At the Heart of the Black Confederate Narrative
“Press Forward, Men!” by Bradley Schmehl
Here is a very, very rough excerpt from the introduction to Searching for Black Confederates in History and Memory:
At one level the fight over the black Confederate narrative is about whether slavery deserves a central place in our nation’s collective memory of the Civil War’s causes, its progress, and consequences. Indeed, the timing of the introduction of the black Confederate narrative in the mid-1970s corresponds to a dramatic shift in our scholarly and popular understanding of the roles that African Americans played in bringing about their own emancipation and the end of slavery in 1865. A renewed interest in black agency through a close study of fugitive slaves and black Union soldiers challenged the Lost Cause assumption that the loyalty of the black southern population was never seriously in doubt. For modern day Lost Cause adherents, however, this development represented nothing less than a seismic crack in an interpretive foundation that made it easy to discuss the Confederacy and even front line soldiers without having to wade into the tough questions of slavery and race.
In effect, the black Confederate narrative dismantled these new interpretations not by denying slavery’s place or the importance of race, but by offering a counter-narrative that located the Confederacy itself at the center of progressive race relations and emancipation itself. The presence of large numbers of black soldiers and loyal slaves outlines a picture in sharp contrast to a racially segregated United States army and provides evidence that slavery was nearing its end based on internal factors rather than outside pressure. Finally, it reaffirms the belief that the Reconstruction policies of the “Radical Republicans” were, in the words of William H. Dunning, a “serious mistake.”