At some point the staff at The Root must acknowledge the fact their own website is responsible for advancing the myth of the black Confederate soldier. Their own staff writers appear to be completely unaware of this fact. Yesterday Michael Harriot took the time to respond to reader emails, specifically those written by “white people” who he believes “are born with an extra gland that secretes the ‘let me speak to your manager’ hormone.” Continue reading
This is part of my ongoing research on the origins and evolution of the myth of the black Confederate soldier. It can be incredibly draining having to read these posts day in an day out. And yes, I have no doubt that these people believe every word of what they share on these sites.
- I don’t know if former camp slaves attended every Confederate reunion, but few whites were surprised to see them and they were almost always welcomed.
- The vast majority of these men were former camp slaves. There may have been a few free blacks who hired themselves out to Confederates.
- There are plenty of accounts of camp slaves who deserted, and, yes, there are also accounts of slaves who were present with the army until the very end.
- They certainly did return the bodies of their masters home and a few did return to war alongside others.
- Camp slaves did risk their lives in various ways.
- They were awarded pensions after the war by former Confederate states.
There is a certain truth to all of this, but if you don’t analyze the evidence in the context of the master-slave relationship and the Confederate army’s shifting policies regarding free and enslaved blacks, than all you have is mush.
And then you have the comments.
If I ever write another book its subject will need to be as far removed from this one as possible. At times this project is just downright depressing.
This morning I decided to join a new Facebook group devoted to black Confederate soldiers. Once approved I responded to two posts. The first, not surprisingly, was a re-posting of the Atlanta Black Star piece that I commented on earlier this week. I simply noted that the accompanying image was that of Union soldiers and not Confederate. The second was a response to a post claiming that Silas Chandler served as a Confederate soldier.
In addition, I noticed that one of the group’s administrators grew up in the Boston neighborhood in which I currently reside. I fired off a quick message. Within two hours I was banned from the group and a few minutes ago I received the following message from the administrator. Continue reading
Update: A member finally pointed out that the individual is a USCT.
I visit a couple of Facebook pages devoted to the black Confederate soldier. These sites are useful for a number of reasons. Most importantly, they provide a space for those individuals who are convinced of their existence to share their ideas over time and often in response to news stories. The other reason I visit is because a number of members post interesting items, such as newspaper clippings and other primary sources, to the wall. I have collected literally hundreds of magazine and newspaper clippings, many of which I am using in my book project.
On occasion, these pages can be very entertaining in a disturbing kind of way. Since anyone can post and/or comment these sites often highlight the sheer ignorance of its members. One rarely sees any attempt at serious interpretation and more often than not what is seen is what is believed. Continue reading
Looks like the latest issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era is being mailed to subscribers. The Professional Notes section features my essay, “Black Confederates Out of the Attic and Into the Mainstream,” which briefly explores the evolution of the myth, its diffusion on the Internet, and why academic and public historians ought to care. Even if is the case that the number of news stories has peaked it is still out there on hundreds, if not thousands, of websites waiting for the next poorly conducted search.
Thanks to Aaron Sheehan-Dean for the invitation to contribute to the journal. I am thrilled to finally see it in print. Those of you with access to Project Muse can read it online.
Update: Once again, thanks to Andy Hall for doing the leg work of looking into the documentation behind the claim that Clark Lee was a Confederate soldier. No surprise by what he did not find to support such a claim nor that what is available points to a very different picture of Lee’s presence in the the army.
I have no doubt that the Georgia Civil War Commission has done some excellent work in the area of battlefield preservation, but this is the kind of website that troubles me as both a historian and especially as a teacher. Check out the following two panels that the commission has unveiled in recent years. The list of members does not include anyone prominent in the field of Civil War history and given what I have to share with you I am not surprised one bit to find Charles Kelley Barrow’s name on this list. Barrow is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and has been a vocal advocate of the black Confederate narrative over the years.
The first panel tells the story of Confederate General Patrick Cleburne’s plan to enlist slaves into the army.
It is clear that not much thought went into this text. No mention is made that not only was Cleburne’s plan immediately rejected by President Davis and others, he was ordered not to discuss it further. Also conveniently left out is any sense of just how controversial this plan was throughout the Confederacy as it was debated in the army, on the home front and in Richmond at the very end of the war as a means to stave off defeat. Continue reading
Over the past few years, Leslie Madsen-Brooks has been working on an essay that explores the implications of the controversy surrounding black Confederates on our understanding of history in the digital age. It’s been available online as part of an open peer-review project and will soon be available, along with other essays, in Writing History in the Digital Age, edited by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki (University of Michigan Press, 2013). The author steers her reader through the evolution of the black Confederate narrative and what it tells us about how history is being done, who is writing it, changing assumptions about authority resulting from this digital turn, and why professional historians ought to care.
This is the first scholarly essay that I know of that takes this controversy seriously. I am putting the finishing touches on an essay that also explores some of these issues for an upcoming issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era. The author gives us quite a bit to think about in this essay. Unfortunately, all too often I’ve experienced a cold reception from fellow Civil War historians whenever the topic arises. Many simply can’t imagine why I take the issue seriously or why it is important that they care what those outside the academy are writing on blogs, wikis and Facebook pages. Perhaps it’s not surprising that it took a historian from outside the field of Civil War history to take this subject seriously.
Those of you who take the time to read the essay will recognize most of the players. Madsen-Brooks utilizes this blog as well as those authored by Brooks Simpson, Andy Hall, and Corey Meyer. You will also hear from my friend Connie Ward (a.k.a. Chastain), Ann DeWitt, and Dave Tatum. It’s a real circus.
I strongly encourage you to leave your comments below on any aspect of this essay to assist me further in thinking through these issues.
Update: I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that the class in question is being taught by Steve Kantrowitz. Professor Kantrowitz is the author of More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889, which was my pick as the best history book of 2012. The book is of particular interest to me given that it focuses on the black community here in Boston.
For the past few days a group of students from the University of Wisconsin has been scouring my posts on black Confederates. I think it’s safe to say that collectively they have read every post on the subject. I don’t know much at all about why they have been assigned my blog or what they are getting out of it beyond a few tweets from one of the students. If I am not mistaken one of the students left a comment on an old post.
@kevinlevin We’ve got an assignment using your blog posts in our civil war-recons. history class, but what are your thoughts on Paisley?
— Ben Zeece (@zeece81) April 10, 2013
As an educator this makes my day.
Hey guys. Please let me know if you have any questions about anything related to the relevant history, the public debate, and the role of the Internet in spreading this myth. I am more than happy to talk with your class via Skype if interested. As a historian, blogger, and educator I would love to know what you are getting out of this exercise. Good luck.