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Why Confederate Camp Servants

The most recent issue of The Civil War Monitor contains a letter-to-the-editor about a recent essay of mine on Confederate camp servants [Spring 2013]. From Mr. John H. Whitfield:

While the article was enlightening on the issue of enslaved Africans who were wartime “body servants,” it presented a rather narrow view of the panoply of roles in which the enslaved were critical to the Rebel war effort. For instance, the impressment of slaves, authorized throughout the Confederacy in 1862, sent countless men to construct earthworks at various strategic locations.

Mr. Whitfield is absolutely spot on regarding the place of enslaved blacks in the Confederate war effort. There are a number of excellent studies that examine these various roles, including books by Glenn David Brasher,Joseph Glatthaar, and Bruce Levine. Those of you with an interest in this topic will definitely want to check out Jaime Martinez’s forthcoming book, Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South, which will be out with UNC Press in December. Continue reading “Why Confederate Camp Servants”

New To the Civil War Memory Library, 09/14

Taylor, The Internal EnemyNice to have the first full week of school behind me. I’ve got some wonderful students this year, who are respectful, funny, and incredibly curious. I am particularly enjoying my course on the Holocaust. This week we discussed whether the Nazis had achieved gleichschaltung by 1934. We also examined testimony from the Nuremberg Trials to help set the stage for our exploration of the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

It goes without saying that my personal reading time is at a minimum now, though I can always make room for a new book by Alan Taylor.

Ginette Aley and J.L. Anderson eds., Union Heartland: The Midwestern Home Front during the Civil War (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013).

Bradley S. Keefer, Conflicting Memories on the River of Death: The Chickamauga Battlefield and the Spanish-American War, 1863-1933 (Kent State University Press, 2013). Reviewing for The Journal of the Civil War Era.

Edward T. Linenthal, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum (Columbia University Press, 1995).

Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 (Norton, 2013).

Brenda Wineapple, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (Harper, 2013).

Kentucky Historical Society is Hitting the Road

This video will be featured in a traveling exhibition and shown throughout the state to middle and high school students. It offers a very brief overview of slavery’s centrality to Kentucky Civil War experience. Not sure what I think of the 3d motion graphics when there is such a rich body of photographs and other period illustrations to utilize. It’s also difficult to compress such a complex story in just over three minutes. What do you think?

Welcome to Dixie Outfitters (and what it all means)

Edgerton, black confederate
Black Confederate Fashion by H.K. Edgerton

A few months ago I had a conversation with Alan Levinovitz, who teaches at James Madison University. As a new member of the community there were a number of things that struck Alan as strange and begging for explanation. At the top of the list is the local Dixie Outfitters store in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Alan asked if I could provide some context for the store’s presence and stock, especially those H.K. Edgerton t-shirts. The inquiry was in preparation for an article he was planning for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

The article is now online, which I highly recommend. A few of my comments about the myth of the black Confederate made it into the piece.

“People don’t believe in the black Confederate narrative because they’re crazy,” explains historian Kevin Levin. “They believe it because they read it. It’s on a website that looks professional, has all the bells and whistles, and includes images, primary sources of all kinds. How could it not be true?”

Levin’s long-running blog, Civil War Memory, is on the front lines in a battle between established historians and a vocal minority who insist that most academics are biased liberals bent on slandering the South. Dixie Outfitters is a part of this minority, and its company website includes a history section with over eighty links to information about black Confederates.

Read the rest of the essay here.

Could This Be a Real Black Confederate Soldier?

Black Man in sack coatI was browsing some web pages and came across a very interesting link to a website that seems tailored (no pun intended) to Civil War reenactors/enthusiasts, with an interest in uniforms. This photograph of a young black man was taken in Richmond in April 1865. He is wearing what was called a sack coat. The description that accompanies the image offers a few interpretations.

Picture 10: A very distinct image taken in occupied Richmond, Virginia, April 1865, depicts a group of black freedman, some of them wearing Confederate uniforms. Those wearing the uniforms may have acquired them from government store houses at the fall of Richmond, or they may have been serving in Confederate Army in some capacity.  It is possible that may have been in the Confederate “Black Brigade,” formed in the last months of the war, that consisted of two or three battalions of infantry.  In any case, one of the freedmen wears a Confederate military sack coat and matching fabric pants.  The coat has four brass military buttons, but no exterior breast pocket.  It is similar to the Brooke coat in that the bottom edge extends almost down to the cuff.  The stand collar has no contrasting facing.  What is certain about this coat is that it represents the type used by the Army of Northern Virginia at the close of the war.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

I would love for this to be a photograph of a soldier. The few black recruits that marched through the streets of Richmond at the tail end of the war are an incredibly elusive bunch, which I suspect will remain so. More than likely the uniform was acquired following the evacuation of Richmond. I am no expert, but that uniform looks to be in pretty good condition.