This guest post on black Confederates/Confederate slaves by historian, Peter S. Carmichael, ran last July and received a great deal of attention. Given the number and range of comments on a recent post on the subject I thought it would be helpful to run it again for those of you who are new to the blog. I refrained from responding to most of the comments since we are still mired in fundamental problems when confronted with this question. Yes, a few of you out there get it that what is needed is serious research and attention to the question of what it is we are even talking about. Others are citing sources that make little sense without serious critical analysis while others are hung up on vague comparisons with the north that have nothing to do with the subject. And then there are always a few on the fringe who fail to see beyond their attachment to contemporary political/cultural issues. As far as I am concerned, Carmichael’s essay constitutes a starting point for those of you who first want to understand the broad analytical contours of the subject. It does not provide all the answers, but does address the questions that need to be examined.
“We were the ‘men’”: The Ambiguous Place of Confederate Slaves in Southern Armies
On August 6, 1861, the Richmond Enquirer ran an extended article, entitled “Ebony Idols,” on a camp slave named Sam who refused to leave his master during the battle of First Manassas. Sam received public acclaim for his stalwart behavior under fire, and the Enquirer recounted a boastful speech that he delivered to a group of Richmond slaves. Sam promised his black audience that “I wasn’t scared. I am not one of those kinds.” The story of Sam was intended to assure white audiences that slaves, even when the Yankees were shooting at them, would remain forever faithful. This claim of slave fidelity largely rested upon the Enquirer’s denying Sam his manliness, and utilizing antebellum stereotypes to describe black men as effeminate sambos.