The Confederate Melting Pot

Black Confederate Meme

This visual meme that I found on Facebook yesterday beautifully captures the broader story that I tell in the final chapter of my book on the myth of the black Confederate soldier. While the first signs of this narrative in the late 1970s was in response to the emergence of stories of black Union soldiers and emancipation in popular culture, the black Confederate soldier is now one piece of a much broader narrative that has attempted to make the history of the Confederacy palatable to a new audience.

Historians have explored the limits of ethnic and racial diversity in the antebellum South, but visual memes like this take it one step further. The goal is not simply to highlight history, but to offer more recent arrivals to the South a reason to identify with the history of the Confederacy. More importantly, it is a way to minimize or overshadow the Confederacy’s commitment to white Confederacy.

Regardless of whether they acknowledge this or not, these visual memes point to the continued challenges that Confederate heritage advocates face in selling the history of the Confederacy. Thus far imaginary black Confederate soldiers have failed to rally today’s southerners around the colors. There is no reason to believe that the rest of the gang pictured above will have any more success.

44 comments… add one
  • Tracey McIntire Jun 29, 2016

    Especially when they spell “Scottish” incorrectly! Once again, their ignorance is showing on several levels.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2016

      And the Native American is an unidentified Union soldier. The original photo is held at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (National Park Service).

      • Michael Lynch Jun 30, 2016

        “The Confederacy was so diverse, it included Union soldiers!”

  • Andy Hall Jun 29, 2016

    The man identified as “French” was named Samuel Gibbs French. He was from New Jersey.

    The man identified as “Mexican” is William Booth Taliaferro, a native Virginia of mixed English and Italian ancestry.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2016

      Thanks, Andy. LMAO.

    • London John Jul 1, 2016

      Thanks. I thought the “Mexican” looked a lot like A. P. Hill, but I wasn’t sure. Shows their utter incomptence that they couldn’t be bothered to find a picture of one of the many Tejano Confederates. I was going to ask why they couldn’t find a picture of Beauregard that didn’t look as if he’d shaved off half his beard for a bet, but your information makes it even worse: there must be 100 pictures of PGTB for every one of Gen. French.

  • Andy Hall Jun 29, 2016

    The man identified as “Italian” is Benjamin Huger, a native South Carolinian whose grandfathers both served during the American Revolution.

    • Pat Young Jun 29, 2016

      Although this sort of thing is laughable, it is also highly insulting. I work with many immigrant groups in New York and it is considered extremely insulting to use a random stock photo of someone who is not from an immigrant group as a representative of that group.

  • Leslie Ackel Jun 29, 2016

    Look,… Meme, skeme. I’m so weary of even the idea of the “sell.” Most folks I know, keep the culture to themselves and we go about our day-to-day working to fund our museums and historic sites, meeting and preserving the memory of those who participated in the Cause – “Not for fame or reward, not for place or for rank, not lured by ambition, or goaded by necessity – But in simple obedience to duty as they understood it.”
    Because our heritage is not for purchase, nor does anyone need convincing.
    HOWEVER –
    I get so riled up when I open my Times Picayune and see Jarvis DeBerry going on and on and on about… the flag. Again. Bad Meme, in text, I guess you could say – Good God. White Southern Baptist, Black Southern Baptist, another history lesson. Oh weary me.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2016

      Jarvis DeBerry has the right to go “on and on” about the Confederate flag as much as anyone else in the community.

      • Leslie Ackel Jun 29, 2016

        Didn’t say otherwise, Mr. Levin. Merely squeaked my annoyance. Now go pick up your marbles.

  • Pat Young Jun 29, 2016

    This multi-cultural Confederacy meme is an interesting counter to the writings of the Confederates themselves who depicted the Union army as a “mongrel” horde made up of “Hessians,” “the sweepings of the Five Points,” and, of course, blacks. The actual Confederates were very clear that their army was purely white, and by the 1890s had begun to speak of it increasingly as Anglo-Saxon. The words “pure,” “Anglo-Saxon,” and “race” crop up together a lot in Confederate veteran and SCV literature and speeches in the 1910s and 1920s.

    On the other hand, until relatively recently, some Northerners liked to minimize the part that immigrants and blacks played in Union victory. “Glory” was as much a revelation for people in the North as it was for those in the South.

    In years of blogging The Immigrants’ Civil War I have received many messages from white Southerners claiming a large immigrant contribution to the Confederacy. It is clear that they have encountered on-line memes like this one and have honestly accepted them as factual. There certainly were a handful of immigrants who were prominent in the Confederacy, J.P. Benjamin and Pat Cleburne being the most notable, but the Confederacy overall included few immigrants. In fact, of every 20 people immigrating to the U.S. in the decades right before the Civil War, 1 went to the future Confederate States, 1 went to the Border States, and 18 went to the Northern free states.

    Among all of the states in 1860, these had the highest percentage of immigrants as a proportion of their population:

    California- 38%
    Wisconsin- 35%
    Minnesota- 34%
    Utah- 31%
    Nevada- 30%
    Washington- 27%
    New York- 26%
    Nebraska- 22%
    Massachusetts- 21%
    Rhode Island- 21%
    Michigan- 20%
    Illinois- 19%
    New Jersey-18%
    Connecticut- 17%
    Iowa- 16%
    Pennsylvania- 14%
    Missouri- 14%

    Louisiana had the highest percentage of foreign-born in the Confederacy with only 11%. All the other Southern states were in single digits.

    Confederate Heritagers often point to South Carolina as a state with a large immigrant population. Unfortunately they ignore the evidence of the 1860 Census. That state’s population was 2% foreign-born. That’s still more than Georgia, which was 1% immigrant. I guess they think that being “twice as immigrant as Georgia” is enough to make S.C. immigrant-dense!

    I don’t think that those who write to me about the immigrant Confederacy are trying to deceive me. They have seen this Rainbow Confederate effort over recent years and have assumed that it must be based in fact.

    In distorting the immigrant presence in the South, Confederate Heritagers distort the role of immigrants in bringing on the Civil War and tipping the scales in favor of the Union.

    We often hear that one reason the war came when it did was because the North was growing so much faster than the South. This population boom in the North was not due to Northern women being more attractive or Northern men being more virile and hence reproducing at a higher rate than white Southerners were capable of. Population growth was a direct result of massive immigration from the mid-1840s right up to the start of the war and the decision by new immigrants to avoid the South. The reason they avoided the South was that most of the new arrivals had nothing to sell but their labor, and free labor could rarely compete with the slave. In addition, many opposed slavery on religious or political grounds.

    Slavery made the South bi-cultural, black and white, at a time when the North was increasingly multi-cultural. Although the transformation was violently opposed by some Northerners, it ultimately became a war-winning strength. Immigrants contributed half-a-million soldiers to the Union cause and fewer than 50,000 to the Confederate army.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2016

      This multi-cultural Confederacy meme is an interesting counter to the writings of the Confederates themselves who depicted the Union army as a “mongrel” horde made up of “Hessians,” “the sweepings of the Five Points,” and, of course, blacks.

      Absolutely. Like the black Confederate narrative it is a recent development in Civil War memory.

    • James Simcoe Aug 8, 2016

      I’ll add some detail that is probably already well known. Colonel Heg, a Norwegian born Free Soiler, sent a letter to the Wisconsin Governor, stating that he could raise a regiment (15th Wis.) of Norwegian speakers and guaranty bi-lingual officers – it was done. The 1st Michigan Sharpshooters were a mixed, mostly, Odawa Regiment with Odawa line officers. And of course the Germans of Missouri who almost single handed kept the state in the Union. Some irony here, as it was General Talieferro who busted Jackson over the Romney Incident. Jackson left Loring’s men to die in the frozen muck for ‘insubordination.’ Gen. Talifer’ rode to Richmond and called in some chits as he was well known politically in Virginia. The men were returned to Winchester and sent west. Loring went on to clear the Kanawha Valley of Yankees later in the year, bust Sherman at Yazoo Pass, evade Grant at Champion’s Hill and generally due solid duty to the end.

  • David Kent Jun 29, 2016

    Incorrect spelling is nothing. When they spend what looked to be quite a bit of money on a plaque, and can’t get their grammar correct, you know what your dealing with.

  • David Kent Jun 29, 2016
  • Julian Jun 29, 2016

    you guys seem to want your cake and eat it too … the meme gets things wrong in an obvious and stupid manner (once again I despair at the sad spectre of unredeemable incompetency undermining any attempt to set out a sophisticated discourse around the south and its history) but you then use the error of the meme to yourself whiten the Confederate army to create a fictitious white supremacist hegemony that is as absolute as that of the far right. There were creoles, Acadians, Mexican/Hispanics, Native Americans, some German Texans (even given that the majority found the Confederacy uncongenial), certainly British, Irish, Canadians, French and even Australians, people from overseas who came over explicitly to fight for the South and possibly even some “passing” mixed race soldiers (who of course are not “black Confederates” as their whole presence rested upon being identified not as men or women of obvious colour). May be not to a huge degree but these other Confederates were there and there were units of the army that were substantially Hispanic, Native American and Acadian. Even to the degree that it was made up of a range of people the CSA is neither the fantasy army – white and Christian – of far right memory nor quite the proto KKK that modern construct and rhetoric conjures up. Victoria Bynum’s warnings in her new epilogue to the film tie in edition (2016) of “the Free State of Jones” as to how modern fixed ideologies erase the complex, contradictory and often individual and personal scale decisions of people as to how to identify themselves within Southern history and memory is highly relevant in relation to discussing this meme. Bynum’s writing paced, nuanced and thoughtful, stands against the absolutes and extremes that are the stock in hand of many other discussions and she devolves the narrative of proof back down to the individual and their choices.

    I would suggest that not only is the rainbow confederacy like the black confederacy a modern construct, but equally the white confederacy is to some degree a construct – which still has current traction – of both the right and left (but for different reasons)

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2016

      …but you then use the error of the meme to yourself whiten the Confederate army to create a fictitious white supremacist hegemony that is as absolute as that of the far right.

      Not at all. I stated in the post that historians have explored the racial and ethnic diversity of the South and the Confederacy.

    • Josh Liller Jun 29, 2016

      @Julian Unless I’m missing something it seems unlikely there were any true “Acadians” in the Civil War as the French Nova Scotians were, to my knowledge, expelled in the 1760s. There were surely plenty of Acadian descendants, but I am of the impression we are talking immigrants here, not descendants of immigrants. If we’re counting descendants it opens up quite the can of worms as to at what generation the descendants of immigrants stop being “foreigners”.

  • David Kent Jun 29, 2016

    “but you then use the error of the meme to yourself whiten the Confederate ARMY to create a fictitious white supremacist hegemony that is as absolute as that of the far right.”

    Actions speak louder than words. What are today’s far right intent on doing? Striking down a portion of the voting rights act, and purposely making it more difficult for the poorer people to vote are on the top of their agenda. They make up problems that don’t exist, (voter fraud as an example), and then pass onerous laws to keep people who won’t vote for them from voting. In my opinion, if it costs you money to vote, it’s a poll tax. How they’re getting away with it is beyond me.

  • Julian Jun 29, 2016

    It does seem a little bit as if they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t

    “More importantly, it is a way to minimize or overshadow the Confederacy’s commitment to white Confederacy.”

    correct me if I am wrong , this sort of suggests in my reading of your words that any investigation/acknowledgement of the (albeit smaller than up north) minority presence in the Confederacy does nothing but put a palatable mask upon the white supremacist legend. This is a line of argument which I think is underselling those original historical people who do not fit into the legend, by only reading them (who are partly and inaccurately – and self-seekingly – represented in this meme) as subsumed within an elaborate defence put up the Lost Cause.

    In the primacy of deconstructing the Lost Cause, those who slightly modify or deconstruct the legend, ironically become little more than the parts that lead to the sum of the traction of the monolithic legend itself. The Lost Cause is a construct, it is a wrong construct, but its not only the heritage mob who fights as if the Lost Cause is the only story on stage or in the prompt book.

    Deconstructing the legends of the South is good but it also impacts upon opponents as well as advocates of the Lost Cause, both need to shift and present a ragged, less straightforward vision of the people and the narrative.

    If we focus on Newton Knight for example we should also focus on Stand Watie who presents a different jamming of the pure white legend

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2016

      Again, I am in no way ignoring the racial and ethnic diversity of the antebellum South and the Confederacy, but if you read some of the earlier comments you will see that this image fails to even properly identify many of the individuals included.

      If anyone is “underselling those original historical people” it is those individuals and organizations who push these types of images as legitimate history.

    • TFSmith Jun 29, 2016

      If one is going to compare Stand Watie to Newt Knight, one would think the most significant difference is that Watie was a slaveowner and Knight was not, correct?

  • Julian Jun 29, 2016

    yes I certainly agree that the poor historical practice is the greatest culprit in this context, – and I think undermines any attempt to set out a more multifaceted vision of the past. Yes I also noted already that this meme actually woefully fails to accurately represent those nationalities that were present in the Confederacy with appropriate imagery, so its a double failure. At least Judah Benjamin does look fairly much like himself …

    Sometimes its such a one sided competition, I do wish people could match passion with an equal degree of historical professionalism

  • David Kent Jun 29, 2016

    “If anyone is “underselling those original historical people” it is those individuals and organizations who push these types of images as legitimate history.”

    Also, as they seem to have an overwhelming desire to disassociate themselves from the people who study it for their living, (yourself, Kevin, being blocked on one of their facebook pages), they obviously have no desire to know anything but what they want to believe. They make this evident by your post. If you can’t make the truth fit into your agenda, make something up that does. Truth and facts be damned.

    • Andy Hall Jun 29, 2016

      Confederate “heritage” is about re-imagining the past as a place that reflects and affirms the observer’s own self-image. It’s helpful if that happens to align with historical reality, but it’s not at all necessary.

      • Phil Ross Jun 30, 2016

        I don’t disagree, but isn’t that the purpose of heritage? I look at historical and heritage narratives as lines that may intersect and travel together for a while, but they often run at cross purposes. History as historians understand it is often a minor component of heritage, not necessarily more important than myth, folklore, literary tradition, and identity politics. No better example than modern Confederate apologia.

  • Erick Hare Jun 29, 2016

    I know I have referenced this before, but it is very pertinent to this topic as well. In his letter to Andrew Hunter written on January 11, 1865, in talking about the necessity of arming blacks to fight in the Confederate armies, Robert E. Lee had this to say about the composition of the Confederate armies:

    “I should therefore prefer to rely upon our white population to preserve the ratio between our forces and those of the enemy, which experience has shown to be safe. But in view of the preparations of our enemies, it is our duty to provide for continued war and not for a battle or a campaign, and I fear that we cannot accomplish this without overtaxing the capacity of our white population.”

    Granted Native Americans fought alongside Confederates at Pea Ridge. Also there were some prominent European immigrants such as Irishmen Patrick Cleburne and John Mitchel who supported the Confederacy, but clearly the Confederacy primarily was established by white Southerners, for white Southerners, and the examples of diversity within the Confederate Cause are few and far between.

  • Julian Jun 29, 2016

    Now lets just throw Brexit into the mix … that is about delusion … the power of para-factual delusion …. but also people who feel devoiced and disempowered by neo-liberalism then turning to factoids as offering agency and consolation … this sense of panic and disempowerment then answered by access to no effective set of tools to work with that disempowerment is the also the elephant in the corner as a driving factor of this bad history as much as an abstract concept of “hate”. People don’t necessarily hate on the grounds of visible difference but more on the grounds of what they read as an underserved favouring of one group over another

  • Gregory Eatroff Jun 29, 2016

    Also, several examples of “diversity” in that meme are populations that are culturally almost identical an ethnically made up of pretty much the same components, just in varying proportions. Irish, Scottish, English, French… all a mix of Celtic, Roman and Germanic elements. As different as night and later that night.

    • chancery Jun 29, 2016

      Like running the gamut of human emotion from A to B.

      h/t Dorothy Parker

    • Julian Jun 30, 2016

      I am not certain that all Irish, Scottish, English or French people would agree that they are “culturally almost identical and ethnically made up of pretty much the same components”

      Some of these peoples have fought or are still fighting campaigns about self determination against the “English”

      Are you implying that “difference” to be real/authentic must be physical and visible, i.e. skin tones or facial and other features … that sounds rather like eugenics … and then are there some differences that register as more authentic than others …?

  • Julian Jun 29, 2016

    @Josh Liller – the original meme was about Confederate “diversity” not immigration and the Confederacy cf Pat Young’s Blog and Facebook sites that track the contribution of newly arrived immigrants to the Civil War, to which such an idea is central.

    I would also note that the modern tendency to created a solid, monolayered, white, demonised quasi-neo-Nazi Confederacy (and the Confederate Army) does elide the complex overlaps between Southern minorities and the Confederate army cf this website that explores Cajun presence in the CSA army http://www.acadiansingray.com/Intro.htm – – and there was a admittedly smaller presence of Texas Germans – despite the majority of views in that community being pro-Union and anti-slavery, in some cases these soldiers were at odds with the viewpoint of their extended families,

    Now I must stop engaging for the time being and finish writing my [ as usual overdue] conference paper on Quentin Tarantino – someone who also makes up Civil War history as he goes along but with more cultural clout and panache than the SCV …

    • Kevin Levin Jun 29, 2016

      I would also note that the modern tendency to created a solid, monolayered, white, demonised quasi-neo-Nazi Confederacy (and the Confederate Army) does elide the complex overlaps between Southern minorities and the Confederate army…

      It was the Confederacy that justified its existence around the cause of white supremacy.

      • Erick Hare Jun 30, 2016

        Apparently he hasn’t read the Ordinances of Secession or the Confederate Constitution, not to mention the letter I referenced in my earlier post.

  • HankC Jun 29, 2016

    unfortunately, the ‘celebration’ probably goes no deeper than the poorly constructed facebook post.

  • Christopher Graham Jun 30, 2016

    Conversation has moved beyond this, but the photograph of the guy they label as “Scotish” is actually unidentified… must have been the plaid shirt that gave him away. This image is either at MOLLUS or Carlisle.

  • Patrick Jennings Jun 30, 2016

    Well, for fun, there is always this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdeHXQDPGjA

    In the end, this conversation is fascinating and I may use it in my history classes as a lesson in avoiding the confines of thinking in time over thinking historically. The very idea that one can confine the concept of immigrant, national origin, and even the fascinating notion of “whiteness” to a scant four year period of time and then propel it forward to layer over our contemporary understanding of these same issues is hilarious.

  • Nathan Towne Jul 1, 2016

    If someone is going to push a narrative, they can at least bother to be semi-competent in doing so.

    William Taliaferro was obviously not Mexican. Taliaferro was a native Virginian with European ancestry.

    The picture of Samuel French which is labelled as “French,” is just as perplexing. Samuel French was born in New Jersey and he was not of French ancestry. The interesting thing though is that he could have been used here in their diversity crusade as French was a devout Quaker and he did not settle in a slave state until after he resigned his U.S. commission in the mid 1850’s; I believe 1856, but I would have to check his memoirs or his service record again to verify that.

    Interestingly, labelled under “Italian,” IS a man of French ancestry. Benjamin Huger was born and raised in Charleston S.C. His ancestry were French.

    They could have obviously done more with Judah Benjamin as well in that he was an immigrant to the United States from the West Indies on top of being Jewish. He immigrated as a child to Charleston S.C.

    You may also notice that they spelled Scottish wrong as well.

    Nathan Towne

    • Andy Hall Jul 1, 2016

      “The picture of Samuel French which is labelled as ‘French,’ is just as perplexing.”

      Not really. If you do an image search for French Confederate (without quotes), images of Samuel Gibbs French are among the first to turn up. Yes, they are that careless.

      • Kevin Levin Jul 1, 2016

        Now that is truly hilarious and horrifying.

      • Nathan Towne Aug 7, 2016

        With this said though, the general thrust of this post is not accurate. We know that the antebellum population (free citizens) in the United States was highly diverse in terms of ethnic ancestry and that this was true across the slave as well as free States.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Jul 1, 2016

    Of course, this “Confederate Diversity” meme is a distortion of historical facts; but in many ways, I think it’s calculated for effect for the times we live in. Given the issues the United States currently has with multicultural immigration, this meme says to the neo-Confederate that “155 years ago, the Confederacy had peaceful, equitable relations between various groups of people regardless of color, culture or religion. Confederates were out to work together in a society of a common language and customs and not be a divisive, hyphenated, demanding special privileges and pleadings like some people- aka ‘the REAL racists-” are about today.

    Yeah, right.

  • TFSmith Jul 1, 2016

    We need a similar gallery for the Equine Confederate community…

    And the rebel robots. And aliens. And talkin

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