Searching For Black Confederates Under Advance Contract

I couldn’t be more excited to announce that Searching For Black Confederates is now under advance contract with the University of North Carolina Press.

It would be an understatement to say that this project has had a long and rocky history. This topic of black Confederates has occupied a good deal of my attention going back to the very first post on it in 2008 and is easily the most written about subject on this blog. A book is certainly a logical step that will allow me to explore some of the most heated debates over the memory of the war that continue to resonate in our culture. It will also give me a chance to explore how we now produce, search, and assess history online.

As early as 2010 I started to think seriously about taking this subject on as a book topic. I even announced (more than once) that I had started and was working toward its completion.

Of course, making an announcement and actually working on it turned out to be two different things entirely. While the blog posts kept coming, I found it difficult to work on the larger project. My move to Boston in 2011 proved to be a distraction as I scoped out more local topics such as a biography of Governor John Andrew and a regimental study of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. As much as I tried to push the black Confederate book away, however, it kept creeping back into view.

The turning point for me came in the wake of the Charleston shootings and an SCV press conference in which they referenced the myth in the summer of 2015. Since then I have been working steadily on the project, primarily gathering sources and thinking through the overall structure of the book.

The biggest factor in pushing this project forward over the past year has been the support of a small group of local historians that I meet with once a month. We call ourselves “Book Squad” and includes Megan Kate Nelson, Heather Cox Richardson, Nina Silber, Sara Georgini, Liz Covart, Seth Jacobs and Tom Thurston. We use our meetings to workshop book proposals, chapters, and to encourage one another through the most difficult and often frustrating parts of the research and writing process. The realization that others deal with the same self doubts and frustrations has been incredibly helpful. I don’t think I would be as far along without their advice and encouragement.

I am not going to bore you with the process of trying to find a publisher, but let’s just say that within five minutes of talking with Mark Simpson-Vos, who is the University of North Carolina Press’s editorial director, I knew I had found a home for this project. Mark and everyone else at the press have been incredibly enthusiastic from the beginning and are committed to making sure that the final product reaches as wide an audience as possible at a competitive price.

It goes without saying that I am thrilled that the book will be included in the Civil War America series, which up til recently was edited by Gary Gallagher and is now overseen by Caroline Janney, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, and Peter Carmichael. My personal library is lined with these books and have helped to shape my understanding of the field ever since I started reading Civil War history in the mid 90s. It is a huge honor to know that my book will eventually be included.

In addition to my friends in Book Squad, I want to thank the press’s two anonymous readers as well as Gary Gallagher and Bruce Levine for taking the time to read and comment on my book proposal. Their feedback has already helped me to fine tune some of the arguments and even broaden the scope in certain places.

I agreed to have the manuscript completed by August 1, 2017, but I expect to have it completed beforehand. We are still a ways away from the book hitting the shelves, but I do hope it is worth the wait and I thank all of you for your many comments and continued encouragement and support.

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36 comments… add one
  • James Simcoe Nov 19, 2016 @ 17:21

    I’m loving, ‘Engineering Victory’ by Thomas Army, 2016 Johns Hopkins Press. It is an accounting of the many ‘miracles’ wrought by the Union Engineering outfits. Key to their success was the establishing of civilian brevet officers and the draw on privates with practical skills to fill out the regiments. This rankled with many of the West Pointers. I bring it up here to point to its story of the Corps d’Afrique engineers who were key to the rescue of Porter’s boats during the Red River Campaign. Lost to the Confederacy were the thousands of Black carpenters, blacksmiths, bridge builders who could only be released for labor by the slave holder, which as Armstead Robinson pointed out, was usually not the case. I quote here, “In the spring of 1864, when Col. Thomas Talcott, commander of the newly formed 1st Confederate Engineers, proposed that free blacks be impressed to form pioneer companies, Secretary of War James Seddon reminded Talcott that free blacks and slaves worked on projects as impressed laborers, not as soldiers.”

    • Kevin Levin Nov 19, 2016 @ 17:37

      I’ve been meaning to check out the Army book. Thanks for reminding me.

  • Joyce Harrison Oct 17, 2016 @ 13:22

    That’s great news, Kevin! Can’t wait to read it!

    • Kevin Levin Oct 17, 2016 @ 13:22

      Thanks, Joyce.

  • Kathleen Oct 17, 2016 @ 11:03

    Hi Kevin
    Great news. Finally telling the truth about the mythical black confederates! I do hope that your book includes the bravery of the US Colored Troops and contrabands. A lot of BS has been written about the Corps D’Afrique (some of my ancestors) and their loyalty to confederates. I’m sure you’ll set the mythologist straight.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 17, 2016 @ 11:05

      Hi Kathleen,

      My book will only touch briefly on USCTs and contrabands. There has been a good deal of excellent scholarship produced over the past few years on USCTs and I am happy to recommend some titles if interested. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Msb Oct 17, 2016 @ 4:31

    Great news! Can’t wait to read it.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 17, 2016 @ 4:34


  • jclark82 Oct 16, 2016 @ 12:50

    Congratulations, your book is deservedly in good company. The UNC Press produces nothing but quality and yours is no exception.

    I look forward to reading this necessary work.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 16, 2016 @ 12:51

      Thanks. I do appreciate it.

  • sfwatson Oct 16, 2016 @ 5:03

    Congratulations! Look forward to reading it. Best of luck!

  • Kevin Dally Oct 15, 2016 @ 10:02

    Can’t wait to get a copy of the book, autographed maybe?

    • Kevin Levin Oct 15, 2016 @ 10:04

      Absolutely. 🙂

  • Meg Groeling Oct 15, 2016 @ 9:05


    • Kevin Levin Oct 15, 2016 @ 9:27

      Thanks, Meg.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Oct 15, 2016 @ 8:47

    Congratulations. I look forward to reading it and selling it at both Carter House and Carnton.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 15, 2016 @ 9:28

      Thanks, Eric. Would love to visit and sign books in person when the time comes.

  • Mark H. Dunkelman Oct 15, 2016 @ 5:43

    This is great news, Kevin. Congratulations! Having heard you speak on your topic, I know that your book will blend deep research with erudite analysis–a winning combination.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 15, 2016 @ 5:54

      Great to hear from you and thanks for the kind words. Hope all is well.

  • Peter S. Carmichael Oct 14, 2016 @ 9:52

    I worry that you might not get by the editorial team at UNC unless there are plenty of pictures in your book. Have you considered self-publishing?

    Congrats and looking forward to seeing your manuscript. Will you be at the Southern?

    • Kevin Levin Oct 14, 2016 @ 10:10

      It’s going to include a centerfold of me dressed in a Confederate uniform along side H.K. Edgerton.

  • James F. Epperson Oct 14, 2016 @ 8:29

    Love this!

    • Kevin Levin Oct 14, 2016 @ 8:31

      Thanks, Jim.

  • Noma Oct 14, 2016 @ 7:56

    Congratulations, Kevin. Can’t wait to read your book. I have a feeling that many of us will keep it handy as a reference for numerous exchanges. Good work!

    • Kevin Levin Oct 14, 2016 @ 7:57

      Thanks, Noma. Nice to hear from you.

  • David A Woodbury Oct 14, 2016 @ 7:35

    Congratulations, Kevin. It is well and good that you’ll be giving this topic a proper, book-length treatment through a university press. I look forward to reading it.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 14, 2016 @ 7:36

      Thanks, David. Always nice to get an enthusiastic response from a long time reader.

  • Douglas Egerton Oct 14, 2016 @ 7:25

    Fantastic news! Congratulations.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 14, 2016 @ 7:37

      Thanks, Douglas. Appreciate the kind words.

  • Kristoffer Oct 14, 2016 @ 6:55

    It’s great to hear that your solid and enjoyable scholarship has found a publisher. 🙂

    • Kevin Levin Oct 14, 2016 @ 6:56

      Thanks so much, Kristoffer.

  • Jimmy Dick Oct 14, 2016 @ 6:13

    Great news! That circle of friends is extremely valuable for sharing each other’s ideas and needs while providing positive reinforcement. I am looking forward to reading your book.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 14, 2016 @ 6:17

      I can’t say enough about that group. All of them are talented historians and each brings a very different perspective on writing and analysis. It’s not always easy to face their critiques, but it is essential in forging ahead. Thanks.

      • Jimmy Dick Oct 14, 2016 @ 9:35

        That’s the thing about being a real historian. They offer up their works for criticism by the best historians and work on making their interpretation stand up to that criticism so that their work is factually correct. Peer review is essential in historical publishing.

        The people who will be bitching about your book don’t concern themselves with facts which is why they are not historians by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Andy Hall Oct 14, 2016 @ 6:12

    Congratulations, Kevin! This is going to be fantastic!

    • Kevin Levin Oct 14, 2016 @ 6:15

      Thanks, Andy. Few people have done more than you to help untangle this myth. I appreciate your taking the time to read a rough draft of the first chapter and hope you will be willing to review future drafts. Your comments were incredibly helpful.

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