We all know that certain Civil War narratives die hard, none more so than the black Confederate myth. While it will continue to spread on the Web and rear its ugly head from time to time in various popular forums it will never gain legitimacy in our most respected private and public historical institutions. This fact has nothing to do with a conspiracy to conceal the facts from the general public or some vaguely defined liberal bias and everything to do with what we know about this subject.
I say half-hearted because I only made it through the first hour of the movie. It was much worse than I had anticipated, but before proceeding. Of course, I understand that I was not the target audience for this documentary film. The problems for me started with the opening scenes, which placed the viewer on the battlefield on the morning of the first day without any context whatsoever. I didn’t find such a move to be dramatic in any way, just confusing. It goes without saying that I didn’t learn anything new about the battle, but I did appreciate the attempt to highlight the experiences of eight individuals; unfortunately, the script was so disjointed that I found it impossible to identify with anyone in the film. At one point the issue of escaped slaves was raised and a moment later was dropped. It seemed completely removed from the broader narrative.
Dimitri Rotov has a fiery post up that evaluates Joseph Glatthaar’s recent scholarship – specifically his use of statistical analysis in his recent studies. It’s a worthwhile read, though Rotov chose to embeds his analysis in his vaguely-defined “Centennialist” school paradigm. He begins with this little gem:
“Joseph T. Glatthaar is an early middle-aged Centennialist being groomed by Gary Gallagher to walk in the shoes of himself, Sears, McPherson, and the old storytellers – Williams, Williams, Catton, etc.”
I’m sure Glatthaar would find such an evaluation of his career as laughable, but this sort of critique is standard in Rotov’s arsenal. In the end, it fails to shed any light at all on Glatthaar’s scholarship. We do get closer to a formal critique re: Glatthaar’s citing of casualty figures in General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse. Rotov begins by taking Glatthaar to task for his imprecise citation of casualty figures and his failure to utilize Thomas Livermore’s Numbers and Losses. Rotov didn’t bother to look up Glatthaar’s references for his Cedar
Creek Mountain, but it only takes a few seconds to learn that they were pulled out of one of the appendices in Robert K. Krick’s, Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain. It’s not clear to me what exactly is problematic with citing one of the authorities on this particular battle.
This morning I learned that I will be speaking on the subject of black Confederates at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which will take place in Richmond in October. Thanks to National Park Service Ranger, Emmanuel Dabney, for putting together an excellent panel that will offer different perspectives on this subject. Proponents of this myth, who rush to cite Ervin Jordan as a supporter, ought to carefully read his session description.
It ought to be a well-attended session and the discussion will, no doubt, be entertaining. The conference as a whole promises to be quite interesting given that the theme is the Civil War and the Sesquicentennial. We don’t have a specific time for the session, but I will be sure to pass it on as more information becomes available.
I am reading David Blight’s new book on the Civil War Centennial in which he analyzes the writings of Bruce Catton. While I’ve read chunks of Catton in the past I am embarrassed to admit that I’ve never actually read one of his books from cover to cover. Well, I just started A Stillness at Appomattox and I can’t put it down. He was one hell of a writer.
David W. Blight, American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (Harvard University Press, 2011).
E. Renee Ingram, In View of the Great Want of Labor: A Legislative History of African American Conscription in the Confederacy (Willow Bend Books, 2002).
Brian D. McKnight, Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia(Louisiana State University Press, 2011).
James Marten, Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (University of North Carolina Press, 2011).
Timothy S. Sedore, An Illustrated Guide to Virginia’s Confederate Monuments (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011).