Wartime Accounts of Confederate Camps

black confederate campOne of the larger points that I am trying to make in the first chapter of my black Confederates book is that the war presented a number of challenges to the maintenance of the master-slave relationship. While the expectations and authority of slaveowners may have been well established back home, slaves took full advantage of the opportunities afforded by life in camp, on the march, and even on the battlefield. This new landscape stretched the master-slave dynamic. In some cases it was stretched to the breaking point as slaves chose to run away, but it mostly resulted in masters conceding a certain amount of ground to their camp slaves.

I am trying to provide as rich a description of camp life as possible to help frame this analysis. I have a few descriptions of what a Confederate camp looked like, including its layout, but I was hoping that some of you might be willing to share additional references. The account can be from any point during the war. In fact, it would help immensely if I had a sense of how, if at all, the layout of Confederate camps changed over time. Thanks for your help.

Arden Wells Falls for Black Confederate Myth

Arden Wells is running for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana. In this short video he addresses the Confederate monument debate in New Orleans. Wells supports maintaining the monuments in their current locations owing to their status as landmarks and as popular tourist destinations. He appears to understand that many African Americans find them offensive, but Wells believes that whites have the right to celebrate their heritage. [click to continue…]

Khizr Khan and the ‘Politics of Mourning’ at Arlington

Khan gravesite

Like many of you, I was moved by Khizr Khan’s passionate response during the final night of the DNC’s national convention to Donald Trump’s early campaign promise to ban all Muslims from this country. His defense of his son, Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004 reflects the serves as an important reminder that claims to citizenship and loyalty to this country transcends racial, ethnic, and religious identification.

I was particularly taken by Mr. Khan’s reference to Arlington National Cemetery as I am just about finished reading Micki McElya’s new book, The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery. I highly recommend it. The overall focus of the book provides some much needed context to Mr. Khan’s remarks about his son, his service as a Muslim American, and his burial at Arlington, which I hope comes through in my latest essay at The Daily Beast.

A Civil War Battle Anniversary


Today is the 152nd anniversary of the battle of the Crater. For those of you new to the blog, this is a battle that I spent a number of years researching first as a masters thesis at the University of Richmond and later as the subject of my first book, Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, which was published in 2012 by the University Press of Kentucky. For those of you who missed it, I recently learned that the book will be released in paperback next spring.

In 2014 I gave a talk on the memory of the battle as part of the National Park Service’s 150th commemoration in Petersburg, Virginia. You can watch it here.

Bill O’Reilly’s Benevolent Slaveowners

Slave House in Washington, D.C.

Slave House in Washington, D.C.

Update: Bill O’Reilly offers additional comments confirming that Michelle Obama’s statements about slavery are accurate, which leaves me wondering why he needed to point it out to begin with.

Last night Bill O’Reilly used his “Tip of the Day” segment to respond directly to First Lady Michelle Obama’s address to the Democratic Party Convention in which she referenced the use of slaves to build the White House. The First Lady used the opportunity to remind her listeners of how far we’ve come as a nation and to try to impart some understanding of what it has meant for one African-American family to occupy the White House for the past eight years. Many listeners were likely surprised to hear this little tidbit of history, while others, no doubt, refused to believe it. O’Reilly’s “spin” reflects the continued difficulty of coming to terms with this aspect of our nation’s past. [click to continue…]

Three Views of Reconstruction

In this brief video, Anne Sarah Rubin, Matthew Pinsker, and Gregory Downs offer their own approach to understanding the challenges and legacy of Reconstruction. This is perfect for classroom use. What I like about it is that it offers students the opportunity to explore how three very talented historians arrive at different conclusions based on the available evidence.

[Uploaded to YouTube on July 26, 2016]

From Camp Slave to Janitor

MaconTelegraphFeb21895Here is a wonderful example of how the role of the loyal camp slave during the Civil War served to define and reinforce race relations decades later. In February 1895, Governor William Y. Atkinson appointed Robert Atkinson to the position of janitor at the state capitol in Atlanta, Georgia.

The appointment was an acknowledgment of Robert’s role as the camp slave or “body servant” to the governor’s younger brother. Robert accompanied John P. Atkinson and following his wounding, “carried him off the battlefield, and later brought him home to his father’s hearthstone to die.” Accounts of slaves escorting their dead or wounded masters home litter postwar accounts and provide for white southerners the clearest evidence of faithful service.

The appointment also provided an opportunity for Governor Atkinson to outline the kind of behavior he expected from Georgia’s black population, especially those who expected any kind of support from the state government. It is very likely that Robert’s request was accompanied by a clear demonstration of his continued loyalty to the family and an acknowledgment of his place in the racial hierarchy.