Op-Ed on Black Confederates at History News Network

Last week Rick Shenkman asked me to write an Op-Ed on the myth of the black Confederate soldier for History News Network, which I was happy to do. I decided to structure it around a recent post that highlights a simply and important point that I’ve made numerous times. In all the years that I have researched this topic, I have yet to find a single piece of wartime evidence from a Confederate soldier, civilian or politician (before March 1865) that acknowledges that black men were serving as soldiers. In fact, on numerous occasions Confederates denied their existence when confronted by stories to the contrary. Continue reading “Op-Ed on Black Confederates at History News Network”

“A Confederate Negro General”

You can place this one into that ever growing file of wartime accounts that point to the fact that real Confederates never heard of black Confederate soldiers before March 1865. The following appeared in the Richmond Daily Dispatch on June 1, 1864. Enjoy.

–A correspondent of the Houston Telegraph says:

I saw in a Boston paper, not long ago, a statement that we had not only negro troops, but negro officers in our armies. This prodigious tale probably originated as follows:

In the army of Tennessee a Brigadier General had a negro servant who was raised with him from childhood, and who wore all his cast-off clothes Coffee was very proud of an old uniform coat of his master’s, and wore it on gain days. In time or battle, mounted on a spare [h]orse of the General’s, and with excitement, he would charge up and down the field beyond the reach of the shells and On one of these occasions the enemy were in full retreat, and our forces advancing, when a Sergeant with fifteen or twenty prisoners came up with the sable General as he was careering at headlong speed over the plain.

“General,” said the Sergeant, “what shall I do with these prisoners? ”

“Double quick the d — d rascals to the rear,” was the emphatic

Accordingly, the humorous Sergeant trotted his Yankees down the broken road for a mile and a half, and they never could be convinced afterwards that Cuffee was not in the military employ of Cousin Sally Ann.

Interesting that the storyteller acknowledges that the servant was present on the battlefield, but makes it a point to note that he remained out of the “reach of the shells.” I’ve come across a number of these kinds of accounts, which I interpret as white Southerners holding on to a racialized understanding of the battlefield. White men behaved bravely on the battlefield and black men served as an extension of their character, but did not supersede it.

A Camp Servant at De Battle Uv De Crater

Here is a little gem that I somehow missed in my research on the battle of the Crater. I will, however, include a few stanzas in my book on camp servants and Black Confederates. What follows is a poem written by a former camp servant who was present at the Crater on July 30, 1864. It was included in a book of slave reminiscences published in 1916 by Mary Louise Gaines. The poem was written by “Old Sam” and falls neatly within a body of postwar literature that glorified the Old South and the relationship between the races at a time of intense racial violence and political realignment following Reconstruction. Continue reading “A Camp Servant at De Battle Uv De Crater”

“I Have Been on the Battlefield”

Over the past few days I’ve been working through wartime accounts of camp servants who took part in battles in one form or another. It’s a challenging topic for a number of reasons. As you might imagine wartime accounts authored by camp servants are next to impossible to find for the obvious reasons and the accounts of their masters must be treated with care. Postwar accounts by former slaves, in some cases written decades after the war, are even more difficult to interpret.

In dealing with the wartime accounts one thing I have noticed is that officers did not seem to make any assumptions about how their slaves would behave once a battle commenced. There is very little evidence that they intended for their servants to follow them onto the battlefield. I have found plenty of accounts of masters who specifically assigned their servants to guard their personal items, treat the wounded, bury the dead, assist doctors and a few that expected a meal to be ready once the battle ceased. Continue reading ““I Have Been on the Battlefield””

“Ex-Slaves” Attend Confederate Veterans Reunion

Yesterday I gave a talk on the myth of the black Confederate solider at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was my first visit and I highly recommend that you do as well. Thanks to Wayne Motts for the invitation to speak and for taking the time to take me and my wife on a personal tour of the collection. I got to handle some incredible objects, including William Quantrill’s revolver. We had a great crowd for the talk and they asked some excellent questions.

While walking through the exhibit I came across an image of African American men in attendance at a U.C.V. reunion in Tampa in 1927. There is nothing unusual about this image, though unfortunately, the museum labeled it, “Reunion of African-American veterans of the Confederate Army, 1927.” I took a quick pic of it and put it out of my mind until Wayne showed me the original image. At first we didn’t see it it but then someone noticed that at least one of the ribbons clearly states “Ex-Slave.” Continue reading ““Ex-Slaves” Attend Confederate Veterans Reunion”