The History Channel will air pretty much anything related to history regardless of how nutty it is. However, it turns out that even the HC has standards, which apparently do not include the Georgia Division SCV’s series of videos on the Civil War. According to Stephen Clay McGehee (aka “Confederate Colonel”) “the History Channel received a complaint from a liberal blogger and Friday they reacted as liberals so often do – they have pulled the videos from their broadcast schedule.” Now, I just want to state for the record that I am not the “liberal blogger” who contacted the History Channel. Like I said, given the HC’s programming, I can’t think of a better place for these videos.
Over the past few weeks I’ve used Ann DeWitt’s website as a case study of what is wrong with the current debate about black Confederates as well as the pitfalls of doing online research on this specific subject – a fact that was confirmed this past week.
What most college professors will probably not share with their students: As you will find documented here [Petersburg Express] are hundreds of Black Confederate SOLDIERS from Petersburg Virginia. documented from just one Virginia city. And William and Mary is “just down the road” from Petersburg! Amazing! …. These are the stories that bring people together, not the Neo-Yankee version of the South that we are having to endure today. We could do with a lot less “presentism”!
The error in question is a matter of fact, not of opinion or interpretation.
There is no credible evidence that two battalions of African American soldiers fought under the command of Stonewall Jackson. After consulting with three of my William and Mary colleagues who also teach and research Civil War history, who also had never encountered any such evidence, I wrote to James I. Robertson, a Virginia Tech professor who is the foremost scholar of Stonewall Jackson, and asked him if he had ever seen any evidence to corroborate this point. He stated categorically that no such evidence existed. Prof. Robertson explained to me, “Had there been Confederate black units surely some officer in an official report would have mentioned it. Yet the 128 volumes of the mammoth Official Records [of the War of the Rebellion] are completely silent on the subject.” I also contacted Prof. Joseph Glatthaar, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor, who has written a highly claimed book called General Lee’s Army. He declared the claim “simply wrong.”….
There is not a historian in the world who can claim with certitude that her or his work is free from mistakes. From what I have learned from the story reported in the Post, what now concerns me most is the textbook author’s uncritical reliance on Internet sources, and the publisher’s lack of an adequate review process to catch such mistakes. [click to continue…]
Has anyone else noticed that no official statement in response to the Virginia textbook/black Confederate debacle has been issued by the Sons of Confederate Veterans? Perhaps they are taking the time to carefully craft a response, but I doubt it. There is really nothing they can do in the face of what the general public now understands is a flawed view of the Confederacy and the Civil War. Any statement that rehashes the same tired claims of revisionism and political correctness will do nothing more than assuage the concerns of its members and those who accept this flawed historical perspective. This morning I read that the publisher will provide stickers for the books indicating the problem with the passage in question while Loudoun County schools has decided to pull the books from the classrooms. [I was also pleased to see my black Confederate Resources page referenced in one article.]
I’ve already commented on the consequences of this story making the mainstream news, but there are a few more things worth noting. One of the most frustrating aspects of this subject is the ease with which the SCV has been able to publicize this silliness. If you go through old posts you will notice story after story of local chapters of the SCV and UDC commemorating the lives and placing grave markers of so-called black Confederates. In every case that I’ve come across no evidence was provided that the individual in question was, in fact, a soldier in the Confederate army. Reporters who cover these stories have no knowledge to judge the veracity of these stories and the ceremonies are reported as legitimate. Unless the reporter has had his/her head in the clouds over the past few days it is difficult to imagine these stories continuing to be reported without some kind of disclaimer. The most obvious example is the annual commemoration of Richard Poplar in Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg.
In the end, I couldn’t be more pleased that the author gathered her “sources” from the Internet. That is where this battle will be one or lost and I have no doubt that sites like Ann DeWitt’s will have less influence if those of us in the classroom do our jobs and teach our students how to use this powerful tool. And finally, it’s nice to see that we are thinking critically about the past and not turning this into an extension of political and cultural feuds. In contrast with the controversy surrounding Governor McDonnell’s proclamation, retraction, and recent statement this has been a breadth of fresh air.
I want to say up front that I am not a fan of Keith Olbermann’s Countdown show. I find him to be utterly uninteresting and, in the end, a great example of what is wrong with mainstream media. Like most other “news” shows it’s a place to go to affirm and feel good about what you already believe. That said, Olbermann handled this story responsibly by sticking to the central issue at hand, which is the veracity of the claim about the role of southern blacks in the Confederate army. I anticipated an interview with a Roland Martin-type, but Olbermann managed to get William and Mary History Professor, Carol Sheriff, who broke this story and who herself is the author of an excellent Civil War study. Sheriff also managed to highlight the other big problem with all of this and that is that most people do not know how to navigate the Internet.
This narrative is now on the public’s radar screen. There will be the inevitable responses from certain quarters that a way of life is being attacked or that revisionist historians and Political Correctness have run amok, but this is nothing more than a sign of desperation and a reflection of intellectual bankruptcy.
The 150th anniversary of one of the most fascinating Civil War battles is fast approaching. Learn about what happened on that bloody day and how the battle has been remembered. Get your signed and discounted copy direct from the author.
"Levin is both superb scholar and public historian, showing us a piece of the real war that does now get into the books, as well as into site interpretation.” –David W. Blight, Yale University