This morning I learned that I will be speaking on the subject of black Confederates at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which will take place in Richmond in October. Thanks to National Park Service Ranger, Emmanuel Dabney, for putting together an excellent panel that will offer different perspectives on this subject. Proponents of this myth, who rush to cite Ervin Jordan as a supporter, ought to carefully read his session description.
It ought to be a well-attended session and the discussion will, no doubt, be entertaining. The conference as a whole promises to be quite interesting given that the theme is the Civil War and the Sesquicentennial. We don’t have a specific time for the session, but I will be sure to pass it on as more information becomes available.
Session Title: “Black Confederates in the Civil War: History, Myth, Memory, and Make-Believe”
Session Description: Most African-American assistance to the Confederate States of America was involuntary and most were never armed, uniformed, fed, and paid as soldiers. However, in the last twenty years a small number of vocal people have created memories which feature swarms of armed African-Americans fighting to defend the Confederacy’s territory. This panel will help to analyze the historical truth of Black participation in relation to the Confederacy’s wartime goals. Renee Ingram provides an important overview of the legislation enacted by the Confederate Congress which reflects the manner in which the Southern government used free and enslaved African Americans. Professor Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. offers insight regarding the experience of Black Virginians in relationship with the Confederate and Virginia State Governments. Dr. Jaime Martinez critically evaluates North Carolina government’s impressment of enslaved people, the conditions of those particular slaves, and the feelings of North Carolina slaveholders regarding impressments. Kevin Levin contributes a case study which examines how one African-American, Silas Chandler actually experienced the war and how public memory has manipulated and misrepresented his past principally through the internet. This panel connects directly to recent academic and public debates about the means in which African-Americans supported and resisted the Confederacy’s political and military goals during the Civil War.
Moderator: Emmanuel Dabney
Panelist: E. Renee Ingram Panel title: “In View of a Great Want of Labor: A Legislative History of African American Conscription in the Confederacy”
Description of panel: This panel analyzes how the General Assembly of Virginia and the Confederate Congress used African Americans, free and enslaved, to meet the Confederacy’s agricultural, military, and technological demands. By using letters, newspaper advertisements, and documents produced by the Confederate Bureau of Conscription, Renee Ingram will provide an important review of the principal manners in which the Confederate government exploited free and enslaved laborers to defend and maintain their nascent, but doomed government.
Panelist: Jaime Martinez Panel title: “Slave Impressment in Confederate North Carolina”
Description of panel: The Virginia and North Carolina state legislatures in the fall of 1862 began impressing slaves for government work. As the Confederate Congress also passed legislation to impress slave laborers for Confederate service, scores of impressed slaves in North Carolina worked for the Engineer Bureau, digging trenches and building fortifications around the major cities, rivers, ports, and railroad lines of the two states. Enslaved laborers complained about their conditions and slaveholders objected to slave impressment for both practical and ideological reasons. Jaime Martinez tackles slave impressments in North Carolina and evaluates the merging of wartime necessity as well as the longstanding Southern concerns of paternalism, economics, and reforming the institution of slavery.
Panelist: Kevin M. Levin Panel title: “Searching for Black Confederates in History and Memory: The Case of Silas Chandler”
Description of panel: The subject of black Confederates is one of the most divisive and misunderstood subjects within the field of Civil War history. The recent scandal involving a fourth grade Virginia history textbook that included a reference to the service of thousands of black Confederate soldiers is not only a reflection of how pervasive this particular narrative has become, but it also demonstrates the challenges and dangers of using the Web as a research tool. This talk will present an overview of how the Confederate government utilized both slave labor and free blacks as well as an analysis of the black Confederate narrative. In doing so, we will look closely at the life of Silas Chandler, who is one of the most popular black Confederates on the Web.
Panelist: Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. Panel title: African-Americans in Confederate Virginia
Description of panel: Drawing on a multitude of sources, Ervin L. Jordan traces Black Virginians’ military and civilian support and participation with state and Confederate military aims. He includes the enslaved and free black population. The review of these people’s motives is ambiguous as some who supported the Confederacy, some of them publicly, likely in an effort to ingratiate themselves with white Confederate supporters. Scores of others were engaged in compulsory support of the South. Like the others, Jordan finds that a considerable number of Black Virginians support for the Confederacy was lip service or manual and support labor, not armed military service. Legislation passed in March 1865, which supported arming Blacks as Confederate soldiers though principally only Blacks in the Richmond area heard about it. Jordan will help provide evidence of the Richmond hospital battalions formed in the final weeks of the war composed of African-Americans the principal formation of Black Confederate troops.