An Open Letter To Ann DeWitt

By now you must feel quite embarrassed by your little interpretive mishap over at the Southern Heritage Preservation Group.  Just think about it, an entire unit of “Negro Cooks” in the Confederate army.  Well, on one level it is amusing, but on another it is incredibly disturbing and indicative of the work you have done at your website, Black Confederate Soldiers.  Your expressed goal has been from the beginning to educate and share what you believe are stories that have been ignored for far too long.  While that is a laudable goal your commentary/analysis clearly points to a lack of understanding surrounding the larger issues related to African Americans and the Confederacy and you clearly do not understand how to conduct primary source analysis.  Having access to Footnote.com is a wonderful thing, but without the proper background knowledge the rummaging through documents looking for what you already believe must be there is a walk on the slippery rocks.  Unfortunately, you are being encouraged by a group of people who applaud your every “discovery” but make no mistake, they are equally misinformed and ill-equipped to do the heavy lifting of interpretation.  How do I know this?  Because they would have continued to applaud your discovery of “Negro Cooks” had Andy Hall not come across it.  Your cheer leading squad does not constitute any type of peer review of your methods and interpretation and you desperately need this.

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Searching For Edward Porter Alexander and Charley

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.

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National Public Radio Falls For the Black Confederate Myth

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:

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Northern Slavery, Public History, and Memory

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.

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The Duty of the South to Negro Education

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:

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