Here is What You Can Do With Your Interpretation of Slavery & Secession

I understand that the Internet and social media sites can be an empowering place.  It also has a powerful democratizing effect, which I value.  That doesn’t mean that everyone’s voice ought to be given equal weight.  Though it should be utilized with discretion, sometimes the most appropriate response is the back of the hand.  Here is a case where this applies.

This is for those of you who are convinced that the scholarship around the antebellum period, slavery, and secession is fundamentally misguided.  My response to you: I DON’T CARE!  That may seem a bit dismissive, but that is exactly what I mean to say.  I am not interested in what you learned from reading the Dixie Outfitters website, The South Was Right or one of  your other Pelican Press books.  I am also not interested in your assumptions about what motivates academic historians.  Your theories about how some vaguely defined political agenda influences research is of no interest to me.

I’ve read a pretty large chunk of the scholarly literature on slavery and secession and one thing that has been established over the past few decades is that the South’s “peculiar institution” is central to understanding secession and the Civil War.   The post photo includes just a small number of relevant books from my personal library.  It’s not meant to make you feel insecure, but to give you a sense of how I approach the study of history.  My understanding of this subject comes from reading these books, most of them written by professional historians.  I spend a great deal of time reading books and journals, not because I’ve become seduced by the academic world, but because these books constitute my education in this area of history.  You are going to have to do better if you hope to convince me that the broad interpretation that emerges from these studies is fundamentally flawed.

If critical scholarship is not your cup of tea, so be it.  Just please don’t expect me to take you seriously or imagine that I have any interest in your personal beliefs about Civil War history.  We are simply on different pages.  We have divergent ideas of what it means to engage in the study of history.  In the end it’s not a big deal.  You are free to discuss your personal beliefs on your own webpage or Facebook site or wherever you can find like-minded people.

Virginia Historical Society Interprets Confederate Conscription

This is the second video that I’ve posted from the Virginia Historical Society’s traveling exhibit, “An American Turning Point”.  This one addresses the issue of conscription, but it also introduces visitors to women as political agents.  It’s always nice to see an exhibit move past the traditional and one-dimensional image of Civil War era women as Melanie Wilkes caricatures.

Glenn David Brasher Moves us Beyond Black Confederates

Given the frequency of posts on this site concerning the myth of the black Confederate soldier I wanted to point out the release of a new book that many of you will want to consult.  I’ve been looking forward to Glenn David Brasher’s book, The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom, for some time and having completed two chapters I can now say it was worth the wait.  Brasher provides an overview of history on the Virginia peninsula and analyzes the ways both free and enslaved blacks influenced the strategic and tactical decisions of both armies during the spring campaign of 1862.  Brasher believes that the influence of African Americans on the Peninsula Campaign and its ultimate outcome is more important that Antietam in leading to leading to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

The most important important analytical point that Brasher has made thus far is that there was nothing inevitable about black loyalty to either side during this period.  So much of the discussion surrounding black Confederates is about who can claim a moral victory for their respective side.  It’s nice to remove this issue from our own soiled hands and place it back in a more strictly defined historical context.  Many of the slaves who risked their lives by imposing themselves on Union forces at Fort Monroe and elsewhere remained uncertain as to whether their status as contraband would translate into real freedom.  And while Brasher acknowledges the presence of slaves in Confederate ranks, he reminds us that even those who may have taken shots at Yankees may have done so for reasons that have little to do with loyalty to the Confederate cause and master.

Ultimately, this book is about the place of free and enslaved blacks in our understanding of a military campaign and the course of the war in 1862.  What we ultimately learn is why the United States eventually recruited blacks into the army by early 1863 and why it took the Confederacy much longer.

Myra Chandler Sampson To Discuss Silas Chandler

I am pleased to announce that Myra Chandler Sampson will be speaking on Wednesday evening at 6:30pm at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center in Austin, Texas.  Her topic, as you can see in the museum’s advertisement, is Silas Chandler.  If I am not mistaken, this will be her first public presentation.  I am sure this is going to be an informative and entertaining talk and I strongly encourage those of you who live in the area to attend and support Myra.  As interesting as Silas’s story is, however, I suspect that Myra will also talk about her personal journey that involves nothing less than reclaiming an important piece of family history that had been hijacked by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and spread on the Internet as an example of a false heritage.

It was an honor for me to be able to help Myra bring this story to a wider reading public.  I certainly wish I could be there on Wednesday evening.  Best of luck, Myra.

SCV Butchers Another Slave’s History

1911 photo of Aaron Perry

In a recent speech, Ed Ayers suggested that “the enemy of Civil War history is everything people think they know about the conflict.”  We could just as easily point to what people don’t know as that enemy.  I am not going to say anything new about this most recent case of a slave being honored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for his “service” to the Confederacy.  You may even wonder why I bother to bring it up.  I believe it matters that the descendants of a slave have been duped into believing that their ancestor somehow served as a soldier or was acknowledged in some official capacity within the army.

I have a copy of Aaron Perry’s pension and as it states in the article he was a slave.  The jump from acknowledging Perry’s status as a slave to honoring him for his service in the Confederate army, however, suggests that some people have a very limited grasp of the institution.  Let me break this down for you:

  • Perry was legally tied to his master’s family.  He left home as the legal extension of the man who owned him.  His master likely took Perry to many places in addition to the army during the period of his life in which he was property.
  • Only citizens of the Confederacy were eligible to volunteer or be drafted into the army.
  • At no point did Perry’s status as a slave change while with the army.  He was there to serve his master and not the Confederate cause.
  • The extent of Perry’s movements while with the army were legally dictated by his master and not by military regulations.
  • Perry’s pension was given for his service as a slave and not as a soldier in the 37th NC.  In fact, the unit is irrelevant.

As the military extension of a government that was pledged to protect the institution of slavery it seems to me that a more fitting ceremony for the SCV would include an apology rather than an honor that has absolutely no basis in history.  After all, if the Confederate army had proven to be successful, Perry would still have been a slave.