Professor Edward C. Smith’s Black Confederates

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from one of Professor Edward C. Smith’s current students.  Professor Smith teaches at American University and on occasion has been a vocal advocate of the black Confederate narrative.  He was featured not too long ago in a post that included an excerpt of a speech he gave on the subject to a group of Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1993.  This video is available for purchase through the SCV and is one of the earliest references I can find.  The student left two comments and they are quite revealing:

This is interesting to me because of the drama of late in Virginia concerning inclusion of black Confederates in history textbooks. I am also taking classes with Ed Smith at American University in DC, who is considered an authority on black Confederates (though honestly, his research methods are a little sketchy). If you have not yet met Ed Smith, you definitely should. Not only is he a fountain of knowledge, but just an interesting person in general. He is not reachable my email though, so how to get in touch with him is something you’d have to explore….

Indeed, Prof. Smith is not a historian in the traditional sense. I would say he is more of a folklorist than anything. He has no formal post-secondary education, but knows a lot about a lot of things through experience. He’s not an academic though, and I think that’s what messes things up. People assume he is an academic, but in reality he’s more of a grandfather type. You might learn a lot from your grandfather but you’re probably not going to be able to source him in a thesis. For example, he’s sent me on a wild goose chase looking for letters that, if they exist, will be extremely historically valuable. But so far I can’t find them, though he swears they’re there. Basically… Ed Smith is a great guy, you can learn a lot of interesting stuff from him, but his historical work is not academic. Still, if you ever have a chance to hang out with him, you definitely should.

Professor Smith’s profile page at AU does not include any references to post-secondary education.  [Note: Smith is in the Anthropology Department at AU.]  That’s not such a concern to me.  What does concern me is that he is often touted as an expert on black Confederates even though he has not published a single peer-reviewed article on the subject.  Professor Smith sounds like an interesting person.  Indeed, I found a number of thought provoking essays while searching for information about Smith.  I appreciate that this student was able to convey her admiration for her teacher without losing sight of perceived shortcomings.

Whatever his areas of expertise might be, the subject of how how African Americans were mobilized by the Confederacy is clearly not one of them.

78 responses... add one

As a former graduate of AU, I am shocked to see that this gentleman is the founder and director of the University’s Civil War Institute. (I do remember seeing this professor around campus in the early 90s, but wasn’t sure who he was.) I am curious as to the decision that went into creating this institute and giving the directorship to someone who appears to push a view that is so divorced from the historical truth. I am all for academic freedom, but the professor should at least adhere to basic standards of the academic profession. Maybe there is a teaching position at AU in Glenn Beck’s future!(http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/alvin-felzenberg/2011/02/09/glenn-beck-finds-inventive-ways-to-butcher-history)

It is, as the late Molly Ivins would say, passing strange that an academic center housed within a university’s history department would be founded and administered by an anthro faculty person. I would expect that Prof. Smith would at least have a joint appointment in history to facilitate that, even if it carries no salary and therefore no budgetary commitment. That’s the way it’s done in institutions I’m familiar with. Thoughts?

I’m a great believer in interdisciplinary research and collaboration, and the notion that different disciplines working together can bring more light to specific questions than a single approach might. But like Earl Ijames (or Walter Williams, or. . .) the sheen of Prof. Smith’s academic affiliation doesn’t seem to be reflected in his publication record.

All good points. I’ve never heard of AU’s CWI and beyond a short summer workshop I don’t have much of a sense of what they do. It’s very difficult to find information on their own website.

Thanks. If I had the time, I’d check it out this summer and let folks know what I hear. (AU is about 15 minutes from my home.) Perhaps another of your readers will let us know if he or she participates. I believe they might be making a stop at the Black Confederates Memorial, you know, the one at Pennsylvania Ave. and 14th St., NW….yeah, that’t the ticket.

“What does concern me is that he is often touted as an expert on black Confederates even though he has not published a single peer-reviewed article on the subject.”

What a curious comment, especially considering the material posted on this site daily and frequently touted as a scholarly authority in subsequent self-referential posts is hardly a paragon of the peer review process itself.

Thanks for the comment, Keith. I actually agree with you that one should not treat this as a scholarly site. I’ve always maintained that blogs must be treated carefully. That said, like other websites it is possible to evaluate the veracity of the site based on incoming links, the people who leave comments, and the content itself. My posts on this subject are filled with references to scholarly studies and other helpful sources that I believe to carry a certain weight. The areas that I do feel competent to discuss as a historian can be found in my scholarly output which you can judge for yourself. Click on “Resume” in the navigation menu for a list. Thanks again.

When I look at your resume I see credentials attesting to your authority on the Battle of the Crater. But your work on Black Confederates is confined to various “unfinished” and therefore, by definition, non-peer reviewed projects, plus a couple of presentations on the same to forums resembling a lunch meeting at the local Rotary club.

So I think it’s a fair question to ask why you are critiquing Professor Smith when, as best as I can tell, your own credentials on this topic show no particular advantage over his. Intending to write a book on something and actually getting it through the peer review process, let alone testing its reception in the scholarly community after publication, are two very different things.

Thanks once again for helping me make my point. Professor Smith must be held to a different standard given his position as an academic. By default he must conform to accepted standards agreed to by the scholarly community. I am not claiming any authority beyond what is reasonable to ask for a blog. Again, you are correct to note that I have yet to present my findings in front of an academic body. My goal on this site is encourage careful thought about the subject and this often involves critiquing the claims of others and pointing my readers to scholarly sources. I have never claimed to be doing otherwise.

Kevin was quite explicit in his response that he doesn’t present his blog as a scholarly source. Did you miss that?

It does seem to me that on the whole, Kevin’s efforts in this area are, whether meeting the definition of academic scholarship or not, far more transparent and open to serious critique and close examination of source material than Professor Smith’s, at least in the online community. That, to my thinking, counts for a great deal, even if it’s not part of traditional academe.

“Kevin was quite explicit in his response that he doesn’t present his blog as a scholarly source. Did you miss that?”

And he also (a) invoked the peer review process as a standard of expertise against Smith and (b) pointed out his own resume to establish his expertise as a critic of Smith. Did you miss that?

If folks are going cite Professor Smith’s authority on the subject based on his academic position, then his work needs to meet the accepted standards of academic work. As far as I can see, it doesn’t. One need not be a peer-reviewed author in the specific field to be an informed and careful consumer of historical information, whether the sources is a blog, a Rotary Club presentation, or a journal manuscript.

Kevin has never been credited with, nor claimed, the same sort of academic gravitas that some folks are attaching to Smith’s claims, based (as far as I can tell) less on the actual documentation he offers than on the strength of his generalized academic credentials.

I learned long ago that it doesn’t take a position in a university’s history department to write history well. But neither does such a position guarantee that every utterance of that person carries the weight of his or her title, nor doe does it absolve the person of the responsibility of providing transparency on his or her research as regards to sources, analysis, and a willingness to engage in the discussion. That’s a standard that applies to all equally, whether one’s a blogger, a high school teachers, or a member of the faculty at American University.

Andy – Would you mind showing me where Professor Smith’s “academic gravitas” was ever claimed here save for articles such as this one which were written *specifically* to challenge that alleged gravitas?

And would you explain to me why Kevin would specifically direct readers to his own resume & expertise if he were not attempting to enlist its own “gravitas” to justify his earlier challenge to Smith’s credentials, peer review etc.?

Note that I have no problem with someone choosing to enlist his or her credentials in this sort of a discussion, so long as it meets two qualifications:

(1) The person making that line of argument must hold himself to the same standard, and right now Kevin seems to be wavering between whether his blog’s scholarly bent is sufficiently weighty to enlist against Smith or whether its “informal” character makes it accountable to some standard far less than Smith.

(2) The person challenging the credentials of another must actually have his own, and in this case I see absolutely nothing that makes Kevin any more of an expert on “black confederates” than Smith.

I don’t mean to harp on the point, but it IS an issue when you try to be an “expert” yourself, but only some of the time and only when it’s convenient.

It’s almost like going to hear some guy give a lunchtime Civil War talk at a Pizza Hut and critiquing him for not showing up in a formal suit and tie, except that you’re also wearing a wifebeater and cutoff jean-shorts. And when somebody points that out to you, you answer “yeah, but he’s the speaker and I’m just here for the all you can eat buffet. So how dare he not respect me and the formality of this occasion!”

Keith,

Like I said, my blog is an extension of my work as a historian and teacher. I use it to highlight both. I direct readers to my resume to let them know a bit about me and my work in the field. What is so difficult about that? Once again, you seem to completely ignore the fact that one of his students pointed to his methods as suspect.

I’ve made it a point in my blogging to direct readers to reliable scholarly sources. Professor Smith has not produced anything along those lines.

There is nothing inconsistent about what I’ve said.

Here’s your description (and accurately so) of what the anonymous student said:

“Professor Smith’s profile page at AU does not include any references to post-secondary education. [Note: Smith is in the Anthropology Department at AU.] That’s not such a concern to me.”

Here’s you taking it a step beyond that though and making it a critique of Smith’s academic credentials:

“What does concern me is that he is often touted as an expert on black Confederates even though he has not published a single peer-reviewed article on the subject.”

And I ask, could not the exact same thing be said about you? And whether by design or happenstance, have you not set yourself up to be touted as (or even done a bit of the touting of yourself as, hence the prominent “Black Confederate Resources” bar at the top of your page – something I note that Smith does NOT do) an expert on Black Confederates from the critical side of that debate?

Keith,

I am going to try this one more time. Even though I do not have a Phd or work in a college or university most people consider me to be an authority on the subject of historical memory and the battle of the Crater. If you go back into the archives you will notice that I blogged throughout the research and writing process. As I’ve already stated this site functions on many levels. One of the things that I have come to truly value is the feedback that I get during this process. Right now I am at the beginning of my research on this subject so I have yet to publish anything on the subject. I am currently working on an article co-authored with a descendant of a famous “black Confederate” by the name of Silas Chandler. Yes, I am giving a few non-academic talks in the near future, but I find they also provide me with much to think about.

Again, I don’t know what else I can say.

I’m not faulting your research process or practice of blogging about it, Kevin. I’m faulting you for going after the academic credentials of another – and you did – without having much of a leg of your own to stand on.

When people get into these credential games it almost always has the effect of personalizing the discussion around the object of the criticism and sidestepping any points that he might have to say. They also leave you vulnerable to the very same criticisms you are making of others, as has now become evident.

You said: “I’m faulting you for going after the academic credentials of another – and you did – without having much of a leg of your own to stand on.”

Is there any indication that Professor Smith has ever published a scholarly study of any topic in the Civil War. I have, which means I do, indeed, have a leg to stand on.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

Since you are migrating back into “expert” territory again, just a few comments.

1. The Civil War is an extremely broad subject. So broad, in fact, that being an expert on the Battle of the Crater is no more likely to qualify you as an expert on Black Confederates than the JFK presidency.

2. A quick google search reveals Smith is the author of published scholarly works on the history of Washington, D.C. including during the Civil War. See:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/40073026

3. This doesn’t make him a black confederate expert any more than your articles on the Battle of the Crater do the same for you. But what both of you do seem to have is a resume of teaching classes on the Civil War for many years.

I therefore stand by my original point. Anything you’ve said about Smith’s credentials could apply just the same to your own. So choose your line of criticism carefully.

You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s a link to a book review that Smith did for Washington History. Thanks for the laugh. :)

So, to sum up my understanding of KeithO’s position: unless one is an Emperor, one does not have standing to make a common-sense, factually-verifiable observation that the Emperor has no clothes.

Actually Jeffry, my position is that Emperors without clothes should not make a habit of criticizing the head of the neighboring kingdom for the very same thing. And Kevin has.

Yes, you’re right, in a way. One doesn’t need Kevin’s imprimatur to conclude that Prof. Smith is, from a historical-inquiry standpoint, less than reliable. The facts speak clearly for themselves.

If Kevin’s observations are wrong, the folks here are free to refute them (which I note you haven’t done). Right or wrong, one can also deride Kevins’s qualifications to even offer a comment (which you most asuredly have done). Is it simply a matter of academic courtesy that you’re referring to? I’m not sure. I guess we must rely on Academic Courtesy Policemen like you to keep us fair and balanced.

Let me try to be as clear as I can be: The only authority I claim on this issue is based on my training in the discipline and the time spent reading and thinking about this subject. Readers are free to consider what I’ve written here or they can dismiss it and go somewhere else. I don’t see the controversy here.

KeithO,

Two Points:

[1] Personally, I don’t believe that just because someone lacks a degree or an advanced degree, that therefore, they cannot be an expert on a particular subject. Prof Smith might well a subject matter expert in the areas he teaches, or at least, the university that employs him believes this is so. I don’t know if he’s an “expert” or not though; I’ll leave it to others to make that determination.

Having said that, it is common for people’s credentials to be questioned. I post frequently on history boards, and the subject of expertise and credentials comes up all the time. These are uncomfortable questions, but they need to asked to ensure that the “experts” we cite or reference can be relied upon.

What Kevin is doing here is no different than what I see being done several times a day in Internet discussions on history. I have no problems with that myself.

[2] Having said the above, I have to admit, I just don’t get the point you’re making.

First: do you agree or disagree that Mr Levin is right to critique Prof Smith on his lack of credentials? This is a question with a yes or no answer. Based on what you say, it i appears you feel the critique is valid. If so, I think we all have common ground on at least that point.

You go beyond that to make a critique of Mr Levin’s credentials. From what I can see, Kevin has a Mater’s Degree in History, and he did his thesis on the subject of the Battle of the Crater. His self-description as being a “Civil War Historian” is obviously appropriate.

Meanwhile, Prof Smith, as far we can tell, does not a Master’s degree in History – Civil War or otherwise – and it’s not even clear that Prof Smith has a baccalaureate degree.

So, saying that Mr Levin and Prof Smith are equally lacking in credentials is wrong as a matter of fact, and obviously so to me.
****

Meanwhile, as far as I can see, Kevin has never said that he is a scholarly expert on the subject of Confederate slaves and freemen (although Edward Smith has done just that). What Kevin has done is to use his background as a history scholar to add value to the discussion of Confederate slaves and freemen on his blog. Just as important, he has made several citations of people with expertise on this subject (such as Bruce Levine and Peter Carmichael).

As a result, this site has been a valuable gateway for those who were/are unfamiliar with this very controversial subject, and I suspect that includes a number of other history scholars. I, and dozens of others, are thankful for what he has been able to offer within whatever limits he has in his background.

Bottom line is, I see nothing misleading or inappropriate in Kevin’s description of himself, or in the way he has presented any information regarding Confederate slaves and freemen.

Would you mind showing me where Professor Smith’s “academic gravitas” was ever claimed here save for articles such as this one which were written *specifically* to challenge that alleged gravitas?

Smith is cited all over the web as a supposed authority on BCS. It seems clear to me that he’s cited not for his original research or findings — the only quotation from him I find online is from his 1989 Civil War article, and is itself a quote from the well-known Steiner account — but because his statements are assumed to carry the official imprimatur of AU.

I asked before — what has he actually published, peer-reviewed or otherwise, that’s open to view? Do you have a full copy of his 1989 article? I cannot find one, but it would be useful to see what he actually brings to the table. From the (very) little I’ve been able to glean from the web, there’s not a lot hard historiography to Smith’s work, but I’d be glad to be proven wrong.

I don’t mean to harp on the point, but it IS an issue when you try to be an “expert” yourself, but only some of the time and only when it’s convenient.

As I said before, Kevin goes much farther in pointing readers of this blog to his own sources, and engaging in a discussion on these topics, than others do, including (it seems) Professor Smith. That’s greatly to Kevin’s credit, I think. Everyone’s work is open to criticism, and while neither Kevin nor Smith have scholarly publications on the topic, taken as a whole, it does seem to me that Kevin has done more to advance the critical, evidence-based discussion on BCS than Smith has — or seems likely to.

I’ve just asked for an interlibrary loan of the article in Civil War: The Magazine of the Civil War Society. UT-Austin is supposed to have that volume. I’m now curious about what all is in it, or not in it, and what the bib looks like. As Andy says, all I’m finding online is a brief quote, and this magazine is not full-text in any of our standard databases, nor is it cited in the main history database, America: History and Life. Austin is on spring break right now, so it may take another week or so to get to me.

Vicki Betts

Last year Gary Gallagher gave me a stack of old CWM, but unfortunately I’ve already packed them away and I am not sure whether they date to that period. Let us know what you find and I would love to see it if possible.

Keith,

Smith (and Williams, and Ijames) are almost always cited in the discussion of BCS on the basis of their academic credentials and affiliations, which is presumed to give their claims more authority than, say, any old schmuck with a website. Fair enough, but if you’re going to cite someone as an academic authority, then that person needs to be judged by those standards — which means among other things, peer review. Absent that, Smith has no more academic authority than anyone else, and his assertions carry no particular weight on on the subject.

All of us who engage in this discussion — Smith, Kevin, me, you, anybody — is only as reliable as the work we present, and the degree to which it’s made transparent to others. We’re all hopefully judged on the merits of our work.

Do you know of any publications by Smith on the subject, peer-reviewed or otherwise? I haven’t found much online.

Andy,

I completely agree. Keith fails to appreciate the salient differences between blogging and the kind of writing expected by academics. That said, he has given me a few things to think about when it comes to peer review and blogging.

Kevin – I appreciate that you are giving this thought. But it seems to me that you are trying to straddle a very shaky line between two mutually incompatible positions:

(a) You seem to want to present yourself as an academically credentialed “expert” on the subject who adheres to certain scholarly standards and professional practices, hence the resume that you very visibly pointed out on your own volition, and the invocation of peer review to judge Prof. Smith and others

(b) You also seem to want to retain the informality of a blog as your vehicle, and aren’t afraid to duck behind its “amateur” style to escape a more rigid standard of scholarship – even when you are using this vehicle to apply that standard to another.

Both approaches have their own independent merits, and either could be respectable if that is what you choose your blog to be. But they simply do not work out simultaneously, and you can’t just shift your hats between the two when it’s convenient. I’m certain Professor Smith’s employer (which isn’t exactly an academic backwater or a podunk community college) has expectations of its own for his teaching and scholarship. You may disagree with his conclusions or means, but fact that he is still employed where he is attests that he is doing a reasonable job of meeting their expectations of him.

I mean this in no disrespect, but don’t attack somebody’s credentials when you cannot muster your own on the very same subject. And don’t hide behind your chosen venue of attack to excuse the fact that you cannot muster them.

Keith,

I’ve been very upfront with you and this is not the first time that I’ve had to explain the purpose of my blog. I appreciate the questions, but I am not sure what more I can say. Perhaps an example. Brooks Simpson is a well-regarded historian, who also maintains a blog. I read Brooks’s blog on a regular basis, but I do not consider it along the same lines as I would do one of his books or journal article. They are different beasts entirely. That said, I do read carefully through posts that cover topics that he has not published about because I know that he is going to bring a sharp/analytical eye to the subject.

Now, I am not comparing myself to Brooks Simpson, but I do mean to use this blog as part of my broader work as a historian, who has published in academic journals and is about to publish a book with a university press. The subject of black Confederates is my latest project and I am still in the research stages. I use this blog to share things that I am reading and to challenge what others have done. There is no double-standard and I have been perfectly consistent throughout the life of this blog.

Yes, this is an “informal site” but I have managed to attract a wide range of readers including some very prominent historians in the field. I consider that to be an excellent of how peer review can work in the blogosphere. That they continue to come back and engage me in serious discussion clearly reflects the value of the content.

Finally, I am not “attacking” Professor Smith. One of his own students pointed out that his methods are questionable.

How does someone attain the status of Professor with such a lack of academic training? I don’t want to sound snobbish. However, especially if someone plans to be in or is in, a post-graduate degree program, I believe that one would like to know that one’s professors have some idea of what is involved or, at least, what their background and training, even if self-training, that provides an equivalent experience.

I heard Edward Smith speak relatively early in my interest in the Civil War on the subject of Black support for the Confederacy. I found him a pleasant person but embarassingly slipshod in his conclusions and the dearth of hard information to support them. If someone at that gathering had asked me afterwards where I got my undergraduate degree, I would have either ducked the question or lied.

Margaret D. Blough
B.A. 1972
School of International Service
The American University, Washington, D.C.

I note a couple of things on Smith’s profile. He’s an assistant professor in anthro — the lowest professorial academic rank — even though he’s been teaching at AU since 1969. All I know about his is what’s on his online profile, but my guess is that he joined AU right at the beginning of its efforts to expand into new academic areas, most specifically African American studies, when there were very, very few people with formal academic credentials or publishing records to fill those programs. So it may be that Smith got in on the ground floor, so to speak, and and has held on ever since. He sounds like a very interesting guy, probably widely knowledgeable on a number of subjects. He’s probably popular with students. But after 40 years, he still holds a minimal academic position in anthro, and none in history.

I’ve met a few folks like that — people who’ve been there from antediluvian times, who by virtue of longevity and experience are held in some awe by their younger, more formally-prepared colleagues, who are retained for their status as in-house “characters” as much as for their expertise.

And this is exactly what one of his own students points out in the comment.

I believe the old joke is that assistant professors get to assist the professors and associate professors get to associate with the professors. Neither sounds like much of a professor.

Keith O is trying to change the conversation from “Why should Smith is considered an expert when he isn’t really,” to “Kevin, defend yourself sir!”

I see this about twice a week when students try to have a deep and thoughtful debate about the ultimate purpose of learning United States history “What good is all this stuff anyway?” when the question I asked was “where is your homework?”

Actually, I’m simply asking “why should Kevin be considered an expert on black confederates when he doesn’t meet the very same standard of expertise he’s demanding of another?”

When you start going after the academic credentials of another as the primary basis of your argument, your own credentials (or lack thereof) become fair game.

Here’s a direct question which warrants a direct answer:

If, in your view, Kevin’s academic credentials are insufficient to challenge Smith’s, what are your credentials to challenge Kevin’s?

If you’re going to take the position that one has to have equal or better credentials than another’s to be critical of him, then it’s about time you show your hand, Keith.

That’s a nice little straw man you’ve built there, Andy. But I never said one needs to have equal or better credentials to be critical of another person’s work. I said that those living in scholarly glass houses should not fall into the habit of throwing stones.

Kevin threw a stone at the scholarly credentials of another person. That becomes an inherent problem when his criticisms against that person are equally applicable to himself.

It was a simple and direct question: what are your own credentials in the matter?

That you duck the question says a great deal about you, I’m afraid.

Again, who is telling you to think of me as an expert on this subject? Not me.

Is it not your intention to convey as much by (1) designating yourself as a “Civil War Historian” at the head of your blog, (2) prominently placing a section about “Black Confederate Resources” at the top of that blog, (3) endlessly touting your as-of-yet-to-be realized book project on the subject of “Black Confederates,” and (4) pointing people to your resume, also prominently posted at the head of your blog, as a means of establishing your credentials?

Or do those things only matter when it’s convenient for you to project expertise on the subject? Because when they are scrutinized you have a habit of ducking back into “amateur” blogger territory, but whenever you need them to prop yourself up you certainly aren’t afraid to enlist them.

You seem to be obsessed with this issue, Keith. It seems to me that we have come to the end of this little discussion. You are more than welcome to comment on another post, but I am going to end this little thread. My intention has always been to be as transparent as possible. Thanks again for taking the time to comment and thanks for your continued interest in Civil War Memory.

My understanding is at the basis of Kevin’s disagreements with Prof. Smith has to do with the weakness of Prof. Smith’s arguments. The point here, as a number of commentors have stated, is that Prof. Smith is touted as an academic expert by those who push the “black Confederate” line, and held up as a counter-example to academic historians who understand how to evaluate historical evidence and how to place it in context.

Poking around through JSTOR, I cannot find a single peer-reviewed manuscript related to the Civil War by Professor Smith, on black Confederates or anything else. Hypothetically speaking, if someone were to have at least one peer-reviewed manuscript in JSTOR related to some Civil War topic, would (in your estimation) that person be then qualified to call bullshit on Smith’s Civil War scholarship? Hypothetically speaking?

You could cite much more than just a book review from my resume if you so choose. Can you please provide a link to any peer reviewed publications authored by Professor Smith. LOL

Kevin, I tend to agree with many of your points, but some of your methods are unnecessary. You posted an anonymous comment from one of Smith’s students and then you coupled that with a slam on his credentials. The latter is valid; the former is not.

As you probably know, students can be fickle with their opinions on teachers. I recall seeing a few students post on a blog about one of my past teachers. While they slammed his ability to teach, their real issue was the amount of homework he assigned. In another instance, I saw one student start a crusade against a teacher, because the student believed the teacher was testing us on topics outside the textbook. The topics were in the textbook, but not in the index. The student was not reading it.

In Smith’s case, you have a student that supposedly cannot find some letters. He blames the teacher and calls him a grandfather-type, which is endearing, but hardly complimentary. Yet, we know nothing about this “wild goose chase.” It could simply be that the student cannot find said letters and he is blaming the teacher. We do not know for sure. So, is this worth publishing on the Internet to discredit the teacher?

Is it not enough to point out that Smith is wrong on a topic(s)? I am not saying we should all hold hands and use kid gloves when debating, but how would you feel if someone posted an anonymous comment from one of your students?

The comment was left on a previous post and she signed her name. I just chose not to highlight the student’s name for obvious reasons. This seems to be a very mature student with a balanced view of her teacher. There is nothing nasty about it. It was an honest assessment.

Your original post said it was an email, not a comment. Yet, the delivery method is only part of the issue. It may be polite or “not nasty,” as you put it, but it is not flattering either. The tone does not equate to legitimacy. How would you feel if a student referred to you as a “grandfather-type” who dreams up letters that do not exist? I would think you would take it as a serious charge and want more details on the claim to defend yourself regardless of the tone.

I apologize for not being clearer. I just reread her comment and I find to be quite flattering of Professor Smith. Did she say that Smith “dream[ed] up” the letters?” The fact is that as far as she knows these letters don’t exist. I can easily imagine a much harsher evaluation of her professor. Check out some of the comments on “RateYourProfessors.com”. What is important to note is that even an intelligent undergraduate students notices problems with Smith’s research methods.

I watched a Smith speech, or part of it, to the SCV. It was interesting, even provocative, but I didn’t get enough of a clue about what he was saying about black Confederates even to do a Google search.

He wrote an article in Civil War magazine in 1989 or thereabouts, which I’ve not seen, and that seems to be the basis of his authority on the subject. The YouTube video is a teaser to sell DVDs. I’m interested, but not thirty dollars interested, if you follow. (The site also includes a bunch of stuff put together by Clyde Wilson and Donald Livingston; both of whom are lead figures in the Abbeville Institute.)

Smith’s work is cited often, but I suspect it’s a similar situation to those who cite Ervin Jordan’s book — many of the people citing it haven’t read it, and there may be much less there in terms of actual documentation than they assume there to be.

I’m interested, but not thirty dollars interested, if you follow.

Andy, how can you resist “The most brilliant talk on black Confederates ever given”? I’m baffled as to why they felt the need to spread 70 minutes over two DVDs.

I’ll chip in 5 bucks for you or Kevin to buy it and address its points. Surely others would chip in as well. If it is truly the most brilliant talk on the subject, then you could put an end to the whole mess.

I probably will have to order it at some point, but I suspect that it will not include anything that deviates from what he has said at other times.

Poking around the web, there’s this, from a 1998 Washington City Paper article:

Carved in stone [sic.] – plain as day – is a black Confederate in uniform marching alongside his comrades-in-arms. According to Smith, it is a clue to a secret history. “When you look at that statue, and you see this black guy in uniform, that’s undeniable,” he says. “And the sculptor, Moses Ezekiel, a Confederate veteran, he knew what those units looked like, and therefore, to not include that black soldier in that statue, he would have created a lie.”

A native Virginian and graduate of Virginia Military Institute, Ezekiel fought at the Battle of New Market, where several black Confederate soldiers saw action. (A recent re-enactment at the Shenandoah Valley battlefield featured one black man in gray.) Smith says it’s often difficult to convince people that blacks fought for the South; and it’s even harder explaining that the creator of a graven image of a black Rebel was himself a Jewish Rebel. “[American University] is a very Jewish campus,” he says. “I tell my Jewish colleagues that there were over 10,000 Jews in the Confederacy. I say, ‘Who the hell do you think put the monument over there in Arlington Cemetery? His name was Moses Ezekiel – you can’t get any more goddam Jewish than that. You think I’m making this stuff up?’”

Well, at least the part about the figure on the monument being a soldier, yes, you are making it up.

I think this passage tells us everything we need to know about his ability to engage in serious historical scholarship. Thanks for the reference, Andy.

Ouch. I’d expect to see that kind of sloppy work on a C paper from a freshman, not from a professor…

Scarecrow: I haven’t got a brain… only straw.
Dorothy: How can you talk if you haven’t got a brain?
Scarecrow: I don’t know… But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking… don’t they? .

Scarecrow joins Dorothy in her journey to the Emerald City, hopeful the Wizard of Oz will give him a brain.
Turns out the Great Oz is a fraud, but the wizard assures Scarecrow a brain is unnecessary; what he really
needs is a college degree.

For five decades, Barbara Tuchman wrote popular histories on very diverse topics. First she was ignored
because of her gender. Later on her work was dismissed because, well, she had no Ph.D. in history. During
the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK asked his team of advisers to read Tuchman’s book on the run up to WW1–
The Guns of August. By the 1970s some of her books had became required reading at U.S. universities.

No matter.

Even after Tuchman had received a host of awards (including two Pulitzer Prizes) and sold millions of books,
there was no shortage of little men with diplomas teaching at little colleges in the poison ivy league of podunk
America, green with jealousy, sniffing that she didn’t have formal academic training as a historian.

“By the 1970s some of her books had became required reading at U.S. universities.”

What is “required reading” is usually entirely left up to individual course instructors, and often changes from semester to semester. To say that any particular work is “required reading at U.S. universities,” as though those were monolithic entities with nationwide, prescribed reading lists, is fundamentally to misunderstand the practical realities of higher education in the humanities.

Barbara Tuchman absolutely suffered undue criticism from those in academe, both due to her sex and to her lack of advanced academic credentials. But she was also a professional journalist, immersed throughout her early career in international affairs, and an indefatigable researcher who spent a not-insignificant portion of her life digging through files at the National Archives and other repositories, doing the scutwork of historical research. At the end of the day, she did the work, she did the work, regardless of the diplomas that did (or did not) hang on her wall. You cannot really claim the same thing for Mr. Smith regarding BCS.

Finally, I would like to give a plug for Tuchman’s anthology, Practicing History. If there ever was a book that should be standard required reading in history programs (graduate or undergrad), that’s it.

im a student at Appalachian State University and i am actually writing my senior thesis on the existence of black confederates. i am by no means a neo-confederate but just a student who prefers history be about truth and not what people want to hear. there are several primary source documentation and court records from union and confederate soldiers discussing blacks serving the confederacy. in fact the documents are in the largest collection of primary source material known to exist for the civil war its what all historians use to do research on the topic. im not saying there were hundreds of thousands by no means however there were quite a bit more then many would care to believe. here are a list of the sources if you care to check them out. dont always believe what your told or what the media tries to tell you….do the research for your self with an unbiased eye.

The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 – Volume 14, United States. War Dept., John Sheldon Moody, Calvin Duvall Cowles, Frederick Caryton Ainsworth, Robert N. Scott, Henry Martyn Lazelle, George Breckenridge Davis, Leslie J. Perry, Joseph William Kirkley, (May 30, 1862 from B.C. Christ, Colonel, Commanding Fiftieth Regiment Pa. Vols)

The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 – Volume 15, United States. War Dept., John Sheldon Moody, Calvin Duvall Cowles, Frederick Caryton Ainsworth, Robert N. Scott, Henry Martyn Lazelle, George Breckenridge Davis, Leslie J. Perry, Joseph William Kirkley, (September 12, 1862 from Major Frederick Fry, Ninth Connecticut Infantry, to Camp Parapet, La.)

The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 – Volume 4, United States. War Dept., John Sheldon Moody, Calvin Duvall Cowles, Frederick Caryton Ainsworth, Robert N. Scott, Henry Martyn Lazelle, George Breckenridge Davis, Leslie J. Perry, Joseph William Kirkley, (August 11, 1861 from Colonel John W. Phelps, First Vermont Infantry to Camp Butler, Newport News, Va.)

The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 3 – Volume 2, United States. War Dept., John Sheldon Moody, Calvin Duvall Cowles, Frederick Caryton Ainsworth, Robert N. Scott, Henry Martyn Lazelle, George Breckenridge Davis, Leslie J. Perry, Joseph William Kirkley, (July 11, 1862, received 8 p.m, from Richard Yates to President Lincoln)

The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies, War Dept., John Sheldon Moody, Calvin Duvall Cowles, Frederick Caryton Ainsworth, Robert N. Scott, Henry Martyn Lazelle, George Breckenridge Davis, Leslie J. Perry, Joseph William Kirkley, (Report of Lieutenant Colonel John G. Parkhurst, Ninth Michigan Infantry)

The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 – Volume 13, United States. War Dept., John Sheldon Moody, Calvin Duvall Cowles, Frederick Caryton Ainsworth, Robert N. Scott, Henry Martyn Lazelle, George Breckenridge Davis, Leslie J. Perry, Joseph William Kirkley, (September 29, 1862, to Headquarters Department of Missouri from Major General Samuel R. Curtis)

this is the information that i have gotten through so far, there is still quite a bit more out there.

Hi Ryan,

Thanks for taking the time to share your research on the subject. Yes, the OR is filled with observations by Union officers that many have used to demonstrate the existence of black Confederate soldiers. I assume you are going to take the time to confirm these first- and second-hand observations within Confederate primary source accounts. I would like to see an account by a Confederate soldier that acknowledges the existence of a black Confederate soldier. I have yet to read a single wartime letter or diary entry from a soldier. Best of luck with your project. Are you working with Professor Browning?

i am taking browning for one of my courses this semester, however my thesis is for Jari Elorante’s class. I had Dr. Blye last semester and he a long with Ervin Jordan’s book is what got me interested in the topic. more so really in the fact that i have seen and heard so much injustice taught in history and ive grown tired of the norm. i enjoy shaking things up. all i really care about is the truth in history and not was is comfortable for people to except. logically speaking it is unfair to assume that there were no African Americans fighting for the Confederacy and there is a great deal of primary source material out there that supports it. the biggest issue now is the numbers which is still unclear to me now in my research and probably will be for some time after my thesis is done but it is something that i plan to continue to research no matter how much grief i get for it.

I would suggest that the numbers issue is irrelevant. No one denies that a few African Americans were present as soldiers, but we know of them mainly because we have a number of examples of men being forced out of the army one their racial identity was discovered. The same situation was true for women who disguised themselves. There were a small number, but not enough to challenge our overall understanding of how the Confederate government and military chose to prosecute the war. Slaves were not soldiers. The much more interesting question is how the war challenged the master-slave relationship.

I would love to hear more about the primary source material that you are utilizing. The OR entries that you cited only tell us that Union soldiers observed black men in the Confederate army.

i must respectfully disagree. the numbers are very relevant, there is a huge difference from a few and a few thousand. with the sources that i have posted they are of union officials observing a great deal of African Americans in Confederate gray armed and mounted. i have several confederate sources as well speaking of the same thing i just havnt made it all the way through the material yet as i am still researching. i am not saying that there were hundreds of thousands as Professor Jordan would indicate (although i respect his work and his research a great deal) however research has clearly shown that there were a mixture of slaves and free blacks fighting for the confederacy. just because the government didnt allow it didnt mean that they werent there. in 1862 General David Hunter put together a Union black regiment against the orders of the President. just saying there were more than most think and will continue to research.

The Union observations tell us that large numbers of blacks were present with the Confederate army. However, they tell us next to nothing about their status in the army. What we do know is that the Confederate government impressed thousands of slaves for various support roles within the army. Officers also brought slaves (body servants) to work in camp as well. I hope you do not attempt to make estimates based on the OR sources. You will be making a major interpretive error given the scope of those sources. To estimate numbers you are going to need to spend time in the Confederate service records.

Best of luck.

Ryan, I hope you will not (as many seem to) take references from the Official Records as unimpeachable evidence of anything. Those mentions of African Americans in Confederate military service — twelve or fourteen, as I recall, scattered across 128 volumes of around 600 pages each — are just as subject to scrutiny and questioning as any other, and have to be evaluated against what’s known from other sources. In particular, as Kevin suggests, you need to try to back up those Union battlefield observations with direct corroboration of those same events from contemporary Confederate sources.

the official records have evidence of way more than just twelve or thirteen in my research alone. from the union and confederate side both i have over twenty sources from the official records and more indicating in all several thousand blacks “armed and mounted” for the Confederacy. again i don’t claim any particular number. all im saying is that if ive uncovered this much in only two months worth of research than its not a closed issue. this topic needs to be researched more thoroughly before making rash decisions on both sides. History needs to be as accurate as it possibly can be at the time. thats whats so great about being a historian theres always so much more to uncover or figure out.

Thanks for the comment, Ryan. Andy can respond on his own, but I just want to point out that historians have been aware for quite some time of the extensive list of OR references. The problem is that they are very limited in what they tell us. Most include observations of black men engaged in some capacity in the Confederate army. No one denies that thousands of blacks were present with the Confederate army. However, if you want to conclude that these men were soldiers you are going to need to look beyond the OR and confirm these sightings in Confederate accounts – enlistment papers and muster rolls. The OR accounts need to be treated for what they are: first- and second-hand observations. Historians have sifted through these accounts so it doesn’t help to characterize them as “rash.”

Kevin says essentially what I would. I’d be interested to see what you find in the OR originating in Confederate reports and dispatches — after all, those are the sources that would be in a position to speak to the subject with some authority.

I detect a great deal of cognitive dissonance from reading these posts. I also detect an intellectual bias that undermines true historic inquiry and scholarship.

Join the Conversation