A casino at Gettysburg is a really bad idea. This video was played today during the public hearing before the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission. At the same time I just love the manipulation involved in utilizing superstar historians such as David McCullough and documentarian, Ken Burns. For some reason we believe that because Matthew Broderick and Stephen Lang were in Civil War related movies that they command authority in the way we think about the past. Actually, I find the local activists to be much more interesting since the casino will directly impact their community. Enjoy the video.
A few of you have asked if I could put together an overview of the many posts that I’ve done on the subject of black Confederates. This is a start and it’s something that I will come back to to update and expand. This will hopefully answer common questions that new readers have about my own position on this subject as well as provide a reliable list of resources for further reading. You can find a link to this post in the navigation menu at the top of the page.
Regular readers of this blog are all too familiar with the frequency of posts on the hot topic of black Confederates. It is safe to say that the largest number of posts on this blog have been devoted to the subject and collectively constitute what I hope is a helpful resource for those who are trying to wade through the morass that defines this divisive topic and public debate. With so much attention focused on this subject it may be difficult for readers to know where to begin. This page is meant to serve as a road map to help readers to better understand the evolution of my own thought about this subject as well as advice on where to go for credible information and what to avoid. I should point out that my writing on this subject is not meant or intended as an authoritative or final word on the subject. I’ve used this blog to ask questions and to offer some of my own ideas about various aspects of the subject and on how others have approached the subject.
You will find a wide range of posts on this issue, but all of them revolve around a basic assumption that this subject is part of a broader discussion of slavery and race relations during the Civil War. Most of the posts on this site can be found under a category heading, titled, “black Confederates.” [Keep in mind that you are reading them in the reverse order in which they were published.] I suggest that you begin with my two earliest posts on the subject in which I begin to sketch out my own interest in the subject in response to the publication of Bruce Levine’s book, Confederate Emancipation [Part 1 and Part 2 and here]. One of the biggest problems is the lack of any consensus on language and how to describe the presence of free and enslaved blacks in Confederate armies. In my view we must begin by assuming that blacks were not soldiers based both on the refusal on the part of the Confederate government as well as the almost complete lack of wartime evidence (enlistment papers/muster rolls, etc.)
Update: All I can say is that if you are going to write a letter to my boss complaining about this blog at least take the time to proofread it.
I’ve never had to issue a formal disclaimer for this blog, but with the start of the new school year now seems like an opportune time, especially for a select few. It goes without saying that the views expressed on this site are mine and mine alone. I do not write in any official capacity as the department chair and as a history teacher at St. Anne’s – Belfield School, though I do write about my experiences in the classroom. Civil War Memory has no official connection to my place of employment and the St. Anne’s – Belfield School does not endorse this site in any way. The URL of this site is is not associated with the school and this website is financially maintained by me.
It’s hard to believe that this ridiculous story about a Confederate flag cake is still in the news. There are legitimate issues having to do with the public display of the Confederate flag, but this is not one of them. It looks like Winn Dixie has taken a slight financial hit as a result. Actually, I have no idea whether there is a correlation. The company pulled the cake after receiving a complaint and issued a public statement that this was an “error in judgment.”
If someone had a problem with the cake what they should have done was purchase it and eat it. In fact, interested parties could have wrapped the purchasing, eating, and digesting of the cake around all kinds of symbolism. Oh well, another wasted opportunity. Move on folks, there is nothing to see here.
One of the books that I am currently reading is Julie Flavell’s When London Was Capital of America (Yale University Press, 2010). It’s one of those books that allows you to shift perspective on an important period in American history. In this case Flavell pushes her readers to acknowledge the political and cultural significance that London held for many Americans in the last decade before the Revolution. I always remind my students that our tendency to view the colonists as Americans in waiting obscures the extent to which they tried desperately to remain British. This book is fleshing out that idea for me.
Chapter 2 focuses on the challenges that slaveowners experienced when bringing their property to the metropolis. American slaves were exposed to an entirely new set of conditions and influences, which, in turn challenged and reshaped the master-slave relationship. Flavell structures this chapter around Scipio, who was the slave of Henry Laurens of South Carolina. Scipio changed his name to Robert upon arrival in England. The author uses Robert to discuss stories of runaway slaves as well as the Somerset trial, which resulted in the freedom of one slave. None of this is new to me. What is new to me is Flavell’s discussion of the influence of poor/destitute whites on the perceptions of American slaves:
Back in the colonies there was nothing to equal what Robert saw. What buildings, what monuments, what dress, display and equipage! The townhouses and the plantations of the Carolina rich only gave a foretaste of the reality. But at the same time – what poverty, what deprivation! Even the slave quarters at home probably did not prepare him for what he encountered on his solitary perambulations through the Great City.
What he saw were some of the poorest white people in the empire, degraded, half-starved, stinking and desperate, stripped of all dignity, people whose conditions was enough permanently to change his idea of the white race. ‘[T]hey learn here to despise whites.’ So wrote a West Indian planter of the plantation slaves who were brought to London.
This got me thinking about the extent to which such an analysis may apply to the thousands of slaves, who were present in the Confederate army as personal servants and impressed workers. We’ve discussed how different roles played by slaves in the army challenged and shaped the master-slave relationship, but how did the sight of poor whites contribute to this dynamic? The sight of poor whites and yeoman farmers following orders and, at times, living in squalid conditions may have been a shock for slaves. More specifically, the strict discipline imposed on enlisted men by officers, who were also their social and political superiors in peace time may have challenged slaves’ assumptions about their own place within the antebellum racial hierarchy. How often did slaves see the kind of wartime discipline imposed on white men by other whites before the war? I think this is something that needs to be analyzed much more extensively.
Just a few thoughts on this beautiful Sunday morning.