Black Confederates to the Rescue… Again

I’ve been writing about this subject for much too long to be surprised by the emergence of the black Confederate narrative by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in response to last Wednesday’s shooting in Charleston. Black Confederate soldiers have been coming to the SCV’s and other Confederate heritage supporters rescue since the late 1970s, following the release of the popular mini-series, “Roots.”

This particular incident is unfortunately tailor-made for this myth. In a statement released by the South Carolina Division, SCV they maintain that neither the Confederate flag nor the history of the Confederacy has anything to do with the reasons behind Dylan Roof’s actions.

Historical fact shows there were Black Confederate soldiers. These brave men fought in the trenches beside their White brothers, all under the Confederate Battle Flag. This same Flag stands as a memorial to these soldiers on the grounds of the SC Statehouse today. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a historical honor society, does not delineate which Confederate soldier we will remember or honor. We cherish and revere the memory of all Confederate veterans. None of them, Black or White, shall be forgotten.

The historical record suggests that Confederate soldiers never acknowledged the existence of black comrades in arms during the war, though thousands of slaves performed a wide range of functions in the armies and elsewhere. They certainly didn’t acknowledge their presence while massacring black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow or the Crater and there were no signs of black soldiers while rounding up hundreds of fugitive and escaped slaves during the Gettysburg Campaign in the summer of 1863.

Even a cursory glance at the historical record shows that white Southerners did everything they could, even after the point where many believed the cause was lost, to avoid recruiting black men into the army.

Today black Confederate soldiers are everywhere and they almost always arrive just in time to remind the general public that the Confederate war had nothing to do with the maintenance of slavery and white supremacy. It neutralizes those very elements of the Confederate experiment that the men and women, who sacrificed everything to bring about a slaveholding republic, acknowledged as the core of what we might call “Confederate Exceptionalism.”

According to the SCV, and others who trout out the black Confederate myth, blacks and whites in the South have always embraced the same agenda. Before the war blacks were content as slaves. During the war they embraced the same goals of Confederate independence and after the war they once again accepted their place in a reconstructed society. Disturbances to this peaceful paternalist picture was always the result of outside agitators, whether they be those pesky abolitionists or postwar carpetbaggers and scalawags.

In this sense, Dylan Roof is an extreme example of a modern scalawag. According to the SCV he failed to understand that peace and love have always united whites and blacks throughout the history of the South.

Our membership is made up of descendants of Native-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, Christians and Jewish who took a stand for the Cause they believed was right. The love and defense of the South’s symbols, culture, and heritage is not hate. It is knowing and understanding of the truth.

Fortunately, this view of the past is in decline. The response to Confederate iconography and its history suggest that black Confederate soldiers are now part of a rearguard action that is doomed to failure.

19 comments… add one
  • Terry Beckenbaugh Jun 24, 2015

    Many of those blacks rounded up during the Gettysburg Campaign were not even fugitive slaves, but free men. Many in the Army of Northern Virginia commented that they were just enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.

  • msb Jun 24, 2015

    How does one “own” one’s “brother”?

  • Annette Jackson Jun 24, 2015

    What is the latest count on black Confederates as claimed by the heritage groups….90,000? Apparently lack of documentation does not stop some people…

  • Lisa Jun 24, 2015

    Of all the Confederate myths floating around right now this one is the hardest to refute. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely get it, but when you see photos of black men carrying or wearing the battle flag on fb (which I’ve seen an awful lot of lately) you can’t just say they are wrong without something to back it up. With the whole, worn out “war wasn’t about slavery” argument, it’s easy to point out various primary documents and post links to them. Since black Confederates didn’t exist, there’s little out there online as far as primary sources to point to. It’s not that hard to make a case against the black Confederate, as you have done, but it takes time and can’t as easily be backed up by online documents. That’s not a problem in general but you have to make it easy for people and I find that’s nearly impossible. If there’s more primary sources somewhere online that would make this easier, please let me know.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 24, 2015

      The best primary sources that I know of are the voluminous records, including letters, newspaper editorials speeches over the question of whether slaves should be recruited into the army. Not one source that I’ve come across gives any indication that Confederates were aware of black men already fighting in the war before 1865. Not one. There is not one wartime letter from a Confederate soldier pointing out that he fought next to a fellow black soldier. So, part of the problem is that you are looking for records that don’t exist.

      That said, the every documents that are being used to support their existence are being misinterpreted. They include muster rolls, pensions, etc.

      • Lisa Jun 24, 2015

        I agree completely, but how do you explain that to someone who’s never seen a muster roll or pension app before without sounding just like those who misinterpret them? I understand how to do it in an academic way but that’s difficult when you have the internet and Facebook and thousands of self proclaimed Civil War experts.

        • Andy Hall Jun 24, 2015

          I agree completely, but how do you explain that to someone who’s never seen a muster roll or pension app before without sounding just like those who misinterpret them?

          That’s what makes it tough. It takes time and focusing on detail that most people just aren’t invested in. Then, when you wrap that narrative in a mystique — the truth historians don’t want you to know, etc. — it becomes almost irresistible.

      • Jon Phillips Jun 24, 2015

        Slaves were chattel. They were servants, you know: slaves. I can easily buy a white Confederate going to war and taking his personal servant to cook and care for him while he’s engaged in his noble task of fighting Yankees.

        The black Confederate claim and movement is a scam by vestigial racist truthers and an attempt to reconstitute the narrative of history in order to pursue their political denial of the reality, which is the war was founded in the issue of slavery and its economics were founded and predicated upon the institution of slavery, just as the position that each slave owned by a white southerner represented a fractional additional weighted vote for the owner of that slave. The impact of that law was to make a slave owner a ‘super man’ – whose vote carried the clout of several voters.

        It may also be said, that in the army all privates are chattel. The army is not now and never was a democracy. So, show me the African American Sgt., Lt., or Gen. in the Confederate Army and maybe it would add some weight to an argument that there were black men in favor of their cause. Showing me a guy who’s serving his master on the front, and I’m convinced of nothing beyond the fact that upper class Southern whites were dependent upon the slaves they owned and lacked the ontological capacity to brush their teeth or get dressed properly without them.

    • MSB Jun 24, 2015

      Apart from primary sources, I’d recommend Bruce Levine’s “Confederate emancipation”, which also uses lots of primary material. It demolishes the myth by explaining how desperate and futile were Confederates’ attempts to recruit African Americans. But reading it takes some time, even though it’s not long.

  • Rob in CT Jun 24, 2015

    It’s a sign of how badly they’ve lost the argument, really. They have to pretend they really are in favor of equality, that they’re not bigots, and so forth.

    It wasn’t too long ago that these same people would’ve felt comfortable defending the Confederacy on the merits. Now they have to resort to historical fiction.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 24, 2015

      They are not all “bigots.” I think it is more a sign of defensiveness in wanting to honor an ancestor without having to deal with the tough questions of slavery. Of course, there are a number of problems with this. Even if an ancestor who fought in Confederate ranks didn’t own slaves there is no way of gauging his views on the subject. The vast majority of descendants don’t have a written record from their ancestor and for those who do there may not be much of anything contained that helps one way or the other.

      • Rob in CT Jun 24, 2015

        #not all SCVs!

        Correction accepted, but I believe there is a strong overlap between “heritage!!!!” types and bigots, and nothing I’ve seen when these issues are discussed has caused me to doubt this belief.

        As with anything, there is a spectrum. Some people are fairly mild bigots, others are obsessed with hatred/derision of the Other. All of us, even those who really try to avoid it, are prone to tribal tendencies and blind spots.

        In any event, the defensiveness is a sign of how the discussion has changed (obviously for the better, in my view). You don’t have to offer apologetics based in fantasy if you have a strong argument.

  • David Jun 24, 2015

    Evidently, the people who belong to the scv and all other similar groups have absolutely no intention of ever believing that the war was fought over slavery. In their opinion, all historical facts can be damned, and this is the way it was because we say so. As they are determined to believe that all of the peoples of the south, (slaves included), were one big happy family……….and their evident intent is to make everyone else believe the same………well……..this is their second “Lost Cause”.

    • John Betts Jun 24, 2015

      Which is why I decided long ago never to join the SCV. I have ancestors who fought on both sides, mostly for the Union at least from what I have documentation of. I had thought of the SCV as sort of a “history club” and at the time was going to join it plus the successor group to the Grand Army of the Republic (Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War). I’m glad I did my research and would never join the former, while the latter I’m still considering and probably will someday.

  • Leo Jun 24, 2015

    I’m sure H.K. Edgerton is going to make a lot of money in the coming days. CHA-CHING!

    • RUDOLPH YOUNG Jun 24, 2015

      After all is said, H.K . is no more than a con artist who plays off the misguided and ignorant within the SCV. He is a cover for any charge of racism, He actually makes them feel good about themselves . H’K’s role was actually offered to me ,until I deviated from the script .

  • Meg Thompson Jun 24, 2015

    Still, all this discussion is a sign of hope, yes?

  • Matt McKeon Jun 24, 2015

    When I read that I thought immediately “so that’s why they’re obsessed with black Confederates, To provide cover for a crisis(not the shoot, the haul down the flag movement), like this!”

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