It’s Never Enough (once again on the Black Confederate go-around)

Anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time likely has a sense of the importance that I attach to the myth of the black Confederate soldier. It is, by far, the most popular topic on this site. Over the years I have had to deal with a wide range of reactions from fellow historians. There are those who have supported my efforts, those who look on in confusion and those who betray an air of condescension – as if I have descended into a circus show. In the last few months I have written very little about this subject. There have been a couple of stories out of North Carolina, but other than that the media attention has died down.

The recent essay in The Root by John Stauffer has reignited interest. This time, however, that interest has been confined to academic historians, who have chosen to wade in with their thoughts about the debate and how to move forward. Jim Downs’s contribution reflects what happens when a historian enters a discussion too hastily.

Enter historian and fellow blogger, Donald Shaffer, into the mix. Let me get straight to the point that I fundamentally disagree with the observations and recommendations contained in Shaffer’s post.

In any case, the question scholars should be asking is why this issue cannot be put to rest? To use Megan Kate Nelson’s meme, why are scholarly bloggers on the American Civil War repeatedly condemned to “freak out” from time to time over black Confederates? Why can provocateurs like John Stauffer use the issue (repeatedly) to draw attention to themselves? Why has this myth that substantial numbers of African Americans fought for the Confederacy gained such cultural power in the early 21st-century United States? Why are responsible scholars unable to say, “Enough already” and move on to more productive issues? And if we cannot say “enough already” why can’t we shift the debate to analyzing the cultural power of the myth? Much the same way professional historians refused to enter the morass of who shot John F. Kennedy, but instead analyzed the cultural power of the various conspiracy theories. That is the modest proposal this scholar and blogger would like to make regarding “black Confederates” since it is obvious that the power to suppress this myth is beyond academia’s power. So maybe we need to be asking why it has that power? And not freak out. Enough already.

First, why is this specific debate not worthy of the attention of academic historians specifically? To say that academics do not have the “power to suppress this myth” is not only a non-starter (since academics can’t suppress any narrative that has gained cultural cache) it also fails to consider the positive impact that historians can and have had on this debate.

I agree with Shaffer that the question of how this myth gained a foothold in popular thinking is worthy of attention (and I have written extensively on this both on the blog and in my recent essay in the Journal of the Civil War Era), but let’s at least be honest that such a focus would extend no further than among the small community of interested academics. The basic outline is pretty straightforward. Apart from a few earlier sightings, first sign of the black Confederate appeared in the mid-1970s [and here]. It’s most recent incarnation is the result of the Internet.

Rather than approach this debate narrowly as historians we ought to think of ourselves as educators. I’ve maintained from the beginning that this debate offers the perfect window for historians to engage the public on a number of related issues. We may not be able to “suppress this myth” but as someone who has approached the debate in just this way, I am quite satisfied with the tiny difference I have made.

History teachers at the primary and secondary school level need to be educated on the history behind this debate. Both teachers and students need to be taught how to access and assess online information. Textbook publishers need to hear us when they suggest that 3,000 black Confederate soldiers fought with Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. Popular media outlets need voices that can disseminate accurate information. Museums and other historic sites need advisers who can help to correct inaccurate displays. Popular history magazines need articles that are both entertaining to read and informed by the best scholarship.

Most importantly, this debate offers ample opportunity for professional historians to share what is involved in doing research that is informed by the best practices. To the extent that I ‘freaked out’ reflects the opportunity that scholars such as John Stauffer and Jim Downs squandered with a poorly written essay on the one hand and another driven by little understanding of the debate and the archival sources. My response would have been quite different had these two historians actually engaged in some serious research for their respective publishing platforms, both of which attract many more readers compared with my little blog. I find it interesting that online communities that have actively pushed this myth have embraced both essays. Again, talk about a missed opportunity.

What is unfortunately lost in Shaffer’s call of retreat to the comfortable confines of a narrow discussion about culture and memory is that the vast majority of people that I have come into contact with desire accurate information. My email file of detractors is far outweighed by the number of emails received thanking me for the attention that I have given to this subject on this blog as well as through additional outreach.

Frustrated is probably a more accurate way to describe my response to the essays written by John Stauffer and others over the past week. In fact, my frustration rose to a level beyond anything I’ve experienced in dealing with the “neo-Confederate” community, which views the black Confederate myth as central to its propaganda machine.

Rather than feel that I have wasted my time over the past few years in addressing this myth, I would like to think that it has brought out the best in me as a historian and as an educator.

77 thoughts on “It’s Never Enough (once again on the Black Confederate go-around)

  1. Don Shaffer

    Hi Kevin. Thanks for responding to my blog post. I am not calling for retreat, but for a shift of attention. There is no point of dialogue with people that are devoted to myths rather than historical facts (and seemingly impervious to the latter). We have spent quite enough time on the Neo-Confederates. And no doubt people like yourself, Brooks Simpson, and others will continue to hold their feet to the fire. Personally, I have little taste for doing so (I admire Brooks in particular for his passion in that regard).

    But myths usually exist for a reason, or more often reasons, sometimes quite complex ones. I want to understand what is at the root of the black Confederate myth. Partly out of simple curiosity, partly to better counteract it. I believe the explanation ultimately will be cultural in nature.

    And as I point out in my piece to which you are responding, there is a precedent for professional historians not getting bogged down in counter-acting popular myths–the JFK assassination. To the extent I have seen professional, academic historians address this subject, it is not to suggest who was responsible for JFK’s death, but to understand why American culture is such a fertile ground for conspiracy theories about it.

    So I am calling for scholarly analysis of why American culture in recent decades has proven fertile ground for the myth of large numbers of black Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. I can tell from my own work, to best of my knowledge, that no such myth existed among the Civil War generation. White Southerners of that generation had the myth of the “faithful negro,” but this character was a reliable servant with the army or slave that stayed faithful to their owner despite Yankee blandishments. So why have their Neo-Confederate successors seen fit to give the faithful African American a martial character? Something that the original Confederates would have found obscenely incomprehensible.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond. I appreciate your thoughts.

    Best,

    Don

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Don,

      Thanks so much for the follow-up. Perhaps “retreat” was too strong, but, the way I see it, your recommendations move the very people needed away from the front lines.

      There is no point of dialogue with people that are devoted to myths rather than historical facts (and seemingly impervious to the latter).

      I agree with this point, but I think it is important to focus on the vast majority of people who, for one reason or another push this myth, but are not associated with Confederate heritage communities. Most people I’ve come into contact with want to be directed to reputable interpretations and sources.

      I would love to see someone explore why some African Americans today have come to embrace the myth, but overall the question of why this narrative has gained a foothold in popular thinking is fairly easily understood.

      Reply
    2. Damon

      I have been researching this topic for a historiographical essay I have to write. Luckily I took an early seminar that took me to The Politics Of War by Michael McDonnell. His work focuses on the Revolutionary War and the issues Virginia had in mobilizing and recruiting troops.
      I wish I weren’t so tired, I don’t know if I can get this out clearly now.
      Anyways, I think it has to do with the idea of the soldier.
      …..Im going to return and tie this into the Lost Cause.
      Linking soldierly honor to protecting ones …homeland…

      Reply
  2. Don Shaffer

    Hi Kevin. One reason some African Americans like H.K. Edgerton have embraced the black Confederate role is it gets them attention. Something similar happened with African Americans who would show up for Confederate veterans reunions and play the role of faithful slave. The veterans and other white Southerners would pat them on the back and slip money in their pocket. Does anyone slip money in H.K. Edgerton’s pocket?

    Best,

    Don

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      H.K. is an interesting case, but he is also the exception. I suspect that many African Americans find the soldier/service narrative attractive as an alternative interpretation to the memory of slavery.

      The issue of former body servants and their attendance at Confederate veterans reunions deserves much more scholarly attention. No doubt, their presence reinforced a white Southern narrative of loyal slaves, but it would be interesting to know a bit more about how these black men viewed themselves. This gets us back to Matt Gallman’s thoughts about the self-perception of free and enslaved blacks who found themselves being used for military purposes during the war.

      Reply
  3. Pat Young

    I am not sure why Don uses MKN’s meme “Freaking out”. Mr. Levin clearly was not “freakin” anything when he wrote his posts. If anything, the tone of his writing had the jaded sound of someone wondering why such bad information was still being foisted on the public.

    He also was not responding to Neo-Confederate know nothings, but to a Harvard prof on a liberal web site. The title of that article was, let us recall was “Yes, There Were Black Confederates. Here’s Why”. I don’t teach history, but I am a law school professor. If a colleague authored a similarly misleading article on my field of law, I would feel bound to reply substantively, not, as Don suggests, study why Americans are easily misled. I respect my fellow human beings enough to offer them relief from falsehoods. But then, I believe my own field is important enough that the public deserves the truth.

    Reply
    1. Don Shaffer

      Hi Pat. Kevin and Brooks pounced on John Stauffer (who deserved to be pounced on). Maybe that doesn’t deserve the characterization of “freaking out” anymore that Brooks’ characterization that I am freaking out about other historians freaking out.

      You are quite right that Stauffer is not a Neo-Confederate or member of Southern Heritage community. But his writings on this subject provides credibility to their notions, especially since Stauffer is at Harvard. This isn’t the first historical topic that Stauffer has written on than a less than credible manner. I am sure you are familiar with his clashes with Victoria Bynum over the Kingdom of Jones.

      In any case, to judge from the overall reaction to post, I think I have touched a chord with scholars who are sick of hearing about black Confederate soldiers. Maybe this topic and the meme “freaking out” would be best buried in the same grave.

      Best,

      Don

      Reply
      1. Pat Young

        Don, the use of the “Freaking Out” meme is a privileging of a particular frame only because of the Harvard affiliation of its creator. Its use marks a reproduction of the sort of structural hierarchy that many of us hoped blogging and social media would serve to flatten.

        Reply
        1. Brooks D. Simpson

          I’m thinking that Patrick Young’s kidding, because my use of the term is to suggest just how overwrought it is, especially when it’s applied to everything. However, I still like “unhinged gatekeepers.”

          I’m not sure I’d be so critical of its original use, however. In any case, it certainly gets one’s attention. 🙂

          Reply
  4. London John

    “There is no point of dialogue with people that are devoted to myths rather than historical facts (and seemingly impervious to the latter). We have spent quite enough time on the Neo-Confederates. ”
    I think that suggests a misconception – Kevin and his allies are not engaged in a “dialogue” with the NCs, seeking to change the participants minds, but in a debate where the opposing sides seek to win over an audience presumed to be open to argument. I imagine the majority of people who believe the Black Confederate myth if it’s not refuted are inclined to believe it because it’s so unexpected – it’s got the “man bites dog” factor. I’ve known one or two people who’ve brought up the BC story who readily dropped it when given the facts – mostly gleaned from this blog.

    Reply
    1. Pat Young

      That has been my experience as well. It is promulgated by NeoCons but most folks who believe it do so innocently. Now a whole lot more believe it who never heard of the SCV but who read The Root or HuffPo.

      Reply
      1. Hugh Lawson

        But why do neo-Confederates embrace the idea of black confederates? I always assumed it was out of a desire to poke a stick in the eye of their critics.

        Reply
        1. Brooks D. Simpson

          Why don’t you ask them directly, Dr. Lawson? Just as you failed to engage Drs. Stauffer and Downs, now you ask people who are not “neo-Confederates” (whatever that means) what “neo-Confederates” mean, when you are perfectly capable of asking these people directly yourself.

          After all, shouldn’t they be the arbiters of their original intent and motivation? Why are you so afraid to engage them directly?

          Reply
  5. David

    Dear Kevin,
    I have to say I was astounded to read that this undocumented, and untrue Myth of slaves fighting to be enslaved in perpetuity was the number one discussion on your blog. I’d like to ask you why you think this is so? For what possible reason would people want to propagate this crazy idea? I’ve read many diaries and letters of people from that time period espousing their “Lost Cause” theory, and never in one of them have I read where one of the ideas of this theory, was that slaves wanted to remain enslaved. They talk a lot about the inferiority of the “slave intelligence”, and how they were better off, (the slave owners were doing them a favor), keeping the black race enslaved………but I’ve never read that is was because the blacks preferred it! What, in your opinion, are the people who are wanting to propagate this myth after? What’s their object? Also, has anyone given a division, regiment, brigade, or even a company designation for these CSCT’s? Has anyone shown you a roster of these troops? A commanding officer’s name? A list of battles they participated in, or a casualty list? Is there a list of CSCT’s receiving a pension from their particular state for their service to the “Cause”, (ha ha)? I would say that until these people can come up with such real proof, they should be muted, and ignored. With so much to study concerning our civil war, it seems to me that such a discussion is, to put it mildly, Ignorant.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Cheeseboro

      Hi David,
      In a few words, the Black Confederate Soldier Myth is the effort to remember the Confederacy as something other than what it really was- a government founded on the “cornerstone” of Black slavery. Honestly, for some people, I think it’s the only African-American history and achievement they can accept.

      To me, the biggest clue to the fallacy of the BCS claim is the fact that the number of the so-called soldiers keeps changing. I’ve heard from 5,000 to 1,000,000. And your list of questions is great. Honestly, I’ve never seen yet where anyone who makes the claim for Black Confederates can provide any of the information you asked.

      I’m African-American and I’m absolutely glad for the victory over the Confederacy and over slavery. But I have to say that this conversation about a completely insignificant number of soldiers (after all, they lost the war) has been a sorry waste of time. I honestly feel sorry for the real men who fought for the South. I think they would be appalled to know that anyone would dare to suggest Black men fought for their White supremacist cause.

      Reply
      1. Robert Maichle

        I believe you will find that those few African American Confederate Soldiers before General Order 14 was signed by President Davis, fought for their freedom with emancipation a promise. Some well researched proof in General Bedford Forests plantation slaves who joined his army, many of whom because of valor displayed became part of his elite guard and after being emancipated proudly attended many Civil War reunions. The number who enlisted after General Order 14 was not really significant. I believe in total numbers most African Americans that fought for the Confederacy did so as members of Stan Waite’s Army and considered themselves Cherokee. I’m a Nevadan and blacks were been members of polite society before the Civil war and with the exception of WWII defense plants and subsequent attempts at segregation in the Hotels and Casinos during the decades immediately after the WWII I can find little to suggest that racial discrimination (To African Americans – not the well documented discrimination to Native Americans, Chinese and Japanese) ever occurred but I can find many examples of ethnic discrimination to Italians, Basques, Portuguese, Slovak people with too many vowels in their names, etc.

        I say I believe most African American Confederate soldiers were Cherokees is because exact numbers of the few others I can verify puts the number of non-conscripted black confederate soldiers in the other Confederate Armies at less than 100 and those African American Cherokees at a couple hundred, though many were at least as much Cherokee as African American. The well researched evidence is that there were a few African American Confederate Soldiers, perhaps at most half a dozen slave owning blacks who were considered part of polite society (Probably because they were land owners from either the Revolutionary War or African Frenchman made American after the Louisiana Purchase). You are correct to call it a Black Confederate Soldier Myth because in most every case, those very few individuals, did so as a way to escape from, not fight for any southern cause and definitely no sane “…Black men fought for their White supremacist cause.”

        Reply
  6. David Upton

    Maybe a little more open mindedness and less intolerance to the idea that Blacks were armed and uniformed by Confederate (mostly militia) organizations might make the argument subside and more acceptable to both sides of it. Its not a “myth”. I don’t believe, for the evidence is not there, of large “formations” of black Confederates ever existed. However, the South had a pre-Civil War history of arming and using Blacks in combat. The Battle of New Orleans is a perfect example. The evidence that blacks were used as soldiers, uniformed and armed in service to the Confederates is there. Sworn testimony by several African Americans after the war in a U.S. Congressional Committee…

    New Orleans, Dec. 25, 1866.
    New Orleans Riots Congressional Committee.

    Testimony of Ackley Perkins.
    Q. Do you know B. T. Beauregard, a colored man?—A. Yes, sir; I knew him; I know he is a colored man; I know him passing about.
    Q. Was he in the confederate service?—A. I saw him there drilling in it; I don’t know whether he went off in it or not.
    Q. When was that ?—A. In the spring of 1862; he was drilling there with a colored company; I saw them often drilling.
    Commissioner ALUIS:
    Q. Did they have guns ?—A. Yes, sir.
    Q. It was a regular military company ?—A. Yes, sir.
    Q. And in the confederate service?—A. Yes, sir.
    Q. That was in the spring of 1862?—A. Yes, sir.
    Q. Were there any slaves among them <—A. Yes, sir; they were all slaves; he was one himself. They were not slaves then; they were free people; freed before the war.
    Q. Weren't any of them slaves ?—A. No, sir; I don't think there were any slaves; they were all free people.
    COUNSEL:
    Q. Did he seem to be an officer ?—A. I don't think he was; I don't know that he was; I cannot say that he was.
    Commissioner FERKISS: Q. Did the confederates organize any colored troops ?—A. No, sir; none except those that were free; they organized those. I forget the captain's name. They had about sixty or seventy in the company.

    —————-
    Testimony of Duncan Williams (colored) sworn and examined.
    Q. Did you know one B. T. Beauregard ?—A. Yes, sir.
    Q. Is he a colored man ?—A. Yes, sir,
    Q. Did you ever see him in any military organization about the breaking out of the war or afterwards ?—A. Well, about the time the troops landed in New Orleans.
    Q. What troops ?—A. The Union troops. When they landed in New Orleans he was in the service then.
    Q. In what service?—A. Well, there wasn't but one service up there then; that was the rebel service.
    Q. State what kind of an organization it was.—A. Well, they were drilling just like I saw the Union troops drilling there after the war.
    Q. Was it a company ?—A. Yes, sir.
    Q. Composed of what kind of men ?—A. They were democrats, I think.
    Q. Were they white men or colored men ?—A. The captain was a white man, but the company were black men—free men before the war.
    Q. Did they allow any slaves to go into the company ?—A. No, sir: nary a one.

    These Black Confederates can be traced to an organized unit in Baton Rough, Louisiana via the local newspapers of the time. It only takes a little real research to find any of this.

    Reply
    1. Don Shaffer

      Hi David. The evidence you present no doubt refers to the Louisiana Native Guards, which I suppose is as close the black Confederate myth comes to reality. This Confederate Louisiana militia unit was raised among New Orleans’ free people of color. Although useful for propaganda purposes, Louisiana’s Confederate state government was reluctant to use the Native Guards in any meaningful way. They performed some guard duty in the lead up to the seizure of New Orleans by Union forces, but never had a combat role and the unit ceased to exist after the Confederacy lost control of the city. I published a piece on this unit, which appeared in the New York Times’ Disunion series. Here’s a link: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/17/free-soldiers-of-color/

      Reply
  7. David Upton

    Actually this a totally different unit. This Capt. H. B. Favrot’s Company of Free Colored, an Independent Company of Baton Rouge militia. Mentioned in Colonel H.E. Paine’s (USA) report on the Battle of Baton Rouge, August, 1862.

    Reply
    1. Don Shaffer

      Hi David. Interesting. Thanks for the correction. I must confess I was not aware of this unit. Like the Louisiana Native Guards, it would appear this company was composed of free blacks and numbered less than 100. Did this unit exist after August 1862?

      Louisiana is a special case because of its large free black population, much of which was mixed race, and was eager early in the Civil War to prove its loyalty to the Confederacy as part of a long-standing effort to carve itself a place as a third caste in between white Louisianans and the slaves. An interesting thing about the Native Guards was many of them later offered their services to the Union because essentially they were looking to end up on the winning side of the war in order to defend their own interests. I suspect this small company from Baton Rouge was similar in that respect.

      In any case, as I say in my original blog post that prompted this response from Kevin, cases like this are exceptions that prove the rule. Your source indicates that Confederate Louisiana was not recruiting slaves for military service, which would have gone against the ideology of white supremacy at the heart of the Confederacy.

      Best,

      Don

      Reply
      1. David Upton

        White supremacy? I believe it had more to do with master supremacy; committing slaves to armed military service was seen by Southern Slave owners as cruel and barbaric and a waste of money. A morale rule carried over for centuries of slave cultures in the Americas and Europe, however, a practice common in the Middle East in periods past.

        The Confederates had no problem enlisting African Americans for teamsters, cooks, ambulance, musicians or pioneer work. Many were free, and across the South, in small numbers, some were seen equipped and armed as reported in many newspaper, reports and letters. Confederate law promoted the use. And in photographic evidence– they were sometimes splendidly uniformed.

        The ideology of White Supremacy was not a Southern only ideal in the 19th Century America, as proofed by Lincoln’s letters.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          The ideology of White Supremacy was not a Southern only ideal in the 19th Century America, as proofed by Lincoln’s letters.

          Who is suggesting otherwise?

          White supremacy? I believe it had more to do with master supremacy; committing slaves to armed military service was seen by Southern Slave owners as cruel and barbaric and a waste of money.

          I highly recommend that you read Bruce Levine’s book, Confederate Emancipation. Confederates were very clear as to why free and enslaved blacks were barred from serving as soldiers in the army.

          Reply
          1. David Upton

            I believe Don is suggesting that the primary reason the Confederates did not follow the Union in using the African American slave manpower directly into a branch of the national forces was because of the “ideology of white supremacy”. This is a flawed idea and doesn’t explain why it was possible for thousands of slaves to be bought by the U.S. Government from slave owners across America and forced into military service. The slave owner (mostly white) only had to be paid to give up his slaves that were soon to be armed and put into military service to kill more slave owners. I’m sure they felt superior to the slave but money spoke louder than ideology.

            For example…

            From Oct. 1863 to Oct. 1865 the Bureau for Colored Troops reported spending nearly $230,750 in Maryland on slave enlistments. The monies went to the slave owners. A minimum of 769 to a maximum of 2,300 slaves were purchased from a population of military aged males of about 13,000– (bounties started at $100 and changed to $300 per slave.) Records for Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and others have not been located as of yet.

            Yes I read Bruce Levine’s book, I own it. He left a lot out of the subject matter and seemed to rush into publishing this book. I heard him speak on his work and he summed it up with (I paraphrase) “well, I proved organized Black Confederate regiments did not exist!” Which left me with the question “yes, but?”

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              I think we should remember that neither the Confederacy nor the United States welcomed black men into their respective armies. The United States (it might be argued) was pushed into doing so given the course of the war, but even after the decision was made white supremacy did not somehow disappear. Black soldiers were paid a monthly salary lower than white soldiers. This led to a year-long protest by black regiments until the summer of 1864. This is just one example. The Confederacy only made the shift at the very end of the war when it mattered little. Don’s point about the “ideology of white supremacy” is part of that Confederate narrative, along with the rich coverage found in Bruce Levine’s book. Confederate soldiers and civilians were very clear as to why they could not imagine black men in uniform.

              Reply
            2. msb

              Neither the US Government’s enticement of slaves into the USCT nor the Confederates’ impressment of slaves into support roles negates the contention that white supremacy was a central issue. Kevin’s given good examples of its survival in a range of posts. For the Confederacy, 2 examples that come to mind are Alexander Stephens’ speech about how back “inferiority” and slavery were the cornerstone of the Confederacy, and Howell Cobb’s statement that “if slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” Andy Hall’s post on this is a valuable addition to Kevin’s work. Finally, John Wilkes Booth’s avowed motive for murdering Lincoln was white supremacy, as his published statement and recorded remarks (“That means [African American] citizenship. … Now I’ll put him through”) clearly show.

              Reply
              1. David Upton

                First, Alexander Stephens denied making those statements and since his pre-Civil War history was against pro-slavery politicians he has creditability on his side.

                Second, John Wilkes Booth was not a Confederate Congressman.

                Third, your quote by Vice-President Stephens and Mr. Cobb is not “White Supremacist” by definition.

                Forth, the “US Government’s enticement of slaves” as you lightly put it, was a pay-off to slave owners and the forced impressment of those who did not have a choice. The Union forces made slave raids in those areas they occupied. There are cases of out-right kidnapping of freedmen and fraud on the part of Union officers collecting the bounties.

              2. Kevin Levin Post author

                The racial outlook of Alexander Stephens, Cobb and others is well known. Perhaps you could provide evidence for your claim re: Stephens’s “cornerstone” which was well known at the time.

                Yes, there is evidence that some blacks were pushed into service through questionable practices, but this certainly was not the case for the vast majority. This thread is moving away from the focus of the post so I am cutting it off.

              3. David Upton

                Sure. There are no written examples of this speech, since it was an impromptu affair…

                Below from his own words is Mr. Stephens explanation.

                Recollections of Alexander Stephens, 1910.

                “As for my Savannah speech, about which so much has been said and in regard to which I am represented as setting forth “slavery” as the “corner-stone” of the Confederacy, it is proper for me to state that that speech was extemporaneous. The reporter’s notes, which were very imperfect, were hastily corrected by me; and were published without further revision and with several glaring errors. The substance of what I said on slavery was, that on the points under the old Constitution out of which so much discussion, agitation, and strife between the States had arisen, no future contention could arise, as these had been put to rest by clear language. I did not say, nor do I think the reporter represented me as saying, that there was the slightest change in the new Constitution from the old regarding the status of the African race amongst us. (Slavery was without doubt the occasion of secession; out of it rose the breach of compact, for instance, on the part of several Northern States in refusing to comply with Constitutional obligations as to rendition of fugitives from service, a course betraying total disregard for all constitutional barriers and guarantees.)

                I admitted that the fathers, both of the North and the South, who framed the old Constitution, while recognizing existing slavery and guaranteeing its continuance under the Constitution so long as the States should severally see fit to tolerate it in their respective limits, were perhaps all opposed to the principle. Jefferson, Madison, Washington, all looked for its early extinction throughout the United States. But on the subject of slavery — so called — (which was with us, or should be, nothing but the proper subordination of the inferior African race to the superior white) great and radical changes had taken place in the realm of thought; many eminent latter-day statesmen, philosophers, and philanthropists held different views from the fathers.

                The patriotism of the fathers was not questioned, nor their ability and wisdom, but it devolved on the public men and statesmen of each generation to grapple with and solve the problems of their own times.

                The relation of the black to the white race, or the proper status of the coloured population amongst us, was a question now of vastly more importance than when the old Constitution was formed. The order of subordination was nature’s great law; philosophy taught that order as the normal condition of the African amongst European races. Upon this recognized principle of a proper subordination, let it be called slavery or what not, our State institutions were formed and rested. The new Confederation was entered into with this distinct understanding. This principle of the subordination of the inferior to the superior was the “corner-stone” on which it (the US Constitution- d.u.) was formed. I used this metaphor merely to illustrate the firm convictions of the framers of the new Constitution that this relation of the black to the white race, which existed in 1787, was not wrong in itself, either morally or politically; that it was in conformity to nature and best for both races. I alluded not to the principles of the new Government on this subject, but to public sentiment in regard to these principles. The status of the African race in the new Constitution was left just where it was in the old; I affirmed and meant to affirm nothing else in this Savannah speech.

                My own opinion on slavery, as often expressed, was that if the institution was not the best, or could not be made the best, for both races, looking to the advancement and progress of both, physically and morally, it ought to be abolished. It was far from being what it might and ought to have been. Education was denied. This was wrong. I ever condemned the wrong. Marriage was not recognized. This was a wrong that I condemned. Many things connected with it did not meet my approval but excited my disgust, abhorrence, and detestation. The same I may say of things connected with the best institutions in the best communities in which my lot has been cast. Great improvements were, however, going on in the condition of blacks in the South. Their general physical condition not only as to necessaries but as to comforts was better in my own neighbourhood in 1860, than was that of the whites when I can first recollect, say 1820. Much greater would have been made, I verily believe, but for outside agitation. I have but small doubt that education would have been allowed long ago in Georgia, except for outside pressure which stopped internal reform.”

                The paper published it’s version with the note.

                the end of the reported Savannah Speech….

                [reporter’s Note.—Your reporter begs to state that the above is not a perfect report, but only such a sketch of the address of Mr. Stephens as embraces, in his judgment, the most important points presented by the orator.—t’.]

              4. Kevin Levin Post author

                Sure. We’ve all seen this. It was written after the war and somewhat dovetails with the book that he published which attempts to reframe what the war was about. Jefferson Davis’s postwar book attempted to do the same thing. I tend to take Confederate leaders at their word at the beginning. They made every attempt, including Stephens, to explain to the rest of the country and even the rest of the world why they had engaged in revolution.

              5. Kevin Levin Post author

                I have no idea what you are asking. I am not engaged in a competition with Alexander Stephens. As a historian we interpret the available evidence to the best of our ability. If you are interested in Stephens I suggest you read Thomas E. Schott’s biography which was published in 1988 by Lousiana State University Press.

    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks. Doesn’t tell us much of anything. Someone makes a claim and it’s reported in the newspaper. You may want to think about this in the context of the broader debate about slave enlistment which took place at the end of the war. Obviously, it doesn’t help much with understanding the racial make-up of the force under Forrest’s command.

      Reply
    2. Don Shaffer

      Hi Michael. I note this paper is dated April 6, 1865, soon after the Confederate Congress had belatedly approved the recruitment of African Americans as soldiers. So Forrest’s offer here is fully in line with the policy of the central Confederate government, which would soon be no more.

      I’d be curious how many African Americans took up Forrest on his offer?

      Best,

      Don

      Reply
      1. Andy Hall

        More to the point, the paper is dated four days after the fall of Richmond, and 72 hours before Lee surrendered to Grant. The article says Forrest made his offer “the other night.” At that point, frankly, Forrest’s offer is pretty meaningless.

        It would be different if it had been made in 1862 or 1863, but the end of March/beginning of April 1865? Hollow gesture.

        Reply
        1. David Upton

          CINCINNATI, Friday, April 7.

          The Jackson Free Trader, of the 20th ult., says of Gen. FORREST: “We have just been informed that a few days since this truly noble man and distinguished officer called out twenty-six of his own negroes and said to them, all of you who are willing to become soldiers for the war, step forward and I will give to every one who does so, his free papers Twenty-five of them immediately advanced, only one refusing, who was a peace man, but he would drive a wagon for his master during the year.”
          —-
          That would put it sometime before March 20th

          Reply
            1. David Upton

              If that were the true timeline of this article, it could have happened months earlier. Sounds like a passed along story, like hearsay.

              Reply
  8. Michael C Williams

    Mr. Bryan Cheeseboro was suggesting it Mr. Levin.

    And I also would highly recommend that you and Mr. Cheeseboro read Thomas DiLorenzo’s book Lincoln Unmasked.

    I’ll read Mr. Bruce Levine’s book if you would read Mr. DiLorenzo’s book Mr. Levin.
    Although I have some doubts that either of you would read somthing that goes against your viewpoints….

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I read DiLorenzo’s first book. It’s not very good. He may be a respected economist, but his skill in interpreting the Civil War era has been shown by any number of reputable scholars is questionable. Either way I have no idea why DiLorenzo is relevant.

      Reply
    2. Jimmy Dick

      DiLorenzo is not a historian. He is an economist who writes historical interpretations to support his economic views. In the process he distorts history quite badly. His works were shredded by historians when they were submitted for peer reviews. As a result his stuff no longer is submitted for peer review.
      DiLorenzo’s stuff has been rejected because of its lousy research. It is not worth reading.

      Reply
    3. Bryan Cheeseboro

      Hi Michael,
      I haven’t read the DiLorenzo book you suggested but from what I’ve seen from him so far, I’m not any more impressed with the man than many others here are. However, I won’t ask you to read Bruce Levine’s book if you don’t want to.

      I do stand by my statement of Confederates as White supremacists. But calling them that does not mean White Northerners accepted Blacks without any hesitation. Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” did a very good job of showing the brutally racist attitudes many Northern White people had in the mid-19th Century. The movie shows that for many people, ending slavery was not an effort to save Blacks; indeed, it was more of a self-serving measure for White people to end the war and save the Union.

      By the way, “self-serving” is entirely how I feel about the efforts of some people today who want to do everything they can to prove Black men fought as soldiers for the South. I think it’s their effort to get the Confederacy “right” on race and, if anything, make it look like Confederates were the true emancipators… as if their brand of Black civil rights would have been a better alternative and would not have produced “agitators” like Al Sharpton or Michael Eric Dyson.

      Reply
  9. Michael C Williams

    Then you should read it Mr. Levin.

    That often presidant Lincoln is shown to be a man that cared deeply for the enslaved Africans when really he was a racist.

    “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

    -Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858 (The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, pp. 145-146.)

    http://www.nps.gov/liho/historyculture/debates.htm

    “See our present condition—the country engaged in war! Our White men cutting one another’s throats! And then consider what we know to be the truth. But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or another. “Why should the people of your race be colonized, and where? Why should they leave this country? This is, perhaps, the first question for proper consideration. You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side. If this be admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated. It is better for both, therefore, to be separated.”

    — Spoken at the White House to a group of black community leaders, August 14th, 1862, from the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol 5, page 371.

    http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/lincoln5/1:812?rgn=div1;view=fulltext

    This is the evidence that DiLorenzo cites Mr. Levin

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      That often presidant Lincoln is shown to be a man that cared deeply for the enslaved Africans when really he was a racist.

      This is an incredibly vague claim. Lincoln’s racial outlook evolved over time. It’s pretty clear that from a 21st century perspective much of what Lincoln had to say about African Americans would be interpreted as racist. For his time his views were mainstream, regardless of regional identity. I recommend Eric Foner’s recent book about Lincoln, which does an excellent job of explaining how events shaped Lincoln’s view of African Americans and their place in the Union. In other words the Lincoln who proposed giving the vote to a select number of black men at the very end of the war differed in certain ways from the Lincoln of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

      Reply
      1. Jimmy Dick

        Eric Foner’s Civil War and Reconstruction course over on EdX featured this evolution as his Pulitzer Prize winning work, The Fiery Trial did. This is what DiLorenzo gets wrong. Lincoln had to evolve on the issue as did most of America over time. It was not just Lincoln, but the American people that changed their minds about slavery. DiLorenzo wants to lock Lincoln into a certain role without looking at the context or his evolution on the matter.

        DiLorenzo does that because he hates the changes brought about by the Civil War and blames Lincoln for them. His anger is directed at the wrong man. He should be blaming the slave owners, but his economic views prevent him from doing so.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          DiLorenzo also has a need to distance the Confederacy from their central purpose of protecting slavery and white supremacy because he mistakenly believes that they embraced a political philosophy of limited government

          Reply
          1. Andy Hall

            “. . . because he needs to argue that they embraced a political philosophy of limited government, thereby creating retroactive validation of his own economic/political ideology.

            Fixt.

            Reply
  10. David Upton

    Another reason why large numbers of Slaves were not placed immediately into Confederate Service. Supplies.

    HEADQUARTERS TRANS-MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT, Brig. Gen. P. O. HEBERT, . Shreveport, La., October 14, 1863.
    Commanding Sub-District of Louisiana:

    GENERAL: I am instructed by the lieutenant-general commanding to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of September 17, relative to the organization into the military service of the Confederacy of able-bodied negro men. The commanding general thanks you for the suggestion, and directs me to say that the subject had before been brought to his attention, and is now under consideration. The adoption of the measure, however, is totally at variance with the policy of the Government, and he is compelled to defer any action in the matter till the Legislatures of the States take it up and authorize such a course. The difficulty of getting arms is now our greatest trouble. The blockading fleets of the United States and France capture every vessel that attempts to bring munitions of war into the Rio Grande, and it is impossible at present to arm the troops already in the field in this department.

    I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant, E. CUNNINGHAM, -Lieutenant, and Aide-de- Camp.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      It’s pretty clear as to the roadblock preventing the enlistment of blacks into the army.

      The adoption of the measure, however, is totally at variance with the policy of the Government, and he is compelled to defer any action in the matter till the Legislatures of the States take it up and authorize such a course.

      The lack of supplies is not the primary issue as this communication makes perfectly clear.

      Reply
  11. Michael C Williams

    1ST SOUTH CAROLINA MUSICIANS.
    Bright. James, a negro, enlisted at Suffolk, Va., October 1, 1861; discharged by order of Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton, December 26, 1861, on account of blindness in one eye.
    Williamson, James, a negro, enlisted at Suffolk, Va., October 1, 1861; discharged by order of the Colonel, April 30, 1862.
    Graves. John, a negro, enlisted at Suffolk. Va., January 20, 1862; deserted December 1, 1862.
    MUSICIANS.
    Steed, Samuel, enlisted at Suffolk, Va., October 1, 1861; deserted January —, 1863.
    Rose, William (negro), enlisted at Suffolk, Va., October 1. 18iil; sent home, December 14, 1861.
    Quinn, John F., enlisted at Orange C. H., Va., March 29, 1864; deserted May —, 1864.
    MUSICIANS.
    Gardner, Seymour (negro), enlisted at Charleston, October 1, 1861; reported on muster roll of April 30, 1863, as having deserted.1
    Mazyck, Peter (negro), enlisted at Charleston, October 1, 1861; reported on muster roll of April 30, 1863, as having deserted.2
    1 absence was first noted on the muster roll of February 28, 1863.
    2 absence was first noted on the muster roll of Decembe’r 31,

    ———————

    Moses Dallas was the lead in boat on the attack on the USS Water Witch on June 3rd, 1864. He was one of the first of the Confederate sailors killed. He was Black. His monthly salary- $100.

    Partial report on the attack.

    Report of Lieutenant Price, C. S. Navy, second in command of expedition.

    Series I – Volume 15: South Atlantic Blockading Squadron (October 1, 1863 – September 30, 1864) Page 495

    C. S. S. SAMPSON, June 8, 1864.

    Sir: I have the honor to make the following report of the late expedition under the command of First Lieutenant Thomas P. Pelot, C. S. Navy, which resulted in the capture, by boarding, of the U. S. steam gunboat Water Witch, lying at anchor in Ossabaw Sound, on the night of the 3d June, 1864. The expedition, consisting of 7 boats, 15 officers, and 117 men, detailed by your order from the vessels of the squadron, a correct list of whom you will find enclosed, left the C. S. S. Georgia at 1 o’clock p. m. on Tuesday, 31st of May, in tow of the steam tender Firefly, arriving at the Isle of Hope battery at 5 oclock p. in. Cast off from the steamer and rowed to Beaulieu battery, on Vernon River, where we camped for the night. The next day our scouts discovered one of the enemys vessels lying at anchor in the Little Ogeechee River, close under Raccoon Key. At 8 oclock p. in., the expedition got underway and formed in two columns. Boats Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7 composing the port column, Nos. 2, 4, and the starboard column. Lieutenant Thomas P. Pelot, commanding, with Second Assistant Engineer Caldwell, C. S. Navy; and Moses Dallas (colored), pilot, led in boat No. 1; Lieutenant Price, with Masters Mate Gray and Second Assistant Engineer Fabian in No. 2; Midshipman Minor, with Masters Mate Freeman, in boat No. 3; Midshipman Trimble in boat No. 4; Boatswain Seymour, with Mas- ters Mate Barclay. in boat No. 5; Masters Mate H. Golder, with Assistant Surgeon Thomas, in boat No. 6; Masters Mate RosIer, with Assistant SurgeoneJones, in boat No. 7, and proceeded with muffled oars to the spot where we supposed the enemys vessel to be.

    [Telegram.]

    SAVANNAH, June 3, 1864.

    I have the honor to report that an expedition from my command, under Lieutenant T. P. Pelot, C. S. Navy, last night carried, by boarding, the U. S. S. Water Witch, near Ossabaw Sound, after a hard fight. Our loss is, killed, the gallant Lieutenant Pelot, Moses Dallas (colored), pilot, and 3 men. From 10 to 12 wounded. I will telegraph you more in detail at the earliest moment.

    I am, very respectfully, WM. W. HUNTER, Flag- Officer, Commanding Afloat.
    Hon. S. R. MALLORY, Secretary of the Navy.

    Page 499

    [Telegram.]

    SAVANNAH, June 7, 1864.

    I telegraphed the honorable Secretary of tile Navy on the 3d instant that the late gallant T. P. Pelot, C. S. Navy, had command of the expedition which captured the U. S. S. Water Witch. The names of the officers are: First Lieutenant Thomas P. Pelot, Second Lieutenant Joseph Price, Midshipmen H. T. Minor, J. D. Trlmble, Masters Mates H. Golder, J. A. Rosier, A. A. E. W. Barclay, A. C. Freeman, T. S. Gray, Boatswain L. Seymour, Assistant Surgeons C. W. Thomas, W. C. Jones, Second Assistant Engineers George W. Caldwell, James L. Fabian, Pilot Moses Dallas (colored). Touching the vacant commands of the Isondiga and Water Witch, I will write you by this days mail. The subject is too lengthy for a telegram.

    Very respectfully, WM. W. HUNTER, Flag-Officer, Commanding Afloat.

    Captain S. S. LEE, C. S. Navy, Captain in Charge, Richmond, Va.

    Reply
    1. Andy Hall

      Moses Dallas, the African American pilot killed in the capture of Water Witch>/i>, was a slave belonging to one Harriet A. Elbert. Dallas’ status as a pilot and the circumstances of his death are well-known; what is less often reported is that after his death, Elbert sued for the back pay due him at the time of his death and won, cutting out Dallas’ widow entirely. That says a great about Dallas’ true status under the law and military hierarchy, and it does not reflect well on Georgia or the Confederacy.

      Reply
    2. Andy Hall

      It should also be noted that pilots are usually civilians, not military personnel, who are contracted to provide their specialized services (i.e., knowledge of local waters) to the navy. This is underscored in Dallas’ case by a document in which it’s mentioned that Dallas has successfully lobbied for a substantial increase in his pay. This is a testament both to his skill as a pilot — or else he wouldn’t gotten the raise — and to the fact that as a civilian, he was able to negotiate that in the first place. Naval personnel could not.

      Reply
    1. Andy Hall

      The historian’s job is not to “prove” someone right or “prove” someone wrong. The historian’s job is to try to tell what happened and why, and to explain past words and deeds in the context of their place and time.

      Historians generally accept Stephens’ Cornerstone Speech as authentic because it fits entirely with the tenor of the place and time. Whatever his personal doubts about secession, Stephens was speaking as the new Vice President of the Confederacy, and repeating the same themes we see over and over again in the secession documents, newspaper editorials, and writings of the period. By March 1861 he was “all in,” willingly committed to the Confederate cause, and there’s no reason whatever to doubt that the transcript of the address reflects what he said, in substance if not in precise, word-for-word precision.

      Stephens claimed later — years later, when both the Confederacy and its raison d’être, the preservation of chattel bondage, had been crushed and discredited — that he was misquoted. While it’s entirely possible that the recorder missed a phrase or word here or there, the original version of the speech goes on and on at length about “our peculiar institutions” and “the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization.” It’s not especially plausible for Stephens to claim he was misquoted, although he certainly wouldn’t be the last politician to make that claim.

      Consider also that, a month later, Stephens pounded the same themes in an address to the Virginia secession convention:

      One good and wise feature in our new or revised Constitution is, that we have put to rest the vexed question of slavery forever, so far as the Confederate legislative halls are concerned. On this subject, from which sprung the immediate cause of our late troubles and threatened dangers, you will indulge me in a few remarks as not irrelevant to the occasion. The condition of the negro race amongst us presents a peculiar phase of republican civilization and constitutional liberty. To some, the problem seems hard to understand. The difficulty is in theory, not in practical demonstration; that works well enough—theories in government, as in all things else, must yield to facts. No truth is clearer than that the best form or system of government for any people or society is that which secures the greatest amount of happiness, not to the greatest number, but to all the constituent elements of that society, community or State. If our system does not accomplish this; if it is not the best for the negro as well as for the white man; for the inferior as well as the superior race, it is wrong in principle. But if it does, or is capable of doing this, then it is right, and can never be successfully assailed by reason or logic. That the negroes with us, under masters who care for, provide for and protect them, are better off, and enjoy more of the blessings of good government than their race does in any other part of the world, statistics abundantly prove. As a race, the African is inferior to the white man. Subordination to the white man is his normal condition. He is not his equal by nature, and cannot be made so by human laws or human institutions. Our system, therefore, so far as regards this inferior race, rests upon this great immutable law of nature. It is founded not upon wrong or injustice, but upon the eternal fitness of things. Hence, its harmonious working for the benefit and advantage of both. Why one r ace was made inferior to another, is not for us to inquire. The statesman and the Christian, as well as the philosopher, must take things as they find them, and do the best he can with them as he finds them.

      The great truth, I repeat, upon which our system rests, is the inferiority of the African. The enemies of our institutions ignore this truth. They set out with the assumption that the races are equal; that the negro is equal to the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be legitimate. But their premises being false, their conclusions are false also. Most of that fanatical spirit at the North on this subject, which in its zeal without knowledge, would upturn our society and lay waste our fair country, springs from this false reasoning. Hence so much misapplied sympathy for fancied wrongs and sufferings. These wrongs and sufferings exist only in their heated imaginations. There can be no wrong where there is no violation of nature’s laws. We have heard much of the higher law. I believe myself in the higher law. We stand upon that higher law. I would defend and support no Constitution that is against the higher law. I mean by that the law of nature and of God. Human Constitutions and human laws that are made against the law of nature or of God, ought to be overturned; and if Seward was right the Constitution which he was sworn to support, and is now requiring others to swear to support, ought to have been overthrown long ago. It ought never to have been made. But in point of fact it is he and his associates in this crusade against us, who are warring against the higher law—we stand upon the laws of the Creator, upon the highest of all laws. It is the fanatics of the North, who are warring against the decrees of God Almighty, in their attempts to make things equal which he made unequal. My assurance of ultimate success in this controversy is strong from the conviction, that we stand upon the right. Some years ago in the Hall of the House of Representatives, a very prominent gentleman from Ohio, announced with a great deal of effect, that we at the South would be obliged to yield upon this question of slavery, because we warred against a principle; and that it was as impossible to war successfully against principle in politics as it was in mechanics. The principle, said he, would ultimately prevail. He announced this with imposing effect, and endeavored to maintain that we were contending against the great principle of equality in holding our fellow men. in the unnatural condition of bondage. In reply, I stated to him, that I admitted his proposition as he announced it, that it was impossible to war successfully against a principle in mechanics and the same was true in politics—the principle would certainly prevail—and from that stand point I had come to the conclusion that we of the South would ultimately succeed, and the North would be compelled to yield their ideas upon this subject. For it was they who were contending against a principle and not we. It was they who were trying to make the black man a white man, or his equal, which was nearly the same thing. The controlling laws of nature regulate the difference between them as absolutely as the laws of gravitation control whatever comes within their action—and until he could change the laws of gravitation, or any other law of nature, he could never make the negro a white man or his equal. No human efforts or human laws can change the leopard’s spots or the Ethiopian’s skin. These are the works of Providence—in whose hands are the fortunes of men as well as the destiny of nations and the distinctions of races. . . .

      Different month, different audience, different state — but the same message.

      Reply
    2. Jimmy Dick

      It is always interesting to see what was said prior to 1865 and afterwards. Stephens wasn’t the only one to change his story after the war. Jefferson Davis was well noted for his altered story. Jubal Early’s efforts to change the story are part of the genesis of the lost cause myth.

      Reply

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