I am putting the finishing touches on my presentation for tomorrow evening at the Western Virginia Historical Society in Roanoke. One of the points that I want to stress is that the black Confederate reference is relatively new to our cultural lexicon. As I’ve suggested before, references to hundreds or even thousands of loyal slaves serving as soldiers in the Confederate army can be traced to the period following the movie, Glory in 1989. Despite the insistence on the part of a small, but vocal group black Confederate soldiers simply did not exist in our collective memory until recently. We have already discussed the case of the Confederate monument at Arlington, which was dedicated in 1914 [and here]. Primary source material related to the dedication ceremony as well as early histories of the site clearly references the image of the black man following soldiers into battle as a body servant (slave). To insist otherwise is to engage in presentism.
It may be helpful to consider a scene in Gone With the Wind that features just the kind of image that is so often misrepresented today. During the evacuation of Atlanta and amidst all of the confusion of Federal shells and runaway carriages Scarlett happens upon former slaves from Tara, including “Big Sam”. He reassures Scarlett: “[T]he Confederacy needs it, so we is going to dig for the South…. [D]on’t worry we’ll stop them Yankees.”
Let’s put aside for now the overt imagery to loyal slaves that is pervasive throughout the movie. What is worth pointing out is that no one describes these men as soldiers and it is unlikely that moviegoers would have made this assumption as well. They would have viewed these men simply as loyal slaves to the South. More specifically, it looks like these men functioned as slaves impressed by the Confederate government.
In the hands of the careless they are whatever you want them to be.
Thanks to CBS’s “Sunday Morning” show for producing one of the most balanced accounts of the Civil War Sesquicentennial that I’ve seen in some time. Not only was it thoughtful, but it managed to include a number of important perspectives without taking on the loaded question of why and how we are still fighting the Civil War. Click here for one of the worst examples of this style of reporting out of England.
Dr. Michael Kogan, a member of Archibald Gracie Camp #985, the New York City Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, gives a few brief remarks at the annual Grant’s Tomb Commemoration, hosted by New York’s Sons of Union Veterans on Palm Sunday, April 17th, 2011. The speech is a wonderful example of the continued hold of sectional reconciliation on our popular memory of the war. The only problem is that it is unlikely that General Grant would have approved of such language. Toward the end of his remarks Kogan applauds Grant for his terms of surrender at Appomattox, but the SCV would do well to remind itself of what he thought of the Confederate cause. Grant offers a very succinct reflection on it in his memoir:
I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
For Grant the war was not simply a battle between brave soldiers and shared values. I have little doubt that if given the opportunity to do so Grant would remind Kogan and the New York chapter of the SCV that there was a right side and a wrong side in the Civil War.
This past week a letter surfaced written by William Herndon in 1866, which tells us nothing new about Abraham Lincoln’s faith. You can purchase it for $35,000.
“Mr. Lincoln’s religion is too well known to me to allow of even a shadow of a doubt; he is or was a Theist & a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary — supernatural inspiration or revelation,” Herndon wrote in the letter, signed Feb. 4, 1866, a year after Lincoln’s assassination. “At one time in his life, to say the least, he was an elevated Pantheist, doubting the immortality of the soul as the Christian world understands that term,” continued the letter, addressed to Edward McPherson, Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. “I love Mr. Lincoln dearly, almost worship him, but that can’t blind me. He’s the purest politician I ever saw, and the justest man.”
Note: Civil War Memory is not an affiliate of this company. I just think it’s a hilarious video.
I couldn’t be more excited about this talk. This is my first public presentation on the subject and my first opportunity to formally outline my own thinking about the kinds of questions that need to be explored as well as the pitfalls involved in the current debate and reliance on the Internet as a reliable source. The story of Silas and Andrew Chandler is the perfect case study for such a presentation.