Teresa Roane and Barry Isenhour on Black Confederates or How Much History Can You Butcher in 17 Minutes?

I got a real kick out of this short video featuring Virginia Flagger Barry Isenhour and Teresa Roane, who used to work as an archivist at the Museum of the Confederacy and now with the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The video posted just yesterday focuses on black Confederates. I am singled out, along with historian John Coski, as anti-Southerners who just can’t seem to acknowledge that the Confederacy was at the forefront of civil rights with their recruitment of black Confederate soldiers. Yeah, it gets old after a while.

I am certainly not expecting you to watch the entire video. It’s an absolute mess. Even the first example of a so-called black Confederate that is brought up by Ms. Roane falls on its face. Richard Poplar was a body servant or what I call in my book, a camp slave.

Ultimately, this is the picture of slavery that the black Confederate narrative is intended to reinforce. [from Virginia: History, Government, Geography (1957)]

One question that always lingers: If the Confederacy had recruited all these men as soldiers, why did they bother debating that very question in 1864-65? Why didn’t anyone involved in this debate point out that black men were already serving as soldiers?

This is a wonderful example of what happens when people gain access to primary sources that they have very little or no ability to properly interpret.

One final point. My name doesn’t rhyme. 🙂

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my latest book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Order your copy today.

25 comments… add one
  • Eric A Jacobson Mar 2, 2020 @ 12:03

    The statement that there were 250,000 free people of color in the South in 1860 is demonstrably false. The census is indeed quite clear – there were 132,000 in the eleven states that formed the Confederacy.

    The nonsense about every person she mentioned is almost appalling. Benjamin Watson is the prime example of what they cannot even begin to acknowledge, i.e. Watson was a free man of color who did enlist and he was forced out of the unit in the spring of ’62 after the Conscription Act was passed. The lack of understanding about what constituted a soldier in 1861-65 and the overall policy of the Confederate government should be shocking, but after years of dealing with this it is not.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2020 @ 13:09

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for adding that. I couldn’t bring myself to fact check every example after they brought up Richard Poplar. Those two deserve each other. 🙂

    • Terry Klima Mar 2, 2020 @ 17:50

      Not so fast….you left out the border States of Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware and Maryland. Maryland alone had a free black population of over 83,000.
      There were a total of 261,918 free slaves in the South if the District of Columbia is included. While recognizing Washington, DC was the Federal Capital, it was formerly land obtained from Maryland and Virginia. Making adjustments for DC and Delaware, the 250,000 number is accurate.

      • Msb Mar 2, 2020 @ 23:14

        For. Heaven’s. Sake.
        Neither the border states nor DC was part of the Confederacy. So the numbers of free African Americans in those states and DC do not count in the numbers of free African Americans in the Confederacy.

  • Terry Klima Mar 1, 2020 @ 11:17

    Presentism is indeed a hell of a thing!

    After so many dismissive comments about the status of Blacks serving as “soldiers” in Confederate units, it seemed appropriate to give further thought to the issue. Unquestionably, the Union was first to officially authorize the use of blacks in an official military capacity during the war, preceding Confederate authorization by two years. Ironically, it had taken the United States over 70 years to reverse the Militia Act of 1792’s prohibition of Black military service.

    Similarly, while persons of color did ultimately serve in the American Revolution, there were early prohibitions preventing service in the Continental Army. It is estimated that between 5000 to 8000 Blacks ultimately served the American Cause, while 20,000 served the British. The disproportionate number in service to the Crown is attributed to Lord Dunsmore’s offer of freedom to any slaves that flee patriot sympathizers and enter British military service. Slaves owned by Loyalists were not afforded the same opportunity, similar to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation denying freedom to slaves in Union controlled territory.

    In the later days of the war, prohibitions of blacks serving in the Continental Army were lessened and state militias in particular met manpower shortages by authorizing black enlistment. Typically, Blacks were relegated to support roles as teamsters,laborers, cooks, waiters or artisans. In a number of instances, said individuals were slaves who were offered as substitutes for others or enlisted by their masters who would retain recruitment bonuses, pay or compensation for manumission. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment is one such notable example.

    How should we honor and remember those blacks that fought for the cause of the fledgling country during the American Revolution, many of whom were slaves and body servants? Should contemporary recognition of black military service in the American Revolution be considered as historical presentism since the “Continental Army” officially prohibited Black enlistment until July 1778 and frequently limited participation to combat support roles?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 1, 2020 @ 13:54

      Listen, I wrote a book about the role of free and enslaved blacks in the Confederate army and not in the Continental Army. I invite you to read and comment on my book. I am certainly familiar with the role of blacks in the American Revolution, but I have no interest in discussing it here.

  • Al Mackey Feb 29, 2020 @ 18:39

    I guess I need to raise my game to get a mention.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 29, 2020 @ 18:49

      Sorry Al. 🙁

  • Mike Furlan Feb 29, 2020 @ 11:18

    “The thought occurred to me that the the color of one’s skin should not differentiate, diminish or demean the value and sacrifice of any American war veterans who put their lives on the line….”

    Your argument is not with us, but with Jefferson Dave, Alexander Stephens, Judah P. Benjamin, Stephen Mallory, John Henninger Reagan, and Robert Toombs, Christopher Memminger, LeRoy Pope Walker and pretty much every white person in the CSA, except for Patrick Cleburne.

    Their societies “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.”

    Black folks didn’t deserve the honor of being a soldier according to them, not us.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 29, 2020 @ 11:33

      Presentism is a hell of a thing.

    • Ken Noe Feb 29, 2020 @ 12:33

      “The moment you resort to negro soldiers your white soldiers will be lost to you….You can’t keep white and black troops together, and you can’t trust negroes by themselves. It is difficult to get negroes enough for the purpose indicated in the President’s message, much less enough for an Army. Use all the negroes you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don’t arm them. The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong but they won’t make soldiers.” Maj. Gen. Howell Cobb, 1/8/1865, to Secretary of War James Seddon, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Letter_from_Howell_Cobb_to_James_A_Seddon_January_8_1865

      • Kevin Levin Feb 29, 2020 @ 12:38

        Repeat as necessary.

        • M.D. Blough Mar 16, 2020 @ 16:51

          And you can’t top Howell Cobb. Not only were the Cobbs major slave owners and political & military figures, Howell’s brother T.R.R (who was KIA at Fredericksburg), a lawyer pre-war, wrote what he intended to be the major legal work in support of slavery (fascinating bit of historical trivia I came across, Mildred Lewis Rutherford, the infamous historian-general of the UDC, was the niece of Howell and T.R.R.)

  • Terry Klima Feb 29, 2020 @ 7:49

    Thanks for posting the video and your response. Your remarks about Richard Poplar, and the link to “Happy Richard Poplar Day” inspired me to revisit your earlier post. I was intrigued by your question ” And, finally, why do these headstones fail to indicate service as a black Confederate given that so many believe that there has been an active cover-up by various groups?

    The thought occurred to me that the the color of one’s skin should not differentiate, diminish or demean the value and sacrifice of any American war veterans who put their lives on the line…..everyone bleeds red! Poplar was a Confederate soldier who fought and was obviously imprisoned in a Union POW Camp. Tombstones are meant to honor, not politicize.

    Perhaps it is more appropriate to question why blacks serving the Union were forced to serve in segregated units, clearly identified as “UNITED STATES COLORED TROOPS” receiving substantially lesser pay and inferior equipment. This outrage would likely have continued had Frederick Douglass not personally confronted President Lincoln, insisting on parity which finally came in March of 1865.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 29, 2020 @ 8:02

      “Poplar was a Confederate soldier…”

      But if you read the relevant documents you would understand that he wasn’t a Confederate soldier. He was attached to a Confederate soldier as his body servant or camp slave. The headstone was put up much later at a completely random spot in Petersburg’s Blandford Cemetery. What you don’t seem to understand is that the tombstone is a political statement.

      Blacks who served in the United States army did so in segregated units, but they were enlisted AS SOLDIERS.

      • Alex Raines Feb 29, 2020 @ 13:42

        And fought and died as soldiers.

      • Msb Mar 2, 2020 @ 5:10

        And got paid (even though unequally at the start). Camp slaves and body servants received no salary (yes, I know they sometimes earned money for particular tasks).

  • Jerry McKenzie Feb 29, 2020 @ 6:41

    “My name doesn’t rhyme.” Whaaat! The English language. No rules apply.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 29, 2020 @ 6:45

      Sorry to disappoint you. To this day I can’t understand how my parents didn’t anticipate this problem.

  • Mike Furlan Feb 29, 2020 @ 6:01

    The picture from the old textbook immediately brings to mind chapter 5 of “Lies My Teacher Told Me”, James Loewen titled “Gone With the Wind”:The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks.”

    “Before the 1960s, publishers had been in thrall to the white South. In the 1920s, Florida and other Southern states passed laws requiring, “Securing a Correct History of the U.S., Including a True and Correct History ollf the Confederacy.” p 141

    Seems the old folks pictured above are still stuck in the 60s.

  • paineite Feb 29, 2020 @ 5:53

    Isenhaur has a big sixteen subscribers and the video has one like and one dislike. (chuckle)

    • Kevin Levin Feb 29, 2020 @ 5:59

      I hope he appreciates me sharing it. 🙂

      • Mike Furlan Feb 29, 2020 @ 6:08

        If it wasn’t for bad luck, he’d have no luck at all…

      • Alex Raines Feb 29, 2020 @ 13:41

        I’d watch but I don’t wanna give him views.

      • ROBERT WOODY Mar 11, 2020 @ 0:45

        Well, she DOES have a “well regulated Facebook page.”

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