Following up on my last post I thought I might share this little gem from a site called, Confederate Digest. A quick perusal of the sidebar reveals the typical neo-Confederate texts that are a mainstay for those who believe in the existence of large numbers of black Confederates and who also believe that their existence is being suppressed by various groups.
This particular blogger came across a very short news item from the June 15, 1900 issue of the New York Times. [My guess is that given the political convictions of this particular blogger, this is the only instance in which something written in the NYTs is taken at face value.] The blogger prefaced his find with the following:
Here’s another interesting article I’ve found in the archives of the New York Times which tells of a Black Confederate Veteran. One such article might be overlooked, but the large multitude of such accounts which are constantly being uncovered indicates that today’s “politically correct” view of the Confederacy may not be historically accurate.
DALLAS, Tex., June 14 – Two negroes, Henson Williams and his son William, were shot dead from ambush in Brazos County, while they were plowing in a field. Officers were searching for a white man who is believed to have shot them. The elder Williams fought through the Civil War as a soldier and made such a good record that he was a full member of the Confederate Veterans’ camp at Milliken. The old white Confederate soldiers are enraged at the assassination and threaten vengeance on the assassin when captured.
That’s it. There is no attempt to find a service record for this individual. Supposedly, he was a “full member” of the SCV, which in and of itself, tells us nothing about his official capacity during the war. We don’t even know who wrote up this short description of the murder. Is it really a reflection of “political correctness” to question these stories and to expect at least an attempt at analysis? I think those people who constantly refer to political correctness as a reason to believe or deny a claim in history simply have no ability to engage in anything that remotely resembles historical analysis.
Yesterday I received a comment from a reader in response to one of my posts on black Confederates or what I am now calling, Confederate slaves. I am not highlighting this comment to necessarily embarrass this particular reader, but to point out the quality or level of sophistication of the vast majority of comments and emails that I receive from people who continue to push this line of thought. In this case the reader included a link to an image of two armed black men from the January 3, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly that you see here. The short editorial that accompanied the image includes the title, “Rebel Negro Pickets”, and reads as follows:
So much has been said about the wickedness of using the negroes on our side in the present war, that we have thought it worth while to reproduce on this page a sketch sent us from Fredericksburg by our artist, Mr. Theodore R. Davis, which is a faithful representation of what was seen by one of our officers through his field-glass, while on outpost duty at that place. As the picture shows, it represents two full-blooded negroes, fully armed, and serving as pickets in the rebel army. It has long been known to military men that the insurgents affect no scruples about the employment of their slaves in any capacity in which they may be found useful. Yet there are people here at the North who affect to be horrified at the enrollment of negroes into regiments. Let us hope that the President will not be deterred by any squeamish scruples of the kind from garrisoning the Southern forts with fighting men of any color that can be obtained.
Following the link, the commenter suggests simply that, “Black Confederate troops are a fact and not fiction….” Granted that this is an extreme example, but it is an excellent example of the biggest problem when it comes to this issue. There is a glaring inability on the part of many to engage in even the most rudimentary historical analysis. In this case there is no attempt to interpret the newspaper in which the image and commentary were included. No questions are asked about the source of the observation. How does the writer know that the two men were on picket duty? There is no evidence that Davis believed that what he saw were two black soldiers on picket duty. I have to assume that the author of the comment believes that in referring to the two black men as black Confederates he is implying their service as soldiers in the Confederate army. The problem is that even the commentary accompanying the image in Harper’s attempts to push black recruitment in the Union army based on the fact that Confederates were already utilizing their slave labor to support their military.
As serious historians we are supposed to ask questions of the available evidence. A healthy dose of skepticism is always necessary when wading through complex questions. However, in the case of black Confederates I am constantly amazed at the sloppiness that passes for serious thought. If it’s not the unquestioning acceptance of a supposed first-hand account it’s a postwar photograph of a Confederate veteran along with a black man who also happens to be wearing a uniform or a pension file that lists a black man as a member of a specific unit.
Finally, I find it strange and a reflection of just how distorted our memory of the Civil War has become that we would look at this particular image and be inclined to interpret the presence of blacks with the Confederate army as something positive. When I look at this image it reinforces the horror of slavery itself. Consider how many black families were split apart and then consider the number of slaves that were forced to travel with the army and engage in activities that put their own lives at risk in a cause that if successful would have guaranteed their future enslavement.
I‘ve seen this video around, but have never seen any clips from it until now. This has got to be one of the most convoluted and confusing documentaries that I’ve ever seen. After the glaring mistake of identifying March 1864 as the year that the Confederate Congress authorized the enlistment of slaves and within six minutes the video moves freely between discussions of slave loyalty to the master class before the war to slaves volunteering for service in the Confederate army to slaves serving as labor in the army. I have no idea who is being interviewed and I suspect they have done little or no research on the subject – at least nothing that I could find. The director, Stan Armstrong, is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (what a surprise). Click here for a short article on Armstrong’s interest in the subject. It turns out his great-great grandfather “took his black son to war.” I have no clue what that is supposed to mean. Enjoy.
As some of you know I use the Dixie Outfitters website to give students in my Civil War courses a sense of the continued hold of the Lost Cause on our culture. In addition to examining the page devoted to their preferred view of the Civil War we do a quick survey of some of the t-shirts. This year one particular shirt caught the eye of my students, which gave me a chance to discuss the history and myth of black Confederates. We examined the t-shirt which depicts the Chandler Boys, which contains the following caption:
Black Confederate Silas Chandler carried his wounded boyhood friend, Andrew Chandler, several miles on his back before loading him on a box car headed for an Atlanta hospital. After the war, they returned to their homes in Palo Alto, Mississippi where they remained close friends till death. Silas Chandler received a Confederate veteran’s pension and today lies in a grave decorated with a Confederate Iron Cross placed by the Mississippi Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Well, you can imagine my surprise when one of my students presented me with my very own Chandler Boys t-shirt. You may also be surprised to see that the student in question is African American. The story is pretty funny. Apparently, the store owner was very surprised to see a young black woman in his store asking for this particular t-shirt. The owner was pleased, however, to see that she was aware of the rich history of black Confederates and encouraged here to share this story with her friends. Needless to say, I was relieved that my student resisted getting into a debate about this subject as I am sure the store owner would have been defenseless against this student’s vast knowledge.
I found where there were 11 Black Confederate soldiers from Giles County that applied for a pension. I also found 5 that died before the pension was in place or just didn’t apply. Since then I have found 2 more that didn’t apply, making a total so far 18. I went to the archives and got the application for pension for the 11. Then I filled out the form for the markers and faxed them in. I faxed these late one afternoon and by 8:30 the next morning a lady from Nashville VA called and said that these men were NOT soldiers they were slaves. Well tell me how could they receive a pension? Now are you going to stand there and let someone shoot at you and not defend yourself or someome near you? I don’t think so. These men were defending their country and other soldiers. [my emphasis]
Ms. Wood concludes her letter with the following: “In my opinion VA is discriminating against the Black Confederate soldier. I know that there are Black Union markers in Maplewood Cemetery here in Pulaski.” The reason that Ms. Wood can know that there are black Union soldiers buried in the cemetery is because black Americans did serve as soldiers in the United States Army.