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Op-Ed on Black Confederates at History News Network

Last week Rick Shenkman asked me to write an Op-Ed on the myth of the black Confederate soldier for History News Network, which I was happy to do. I decided to structure it around a recent post that highlights a simply and important point that I’ve made numerous times. In all the years that I have researched this topic, I have yet to find a single piece of wartime evidence from a Confederate soldier, civilian or politician (before March 1865) that acknowledges that black men were serving as soldiers. In fact, on numerous occasions Confederates denied their existence when confronted by stories to the contrary. Continue reading “Op-Ed on Black Confederates at History News Network”

Students Debate the Confederate Flag

It’s nice to see students talking to one another in the safety of a classroom about the Confederate flag. I am not sure where this debate took place. What I don’t get the sense of, however, is that students have been prepped in any way by their teacher about the history of the flag, though it is clear that a few students have done a little research. Click here for a recent post in which I outline one way that a middle or high school teacher can teach the controversy surrounding the memory of the Confederate flag. Continue reading “Students Debate the Confederate Flag”

Black Family Reclaims History From Sons of Confederate Veterans

This is an encouraging story. Over the past twenty years the Sons of Confederate Veterans has distorted the stories of African Americans who worked as impressed slaves for the military and camp servants who served their masters during the war. In 1998 they placed a Cross of Honor on the grave of Silas Chandler in West Point, Mississippi. A couple of years ago the SCV honored Weary Clyburn with full military honors as well as a headstone in North Carolina. These ceremonies typically include SCV members dressed in Confederate uniform and white women in mourning attire. Speeches attest to the bravery of these men and their unflinching service to the Confederacy. At the center of many of these ceremonies are the descendants of the honored.

The descendants play a crucial role in the distortion machine that is the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They lend legitimacy to an organization that hopes to stay relevant even as our collective memory of the war comes to accept the central role that slavery played in the coming- and outcome of the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the SCV has sought to utilize stories of so-called black Confederate soldiers to advance its preferred narrative of the war. The presence of the descendants of these men adds an additional layer of legitimacy to these stories. Continue reading “Black Family Reclaims History From Sons of Confederate Veterans”

UVA’s John L. Nau III Center For Civil War Studies Opens Today

Later today the University of Virginia’s new Civil War center will open with an inaugural event that will feature Gary Gallagher, Elizabeth Varon, Thavolia Glymph, and Ed Ayers in a roundtable discussion about the state of the field of Civil War history. The center is being funded with a grant from John L. Nau III, who is also the benefactor behind Gallagher’s endowed chair and the center’s director. Continue reading “UVA’s John L. Nau III Center For Civil War Studies Opens Today”

What Did Lincoln Think of Black Confederate Soldiers?

President Lincoln offered the following remarks upon hearing the news that the Confederate government was recruiting black men into its army. It was reprinted in the Richmond Daily Dispatch on March 22, 1865.

A Confederate flag, captured by an Indiana regiment, was presented, on Friday, by Governor Morton, in front of the National Hotel, in Washington. The Governor concluded his speech by introducing Old Abe, who delivered a characteristic address, the closing part of which is subjoined:

They (the “rebels”) have concluded at last to take one out of four of the slaves and put them in the army. While I have often said that all men ought to be free, yet I would allow those colored persons to be slaves who want to be; and next to them, those white persons who argue in favor of making other people slaves. [Applause.] I am in favor of giving an opportunity to such, white men to try it on for themselves. [Applause.] I will say one thing in regard to the negro being employed to fight for them. I do know he cannot fight and stay at home and make bread too–[laughter and applause]–and as one is about as important as the other to them, I don’t care which they do. [Renewed applause.] I am rather in favor of having them try them as soldiers. [Applause.] They lack one vote of doing that, and I wish I could send my vote over the river, so that I might cast it in favor of allowing the negro to fight. [Applause.] But they cannot fight and work both. We must now see the bottom of the enemy’s resources. They will stand out as long as they can; and if the negro will fight for them, they must allow him to fight.–They have drawn upon their last branch of resources. [Applause.] And we can now see the bottom. [Applause.] I am glad to see the end so near at hand. [Applause.]

Lincoln understood that this was the ultimate act of desperation on the part of the Confederacy to keep their bid for independence alive. Two weeks later United States Colored Troops entered Richmond.