“Does Any One Remember Negro Confederates?”

lee-black-confederatesOn a number of occasions over the past few years I have announced a cash award for anyone who can locate a piece of wartime evidence that points to the presence of black men fighting as soldiers in the Confederate army. I would love to find a letter or diary entry from a Confederate soldier or newspaper article that points to their presence in the army. I thought a cash award, along with the opportunity to humiliate me publicly, would be sufficient to inspire at least one reader.

As I was filing some documents earlier today I came across this little gem, which may help us better understand why no one has yet to claim the prize. It is a letter-to-the-editor that was published in The Times-Dispatch in March 1915 by a Confederate veteran from Sutherlin, Virginia.  [click to continue…]

Stonewall Jackson is Still the ‘Black Man’s Friend’

In the proposal for my book on the myth of black Confederates, I suggested that the final chapter will likely remind some readers of Tony Horwitz’s wonderful travel narrative, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. There are a number of interesting and complex individuals that for one reason or another have fallen for this myth, which will be explored in my book’s final chapter. They include African Americans like H.K. Edgerton, Karen Cooper, and the late Anthony Hervey. Add to that list one Gregory Newson, who is both an artist and a writer. Here is an interview with Newson. He is currently promoting his new book, Uncle T and the Uppity Spy, which essentially pushes the ‘Stonewall Jackson: Black Man’s Friend’ narrative. [click to continue…]

Final Countdown to Free State of Jones

This morning CBS’s Sunday Morning program ran a very nice segment on Matthew Mcconaughey and the upcoming movie, the Free State of Jones. It’s well worth watching. Mcconaughey is interviewed alongside director Gary Ross, a local historian related to the Knight family, and two members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I was hoping to hear more from the SCV members, but it is clear that they have nothing constructive to offer about the movie or the history of Newton Knight and Jones County. The others rightfully point out the movie’s relevance to our own time and its place in the ongoing erosion of the Lost Cause narrative.

I am spending the day re-reading sections of Vikki Bynum’s brilliant book, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War, in preparation for a movie review that I hope to publish at The Daily Beast. As many of you know, the movie is based on Bynum’s book.

[Uploaded to YouTube on March 5, 2016]

The Civil War Institute Embraces Reconstruction 150th

Reconstruction Banner

Good news for those of you who will not be in attendance. C-SPAN just informed me that they will be broadcasting LIVE on June 18 and will tape sessions on Friday (6/17) & Sunday (6/19) for future airings.

In a little less than two weeks I will drive to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the Civil War Institute’s annual conference. This will be my fourth year as a member of the faculty and as always I am super excited. For the past five years the conference theme tracked the Civil War sesquicentennial. Compared to the conferences overseen by Gabor Boritt, which tended to focus narrowly on military topics, Peter Carmichael – who came on board as the institute’s director back in 2010 – has pushed participants to consider the war within a much broader context.

That vision led Pete back in 2012 to propose a conference devoted solely to Reconstruction the memory of the Civil War. I suspect that many of us wondered whether such a focus could be pulled off given the history of the Institute. The other issue question was how to integrate site tours, which are a staple of these gatherings. Recently the CWI staff announced that this year’s conference is SOLD OUT. You heard that right. Somewhere around 400 people paid good money to spend five days thinking about Reconstruction. [click to continue…]

Roots, Fort Pillow, and the Legacy of Racial Violence

Roots, Fort PillowI thoroughly enjoyed the re-make of Roots. Rather than comment on the entire series, which plenty of others have already done, I want to say a quick word about the inclusion of the massacre of black soldiers at Fort Pillow, Tennessee in the final episode. The original series did not include this scene nor as far as I can recall did it include any reference to the massacre of black soldiers during the war.

For the purposes of this post I am not going to quibble with whether the scene accurately captured the battle or the massacre specifically. Those of you looking for a solid history should read Brian S. Wills’s recent book, The River Was Dyed with Blood: Nathan Bedford Forrest and Fort Pillow. What matters is that it occurred and that it was included. For many viewers it will likely be their first exposure to this aspect of the war. The scene plays a crucial role in the series and it is essential to understanding the antebellum roots of wartime violence and its anticipation of extra-legal and state-sanctioned violence throughout the postwar period. [click to continue…]

William Mack Lee Conned the UCV & SCV

William Mack Lee Headstone

William Mack Lee’s Headstone

A few people have inquired as to the likelihood that the Norfolk County Greys Chapter, Sons of Confederate Veterans or the national organization will take steps to correct the history reflected on the headstone that was recently dedicated to William Mack Lee. The SCV claims, among other things, that WML was a cook and servant to Robert E. Lee. I wouldn’t hold your breadth.

This headstone dedication fits neatly into a disturbing trend involving the appropriation of the lives of former slaves by the SCV and United Daughters of the Confederacy to reinforce their own agenda that goes back decades. We saw it in the placement of a Southern Cross of Honor in front of Silas Chandler’s grave and more recently in the dedication of a headstone and marker to Weary Clyburn in North Carolina. [click to continue…]

PBS’s Black Confederate Problem

Andrew and Silas Chandler

Andrew and Silas Chandler

Update: Here is another clip in which Ms. Berry shares that thousands of black men fought as soldiers with the Confederate army. The full segment can now be viewed (begin at 10:30 mark), which does a better job of handling the history of James and Charles Dearman.

We all remember the debacle that took place on The Antiques Roadshow back in 2010 when appraiser Wes Cowan attempted to interpret the famous tintype of Silas and Andrew Chandler. Thankfully, PBS corrected the problem a few years later on an episode of History Detectives.

Unfortunately, it looks like PBS has once again found a way to butcher the history of African Americans and the Confederacy in their new series, Genealogy Roadshow. In this short video Kenyatta D. Berry suggests that “many African Americans were forced into fighting for the Confederate army.” This certainly would have been news to actual Confederate soldiers and civilian leaders. [click to continue…]