For my second installment in this series I thought we would take a quick look at Ann DeWitt’sBlack Confederate Soldiers site. It’s one of the more recent sites to appear and it is growing in popularity. Feel free to suggest websites that might be worth exploring at a later date. I apologize for the sound quality. I am still playing around with a couple of programs so hopefully things will improve.
We are likely to see more of these black Confederate stories throughout Black History Month. This one is a perfect example of the confusion and inconsistency that often accompanies these stories. You can clearly discern both the narrative of a slave and a soldier at work here with no sense that they are mutually exclusive. Mary Crockett presents her great-grandfather, Richard Quarls, as both a Civil War veteran and as a slave. The reporter tells us that although he was forced into the army as a slave he wore the Confederate uniform. The uniform is typically referenced as evidence that the individual in question was considered something other than a slave. In addition, his pension is shown, which leads one to believe that he served in a Confederate unit as a soldier as opposed to being attached to a soldier/officer as a servant. In this case the pension that Quarls received was for his work as a slave and not as a soldier. Once again we can thank the Sons of Confederate Veterans for distorting this story for their own purposes by placing a marker that suggests that Quarls was a soldier. Ms. Crockett is absolutely right when she points out that her family’s history is complex. It’s also an important story and at this point in time we should try to get right.
It’s always entertaining to watch folks get worked up about the pride they feel when defending those brave white Southerners, who in 1860-61 were doing nothing more than standing up against an evil federal government that had stepped beyond its constitutional authority. For many, it’s nothing less than an act of patriotism that may have to be carried out again if we are not careful. In this interpretation of American history, the American Civil War ushered in a new era of corrupt government. Lincoln fits perfectly into the role of arch villain, not simply for ordering the total destruction of the Confederacy, but for his blatant disregard of the Constitution. The act of secession and the war itself constituted the final stand against this blatant disregard for the Constitution.
What is interesting, of course, is that these very same people fail to extend their argument further. Why not continue to defend these salient constitutional issues within the history of the Confederacy itself? After all, a closer look at the historical record may reveal an even more defiant stand against the encroachments on states’ and individual rights in the Confederacy as opposed to the United States between 1861 and 1865. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to add to the argument that the 1860s represented a fundamental shift in our assumptions about the proper relationship between the states and the federal government?
A cursory glance at the historical record suggests that Southern slaveholders are begging to be embraced as defending their rights against what they perceived to be a corrupt government. Throughout the war they stood up against every attempt on the part of the Confederate government to impress their slaves for military purposes. They did so not only because they knew there would be a good chance that their slaves would run away, but that the legislation constituted a direct threat to their individual rights as property holders. Stephanie McCurry does a brilliant job of explaining all of this in her book, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South. If we understand the direct connection between states’ right and slaveholders’ rights we can more easily view the slaveholding class as engaged in a broader struggle to protect their individual rights, first against the United States and, within a short period of time, the Confederate States of America.
This post is the first in a short series of videos that will focus on some of the more popular black Confederate websites. I decided to do this as a follow-up to my recent New York Times editorial in which I discuss the importance of properly assessing information gathered Online. We begin with the Petersburg Express, which in my opinion is the best example of many of the problems that you will find on these sites. This is a beginner’s guide, but I hope that it is helpful to those people who are struggling with some of the basic questions of media literacy. Unfortunately, I had to rush a bit at the end. Here is the link to Whois, which you can use to find information about the source of the website.
Welcome New York Times/Disunion blog readers. I hope you take some time to browse my site. Click here for more information about me as well as recent publications and current projects. Click here for additional information about the black Confederate debate. Join the Civil War Memory Facebook group to stay updated on future posts and other Civil War related links.
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Clay Risen of the New York Times to talk about what it might take to make their Civil War blog, Disunion, more appealing to teachers. I’ve been reading it for some time and I am thoroughly enjoying both the range of writers and subject matter discussed. Disunion recently won the 2010 Cliopatria Award for best series of posts. We had a nice talk and by the end of our conversation I suggested that an editorial on the recent black Confederate/4th grade history textbook controversy here in Virginia might be worth writing. I wasn’t so much interested in rehashing the historical debate about black Confederates since that has been done to death. Unfortunately, what has been left out entirely from the debate is the fact that the error came about as a result of the author’s failure to understand how to search and assess Online information. It goes without saying that I am honored to published in the New York Times. Click through to the NYTs and the comments which follow.