The Continued Appeal of the Lost Cause

I frequent a number of Facebook pages that attract people who, for one reason or another, cling tightly to the Lost Cause narrative. You will not be surprised to learn that one of my favorites is called, “Black Confederates in the Civil War.” One of the reasons I visit is because members regularly post excerpts from Confederate Veteran and other publications and even primary sources from websites such as Fold3. It’s like having an army of researchers at your disposal. I’ve collected hundreds of such sources for my book project.

These postings are rarely accompanied by any attempt at interpretation. It’s understood by the members of the group that the postings offer undeniable proof of the existence of black Confederate soldiers. One of the more frequent posters in recent months has been Teresa Roane, who at one time worked as an archivist at the Museum of the Confederacy and is now apparently working for the United Daughters of the Confederacy. A few years ago Ms. Roane sent me a package of requested materials related to camp servants and impressed slaves from the MOC.

You may find it interesting that she is African American. Continue reading “The Continued Appeal of the Lost Cause”

Camp Servants and Confederate Exceptionalism

Over the past few weeks I’ve made steady progress on my new manuscript, which is now tentatively titled, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Enduring Myth. The first chapter on the history of Confederate camp servants serves as what I hope will be a solid foundation for the rest of the study. No historian has been more helpful to me in framing this chapter than Eugene Genovese, especially the short book, Fatal Self-Deception: Slaveholding Paternalism in the Old South, which he co-authored with his wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese.

The book offers a concise overview of those elements of slaveholding paternalism that the Genoveses have explored over the course of their career up to the moment of secession. They close with a brief analysis of the war years and even references a few examples of camp servants. This is where my study enters.

My goal in the first chapter is to outline the role that camp servants played in propping up the intellectual world of a slaveholding society. There is no denying that the mobilization of this specific group took place for reasons of necessity. In that sense they can be included among that much larger group of impressed slaves that supported the war effort on the state and federal levels. The critical difference, however, is that camp servants, in contrast with impressed slaves, were not nameless. They lived and worked in close proximity to whites beginning with their masters and likely interacted at times with members of the broader community. Continue reading “Camp Servants and Confederate Exceptionalism”

What a Black Confederate Can Tell Us About the Streets of Baltimore

I’ve spent most of the day in a sort of funk having gone from watching the unfolding protests and violence in the streets of Baltimore on the mainstream news to reading thoughtful commentaries from Ta-Nehisi Coates and others. All the while I’ve been doing my best to try to understand the situation and its larger context rather than allow myself to get drawn into premature judgments that do little more than push the tough questions aside. There is way too much of this on my own social media feeds from people who express more fear and ignorance than anything approaching thoughtfulness.

Along the way I managed to do a little reading about camp servants and came across one of the more fascinating obituaries re-published in The New York Times in 1886. That year Levy Carnine died at the age of 76. He lived most of his life as a slave to the Hogan family of Alabama. The obituary stresses the loyal service that Hogan extended to the family, having served both father and son in two separate wars as a camp servant. In both cases Levy cared for the bodies of both masters – the elder Hogan having fallen in battle in the Seminole Indian War in 1837 and the son in the battle of the Wilderness in 1864. Even after the death of latter, Levy remained with the Second Louisiana Infantry until the end of the war. Continue reading “What a Black Confederate Can Tell Us About the Streets of Baltimore”

A Confederate General and His Slave

Below is the first paragraph from a short essay that I recently wrote about Confederate General Edward Porter Alexander and his slave/camp servant, Charley. You can read the rest of it at the History News Network.

The Confederate rank and file said goodbye to many things in and around Appomattox Court House in the days following the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. Three days following the formal surrender Lee’s men were separated from the weapons they carried over the previous four years through Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The stacking of arms was the first stage in a painful realization that the cause for which they fought and sacrificed so much for was beyond reach. But of all the separations that took place, the most difficult were the final farewells amongst friends and comrades that took place either at Appomattox or along the roads those groups of men followed until each crossroads gradually brought each individual to a final destination.

What No One in the Confederacy Remembered Seeing

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Richmond Times-Dispatch writer, Katherine Calos, who is working on a series of articles to mark the end of the sesquicentennial in Richmond. We talked extensively about the debate in the Confederacy over the arming of slaves. I am always happy to do these interviews, but they come with the risk of being misquoted or left out entirely. Neither happened this time around.

Calos offers a pretty lengthy treatment of the subject, including a number of passages from local newspapers on the debate. I was asked to comment on the debate as well as the myth of the black Confederate soldier. Continue reading “What No One in the Confederacy Remembered Seeing”