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.