I’ve said it before but it bears repeating that Edward Porter Alexander’s, Fighting for the Confederacy is a goldmine of information on the Confederate experience. It has come in handy in just about all of my projects and that is a testament to his attention to detail as well as Alexander’s honesty. What follows is me playing around a bit with a very, very rough draft of the beginning of an introduction or proposal for my latest book project, which is tentatively titled, Searching for Black Confederates in History and Memory.
At some point during the winter lull of 1861-62, Edward Porter Alexander purchased “two appendages” which remained by his side until the close of the war. “I had bought a second horse, ‘Meg Merriles,’ a very pretty bay mare with a roan spot on one hip,” remembered Alexander, “& I had hired for an ostler & servant a 15 year old darkey named Charley—a medium tall & slender, ginger-cake colored, & well behaved & good dispositioned boy.” Alexander’s physical description of Charley next to that of his horse plus his reference to the two as an “appendage” reflects the legal basis of their relationship and one of the many dehumanizing qualities of slavery that comes through in his writing even decades after the war.
If you want a sense of the growing level of acceptance of the black Confederate myth look no further than this NPR story. NPR has now confirmed that the oldest living “Daughter of the Confederacy” is Mattie Clyburn Rice, who is the daughter of Weary Clyburn. That name should ring a bell for many of you because I discussed his story in detail not too long ago. This is not the first time that a major news outlet has fallen victim to this story and it won’t be the last. I applaud Ms. Rice for working so hard to uncover a history that deserves to be told and that for far too long has fallen outside the boundaries of our national memory, but it is unfortunate that she fell victim to this narrative.
If you did miss those earlier posts, I highly recommend the following:
A few of my readers have requested that I comment on ongoing and recent exhibits in my new neck of the woods that concentrate on the history of slavery and the slave trade. I assume they are planning family vacations north of the Mason-Dixon Line so I am more than happy to comply. Their requests, however, seem to be couched in the assumption that historical institutions in New England and elsewhere are actively ignoring this dark and complex subject in American history. Nothing could be further from the truth so I hope this short post will alleviate their concerns and perhaps even serve as a catalyst for an exciting and educational trip north.
Today was one of the most productive writing days that I’ve had in quite some time. It marks the first day of actual writing of what I’ve tentatively titled, Searching for Black Confederates in History and Memory. The primary sources that I have collected are incredibly rich, particularly those sources related to the memory of what were commonly called camp or body servants. Here is an example from the turn of the twentieth century. It’s an excerpt from a speech given by Dr. Walter B. Hill, who was the Chancellor of the University of Georgia. It’s titled, “Negro Education in the South” and was presented at a conference on education policy that took place at the University of Virginia in 1903. The speech opens with a few words speculating as to why the state’s black population had not already taken advantage of freedom and cheap transportation costs to leave the state for the North. This is what follows:
In my five plus years of blogging I’ve had my share of disgruntled readers, who believe that my place of birth assumed political convictions, and tendency to read academic history will forever prevent me from truly understanding and appreciating the history of the South and the Civil War. Some of these people have been incredibly mean spirited, but I’ve never taken them too seriously. In fact, I usually just shrug with just a slight hint of pity.
This guest post is by Adam Arenson, assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War, about the Civil War Era as a battle of three competing visions — that of the North, South, and West. More at http://adamarenson.com.
This is the second in a series.
[The Civil War] was not a fight between rapacious birds and ferocious beasts, a mere display of brute courage and endurance, but it was a war between men of thought, as well as of action, and in dead earnest for something beyond the battlefield. Frederick Douglass, “Speech in Madison Square,” Decoration Day, 1878
Unfortunately, even with all of the changes that are currently being implemented we have a long way to go…[E]ven most white Americans who claim to be interested in the Civil War for whatever reason fail to come to terms with its importance to our broader history. I sometimes think that our colorful stories of Lee and Lincoln are more of a threat to our sense of national identity as [than] no memory or connection with the war. We would all do well to take a step back. Kevin Levin, “History Through the Veil Again”: A Response to Ta-Nehisi Coates, August 2009
This is a cute little country song about a town in the pan handle of Florida that was taken aback by an entry into their Fourth of July Parade. Click here for more information about Grant Peeples. Enjoy.
If “those who fight for freedom” are entitled to it then they are “entitled” to it equally. If the negro is made to fight our battles of “freedom” then he must be governed by the same laws of war, and he must stand upon the same footing of the white man after the war. What will be the consequences? Why, if 250,000 negro men are entitled to their freedom because the fight for it, then their wives, children and families are also entitled to the same boon, just as their wives, children and families of the white man who fight the same battle. In other words, the South is to be converted by this war into an abolitionized colony of free negroes, instead of a land of white freemen, knowing their rights and daring to maintain them. If the negroes are to be free, they must be equally free with the master. If they are to be armed like the master, then they are in fact equal of the master. What is the result? Why, they never can be slaves again, and must be treated as the master, politically, civilly and socially. “Those who fight for freedom are entitled to freedom,” says the Enquirer, and we say so too. [The Lynchburg Republican, November 2, 1864]
Can it be possible that a Southern man–editor of a Southern journal–recognizing the right of property in slaves, admitting their inferiority in the scale of being and also their social inferiority, would recommend the passage of a law which at one blow levels all distinctions, deprives the master of a right to his property, and elevates the negro to an equality with the white man?–for, disguise it as you may, those who fight together in a common cause, and by success win the same freedom, enjoy equal rights and equal position, and in this case, are distinguished by color. Are we prepared for this? Is it for this we are contending? Is it for this we would seek the aid of our slaves? To win their freedom with our own independence, to establish in our midst a half or quarter of a million of black freemen, familiar with arts and discipline of war, and with large military experience! Has the bitter experience of Virginia with regard to free negroes already been forgotten? [Nat Turner’s Rebellion] [Richmond Enquirer, November 4, 1864]