Setting the Record a Little Too Straight

Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery sculpted by Moses Ezekiel

Over the weekend I was informed of an editorial on black Confederates that appeared in The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia by Calvin Crollier and Kevin Crowder.  I have no idea who these individuals are or why they felt a need to wade into this discussion.  In fact, I probably would not have taken the time to write a response except for the fact that I am referenced, along with Bruce Levine, as examples of historians who have “attempt[ed] to set the record a little too straight.”  I have no idea what this is suppose to mean.  I have no problem with publishing a wide range of opinion on any subject in a newspaper’s opinion column, but it seems to me that there is a difference between thoughtful and responsible commentary and commentary that does little more than obscure and mislead the public.  It is safe to say that this essay by Crollier and Crowder is an example of the latter.  You can read my response here.

42 thoughts on “Setting the Record a Little Too Straight

    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      That you believe the editorial is good tells me everything I need to know. If one of my advanced placement students wrote this it would be handed back as incomplete. What you linked to is a concise encyclopedia article that offers a concise overview of how the Confederacy utilized slave labor followed by a list of scholarly sources for further reading. You should take advantage of that list.

      Reply
    2. Marc Ferguson

      BorderRuffian (I really cannot understand why anyone would voluntarily use such a name or identify themselves in such a way):
      You should read this article you linked to, it’s actually quite good and your understanding of the issues at stake in this discussion would be improved significantly!

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Regardless of where you stand on this issue, even someone with a minimum of training in historical analysis can see the problems with this editorial. It’s just downright bad.

        Reply
      2. BorderRuffian

        Marc F.-
        “it’s actually quite good and your understanding of the issues at stake in this discussion would be improved significantly!”

        I’m sorry, but it has several errors.

        Hey, even the Fredericksburg article has a few-

        “Brothers, Arkansas and Swiney were black men from Drew County, Ark. They served in the famous Third Arkansas Infantry”

        Census records show them to be white. So unless they have some other info……?

        But still, the overall tone of the article is good.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          The Fredericksburg article doesn’t simply suffer from errors, it fails to provide any kind of analysis of the evidence provided. Perhaps you can point out the factual errors in the Virginia Encyclopedia entry. I would be interested to know. Thanks.

          Reply
          1. BorderRuffian

            KL-
            “Perhaps you can point out the factual errors in the Virginia Encyclopedia entry. I would be interested to know. Thanks.”

            *******

            “Only a few black men were ever accepted into Confederate service as soldiers, and none did any significant fighting.”

            “When New Orleans fell to Union forces in April 1862, the Louisiana Native Guards embraced the change, and offered their unit’s services to Union general Benjamin F. Butler”

            “The story of the Louisiana Native Guards is instructive, as the unit’s members chose to align themselves with whichever army was in power.”

            “Another element of the Native Guards’ story—the fact that the Confederate and state governments did not trust them…”

            “In Georgia, Savannah’s famed black fire companies were eliminated.”

            “Newly formed white militia units chose to drill near independent black churches, perhaps as a means of intimidation.”

            “Confederate president Jefferson Davis ordered that all black men captured in Union uniforms be either executed or re-enslaved.”

            “Only two units were ever created, both in Richmond. The first enrolled approximately sixty orderlies and nurses from Winder and Jackson Hospitals; the second, created at a formal recruiting center, never numbered more than ten recruits. The first company was hastily put into the trenches outside Richmond for a day in mid-March, but the unit canceled a parade scheduled for the end of the month due to the fact that the men lacked uniforms and rifles. Based on this, it is unclear how much fighting they could have done. The second unit was housed in a former prison and carefully watched by military police, suggesting that white Confederate officers did not trust these new black soldiers.”

            This is not all but it’s enough.

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              All you’ve done is quoted some passages from the entry. Perhaps you can provide your own analysis of each point and provide the primary and secondary source references that you consulted.

              Reply
              1. Brooks Simpson

                BR patrols the blogs he dislikes, posts some material, is unable to make sense of it, and then wanders away. Rise and repeat.

                Just think … at least he doesn’t devote a whole blog to us. :)

                Reply
                1. Kevin Levin Post author

                  She has been on a roll of late. I’ve dealt with a few trolls over the past few years, but nothing this severe. My wife doesn’t even spend as much time dwelling on what I write. :-)

                  Reply
            2. James F. Epperson

              “Confederate president Jefferson Davis ordered that all black men captured in Union uniforms be either executed or re-enslaved.”

              He did—on Christmas Eve, 1862, no less!

              Reply
                  1. James F. Epperson

                    Thanks, Kevin; that is indeed the document I was referring to. The substantive difference is that Davis refers to “negro slaves captured in arms” as opposed to *all* black troops. That’s a distinction w/o much difference, IMO, as the assumption was going to be that any USCT was a runaway slave.. Turning the men over to the state authorities was tantamount to a death sentence, as that was the law in all the slave states.

                    Reply
                    1. Kevin Levin Post author

                      There are a couple of instances of black soldiers at the Crater ending up in the hands of slaveowners.

                    2. Michael Douglas

                      I’m reading a book called “Black Flag Over Dixie—Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War” (edited by Gregory J.W. Urwin, Southern Illinois University Press, 2004). The reactions by many Confederate soldiers to the sight of black men having taken up arms against them were sometimes horrific.

                      The treatment of captured or wounded USCTs and their white officers was in very sharp contrast with the treatment meted out to white Union troops. Colored Troops *were* presumed to be slaves and the burden placed on *them* to prove otherwise.

                      Jefferson’s order was in part, I think, designed to sidestep Union outrage at reports of mistreatment at the hands of Confederates and Union threats of retaliatory treatment for prisoners captured by the Union. He absolved the government of the CSA by placing the matter in the hands of the individual states, knowing that in most cases these men would either be taken or re-taken back into slavery OR executed, since by virtue of having taken up arms against the CSA they were considered, de facto, “slaves in insurrection,” the penalty for which was death as a rule.

                    3. Kevin Levin Post author

                      That’s a nice collection of essays. I elaborate on this in the first chapter of my forthcoming book on the Crater. I tie fears of white southerners to black Union soldiers to antebellum fears surrounding slave rebellions.

                    4. Michael Douglas

                      I recall that your book takes that line of interpretation. As you may recall, I am eagerly looking forward to its publication! I’ve been engrossed in these essays. It’s certainly a shame though, the extent to which fear can cause us to lose our basic humanity.

            3. BorderRuffian

              Louisiana Native Guards

              from the article-
              “When New Orleans fell to Union forces in April 1862, the Louisiana Native Guards embraced the change, and offered their unit’s services to Union general Benjamin F. Butler”

              “The story of the Louisiana Native Guards is instructive, as the unit’s members chose to align themselves with whichever army was in power.”

              This is a rehash of an old myth.
              No one offered the unit’s services. Individuals offered their services.

              “Another element of the Native Guards’ story—the fact that the Confederate and state governments did not trust them…”

              If you don’t trust them, then why allow them to form a regiment?
              But there is not a shred of evidence to support the author’s statement.

              Reply
              1. Kevin Levin Post author

                I am growing impatient. You are more than welcome to challenge anything on this site, but you must provide references and an analysis that supports your point. I am beginning to see why you approve of the FFLS editorial. Like your comments they also provide little analysis. Take your time and come back when you have something substantial to share.

                Reply
                  1. Kevin Levin Post author

                    That’s not the way it works. Yes, I cited an article from a reputable institution and written by a historian who is currently working on a study of how the Confederacy utilized slave labor during the war. You are the one making the claim. I guess this means that you have nothing more to add. Some things never change.

                    Reply
                    1. BorderRuffian

                      No, she’s making the claim and you endorsed her article.

                      If the statements are true then supply the proof.

                      *

                      “In Georgia, Savannah’s famed black fire companies were eliminated.”

                      I looked through the nine books listed after the article. There is nothing in them about the black fire companies of Savannah.

                      If you have information that proves the statement then post it.

                    2. Kevin Levin Post author

                      Instead of wasting my time why don’t you just email the author of the entry? Just mention that you are interested in more information and I am pretty sure that Prof. Martinez will provide you with the references. I would recommend that you use a different email address. Best of luck to you.

        2. Andy Hall

          Census records show them to be white. So unless they have some other info……?

          Interesting, given that’s one of the few elements in the Fredericksburg article that was new, at least to me. Most of the rest (Lewis Steiner, the Arlington monument, etc.) are not just “worn-out examples,” as you say, but also largely debunked.

          Reply
          1. Kevin Levin Post author

            I only had so much room to comment so thanks for the additional information. It’s just another example of what is wrong with this discussion.

            Reply
  1. Ray O'Hara

    good rebuttal, but couldn’t you find a nice new pic of the Shaw memorial and not one from when it was the poster chiled of Neglected and defaced monuments, these days it is cleaned up and Shaw again has his sword, the sword was a favorite item to steal by fraternities, nowadays they’ve concentrated on stealing the ducklings in the “Make Way For Ducklings” scupture http://artandhistory.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/edmonia-lewis-and-robert-gould-shaw/

    If you go to the Shaw Memorial on the longest day of the year, the last rays of daylight fall on Shaw’s face illuminating it for a few seconds, St Gauden’s chose the setting very carefully

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      What does the Shaw memorial have to do with this post? I chose this image because it includes the black individual on the Confederate monument at Arlington that is often mistaken for a soldier.

      Reply
      1. Ray O'Hara

        and I asked why couldn’t you have used a nicer picture of it.
        and I explained why it looked bad in said image.
        don’t add things you don’t want commented on.

        Reply
    2. Kevin Levin Post author

      You asked why I didn’t use an image of the Shaw Memorial. Go back and reread your comment, Ray. The image is the Confederate Memorial at Arlington. It says it right under the pic, which I chose because it clearly depicts the black man referenced in the editorial. Next time read the post more carefully or take more time to clarify your comment.

      Reply
  2. Margaret D. Blough

    It never ceases to amaze me that it doesn’t seem to faze people like the author of the piece cited that virtually all of the “evidence” comes from anectdotal references from Federal sources (including a racial ID apparently made on the basis of hair) and none from contemporary official Confederate sources.

    If anyone honestly believes that any significant disobediance of Confederate policy on blacks in the military could have occurred without Richmond knowing, they have paid no attention to the Patrick Cleburne saga. In direct violation of Gen. Johnston’s orders, to cease any discussion of the proposal, Gen. W.H. T. Walker informed President Davis (without, apparently suffering any adverse professional consequences prior to his being KIA). Davis, of course, ordered that no further mention of the proposal be made.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Not one of their claims is supported beyond a reference to somebody seeing something. They make a claim about disobedience, but fail to provide one shred of evidence that it occurred.

      Reply
    2. Andy Hall

      It never ceases to amaze me that it doesn’t seem to faze people like the author of the piece cited that virtually all of the “evidence” comes from anecdotal references from Federal sources (including a racial ID apparently made on the basis of hair) and none from contemporary official Confederate sources.

      The tell, as they say in poker, is that the authors describe the OR as “authoritative.” That assumption seems to be implicit in the use of these same references, coy-and-pasted over and over, in the BCS discussion. The dozen or so mentions of African Americans as Confederate combatants in the OR gets figuratively slammed down on the table like a trump card (I know, mixed metaphor), as though it’s an unimpeachable source.

      No one who’s ever tried to sort out an action by reference to accounts published in the OR believes that, and the willingness of these authors to base their case on that assumption doesn’t suggest a close and critical study of, well, much at all.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        One can only imagine what our understanding of history would look like if the extent of our analysis is, “He/She said this so it must be true”. History would be nothing more than the sum total of all observations all treated equally.

        Reply
  3. John Buchanan

    “The first two accounts simply quote Union soldiers, who claim to have seen black men in the Confederate army.”

    One of the absolute worst ways to validate a factual point is the immediate first person accounts of soldiers from the heat of battle.

    During the Normandy Campaign of 1944 (what, pray tell you ask, has that to do with the Civil War?) there was a very persistent rumor amongst the American troops, many who had not been combat previously, that there were Japanese snipers assigned to German units. This was based on eye witness acounts from early in the fighting…and every GI “knew” from his training just how deadly the Japanese were. What the early GIs had seen were dead bodies of German soldiers from the 709th Static Division which was made up of recruits from the captured eastern territories and former Soviet soldiers (think Galvanized Soviets). Some of these soliers had been from the Southern Soviet Asiatic republics nad had an Asiatic cast to their faces. That’s who the “Japanese snipers” really were.

    Be careful of first spot reports for exact information from the battlefield!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/709th_Static_Infantry_Division_(Germany)

    Reply

Join the Conversation