Today was one of the most productive writing days that I’ve had in quite some time. It marks the first day of actual writing of what I’ve tentatively titled, Searching for Black Confederates in History and Memory. The primary sources that I have collected are incredibly rich, particularly those sources related to the memory of what were commonly called camp or body servants. Here is an example from the turn of the twentieth century. It’s an excerpt from a speech given by Dr. Walter B. Hill, who was the Chancellor of the University of Georgia. It’s titled, “Negro Education in the South” and was presented at a conference on education policy that took place at the University of Virginia in 1903. The speech opens with a few words speculating as to why the state’s black population had not already taken advantage of freedom and cheap transportation costs to leave the state for the North. This is what follows:
If “those who fight for freedom” are entitled to it then they are “entitled” to it equally. If the negro is made to fight our battles of “freedom” then he must be governed by the same laws of war, and he must stand upon the same footing of the white man after the war. What will be the consequences? Why, if 250,000 negro men are entitled to their freedom because the fight for it, then their wives, children and families are also entitled to the same boon, just as their wives, children and families of the white man who fight the same battle. In other words, the South is to be converted by this war into an abolitionized colony of free negroes, instead of a land of white freemen, knowing their rights and daring to maintain them. If the negroes are to be free, they must be equally free with the master. If they are to be armed like the master, then they are in fact equal of the master. What is the result? Why, they never can be slaves again, and must be treated as the master, politically, civilly and socially. “Those who fight for freedom are entitled to freedom,” says the Enquirer, and we say so too. [The Lynchburg Republican, November 2, 1864]
Can it be possible that a Southern man–editor of a Southern journal–recognizing the right of property in slaves, admitting their inferiority in the scale of being and also their social inferiority, would recommend the passage of a law which at one blow levels all distinctions, deprives the master of a right to his property, and elevates the negro to an equality with the white man?–for, disguise it as you may, those who fight together in a common cause, and by success win the same freedom, enjoy equal rights and equal position, and in this case, are distinguished by color. Are we prepared for this? Is it for this we are contending? Is it for this we would seek the aid of our slaves? To win their freedom with our own independence, to establish in our midst a half or quarter of a million of black freemen, familiar with arts and discipline of war, and with large military experience! Has the bitter experience of Virginia with regard to free negroes already been forgotten? [Nat Turner's Rebellion] [Richmond Enquirer, November 4, 1864]
This guest post is by Adam Arenson, assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War, about the Civil War Era as a battle of three competing visions — that of the North, South, and West. More at http://adamarenson.com. It is the start of a series of musings from a historian of the culture and politics of Civil War America, drawn from his notes and photographs upon bringing this perspective “back to the battlefield.”
On a Sunday in July, a few weeks before the vaunted sesquicentennial re-enactment, I enjoyed a balmy day at the Manassas battlefield. Like many of the sites I visited, the National Park Service looked ready: the new signs were beautifully designed, the ranger talks were entertaining and informative, and the trail directions were clear. The Manassas Battlefield is an excellent place to see the different scale of battles between 1861 and 1862—the difference between a skirmish between untested men across a few small hills and a major engagement across miles of terrain, with armies hardened by the experience of war.
This morning I learned that my co-authored essay on Silas Chandler with Myra Chandler Sampson will be published in the February 2012 issue of Civil War Times magazine. This just so happens to be the magazine’s 50th anniversary issue and I couldn’t be more pleased that we will be part of the celebration.
This little project has been in the works for quite some time, but it is one of the most important to me. The essay grew out of a series of blog posts over the past year that I hoped would begin to correct the historical record as it relates to the subject of black Confederates. Better yet, it led me to Myra Chandler Sampson, who happens to be Silas’s great granddaughter. Myra discovered me through the blog in the course of her own tireless quest to correct the historical record of her ancestor. She placed enough trust in me to send along a wonderful collection of archival sources, which greatly enriched my own understanding of Silas’s life as well as the rest of the family’s history through the 20th century.
Between the upcoming History Detectives episode on Silas and our own article it looks like we are one step closer to Myra’s goal of honoring her ancestor in a way that more closely reflects the available historical record.
Here is some more video from the new documentary, Southern Belle. In this segment historians respond to the attempt on the part of the organizers to remove any discussion of slavery from their program. They address the following question: Why would the “yeoman” farmer go to war with no dog in the Civil War fight? The list of historians interviewed includes, R. Blakeslee Gilpin, Assistant Professor of History, University of South Carolina; Carroll Van West, Director, Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area; Tara McPherson, Professor of Critical Studies, University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and Stan Deaton, Director, Georgia Historical Society. Additional films can be viewed on the documentary’s website.