This weekend the University of Virginia’s Miller Center will begin airing their “Our American Forum” interview with Gary Gallagher on public TV stations across the country. The Center has uploaded a few preview clips, but I thought this clip in which Gary describes the black Confederate movement as “demented” was worth sharing. I’ve always appreciated Gary’s ability to cut to the chase in his own colorful way. I certainly agree with his assessment.
Black Confederate Movement “Demented”
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I normally agree with Gary Gallagher, and this is no exception to that. I think he’s exactly right regarding the black confederate myth. I’m not sure what he means regarding slaves with the confederate armies being airbrushed. Maybe he’s talking about black confederate mythologists trying to turn them into soldiers. Bell I. Wiley had a great book on blacks in the south, called Southern Negroes, 1861-1865, which was his first book and came out of his Ph.D. dissertation, that talked about the tens of thousands of slaves that were with confederate armies. Maybe Prof. Gallagher’s point is that other historians have ignored them in favor of telling soldier stories. I don’t know of any historians who have denied there were tens of thousands of slaves with the confederate armies.
I think his point was that we’ve overlooked the actual roles that slaves played in the various Confederate armies during the war.
I wasn’t aware it was a “movement,” either. Professor Gallagher was though, absolutely correct. There were thousands of blacks, slaves and even free men of color, who supported and assisted the Confederate forces, performing crucial military functions necessary to keep the armies in the field. Were they enlisted men in the line of battle? Clearly, no. Were they essential to the Confederate war effort? Absolutely. Are they largely ignored for their service, courage, endurance and sacrifices? Absolutely. They deserve to be studied and their stories told instead of, as the Professor said, “airbrushed out of history.” The Civil War was just as much their war as all the others who served and sacrificed.
Not so much airbrushed but distorted by many, especially the Confederate heritage crowd. You are correct, they were essential to the Confederate war effort. The Confederacy was forced to mobilize as much of it’s slave population as possible.
Airbrushed was Professor Gallagher’s word. I think it appropriate. While one side seeks to inflate their impact, making them frontline troops, the other seeks to marginalize them into nonexistence. Both sides appear to be driven by some modern agenda rather than giving these men the study they so richly deserve. Without the contributions of blacks, slave and free, alike, the Confederate armies would not have been able to remain in the field. They deserve to be studied and their stories told.
I certainly have not ignored these men. I’ve written two articles that have been published in Civil War Times and The Civil War Monitor. One is a survey about the wartime experiences of camp servants and their relationship with Confederate officers. The second was a much needed correction to the widely distorted story of Silas and Andrew Chandler.
“Distorted” is a good way to explain how many people today remember the presence of slaves used by the Confederate military: as if they were actually soldiers who volunteered and were embraced as comrades by White men. But when I watch a movie like “Gettysburg” and see the scene of the Confederate camp (when Harrison reports to General Longstreet) and see no Blacks at all, that’s definitely “airbrushed out.”
Wow…it’s a ‘movement’ now.
How many BCS do you have to claim to be in the ‘movement?’
I don’t worry so much about the numbers. You just have to have a record of saying some absurd things about the subject. You certainly qualify. 🙂
WOW ! You mention demented and BR, et al shows up. He just can’t help himself.
I love it! thank you for sharing it…
He hits the nail on the head. It’s an attempt to mitigate the institution of slavery and continue the “happy Negro” myth.
Thank you Gary. May I quote you?
I’m glad that Professor Gallagher was blunt in his denunciation of this absurd myth. When it comes to such ahistorical nonsense, there really is no reason to be coy.