There is no better place to explore the intellectual fringes of the Civil War community than Facebook. You will find some of the most bizarre and reactionary commentary from folks who don’t seem to have any grasp of basic historical knowledge and/or analytical skill. On my last tour of my favorite Facebook page I came across a link to a story out of South Carolina about an African American family, who claims that their ancestor fought as a soldier in the Confederate army. The article itself is incredibly confused:
The History News Network has just posted an editorial by Steven Conn on the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Conn offers an overly simplistic reading of the evolution of Civil War historiography through the Civil Rights Movement before closing his essay with the following:
Sadly, 150 years after Edmund Ruffin fired on Fort Sumter, large numbers of Americans remain in the thrall of a romanticized Confederacy. At Civil War reenactments far more people show up dressed as Johnny Reb than as Billy Yank. The fact that it is acceptable to put a Confederate flag on a car bumper and to portray Confederates as brave and gallant defenders of states’ rights rather than as traitors and defenders of slavery is a testament to 150 years of history written by the losers.
Thanks to a reader for passing along the Prince William County/Manassas, Virginia Tourism Guide for 2010-11. I have no idea what went into the decision to feature a young black male in what appears to be a Confederate uniform. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing historically inaccurate about such a representation, though he is probably too young to be a body servant. The more important issue has to do with the intended message behind this image. I would love to know if anyone on the editorial team is aware of the recent textbook controversy involving claims of thousands of black Confederates serving under Stonewall Jackson’s command.
On this day in April 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. Those of you who continue to harbor hatred for Grant and the rest of the “yankee horde” would do well to listen closely to Johnny Yuma. In this episode, Johnny explains to a young boy, who lost his father in the war, to put aside his hate and embrace forgiveness and reconciliation.
This episode beautifully captures the reconciliationist spirit of the Civil War Centennial. “Well Mr. McCune, here is how I look at it. In a way everybody who fought for either side was at Appomattox.”
One of the most frustrating aspects of the black Confederate debate is the tendency on the part of a select few to warp the definition of a soldier to a point where it becomes meaningless. These individuals may have made room for their preferred picture of the Confederate army, but it fails to reflect anything resembling what white Southerners, both in the army and on the home front, would have acknowledged in the 1860s. Given the difficulty involved in acknowledging a distinction between a soldier and noncombatant (personal servant/impressed slave or free black) in the Confederate army, perhaps it will help to take a quick look at the Union army.
Gary Gallagher’s new book, The Union War (Harvard University Press, 2011), opens with an interesting chapter on the Grand Review, which took place in Washington, D.C. in May 1865. After dealing effectively with the claim that African American soldiers were intentionally prevented from taking part in the parade Gallagher analyzes newspaper coverage of the racial profile of Sherman’s army: