Category Archives: Southern History

Revisiting Peter Carmichael on “Confederate Slaves”

This guest post on black Confederates/Confederate slaves by historian, Peter S. Carmichael, ran last July and received a great deal of attention.  Given the number and range of comments on a recent post on the subject I thought it would be helpful to run it again for those of you who are new to the blog.  I refrained from responding to most of the comments since we are still mired in fundamental problems when confronted with this question.  Yes, a few of you out there get it that what is needed is serious research and attention to the question of what it is we are even talking about. Others are citing sources that make little sense without serious critical analysis while others are hung up on vague comparisons with the north that have nothing to do with the subject.  And then there are always a few on the fringe who fail to see beyond their attachment to contemporary political/cultural issues.  As far as I am concerned, Carmichael’s essay constitutes a starting point for those of you who first want to understand the broad analytical contours of the subject.  It does not provide all the answers, but does address the questions that need to be examined.

“We were the ‘men’”: The Ambiguous Place of Confederate Slaves in Southern Armies

On August 6, 1861, the Richmond Enquirer ran an extended article, entitled “Ebony Idols,” on a camp slave named Sam who refused to leave his master during the battle of First Manassas. Sam received public acclaim for his stalwart behavior under fire, and the Enquirer recounted a boastful speech that he delivered to a group of Richmond slaves. Sam promised his black audience that “I wasn’t scared. I am not one of those kinds.” The story of Sam was intended to assure white audiences that slaves, even when the Yankees were shooting at them, would remain forever faithful. This claim of slave fidelity largely rested upon the Enquirer’s denying Sam his manliness, and utilizing antebellum stereotypes to describe black men as effeminate sambos.

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Comment From H.K. Edgerton

You can imagine my surprise when I noticed this comment from H.K. Edgerton in response to the last post.  For those of you who do not know of Mr. Edgerton, he is one of the more outspoken and charismatic proponents of the black Confederate myth.  Interestingly, Mr. Edgerton is African American.  He can be found in a Confederate uniform and carrying a Confederate flag on long treks through the South.  His last mission took him to the inauguration of Barack Obama in January.  I’ve offered extensive commentary about Mr. Edgerton over the course of the life of this blog, which you can find at the bottom.

It is unfortunate that those of you who were educated in the Federal school system have such a dim view of the honorable Black confederate soldier. If you can be so proud of the Black Union soldier who received half the pay of his counterpart, one who fought with a bayonet at his back from his white counterpart, watched as his wives were raped by the union soldier and used as concubine, watched as his Southern Black and White families homes were burned, food stuffs to feed innocent women and children stolen, animals killed, women raped and murdered. You go ahead and be proud of the Battle of the Craters, and Denzelle Washington’s Glory as the Union Whites murdered their black’s returning to their lines.

Here in the South we shall continue to honor Napoleon Nelson ant the other the Black men who rode with the Honorable General Nathan Bedford Forrest , and the likes of Holt Collier, Levi Carnine, Rev. Mack Lee and celebrate Dick Poplar in Petersburg, Virginia. The shame is that you truly believe the propaganda of your Northern Master.

Unfortunately, Edgerton’s comment follows the standard Lost Cause narrative along with vague comparisons/references to the challenges that blacks faced in the Union army as well as the North generally.  Still, it’s nice to know that he is reading the blog.  See the following posts for additional commentary about Edgerton:

H.K. Edgerton Marches Through Texas

H.K. Edgerton and Nathan B. Forrest: Brothers in Arms

The Real Price of Forgetting the Past

H.K. Edgerton Goes to Washington

Edgerton Sighting in Ringgold, Georgia

The Last Black Confederate Surrenders

Mourning Black Confederates

memorialservice03I have no idea when this ceremony honoring black Confederates (Confederate slaves) took place or who is behind this particular website, but this image of two women dressed in mourning attire is quite striking. Are the women who are placing flowers at the grave site white? If they are than we’ve come very far indeed in rewriting history and reconfiguring our understanding of race and gender in the antebellum and Civil War South.  Bizarre indeed.

Some choice quotes:

“Randall Burbage, commander of the South Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Confederate heritage is something that cannot be bought or earned, but instead has been inherited through birthright.”

“Our heritage, black and white, is intertwined. It has been since the founding of this country.  It gives us the opportunity to see where we came from and where we’re going. Being a Confederate is something to be proud of. We honor these men because they are Confederate soldiers.” – Theresa Pittman, president of the S.C. Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy

“The Robert E. Lee Memorial: A Conflict of Interpretation”

The following is an abstract for an essay that I am contributing to an edited collection on tourism in the American South, which is being edited by Karen Cox.  Your feedback and questions are strongly encouraged.

In recent years Civil War landscapes (especially battlefields) have come under increasing pressure from various interest groups to broaden their site interpretations beyond a traditional narrative of national reconciliation and the heroism of the Civil War soldier. The evolution of Civil War historiography over the past few decades as well as the changing racial and gender profile of public and private institutions has led to calls for increased attention, among other things, to slavery and race along with the roles that women and civilians played in the war.  As the custodian of some of the most prominent and sacred Civil War sites, the National Park Service has been on the front lines in working to manage the tension between and within groups who continue to struggle for control over this nation’s collective memory. Overlooking Washington, D.C., Arlington National Cemetery, surrounding the Robert E. Lee Memorial, which is also known as Arlington House, serves as a repository for the U.S. military dead while the home functions as a shrine to the life and legacy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  Like other Civil War sites, the problem of how to meaningfully interpret slave life has proven to be the most vexing for National Park Service staff in recent years.  Specifically, a 2004 report on the subject highlighted just how little information is being shared with the general public as well as a certain amount of resistance from visitors who question whether slave life is even relevant to understanding Robert E. Lee, Arlington House, and the surrounding grounds.

The challenge for the NPS in bringing their interpretation of Lee’s home more in line with recent scholarship and in integrating competing narratives long ignored has much in common with other related landscapes.  When in 1925 the NPS took over Arlington House, it concentrated on Lee himself by restoring the home to the period just before the Civil War, thus providing the proper context in which to emphasize his decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army and eventually align himself with the Confederacy.  In doing so, the NPS presented the general public with a heroic story of Lee that highlighted his ascendancy to the pantheon of American heroes.  As late as 1962, the NPS maintained Arlington House as a “national monument to one of America’s greatest men.”  Absent, however, was the presence of a large slave population that worked the grounds as well as a Freedmen’s Village at the end of the war.  The challenge of presenting slavery at Arlington House within this “Lost Cause” paradigm is, of course, not unique to this particular site.

What makes the ongoing debate about how to interpret the history of Arlington House worth examining, however, is its location within the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.  Specifically, the use of the grounds as a final resting place for fallen U.S. soldiers adds another layer of meaning to the landscape and one that the NPS has struggled to effectively integrate. It is here at Arlington House that visitors arrive after having walked by the “Eternal Flame”, the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”, and row upon row of marble headstones – all of which are symbols of national pride and sacrifice.  Such a situation presents NPS interpreters with a set of unique challenges. First, the NPS must bring their site interpretation more in line with recent scholarship on slavery, the Civil War, and Lee specifically because we cannot fully understand the home or Lee without a fuller understanding of slave life at Arlington. Secondly, they must do this in an environment where visitors may not be prepared to contemplate these controversial topics: slavery and race versus the solemn landscape of fallen heroes. One speaks to what binds us together as Americans while the other reminds us of what once divided us and continues to prove difficult to understand.

Capital of the Confederacy Remembers Lincoln’s Visit

lincoln-richmond01One hundred and forty-four years ago this weekend, Abraham Lincoln visited Richmond for the first time.  A large crowd of Richmonders welcomed the president in the wake of the Confederate government’s abandonment of the city.  To mark the occasion, the Valentine Museum, Library of Virginia, and American Civil War Museum at Tredegar have scheduled a series of events to mark the occasion.  Choose between talks on Lincoln and emancipation as well as another on Lincoln and the fall of the Confederacy, a photography collection of Richmond in 1865, and a Lincoln walk titled “Step Toward Freedom”.  Click here for information on the weekend’s events.  Don’t expect to see Brag Bowling at any of these events.

Update: The wife and I decided to check out the Lincoln walk. You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful day to submerge yourself in Richmond’s heritage. Check back later for photographs.