By now you must feel quite embarrassed by your little interpretive mishap over at the Southern Heritage Preservation Group. Just think about it, an entire unit of “Negro Cooks” in the Confederate army. Well, on one level it is amusing, but on another it is incredibly disturbing and indicative of the work you have done at your website, Black Confederate Soldiers. Your expressed goal has been from the beginning to educate and share what you believe are stories that have been ignored for far too long. While that is a laudable goal your commentary/analysis clearly points to a lack of understanding surrounding the larger issues related to African Americans and the Confederacy and you clearly do not understand how to conduct primary source analysis. Having access to Footnote.com is a wonderful thing, but without the proper background knowledge the rummaging through documents looking for what you already believe must be there is a walk on the slippery rocks. Unfortunately, you are being encouraged by a group of people who applaud your every “discovery” but make no mistake, they are equally misinformed and ill-equipped to do the heavy lifting of interpretation. How do I know this? Because they would have continued to applaud your discovery of “Negro Cooks” had Andy Hall not come across it. Your cheer leading squad does not constitute any type of peer review of your methods and interpretation and you desperately need this.
Yes, mistakes are part of the process of doing serious history, but this latest effort of yours reflects a clear trend in your work. From Hall’s post:
A few weeks ago she claimed that the record of one African American, attached to a cavalry regiment, carried the notation, “has no home,” and went on to argue this showed special commitment to the Confederate cause: “with no home, [he] was not phycially [sic.] bound to the south. However, he stayed and served the Confederate States Army.” The actual notation, repeated again and again on cards throughout his CSR, was “has no horse.”
On another occasion, she quoted from a book on Camp Douglas, supposedly to show that a black servant held there had not been released as a former slave, but was held as a prisoner because the Federal authorities had determined that he was a bona fide soldier. This, she argued, was evidence that enslaved personal servants were deemed Confederate soldiers by the Union military. Unfortunately, the very next lines of the book she was quoting from verify that the prison camp did, after months of dragging their heels, determine the man was a slave, and released him on exactly those grounds by order of the Secretary of War.
It’s time to step back and assess what you are doing.
DeWitt’s Definition of a Body Servant
As an educator I ask that you temporarily take down your website. Do some reading and educate yourself before promoting your site as educational. A few weeks ago I used your site as a case study in a workshop for k-12 history teachers on how misinformation is spread over the Internet. Your passion is real, but what you have managed to accomplish is a gross distortion of some very important history. I would suggest taking the time to read two books. The first is James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, which is still considered to be one of the best general histories of the war. The second is Bruce Levine’s Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War, which is the best study of the debate over the enlisting of slaves in the Confederate army. Last year your co-author, Kevin Weeks, mailed a copy of Entangled in Freedom to my school in response to some of my commentary. Let me return the favor by offering to mail you complimentary copies of both books. I have no doubt that you will benefit from a little reading. Finally, I would suggest that you go back through Andy Hall’s posts that explore the very same documents that you have made available to the public. There you will find a wonderful example of how a properly trained historian poses questions, probes sources, and arrives at conclusions that may even need revision.
It’s time to accept the fact that your work has been discredited. Best of luck to you.