General Edmund Kirby Smith, Black Confederate

Edmund Kirby Smith, Black ConfederateLast week the History News Network published a little featurette about Derek Boyd Hankerson, who bills himself as a university lecturer, filmmaker, author, and political operative. He also worked as Donald Trump’s Northeast Florida Field Director. The focus of the piece, however, was on his work as a historian of American slavery and his belief that thousands of black men fought as soldiers in the Confederate army.

Hankerson recently co-authored a book on the subject with Judith Shearer, titled, Belonging: The Civil War’s South We Never Knew. Hankerson likes to point out that the book was published by a division of Simon & Schuster, but fails to note that it just happens to be its self-publishing branch. I briefly engaged the author on Twitter, but failed to get beyond his insistence that I visit St. Augustine, Florida for its rich history. Clearly, living there hasn’t helped Hankerson better understand the past.

Since I devote a section of the final chapter of my black Confederates book to the small number of African Americans who have bought into this myth, I decided to order a copy of the book. It has yet to arrive, but Andy Hall ordered the e-book version and came across this little gem.

As you can see, the Hankerson believes that Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith was black. Readers will also be surprised to hear that Kirby Smith attended the “prestigious Southern school” at West Point. You just can’t make this stuff up. I have no doubt that I will uncover other surprising facts about slavery and the Confederacy.

The other frustrating aspect of this HNN piece is the reference to John Stauffer’s recent essay at The Root, which attempted to establish the presence of somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 black Confederate soldiers. You may remember that this article created quite a stir when it was published in early 2015. Even Stauffer admits that the essay “has gotten him into hot water with other scholars” but what he fails to note is that this is because his conclusions are either unsupported by the evidence or go completely off the deep end. It is unfortunate that this essay continues to be cited as a legitimate source.

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46 comments… add one
  • Stan Vaughan May 23, 2018 @ 21:03

    West Point is indeed in SOUTHERN New York ORANGE County. New York is where the South’s highest ranking General Samuel Cooper was from as well as General Lovell.With the outbreak of the Civil War, Lovell left New York City and his job as deputy street commissioner there and enlisted in the Confederate army

  • M. Smith Oct 30, 2017 @ 10:02

    Just to be a little bit facetious perhaps the reference to the USMA at West Point being a southern school had to do with the seemingly preponderance of southerners who attended.

  • C. Kornegay Aug 13, 2016 @ 7:47

    I purchased the book and found that the writings on E. Kirby Smith and West Point (USMA) are from the co-author Judith Shearer and not Hankerson. It seems the real story here is the relationship between E. Kirby Smith and his family’s slave and personal camp servant/valet, Alexander H. Darnes, who later became the first African American doctor in Jacksonville, FL. There is speculation on who Darnes’ father was as they make mention of his mother Violet Pinkney, but was his father possibly E. Kirby’s father, Joseph Lee Smith, or another Smith family male relative? They seem to favor each other in pictures hence this speculation. Exploring Smith and Darnes’ relationship from slavery to freedom is the real story and one that would find fault with the narrative of real Black Confederate soldiers that Hankerson and Shearer assert in the book.
    Darnes’ is supposed to have an autobiography of his service as an enslaved camp servant to Smith, but I have not been able to find it. Does anyone know of this? I did find 3 letters of Darnes to Smith in the 1890’s. The additional story is the Smith-Darnes statue in St. Augustine and the impending removal of Smith’s statue from the National Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
    As for West Point being a “Southern School” though we all know it is on the Hudson in West Point, NY, it looks that Smith’s class of 1845 was comprised of almost 3 times more cadets from Northern versus Southern States and a 16 to 7 ratio for those who fought for the Union versus those who fought for the CSA. One cadet from Kentucky fought for the Union and one fought for the CSA. The other cadets from Kentucky died in service in Western frontier areas prior to the Civil War.

  • bob carey Aug 11, 2016 @ 0:30

    Judging on how his candidate did against Paul Ryan, this fella ought to start looking at a possible career change.

  • Patrick Jennings Aug 10, 2016 @ 8:25

    I did have to read the passage twice (maybe three times). I thought I simply rushed through it and misunderstood. If you want to grasp at straws we could accept that West Point is along the “southern” third of the Hudson River!

    Still, along a more serious route, Smith did attend a military boarding school in Virginia from which he entered West Point. Perhaps that is the seed that planted this crooked tree.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 10, 2016 @ 8:33

      Still, along a more serious route, Smith did attend a military boarding school in Virginia…

      Right. The authors need to do a better job of plagiarizing their sources. 🙂

      • Patrick Jennings Aug 10, 2016 @ 10:18

        Exactly…my research required some deep, deep Wiki-research. I think I had to read all the way down to the second or third paragraph!

  • Annette Jackson Aug 10, 2016 @ 7:47

    G.D. Brasher, I suspect we are related, although my family spells the name Brashear. If you are a descendant of the family of Benois Brassiur who immigrated from France to Virginia and then to Maryland in the 1600s, we are some sort of kin.

  • GDBrasher Aug 10, 2016 @ 7:28

    There is a West Point in Virginia, of course. It is a quaint little town with a rich history (native American and Civil War, especially), and beautiful views of the confluence of the Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and York rivers. At last check, however, it is not, and has never been, the home of the United States Military Academy. As Bug Bunny would say, “what a maroon!”

  • Ken Noe Aug 10, 2016 @ 7:10

    The accurate material in that book passage is taken word-for-word from the Civil War Trust’s website:

    • Kevin Levin Aug 10, 2016 @ 7:11

      Oh, brother. Thanks, Ken.

    • Andy Hall Aug 10, 2016 @ 7:37

      Not surprising. I see now that his much of his text about the Gamble Plantation in Florida, following shortly after the Kirby Smith passage, is lifted directly from the historical marker there, without quotes or attribution.

      • Al Mackey Aug 10, 2016 @ 10:41

        Plagiarism, too. I’m not surprised. That “book” is evidently quite a hot mess.

  • Al Mackey Aug 10, 2016 @ 6:03

    Also, if I’m not mistaken, Smith is buried in Tennessee, not St. Augustine. There is so much wrong with this single passage that it shows these two people have zero credibility.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 10, 2016 @ 6:04

      He never claimed that he was buried in St. Augustine, just that I should visit, which I still don’t understand.

      • Andy Hall Aug 10, 2016 @ 6:26

        Nah, he says explicitly in the passage above that Smith is buried in St. Augustine. I didn’t fact-check the whole graf; just noticed the stuff that sort of jumped off the page.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 10, 2016 @ 6:31

          Oops. My bad. Sorry about that, Al. I was thinking about our twitter exchange before I read the clipped passage.

          • Andy Hall Aug 10, 2016 @ 6:46

            I haven’t read the book closely all the way through, but there’s probably a lot more goofy stuff like that all through it. (The “Chandler Boys” makes a cameo appearance, as well.) The Kirby Smith passage popped out at me because he formally surrendered the Trans Mississippi Department here in June 1865, and the recent controversy about his statue representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

            • Kevin Levin Aug 10, 2016 @ 6:49

              I am not at all interested in this book for the history. My focus is on the broader themes that appear to be at work, beginning with the title: “Belonging”.

          • Ben McD May 29, 2018 @ 16:43

            Levin you boggle the minds of many. In one passage you suspect something about history which means your not sure at all and then in the next breath you know it all.
            Here’s something for you to investigate about St. Augustine Florida. But you won’t. Any subject that defies your narrative (Northern Historian syndrome) is swept under the rug. To bad for you. Local historians along with some families which go back several generations say they have documentation of a Black Confederate soldier buried under the Confederate Memorial down in St. Augustine. Don’t worry about it Levin we may never know for sure because that Memorial will remain untouched. In other words it will stay put and remain out of the hands of your kind who would gladly see it’s removal and destruction. Along with any part of history “YOU” feel is impossible. But those historians didn’t teach me that in grammar school so it must be fake. I am Levin and you can’t tell me differently. I was a straight A student in History. My professor was the best, he knew everything. I guess I’m just beating a dead horse. Levin, I don’t give up that easily. I’ll be back every now and then to study more of your posts. No doubt there is some truth in what you have learned after all these years. We’ll see what happens.

            • Kevin Levin May 29, 2018 @ 16:55

              Hi Ben,

              Thanks for taking the time to comment. I have no doubt that you were an excellent history student, but you apparently never learned to cite your sources. Next time remember to provide sufficient information and evidence to support your claims.

  • Boyd Harris Aug 10, 2016 @ 5:45

    E. Kirby Smith, as commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, issued the following to Maj. General Richard Taylor on June 3, 1863:

    “I have been unofficially informed that some of your troops have captured negroes in arms. I hope this may not be so, and that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma.”

    Sooooooo…..yeah. Even if he was black (he was not), he was no friend to black folk.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 10, 2016 @ 5:46


    • Margaret D. Blough Aug 11, 2016 @ 6:12

      And, in the OR, the entire correspondence is particularly appalling. Smith made very sure that his superiors were aware of the orders that he gave to Taylor.

      Shreveport, La., June 16, 1863.
      General S. COOPER,
      Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.:
      GENERAL: I have the honor to inclose you two letters, addressed to Major-General Taylor, in regard to the disposition to be made of negroes and their officers captured in arms. Unfortunately such captures were made by some of Major-General Taylor’s subordinates. I have heard unofficially that the last Congress did not adopt any retaliatory legislation on the subject of armed negroes and their officers, but left the President to dispose of this delicate and important question. In the absence of any legislation and of any orders except those referred to in the inclosed letters, I saw no other proper and legal course for me to pursue except the one which I adopted.
      I have the honor to be, general, your obedient servant,
      [Inclosure No. 1.]
      Shreveport, La., June 13, 1863.
      Maj. Gen. R. TAYLOR, Commanding District of Louisiana:
      GENERAL: I have been unofficially informed that some of your troops have captured negroes in arms. I hope this may not be so, and that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma. If they are taken, however, you will turn them over to the State authorities to be tried for crimes against the State, and you will afford such facilities in obtaining witnesses as the interests of the public service will permit. I am told that negroes found in a state of insurrection may be tried by a court of the parish in which the crime is committed, composed of two justices of the peace and a certain number of slave-holders. Governor Moore has called on me and stated that if the report is true that any armed negroes have been captured he will send the attorney-general to conduct the prosecution as soon as you notify him of the capture.
      I have the honor to be, general, your obedient servant,
      Lieutenant-General, Commanding.
      [Inclosure No. 2. ]

      Shreveport, La., June 13, 1863.
      Maj. Gen. R. TAYLOR,
      Commanding District of Louisiana:
      GENERAL: In answer to the communication of Brigadier-General Hébert, of the 6th instant, asking what disposition should be made of negro slaves taken in arms, I am directed by Lieutenant-General Smith to say no quarter should be shown them. If taken prisoners, however, they should be turned over to the executive authorities of the States in which they may be captured, in obedience to the proclamation of the President of the Confederate States, sections 3 and 4, published to the Army in General Orders, No. 111, Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office, series of 1862. Should negroes thus taken be executed by the military authorities capturing them it would certainly provoke retaliation. By turning them over to the civil authorities to be tried by the laws of the State no exception can be taken.
      I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
      S.S. ANDERSON,
      Assistant Adjutant-General.<<

      • Ben McD Feb 23, 2018 @ 12:02

        The truth always hurts. And as you all continue to attack history for what it’s not you will live in pain. Open your closed minds; The truth will simmer in the middle. As you knock down one memorial opened minds will build 10 more. At the same time the truth will raise it’s ugly head and leave you with the closed mind embarrassed. Guaranteed fact: The Bryan house located in Gettysburg Park Pa. was home and owned by a Black American family who owned and operated their farm with slaves. Don’t tell me your surprised with disbelief. How could this be that in 1863 a Black family owned slaves. But fortunately for you and I slavery has phased it self out. So get off your high horse of knowing it all and get used to it. Slavery was here and now it’s gone and not the reason for the Cessation War. You ought to take a peak at the slavery going on out in the western territories with the Indians as the slave holder. But for now we will concentrate on preserving Confederate Heritage. In order to stop the closed minded erasist who will erase George Washington and beyond.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 23, 2018 @ 12:05

          You seem to forget that Pennsylvania was a free state by the beginning of the Civil War. Fascinating analysis. LOL

          • Ben McD Apr 14, 2018 @ 20:05

            Fascinating as you (Levin) may find this time in history. It is in no way shape or form an LOL state of mind. It looks as though you are an erasist. Slavery was phasing it’s ugly head out of American culture. For Pa. it’s phase out began in 1780 yet for some in Gettysburgh Pa. was a way of life during the Civil War regardlees of the law. I’m sure you believe the War was only about slaves. I guess the State of Pa. should be renamed since Penn had slaves. The Northern Historians will conveniently leave certain aspect of this tragedy out. But when a new fact is discovered that’s not in the books it is caste as non-sense.
            With out our Countries past there is no future, Where does the erase-ist stop. He doesn’t until history is removed.

            • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2018 @ 2:07

              For Pa. it’s phase out began in 1780 yet for some in Gettysburgh Pa. was a way of life during the Civil War regardlees of the law.

              I really encourage you to write a book about this. It promises to change everything we know about American history. Publishers will flock to your door and prizes await. 🙂

              • woodrowfan Apr 15, 2018 @ 10:09

                He’d better have an editor, as both his grammar and spelling are awful, not to mention his use of the wrong word (such as “caste” for “cast.”). He;ll also need help due to his apparent unfamiliarity with either the rules of capitalization or proper use of apostrophes. ouch.

                • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2018 @ 10:11

                  One thing at a time.

        • Mike Furlan Apr 15, 2018 @ 5:10

          I’m wondering how many slaves a 12 acre farm could support in addition to the Husband, Wife and 5 children?

          • Ken Noe Apr 15, 2018 @ 11:55

            At one point, Bryan rented out a building on his property to Alfred Palm and Margaret Divit Palm. She may have been an escaped slave from Maryland, since the local story is that bounty hunters came after her once. She broke free after biting one of their thumbs off. At any rate, neither were owned by Bryan.

    • Andrew Nov 16, 2017 @ 21:04

      I’m confused now because I just watched a show on TV totally not related to the CW but did go into someone who bought a house built by General Kirby and it mentioned that the General helped and hide slaves in the house. Could this be another Gen. Kirby? Also, the order above I believe is referring to Confederate soldiers capturing Black Union soldiers and their “white officers” (correct? Because I thought blacks were not given the rank of officer until after the CW) IDK but I will be researching this as well as the Trump claim or reference above either way not an order to far out of the realm given they were considered the enemy and if they weren’t taking prisoners at that time due to whatever circumstances they were facing it’s not too far fetched! I’m confused and like is said will be researching several things from this article and it’s post.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Aug 10, 2016 @ 4:56

    I have often wondered if any given 19th Century White Southerner might have African ancestry, given the racial mixing that went on, forced or voluntary. Looking at Kirby Smith’s picture it doesn’t look like he was part Black but who knows.

    Anyway Kevin, what stuck out to me in your comment was your mention of “the small number of African Americans who have bought into this myth.” I wonder sometimes how small that number is, perhaps more than we think. Two Saturdays ago, I reenacted as a USCT soldier at a small event at the B&O Railroad Museum in Ellicott City, Maryland (this was the same day as the devastating flood which severely damaged the town. Fortunately, I left right before the flooding occurred). When the time came for questions from the racially mixed audience, a Black man asked about Black slaveowners and Black Confederate soldiers. I had a chance to talk to him one-on-one afterwards and from my perspective, he seemed very intelligent and didn’t appear to be any kind of neo-Confederate. This leads me to think once again that for some Black people, Blacks owning slaves and Blacks as Confederate soldiers convey positions of empowerment and autonomy rather than the degradation and emasculation of slavery.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 10, 2016 @ 5:34

      I have never done a comprehensive study, but I suspect that it is a relatively small number. I am not sure what to make of the individual you met based on what appears to be an honest question. That said, I don’t doubt that the kind of narrative you describe is preferable for the reasons mentioned.

    • Mike Furlan May 31, 2018 @ 15:23

      This old post, reminded me of something I wrote 20 years ago.

      “Acted as a Soldier”
      One of the claims made about the “Black Confederates” is that they were soldiers because the occasionally acted as soldiers. Let me give some examples that might help explain why that isn’t so.

      Let’s say that at dinner tonight I save a choking victim by using the Heimlich maneuver. I’ve acted exactly as a doctor would have, so I should expect membership in the AMA? Of course not.

      Let’s take in a step further, I’m a paramedic who rides an ambulance. I’ve
      saved lots of people, saved more lives than any dermatologist I know. But
      still, we all agree not a doctor

      Or let’s say I’m a immigrant who was a doctor in my home country. But I’m not certified to practice here. Still, not a doctor If I accept patients, and am discovered I may go to jail, even though I was capable and acted just like a doctor.

      Anyone vaguely familiar with the medical profession can probably give other better examples of how medical doctors defend their “turf.”

      From 1861 till early 1865 soldiering was one of the exclusive privileges of
      being a white Southerner. [Similarly in the North black troops were not allowed until late 1862.]

      Look at the issue from the “top down”, and follow the debate in the South over the use of black troops, from Cleburne wrecking his career by even suggesting it, to Lee finally coming around in late 1864, and finally by 1865 a majority of the CSA congress votes through the bill allowing black troops. What the heck were they doing spending all that time talking about black combat infantry if there were already thousands in the field?

      Or look at it from the “bottom up” the way we have been doing here so far.
      Every man mentioned is listed as doing some explicitly non-combat job. Likewise the pensions they applied for were quite clear in showing that these men were not combat troops.

      These men may have wanted very badly to have been soldiers, you may want them to have been soldiers. But the society they lived in refused them that honor.!topic/

  • John Heiser Aug 10, 2016 @ 4:45

    Doubtless, Kirby Smith’s descendants will be as shocked as anyone to learn their ancestor was black thanks to Hankerson’s “history”. I wonder if he advised Trump on the Civil War battle that occurred on his mentor’s golf course near the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, the bloody battle near the tenth hole?

  • Annette Jackson Aug 10, 2016 @ 4:09

    I read this in semi- disbelief. It is astonishing that anyone will read this book and embrace the conclusions of someone who doesn’t even know where West Point is located. However, I used to visit and participate in Civil War forums on Facebook but finally stopped due to the presence of so many people supporting similar views.

    • J moye Mar 4, 2018 @ 22:26

      Is W.P not in MD? What region do you imagine it belongs, New England? MD considered itself Southern and was prevented from joining the Confederacy by federal troops.

  • William Satterwhite Aug 10, 2016 @ 2:51

    I wonder if the author may have somehow gotten confused by the relationship between Smith and his servant/probably half-brother Alexander Darnes?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 10, 2016 @ 2:52

      Anyone’s guess, but given the reference to West Point as a southern school it is clear that we are dealing with two authors who have no business writing about this subject.

      • J moye Mar 4, 2018 @ 22:23

        West Point is in MD, correct? MD consideted itself southern and was prevented, along with MO & KY from joining the Confederacy.

        • William Satterwhite Mar 5, 2018 @ 3:10

          West Point is in New York, you are thinking of the Naval Academy

          • David Smith Jul 29, 2020 @ 11:27

            There is a West Point, Virginia. I spent some time there, but the school must be gone.

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