Thanks to Brooks Simpson and Ken Noe for participation in my most recent post on black Confederates. Their thorough comments in response to a reader who put forward what he believed to be evidence for black Confederate soldiers is a clinic on how to engage in serious historical analysis. I can’t tell you what it means to me to have such respected professional historians as regular readers of this blog. You would also do well to check out Ta-Nehisi Coates’s most recent post on the subject as well as the clever thought experiment over at Vast Public Indifference.
At one point in the discussion today Ken Noe offered the following:
I recently completed a project that required me to read the letters and diaries of 320 CS soldiers. They wrote a lot about slavery, slave labor in camp, their opposition to emancipation, and their mixed feelings about the 1865 Confederate Congressional debates over arming blacks. But not a one of them–not one–described black men fighting beside them as armed soldiers for the Confederacy. What I’d need are a lot of letters that did describe that. I’d also need evidence that the 1865 Confederate slavery debates never took place after all, because why debate the issue if black men were already soldiers in Confederate service? Finally, some official mention from the Confederate government before 1865 would help.
Before proceeding I want to mention that the project that Ken speaks of will be published shortly by the University of North Carolina Press and it promises to be a very interesting study. All of Ken’s questions are relevant, but I was particularly struck by his emphasis on the lack of references to black Confederates from the men in his sample. One would think that at some point a Confederate solider would acknowledge the presence of black soldiers rather than servants, teamsters, cooks, etc. I don’t know one historian who has come across such a letter, though I assume that a few did serve or were able to pass as white soldiers. [click to continue…]