1 of 93,000 Black Confederates

Update: A member finally pointed out that the individual is a USCT.

I visit a couple of Facebook pages devoted to the black Confederate soldier. These sites are useful for a number of reasons. Most importantly, they provide a space for those individuals who are convinced of their existence to share their ideas over time and often in response to news stories. The other reason I visit is because a number of members post interesting items, such as newspaper clippings and other primary sources, to the wall. I have collected literally hundreds of magazine and newspaper clippings, many of which I am using in my book project.

On occasion, these pages can be very entertaining in a disturbing kind of way. Since anyone can post and/or comment these sites often highlight the sheer ignorance of its members. One rarely sees any attempt at serious interpretation and more often than not what is seen is what is believed.

Take this recent post of a grievously wounded and tired Civil War veteran. He certainly looks like he is wearing a gray uniform.

Facebook, Black ConfederateI am sure that if I waited a few hours we would see many more comments affirming the original assumptions of the post as well as other self-congratulatory comments and reminders that they alone are pushing back against the revisionists who insist on denying this important history.

One of the “likes” is from Teresa Roane, who was once employed by the Museum of the Confederacy and now works with the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Of course, as many of you know this is not a Confederate veteran. It is one of three images painted by Thomas W. Wood (c. 1865-66) titled, A Bit of History: The Contraband; The Recruit; The Veteran.

Thomas WoodThe three images documents the evolution from slave to soldier to veteran. It served as a powerful reminder of the crucial role that African-American men played in saving the Union as well as ending slavery through their own efforts. Finally, it raised the question of what black freedom and service to country would mean in a reunited nation.

Andy Hall recently documented another example of black Union soldiers misidentified as Confederates. I agree with his assessment: “Dumb as a Box of Rocks.”

35 comments… add one
  • How is the book coming along? I must admit, it’s one I can’t wait to read!

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    • Hi Robert,

      It’s been a slow process. I have probably spent too much time working through questions surrounding narrative v. analysis or trying to find the right balance between the two. I am also working on other projects so time is limited. Doing my best. Thanks for your interest. It’s nice to know that I will sell at least one copy. 🙂

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  • Thank you! History and heritage deserve the truth. I am deeply saddened that so many have sacrificed the integrity of the South to pursue a meme. It is as telling as it is sad.

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  • Thanks for posting. I’m also looking forward to the release of your book.

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  • Make that at least 2 copies! And I may buy another for someone else, so that’s 3 🙂

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  • I see this picture (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/civwar/item/2012650006/) on Pinterest all the time with the same tired, lost cause anecdote of “Confederate first sergeant…Union cavalry surrounded a lone Confederate soldier who had no horse and whose clothes were dirty and tattered. A union officer said to him that it was obvious that he had no wealth and not the means to own slaves. The officer asked: ‘Why are you fighting this war?’ The Confederate answered: ‘Because you are here.’ “

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    • Yikes. Haven’t seen this one before. Thanks.

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  • On thing I’ve learned from reenacting is that Federal blue uniforms tended to fade in color. I’ve seen well worn reproduction sky blue pants that look gray in color. When I bought my first uniform, other reenactors would tell me they knew my pants were brand new because the light blue color was still vibrant.

    I like that the trilogy of Wood’s paintings shows that the soldier has gone and returned in the same uniform and the fading is well documented.

    Attached here is a short video on federal fatigue blouses (sack coats) and there is some good information at about 5:30 on how they were dyed and what they looked like when they faded.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ7aiWMT45M

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    • The problem is not simply that these folks are already convinced that these men existed in large numbers, but that they unthinkingly cite every source as evidence. These FB pages are nothing more than echo chambers.

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  • I find it really funny that they so often have to use images of Black Union soldiers to support their story. If you look closely behind the soldier, you can see the stars and stripes in the corner.

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  • On one Facebook site this morning, the Wood portrait already had over sixty shares. “Echo chamber” indeed.

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  • Not to mention the confident assertion in the accompanying tag line to the reunion photo that the 1921 National Archives fire was a deliberate attempt to destroy “proof of the genocide of the Southern people by Lincoln’s government and his ILLEGAL INVASION AND WAR on the South against women and children.” I didn’t realize Obama was that old.

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    • Yes, the conspiracy theories are like the icing on the cake, but they always seem to come up short on providing evidence for it.

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  • A fire at the National Archives in 1921 would be quite remarkable, given that the place was established in 1934.

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  • Yes. They find a source, but then fail to interrogate that source.

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  • Union cavalry surrounded a lone Confederate soldier who had no horse and whose clothes were dirty and tattered. A union officer said to him that it was obvious that he had no wealth and not the means to own slaves. The officer asked: ‘Why are you fighting this war?’ The Confederate answered: ‘Because you are here.’

    That hoary old anecdote appeared early in the first volume of Foote’s trilogy. Lord knows where he came up with it.

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  • Kevin:

    Just for your information, the woman you mentioned above who “used to work for the Museum of the Confederacy”, Teresa Roane, and who is currently employed on staff at the national headquarters in Richmond for the United Daughters of the Confederacy….is an African American.

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  • Kevin, if you ever see a post in my name on one of those sites, it was NOT ME. I got doxxed a couple of years ago by a troll who posted about my ancestor out of spite (I debated him in a comment thread, so he put me on his site for revenge).

    Now, about that ancestor.

    I was up at William & Mary this month, and I found out some more about my family’s “Black Confederate,” namely that he really did exist. BUT …. as I suspected, he was considered a slave and nothing more. My great-grandfather, Samuel, went to war and took his slave, Jeff, with him. Family legend says that he “grabbed a gun and got in there with ’em” (allegedly, Jeff’s own words). So on the surface, it sounds like a real, confirmed Black Confederate narrative. But as an avid reader of Civil War Memory, and I know to dig deeper. 😉

    So this is what I found at W&M, in “North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster” volume XIII:

    FORESTER, JEFF, _____
    Negro. North Carolina pension records indicate that he “went and served his Master, Lieut. S.J. Forester.” Joined the company on or about March 23, 1862. (Co. B, 55th Regiment N.C. Troops)

    Notice there is nothing about his being a soldier? It doesn’t even say he served the Confederacy; he served, and I quote, “his Master.” The documentation pretty much speaks for itself. I think even Jeff himself would have been surprised by the ludicrous notion of black Confederates.

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  • What I find interesting is how the people continuing to perpetuate these baseless claims, other than “sightings” reported in the Northern press before Emancipation when the majority of the Northern press had a clear bias and political agenda they were pushing in reporting such stories at the time, when documentation from Confederates they revere (ie Robert E. Lee’s letter to Andrew Hunter dated January 11, 1865) completely refute their claims. It smacks of extreme desperation to call historical figures they revere either oblivious and/or outright liars just to perpetuate a debunked mythology surrounding the memory of the Civil War.

    In Lee’s letter to Andrew Hunter Lee clearly recognized the need to arm slaves at that point in the war, but also stated he would prefer to continue to draw enlistments from strictly the white southern population, and that in his view the best form of relations between the races is that of master and slave.

    Not to mention the fact that it took the Confederate Congress another month and a half after Lee’s letter to pass a law authorizing the enlistment of blacks in the Confederate Armies on March 23, 1865 only 17 days before Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, VA.

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  • [Housekeeping note: this comment is on topic to the extent that the thread drifted into general questions about the progress of your book. You’re free of course to decide it doesn’t belong here.]

    Kevin,

    Back in 2013 you put up an interesting post titled “Potential Black Confederates,” http://cwmemory.com/2013/09/17/potential-black-confederates/#more-21972
    , about the 25th Tennessee Infantry, raised in the Upper Cumberland area early in the war. Some records for this unit list as many as twenty enlistees as “Free Negro.”

    Your post questioned whether any of these enlistees remained in the unit beyond the initial three months. The comments contained some discussion of whether these men could be Melungeons, mountain people with a mixed (and controversial) ancestry who (if I’m correctly summarizing the discussion) were considered “white” in some contexts and “black” in others, depending in part on who was doing the considering. There’s also the question of the extent this ambiguity reflected the autonomy of isolated communities to develop sui-generis folkways with respect to racial identity and tolerance.

    I’ve been following you, Andy Hall, and Brooks Simpson (and your commenters) for about four years now. Although my recollection may be faulty, it’s my impression that nowhere in the pension records, the surviving army records, or the body of correspondence from Confederate soldiers and civilians is there sufficient direct unambiguous evidence to identify even a single black confederate soldier, let alone troops of them, prior to Lee’s limited experiment in the last weeks of the war.

    Accordingly these troop rosters would potentially be highly significant if they could be taken at face value. However, it seems possible these rosters cannot be so taken, because of the ambiguity of the use of the terms “white” and “black” within Melungeon communities and between the communities and the larger confederacy. The 20 enlistees may have initially been considered “white enough” for enlistment in their own communities, only to be rejected as “black” when their unit joined up with larger units.

    Anyhow, I was wondering if you have dived into what Ken Noe called the “huge, argumentative, and often volatile literature” about the Melungeons, and whether we can look forward to a comprehensive analysis and interpretation of this issue when your book comes out.

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    • I have looked into a few, but can’t make heads or tails of it.The first chapter of the book explores the war years, but it does not address this particular group in any detail. I have maintained from the beginning that it is possible that people passed as white in the Confederate army. I suspect that Eric Jacobson is write when he pointed out that these men were only in the military temporarily before their 12-month units were consolidated after the first year of the war. Thanks for your interest.

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  • Why would her race matter?

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    • One reason it matters to me is because the vast majority of the members of these pages are white and they rely heavily on the presence of African Americans as evidence that their interpretation of history ought to be accepted. This is why H.K. Edgerton can be found at SCV meetings. If black people accept this history than the history of the Confederacy can be divorced from the goal of defending and extending slavery.

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  • I’ll buy a second 😉

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    • You probably deserve at least one free copy. 🙂

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  • My wife will not argue with that …

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  • There was a 1921 fire, but it wasn’t in the National Archives per say since they hadn’t been established yet. Instead the fire was in the Department of Commerce where records that would later end up in the National Archives were stored. I can assure you the fire was real as it destroyed many records pertaining to the Lighthouse Board 1852-1900.

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  • Regarding the social media comment in the original post: “One estimate was 93,000 since the Union army had 181,000…”

    Where was this estimate conceived? And why would the number of Black Confederates be related to the number of USCT?

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    • I learned a long time ago not to ask such questions. 🙂

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  • Joshism wrote:

    There was a 1921 fire, but it wasn’t in the National Archives per say since they hadn’t been established yet. Instead the fire was in the Department of Commerce where records that would later end up in the National Archives were stored. I can assure you the fire was real as it destroyed many records pertaining to the Lighthouse Board 1852-1900.

    _____

    There’s a strong undercurrent of conspiracy theory in Confederate heritage circles.

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  • Thanks for your comments, Joshism and Andy. Most Confederate records now in the National Archives, and all records of Confederate military service in that institution, were held by the U.S. War Department before they were transferred to Archives. These records were not held in ideal conditions prior to their transfer (a major reason for the transfer), but I am aware of no fires that destroyed any of them while they were in federal hands. Thus the very extensive collection of Confederate muster rolls and related records now in the National Archives includes everything turned over at the end of the war by Confederate General and A.& I.G.O.Samuel Cooper. While these are not an absolutely complete record of everyone who served as a soldier, because of their nature and extent and the way they are cross-indexed, we can be sure that no significant body of records documenting African American Confederate soldiers has been lost.

    From time to time rumors have circulated in some parts of the Confederate heritage community that Confederate records at the National Archives have been destroyed or deliberately damaged. As I have demonstrated to national officers of the Sons of Confederate Veterans when they have visited Archives to investigate such rumors in years past, there is no basis in truth for such statements. We are fortunate indeed to have had this rich documentary heritage transmitted to us.

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  • Elizabeth Coker wrote:
    ____

    Just for your information, the woman you mentioned above who “used to work for the Museum of the Confederacy”, Teresa Roane, and who is currently employed on staff at the national headquarters in Richmond for the United Daughters of the Confederacy….is an African American.

    ____
    I’m more interested in her professional background as an archivist at the MoC and the UDC. In my view, that raises the bar for the expectation of her work. I’d love to see some of her more formal, published work on the subject of African Americans in the Confederacy.

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    • I don’t believe she has published anything on the subject. Kind of reminds me of Earl Ijames.

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