Hello University of Wisconsin

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.

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.

Black Confederates At Appomattox

black confederates, appomattoxIt never fails that at some point during the Q&A following a talk about my Crater book an audience member brings up the subject of black Confederate soldiers.  Most of the time the issue is raised in complete innocence.  They heard about it from a fellow history enthusiast or, more likely, read about it online.  Last week it was the first question following my talk at the Virginia Festival of the Book.  I offered my standard response and after the talk I had a nice chat with the individual, who thanked me for clarifying the issue and for suggesting some books for further reading. Earlier that afternoon I had another conversation with a good friend who referenced accounts of black Confederate soldiers during the Appomattox Campaign.  Again, the subject was honestly raised and with a sincere interest in wanting clarification.  This is one of the more popular accounts that you will find online.  It is usually brought up to link the raising of black soldiers during the final weeks of the war in Richmond with the battlefield.  Continue reading “Black Confederates At Appomattox”

The Community of the Civil War Regiment

Lucy Nichols, slave
Lucy Nichols at a reunion of the 23rd Indiana, circa. 1890s

I had one of those moments this morning when reading the work of another historian opened my eyes to ways to deepen my own thinking about a particular subject.  Much of what I’ve written about in the first chapter of my black Confederates book explores the relationship between individual camp servants and their masters.  It offers a survey of the wide range of relationships and how they evolved owing to the exigencies of war.  The second chapter examines the presence of former camp servants at Confederate veterans reunions as well as the issuance of pensions by individual southern states to blacks for the vital roles they played during the war.  I’ve been struggling with how I can link these two chapters conceptually.  Despite claims to the contrary, individual relationships usually did not continue after the war along the lines of the loyal slave narrative.  That said, we do need to make sense of the presence of camp servants at these reunions. Continue reading “The Community of the Civil War Regiment”

The Future of Civil War History Is Not On the Battlefield

think-digital brainTomorrow I hope to finish up an essay that I was asked to write for one of the Civil War journals over a year ago about the the influence of digital technologies on how we write and research history and how that has fueled the myth of the black Confederate soldier.  At the end of the essay I take a moment to suggest ways that academic and public historians as well as history educators generally might address this myth, not by jumping head first into the very places where these emotional debates are taking place, but by re-considering what it means to educate the public at a time when everyone can be his/her own historian on the Web. Continue reading “The Future of Civil War History Is Not On the Battlefield”

Stonewall Jackson’s Black Friend

Update: Richard Williams has decided to respond to this post on his blog. What I find interesting is that he has nothing to say about the content of the post. Instead he takes issue with one of my comments about my characterization of his understanding of the influence of Nat Turner’s Rebellion on race/slavery and religion in Virginia.  Williams declares that many academics are “cynical” about attempts on the part of slaveholders to teach the gospel yet he provides not a single reference.  It is unclear as to why this should matter to begin with. Their attitude is irrelevant.  What matters is the interpretation.  A quick perusal of the bibliography points to an over reliance on relatively few secondary sources, which is why I take issue with his analysis of religion in a slaveholding society.  There simply isn’t much to work with.  I will leave it to you to judge.

Jim Lewis and Jackson in "Gods and Generals".
Jim Lewis and Jackson in “Gods and Generals”.

My recent essay on Confederate camp servants in The Civil War Monitor opens with a reference to an account in Edward Porter Alexander’s Fighting for the Confederacy.  In it he discusses the purchase of a camp servant named Charley and a horse.  Interestingly, Alexander refers to both as an “appendage”.  That reference, I believe, tells us a great deal about race relations in the South as well as the value of enslaved blacks to the Confederate war effort and individual officers who utilized personal servants.  Continue reading “Stonewall Jackson’s Black Friend”