Google’s Ngram program, which allows you to search the frequency of a word or phrase within its Books archive, has received a great deal of attention since its recent release. The teacher and researcher in me sees a great deal of potential [and here] in how this tool can be utilized, but Ngram has also been received with a great deal of skepticism [and here]. For now let’s have a little fun with this wonderful new tool.
Not too long ago I suggested that references to black Confederates is relatively new and I even pinpointed its usage to the period following the release of the movie, Glory, in 1n 1989. Well, depending on how you read these results, I wasn’t too far off the mark in terms of a date, but my interpretation concerning the role of Hollywood is still up in the air. Of course, this doesn’t tell us the full story; rather, it simply gives us a reading of the frequency of this particular reference. [The results are case sensitive.] Perhaps black Confederate soldiers were referred to differently in years past, but this would have to be demonstrated by close textual analysis – something that is rarely done in these circles. For example, while many advocates of this narrative have referred to the Confederate monument in Arlington Cemetery as evidence of these men, Andy Hall has convincingly argued [and here] that the organizers of the monument, as well as speakers during the dedication cemetery, did not utilize this reference. They viewed the images around the monument as faithful slaves and not as soldiers.
Looks like the newest line of Dixie Outfitters t-shirts is now available and with this little gem you are likely to be noticed miles away. Actually, I can’t tell whether we are supposed to celebrate black Confederate soldiers or H.K. Edgerton. Doesn’t this look utterly ridiculous when you put it up against this?
Update: Bruce Levine emailed the following to me: “Of course — as would (should?) be clear to anyone who hears or reads the text of my short talk — my point was that facts like the ones I cited are today misconstrued as proof for the preposterous claim that the Confederate army included thousands of black soldiers. That two people who enthusiastically participate in this kind of shameless distortion of historical facts should do the same to my own expose of such chicanery just seems par for the course.”
. . . and some slaves served as personal servants to white soldiers. It was not unusual for such slaves to be given uniforms; and occasionally, one of them even picked up and fired his master’s musket at northern soldiers. Thereby, perhaps, winning for themselves some additional approval and trust from the white confederate soldiers all around them . . . These things are well known facts. They are not controversial. Nobody that I know of denies them.
The passage was pulled from a presentation that Professor Levine gave at the recent Virginia Sesquicentennial Conference held at Norfolk State University. You can watch the video here, which should leave little doubt as to Levine’s position. I’ve written extensively about this book and its authors so there is no reason to repeat myself. Either DeWitt and Weeks made a conscious decision to misrepresent Levine’s position or we are left with the more likely conclusion that the two are incapable of even the most rudimentary analysis of a historian’s interpretation. Either way they have misrepresented his position and the passage ought to come down.
It looks like an elite unit of black Confederate soldiers was indeed trained during the war. Enjoy. In all seriousness, if you want to follow a very interesting line of inquiry that may result in a legitimate black Confederate soldier I urge you to check out this discussion thread. Kate Holleron is researching her great-great grandfather, who served in the 26th Tennessee Infantry. This is how serious research is done and I couldn’t be happier that this blog is assisting Kate in the research process.
As many of you know I am in the beginning stages of a book-length project on the subject of black Confederates. While much of my blogging has centered on countering the nonsense coming out of certain camps concerning numbers and vague references to “loyalty” and “reconciliation” my real interest in this subject is firmly grounded in the war itself. I am particularly interested in how the Confederate war effort shaped the master-slave relationship. As I type this I am staring at rows upon rows of books that explore slave life and culture during the antebellum period. I’ve learned a great deal from these books. However, what I want to better understand is how the exigencies of war shaped the institution during its final few years, particularly in an environment away from what both parties had grown accustomed to.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time re-reading the John C. Winsmith letters, which I’ve finished transcribing and hope to publish at some point soon. You can read about Winsmith in an earlier post, which includes one of the roughly 250 letters that he wrote over the course of the war. Winsmith’s letters, which detail his relationship with his personal servant, Spencer, presents historians with a rich spectrum of experiences that deserve closer study. One gets a sense of how close proximity between master and slave drew both closer. At the same time the eventual outcome of this story raises profound questions about the extent to which the two truly understood one another.
At no point does Winsmith refer to Spencer as a soldier and at no point in this collection of letters does he refer to black Confederate soldiers. Reading these letters one gets the sense that Winsmith would have been horrified to learn of black men serving as soldiers. I’ve written quite a bit about these references, but I am curious as to what you see.
Sullivan’s Island, April 26, 1861
I have been doing very well in my quarters here in the Moultrie House, having a comfortable room [etc]. Spencer has proved himself an excellent cook and our mess cannot listen to the talk of his leaving: he was a little home-sick for the first few days, but is now anxious to remain; and believe he is making more money than any of us: he has become washer [?] and is adept at every sort of duty. The time that I do not require his attention, I give him for himself.
April 29, 1861
Spencer has had a cold, but is now better. He sends howdye to Peg and the other negroes. He was very glad to get those nice things from home, and they were so much better than what we have been having. Continue reading →