanker of the same rank. It is true that some of the cooks, teamsters and servants accompanying the Confederate armies were, in fact, free, but they were NOT soldiers. Other African-Americans doing the same jobs did not have a choice, because they were slaves.

      “As a career infantry soldier I find the argument that blacks were “made to fight” is so outlandish as to not merit consideration.”

      Why doesn’t this merit consideration? Why does the fact that you were a career infantryman give you some sort of insider view into something that happened or didn’t happen almost 150 years ago?

      “Having taught graduate history at the Army’s staff college and given many presentations on black Confederates, I can assure doubters that black Confederates existed . . . ”

      How does teaching at the CGSC and giving presentations on “black Confederates” give you any more credibility than those who are arguing to the contrary? Like Kevin, I’d like you to produce bonafide military service records, not second-hand accounts or period accounts of Northerners who had an agenda–namely, to convice Lincoln to enlist African-Americans in the Union armies.

      Perhaps you might chalk-up my questions as someone who is a liberal academic whose views have been slanted by the “PC” crowd. (But don’t assume too much . . . )

      • Brooks D. Simpson Nov 8, 2010

        Ah, the irony. :) Remind me of this the next time I hear some neo-Confederate rant on PC-ism and presentism.

    • Andy Hall Nov 8, 2010

      As a career infantry soldier I find the argument that blacks were “made to fight” is so outlandish as to not merit consideration.

      And yet that’s exactly what the act authorizing the enlistment of slaves into Confederate service in March 1865 sought to do. Although Lee and others had argued for emancipation in return for military service — either immediate emancipation or later, when the war was won — that was a step that, even in their last, desperate hour, the Confederate government would not go. While the notion that enslaved blacks could be “made to fight” may seem ludicrous to modern ears, it was in fact official policy of the Confederate States. Regardless of their service, they would remain enslaved:

      SEC 5. That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear toward their owners, except by consent of the owners and of the States in which they may reside, and in pursuance of the laws thereof.

  • Margaret D. Blough Nov 7, 2010

    And let’s hear it for the professor managing to get the last word in.

  • Ed Kennedy Nov 8, 2010

    O.k., this can become a tiresome exercise to respond to many rationalizations that are not factual. “Faithful slave”? Where is that on the monument. I see a uniformed soldier. My glasses are not tinted. Dr. Brewer and Dr. Smith — both eminent historians (and black as well), have found many muster documents with the word “Negro” purposely excised by Federal recorders after the war. If that isn’t latent and blatant racism……no different than those who deny and marginalize black soldiers’ participation today. I don’t wish to confuse those with closed minds with the facts, but if you do some serious research, not emotional stereotyping, the documentation has been found and published by black scholars. I helped put the headstone on Mr. Tyrone Williams’ ancestor’s grave in 2006. He is a black member of the SCV camp in Leavenworth, Kansas. The more people deny black Confederates, the more information will emerge. Good debate but I would hope that stereotyping and rationalizing would cease at some time and consideration to facts would start.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010

      See Andy Hall’s response. Take a look at the speeches given at the dedication ceremony and you will notice that no references are made to this image as a black Confederate. The image is of a “faithful slave”; this is a wonderful example of presentism. It was not uncommon to find slaves wearing uniforms. The best example is Silas Chandler, who was enslaved to Andrew and depicted in a famous wartime photograph. Please show me an example of an enlistment sheet that has been tampered with after the war. Provide a source reference. You need to read Bruce Levine’s book, Confederate Emancipation. Nothing you have cited sheds any light on this subject.

    • Andy Hall Nov 8, 2010

      “Faithful slave”? Where is that on the monument [?] I see a uniformed soldier.

      None of the allegorical figures are described on the monument, of course, and I’m sure you know that; they are described in the booklet published by the UDC at the time. That specific figure is described in the original program, p. 77, second paragraph and following. The actual quote is “faithful negro [sic.] body-servant following his master.” The analogy to the then-well-known short story “Marse Chan” further reinforces the figure’s identity as a servant. Note also that the “uniformed soldier” you see has no weapons.

      You’re welcome to “see” anything you want, of course, but to argue that citing the original description, published at the time by the monument’s sponsor, is a modern “rationalization” that is “not factual” is ludicrous on its face, and to continue to claim that the figure represents a soldier under arms, recognized as such at the time, while ignoring documentary evidence explicitly says otherwise, is simply disingenuous.

    • Bob Huddleston Nov 8, 2010

      “Dr. Brewer and Dr. Smith — both eminent historians (and black as well), have found many muster documents with the word “Negro” purposely excised by Federal recorders after the war.” Those racist Yankees delayed taking their discharges at the end of the War so they could go through all the Rebel muster rolls and delete any references to the hundreds of thousands of Loyal Slaves Who Fought for the Continuation of Slavery!

      • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010

        I know, it’s absurd. Welcome to the mirky world of black Confederates.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Nov 8, 2010

      “I see a uniformed soldier. My glasses are not tinted.” Tempted as I am to offer all sorts of responses to this comment, I’ll simply say that the artist’s intention has been documented. It’s not a “uniformed soldier.” That someone else sees one where none exists is a subject left for later discussion. It’s the flip side of Confederate soldiers not seeing black Confederates where they are supposed to have existed in large numbers.

      No doubt this helps explain what happened at Antietam. Had only Stonewall Jackson seen the black Confederates, he could have directed them into the Cornfield, where they would have disappeared in any case.

      I am interested in the repeated mentioning of the race of certain historians involved in this debate. We don’t refer to “the white historian Douglas Southall Freeman,” for example. Is this akin to the “sense of place” argument? And what am I to make of the irony that the race of the historian is mentioned at a time when people would claim that hiring historians because of their race (or gender), especially to teach subjects such as African American history, women’s history, and so on, is giving in to a form of political correctness in which the identity of the scholar and not the quality of the work is what’s important?

      I’ve never been told that my work on white northerners is more credible because I am both white and a northerner by birth. And, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I have a sense of place that includes Yankee Stadium and Nassau Coliseum. But somehow I’ve never made that argument, and I haven’t heard anyone else make it.

  • Dan Wright Nov 8, 2010

    Did black cooks and drivers in the Confederate Army wear the same uniforms as the soldiers?

    • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010

      Most of the accounts that I’ve come across of blacks wearing uniforms are those who functioned as personal servants.

    • Andy Hall Nov 8, 2010

      Not officially, but there were undoubtedly many who wore CS uniform elements (a kepi or a shell jacket), if for no other reason than that was what would be readily available in the field. This, combined with the lack of uniformity among Confederate uniforms generally, has no doubt caused some of the confusion, particularly in the case of Federal officer who reported seeing blacks in Confederate “uniform.”

      Similarly, black cooks, launderers and servants traveling with the Union army often wore a mix of civilian and military clothing — some of the latter presumably cast-off or provided by the individuals they served.

      The appearance in old photos of African American men wearing various uniform elements — North or South — is not reliable evidence of their status.

  • Wilbur Nov 8, 2010

    I may be wrong, but I’m sure I recall reading somewhere that some of the pro-northern militia units in the south, during the early post war re-construction era, consisted of freed black southerners and white republicans. If I’m recalling that correctly, then it would be interesting to know if there are any references or records of these units getting in to any clashes with former black confederate soldiers during what was a surprisingly violent era.

    Now don’t get me wrong, it might not ever have been noted in the documents of the day, and could be lost to history. But if former black confederates really existed as local veterans in the reconstruction era, in decent numbers, I would have thought we would know of clashes happening. I’ve certainly never read of any. And yet such a confrontation would seem to have been likely- if there were a large number of black confederate veterans.

    (I’ve been away from reading here for a long time- nice to see it still going!).

  • Ed Kennedy Nov 8, 2010

    “There are at the present moment, many colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down . . . and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government.”
    Correspondence to President Lincoln, 1862
    Author: Frederick Douglass

    • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010

      Yes, we’ve all seen the Douglass reference. And once again you have the same problem since it is not a firsthand account and at the time Douglass was actively pushing Lincoln to recruit blacks into the army. Your task if very straightforward: locate the service records (enlistment papers/muster roll sheets) and you’ve got yourself a black Confederate soldier. Best of luck to you.

    • James F. Epperson Nov 8, 2010

      Mr. Kennedy, the Douglass quote is well-known, but your reliance on it shows a lack of the very elements of critical thinking that Kevin and others have complained about. How would Douglass know this information? Certainly not from direct observation on his part. Might he have a motive for pushing this kind of (false) story on Lincoln? Of course he did—he wanted Lincoln to approve the enlistment of black Union troops. So, in the end, it doesn’t prove much.

    • Andy Hall Nov 8, 2010

      In addition to what others have said, it’s important to understand that the Douglass quote is not from his correspondence with Lincoln — it’s a from an essay/editorial published in Douglass’ own newsletter in September 1861. He uses several rhetorical flourishes here that he used elsewhere — “bullets in their pockets” being one of them. Douglass may well have believed the Confederacy was enlisting black troops, but he certainly could not have had firsthand knowledge of them. While Douglass was undoubtedly agitating for the Lincoln administration to accept the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union army, his immediate audience was Northern abolitionists, who would help him agitate (“Agitate! Agitate!”) for that change in policy. It’s simply incorrect to describe that passage as coming from Douglass’ correspondence with the president.

  • Ed Kennedy Nov 8, 2010

    Let’s try one from a real pro-Confederate (NOT)…..Horace Greely….”For more than two years, Negroes have been extensively employed in belligerent operations by the Confederacy. They have been embodied and drilled as rebel soldiers and have paraded with white troops at a time when this would not have been tolerated in the armies of the Union.” Arguing against contemporaneous accounts is revisionism, not intellectual history.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010

      And once again you have the same problem as the Douglass reference. Greeley was also working to convince Lincoln to recruit blacks into the army and his account is not firsthand. Try to find a Confederate soldier account that references these men. Better yet, locate the enlistment papers. This is not how serious history is done.

    • James F. Epperson Nov 8, 2010

      The Greely statement suffers from the same defects as the Douglass one.

  • Ed Kennedy Nov 8, 2010

    O.k., here’s indesputable “first-hand” account (there’s plenty more for those with the time and inclination to read and study before expounding on ‘show me’ the beef):
    “This little episode of a Southern slave leading a white Yankee soldier through a Northern village, alone and of his own accord, would not have been gratifying to an abolitionist; nor would the sympathizers both in England and in the North feel encouraged if they could hear the language of the detestation and contempt with which the numerous Negroes with Southern armies speak of their liberators.“ Colonel Arthur Freemantle, published in: “Three Months In the Confederate States”

    “When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South.” Leonard Haynes, Ph.D., Southern University (black historian)

    I am getting the impression since you’ve all “seen the Douglass” quote that I’m dealing with folks who refuse to believe without sticking their hands into the ‘wound in the side’. There’s nothing I can cite or say that will get you to even consider the alternatives. You have your minds made up. As Dr. Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. (another eminent black historian who knows a lot about black Confederates) “Their bones rest in unhonored glory in Southern soil, shrouded by falsehoods, indifference and historians’ censorship.” Welcome to the realm of PC where controversial topics are automatically wrong. Below are more black scholars who have written on black Confederates:
    Dr. Edward C. Smith, American University
    Dr. James Eaton, Florida A&M University
    Dr. Leonard Haynes, Southern University
    Dr. James H. Brewer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Dr. Rudolph Young, Gaston County, North Carolina (African-American Genealogist)
    Dr. Walter Williams, George Mason University

    I know this quote won’t hold water with the doubters since there will be some other rationalization to excuse what he says as tripe, however: U.S. Army General Orders February 1865: “…capture all Negro men…before the enemy can put them in the ranks.” General Ulysses S. Grant

    Some resources you should read:
    Official Records of the War of Rebellion (O.R.) (General Stuart’s January 1863 report from Sherman’s corps on failed attack vic Vicksburg)
    Forgotten Confederates Kelly Barrow
    Black Confederates in Grey Richard Rollins
    Southern Negroes Bell I. Wiley
    Into the Fight: Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg John M. Priest
    “Black Rebels: Men of Color in the Confederate Army”, North and South”, Vol. I, Issue 1
    “Moses Dallas: African American and Confederate Naval Officer, Confederate Veteran, Vol. 5, 1999
    Website: 37th Texas Cavalry http://www.37thtexascav.com ***Highly recommended***

    Got to go do my day-job so have fun reading (and seeing the copies of the reunion photos with black Confederates!

    • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010

      I am sorry that you think the questioning of a secondhand account is nothing more than a “rationalization.” It seems to me that you are the one who clearly has his mind made up. I am willing to believe any number you throw out, but instead of providing the clearest evidence possible you continue to offer references. Now you throw out a laundry list of references that I and other have already gone through. I included this earlier post, but apparently you didn’t bother to read it. http://cwmemory.com/black-confederate-resources/ The 37th Texas site is a wonderful example of what went wrong with the writing of the 4th grade Virginia history textbook.

      By the way, your list consists mainly of what historians call secondary sources.

    • Margaret D. Blough Nov 8, 2010

      And you need to read this correspondence with Confederate General Kirby Smith and ask yourself, if there were any blacks that Confederate authorities considered to be Confederate soldiers, why would captured Union soldiers who were black not be considered to be POWs and treated accordingly?: Also, if you do not believe that this treatment of Black Union soldiers was not official policy consider that Samuel Cooper was the highest ranking general in the Confederacy and Richard Taylor was Jefferson Davis’s brother-in-law from Davis’s first marriage as well as being the son of former US President Zachary Taylor):

      >>O.R.–SERIES II–VOLUME VI [S# 119]
      UNION AND CONFEDERATE CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, ETC., RELATING TO PRISONERS OF WAR AND STATE FROM JUNE 11, 1863, TO MARCH 31, 1864.–#1

      HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT TRANS-MISSISSIPPI,
      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,
      E. KIRBY SMITH.
      [Inclosure No. 1.]
      HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT TRANS-MISSISSIPPI,
      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,
      E. KIRBY SMITH,
      Lieutenant-General, Commanding.
      [Inclosure No. 2. ]
      HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT TRANS-MISSISSIPPI,
      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.
      —–

      • James F. Epperson Nov 8, 2010

        In addition to Margaret’s point, let me ask why, if there were so many Black Confederates soldiers, did the decision to formally enlist blacks in 1865 come only after a long and contentious debate? Why was Cleburne’s proposal ordered “suppressed”? Why did no less a figure than RE Lee, when asked his opinion on the issue of black enlistment, say nothing about the fighting qualities of the blacks supposedly in his own army? Why did CS Brig. Gen. Montgomery Corse, in postwar Congressional testimony, say that it would have been helpful to enlist blacks sooner than they did?

    • David Rhoads Nov 8, 2010

      Interesting that you quote Fremantle as your “first-hand” account. He was, indeed, a careful observer and he published his account in 1864 while the war was still ongoing. But if you read the entirety of Fremantle’s book you won’t find a single reference to a black Confederate soldier. You will, however, find quite a few anecdotes and observations, including the one you cite, about Confederate slaves. For example, here’s a reference you may have missed about slaves travelling with two brigades of McLaws’ division, 1st Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, on June 25, 1863:

      “… As my horse about this time began to show signs of fatigue, and as Lawley’s pickaxed most alarmingly, we turned them into some clover to graze, whilst we watched two brigades pass along the road. They were commanded, I think, by Semmes and Barksdale, and were composed of Georgians, Mississipians, and South Carolinians. They marched very well, and there was no attempt at straggling; quite a different state of things from Johnston’s men in Mississippi. All were well shod and efficiently clothed. In rear of of each regiment were from twenty to thirty negro slaves, and a certain number of unarmed men carrying stretchers and wearing in their hats the red badges of the amublance corps …” (Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States, Bison reprint 1991, pp. 233, 234).

      Oddly, though he easily spotted the slaves traveling with the ANV, Fremantle somehow overlooked the battalions of black soldiers.

    • Andy Hall Nov 8, 2010

      Fremantle’s account makes it explicit that (1) this black man was a slave, and (2) the sight of him leading a Federal prisoner was so remarkable that it caused Lieutenant General Longstreet himself to intervene to inquire as to what was going on. We’ve done the knowledge on this one. Quite the contrary from establishing the fact of African Americans as soldiers in the Confederate army, this incident underscore how preposterous the image was to Longstreet, Fremantle and their colleagues at the time.

      You chide us for not having read the sources you cite — Douglass, Greely, Fremantle, and so forth — but if you’d bothered to take time to read what Kevin and others have compiled and written about, you might find that some here are more familiar with the sources than you are. Why on earth do you assume we haven’t seen this material?

    • Mike Musick Nov 10, 2010

      I was utterly startled to see a book by Bell Irvin Wiley, my old mentor at Emory, “Southern Negroes, 1861-1865″ (New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1938; reprint 1965), cited by Mr. Kennedy as evidence of significant numbers of blacks serving as Confederate soldiers, since I had been taught by Prof. Wiley that just the opposite was the case. This prompted me to reexamine my copy (see Chapter IX, “Soldiers,” pp. 146-162). I could find no evidence in this carefully and extensively sourced volume, based on a dissertation done at Yale under Ulrich B. Phillips, to support Mr. Kennedy’s contention. For example, Wiley wrote (p. 160-161) “If persons of Negro blood served in Confederate ranks as full-fledged soldiers, the percent of Negro blood was sufficiently low for them to pass as whites.” The chapter closes with this: “In spite of the imposing arguments of those who pleaded for the enlistment of the blacks, it hardly seems likely that slaves who greeted the ‘Yankees’ and grasped freedom with such alacrity under ordinary circumstances, would by the mere donning of Confederate uniforms have been transformed into loyal and enthusiastic fighters for the establishment of a Southern Confederacy and the perpetuation of the institution of slavery.” In justice to Prof. Wiley, a white southerner born and bred, who died in 1980 and whom I knew well, he heartily detested slavery, as well as the indignities visited upon African Americans after its demise.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 10, 2010

        Thanks so much Mike for following up on this. I meant to check my copy and I got caught up with other things.

  • Patrick Lewis Nov 8, 2010

    The, um, interesting comments on this post aside, I thought Prof. Ely quite skillfully denied many of the more reasonable claims that the SCV et al bunch in alongside their more outlandish positions. Doing so held much of the reasonable ground and left the Commander with but his wildest arguments to offer as his own. I was particularly impressed when he owned a southern identity and Confederate heritage at the outset — which while not conferring academic legitimacy does provide an important emotional validity with many as we’ve seen on here in the past couple of weeks. The Commander was left only to sputter some vague appeals to soldierly honor later on. It was a finely argued thing, forensically speaking.

    • Andy Hall Nov 10, 2010

      The Commander was left only to sputter some vague appeals to soldierly honor later on. It was a finely argued thing, forensically speaking.

      I agree, but the Southron Heritage folks have the strong advantage of appealing to emotion in this discussion. Throwing out words like “heritage” and “honor” and “sacrifice” make acceptance of the claims for Black Confederates almost a patriotic obligation.

  • Willis Nov 8, 2010

    In April 1861, a Petersburg, Va., newspaper proposed “three cheers for the patriotic free Negroes of Lynchburg” after 70 blacks offered “to act in whatever capacity may be assigned to them” in defense of Virginia. Ex-slave Frederick Douglass observed, “There are at the present moment, many colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down … and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government.”

    • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010

      Did you not read the comments already left on this post? These references tell us nothing about black Confederate soldiers. Once again, I ask that you find the service records of these men.

  • Michael Lynch Nov 8, 2010

    This is getting hilarious. Kevin, you’re a far more patient man than I am.

    –ML

    • Kevin Levin Nov 8, 2010

      Hey, that didn’t happen overnight. :)

    • Patrick Lewis Nov 8, 2010

      Is it a cheap shot to make a crack about linking to Fox News and the downfall of rational debate?

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