Update: Since writing this post I’ve had to push the time line back a bit to the mid-1970s. Click here.
Seem like a strange question? What I am wondering is when the first accounts of substantial numbers of loyal black Confederate soldiers surfaced. For the moment I am not drawing any distinctions between professional and non-professional historians. I simply want to know when the first claims were made public and by whom. Perhaps there is something to be discovered in the Dunning School, which emphasized a Lost Cause narrative of the war that included loyal slaves. In 1919 Charles H. Wesley published his essay, “The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate Army. Wesley argued that slaves demonstrated their loyalty to their masters and the Confederacy by “offering themselves for actual service in the Confederate army.” According to Wesley, like their white counterparts, slaves also believed “their land [had been] invaded by hostile forces.” I will have to double-check, but I don’t believe that Wesley actually focused on free and/or enslaved blacks already serving in Confederate ranks. Rather, it’s an article about the debate to enlist slaves as soldiers.
Jump ahead to the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement, and the rapid growth of African-American history and slavery studies specifically and you will find nothing on the subject of black Confederates. On the one hand that may come as no surprise given the state of race relations throughout the country, and especially in the states that comprised the Confederacy. Than again there was plenty of opportunity to locate such individuals and I suspect that writers working along the lines of Lerone Bennett, Jr., would have been all too excited to point out the existence of loyal black Confederate soldiers. In 1969 James H. Brewer, who taught at North Carolina Central University, published The Confederate Negro: Virginia’s Craftsmen and Military Laborers, 1861-1865 (University of Alabama Press). As the title suggests, however, Brewer focuses on slaves who were impressed by the state and does not make any claims about black Confederate soldiers. Three years later, Robert F. Durden published The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation, but as the title suggests its focus is on the debate and says nothing about the presence of slave soldiers. Interestingly, Durden’s book was allowed to go out of print only to be brought back in 2000.