I had a great time in Cambridge earlier today where I took in a talk by John Stauffer on the subject of black Confederates. The talk was held at the Harvard Faculty Club, which was quite impressive. They served a really nice lunch before the talk and the room was packed with about seventy people. This is clearly an important subject, even at Harvard. 🙂 I was pleased to hear Stauffer mention my blog as well as some commentary by Brooks Simpson at the very beginning of the talk.
Imagine my surprise today when I opened my email to find a notification from YouTube that my video screencast/critique of Ann DeWitt’s Black Confederate website had been removed owing to copyright infringements. The copyright infringement was instigated by Ms. DeWitt herself:
We have disabled the following material as a result of a third-party notification from Ann DeWitt claiming that this material is infringing:
Examining Black Confederate Websites: #2
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You may remember that I recently uploaded two screencasts in which I critiqued some of the more popular black Confederate websites. I’ve noticed that Ms. DeWitt’s postings at the Southern Heritage Preservation page are no longer public. No doubt, her recent discovery of a regiment of black Confederate cooks led to this decision. For someone who claims to have built an educational site she certainly has little patience with formal critiques that point out shortcomings and outright distortions in her own “research.” Is this how an educator responds? Not to worry as I still plan on using her website as part of my teacher workshop presentations on digital media literacy.
Now who is trying to suppress open discussion?
“Black Confederates” is one of the most controversial ideas of the Civil War era and American memory more generally. Today, neo-Confederates claim that thousands of blacks loyally fought as soldiers for the South and that hundreds of thousands more served the Confederacy as laborers. These claims have become a staple among Southern heritage groups and are taught in some Southern schools. Their function is to purge the Confederacy from its association with slavery and redeem the white South from guilt over its past. In this they have been partly successful: according to a recent poll, 70% of white Southerners continue to believe that the Confederacy was motivated by states rights rather than slavery.
Academic historians, in reaction to these claims, have totally dismissed the idea that more than a handful of African Americans could have served as Confederate soldiers. To suggest otherwise, they say, is to engage in “a pattern of distortion, deception, and deceit” in the use of evidence.
But according to African Americans themselves, writing during the war, thousands of blacks did fight as soldiers for the South. In my presentation, I assess and contextualize the sources, examine case studies of blacks fighting for the Confederacy, and explain how and why it happened and how Northern black leaders understood this phenomenon. Along the way I reveal the richly diverse ways in which blacks acted on their understandings of freedom.
It goes without saying that I am looking forward to attending this event and you can expect a full report here at Civil War Memory. Still, I am not quite sure what to expect. I don’t want to put too much stock in an abstract, but who might Stauffer be referring to beyond Frederick Douglass’s widely quoted claim of blacks fighting in the Confederate army? And what does this fact about African American perceptions during the war have to do with recent assessments by academic historians as to the veracity of some of the more outlandish claims emanating from certain camps? We have seen plenty of cases of “distortion, deception, and deceit” – not to mention incompetence. Stay tuned.
The following guest post is from Garry Adelman. Garry is the author, co-author or editor of more than 30 Civil War books and articles including his latest work, Manassas Battlefields Then & Now. He has been a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg for 16 years. He is vice president of the Center for Civil War Photography and works full time as Director of History and Education for the Civil War Trust.
With the History Channel’s Gettysburg show scheduled to re-air on Wednesday August 31, I thought Civil War Memory the perfect place to post an insider’s perspective about the creation, production and reactions to the docudrama. Thanks to my friend Kevin for allowing me to be a guest blogger.
I first became involved in the project at its outset in June 2010. History asked the Civil War Trust for help with its proposed Gettysburg docudrama, but: they did not want to try to include the entire battle; they did not want to focus on the usual characters and; they wanted to make it highly personal. I was tapped for the job. I said I would help in any way I could and added that my personal goal was to help them make “something that didn’t suck.”
I trust that all of you along the east coast have made the best of this nasty weather and are safe. I am particularly concerned about my small contingent of “fans” in the Virginia Beach – Suffolk area, though I trust that they are also doing just fine. Here in Boston it is raining and a little windy, but so far nothing too serious at all – just a very wet Sunday morning.
With all the talk about the weather over the past few days it occurred to me that perhaps we have much to learn about its influence on campaigns as well as the physical and psychological well-being of the men in the ranks. Yes, we have plenty of descriptions of various kinds of weather, but it seems to me that the analytical side of our understanding may fall short. Perhaps I am just ignorant of the literature.
A few studies stand out. Robert Krick recently published, Civil War Weather in Virginia, which offers a handy chronology of weather information in the Washington D.C. – Richmond corridor. George Rable, Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! includes a fine chapter on how the weather influenced the failed Mud March following the battle of Fredericksburg. More recently, Kathryn S. Meier published, “No Place for the Sick: Nature’s War on Civil War Soldier Mental and Physical Health in the 1862 Peninsula and Shenandoah Valley Campaign” in The Journal of the Civil War Era (June 2011). What else do you recommend? I am not just thinking about weather, but broader environmental issues as well.
Finally, I recently learned that Ken Noe’s next book will focus on weather related issues. Perhaps he can give us a sense of what he is up to.