I have been giving this question some thought since our recent discussion surrounding the upcoming movie about Patrick Cleburne and the broader black Confederate narrative. As many of you know I’ve been committed to responding to some of the more outlandish claims in the news and on numerous websites. My goal has not been simply to deny these claims, but to work to steer the debate in a direction that may help us to better understand the complexity surrounding the question of how the Confederate war effort challenged the slave – master relationship as well as broader issues of race relations in the South. I feel comfortable in concluding that between these posts and the intelligent discussion that almost always ensues that this site offers the most thought provoking commentary to be found on this issue on the Web. That said, I am very much aware of its limitations.
First and foremost, Civil War Memory was never meant as a place to showcase my scholarship in a finished form on any subject nor was it meant to be considered as a digital history site. Yes, I regularly share ideas that I am working on and excerpts from finished projects, but I am not doing history here in a strict sense. I’ve always thought of my blog as a place to share ideas about teaching, the books I am reading, the news items I come across and a host of other concerns. Some of these threads are relatively short while others are quite extensive. In other words, I think it would be a mistake to treat this site as a legitimate secondary source of any kind.
That said, I do think that the extended thread on black Confederates offers the interested reader a great deal to consider. A number of posts explore the terms employed in this debate while others counter claims made about specific individuals. In fact, we’ve not had one example of a supposed black Confederate hold up under close scrutiny. I want to thank those of you who have helped to hunt down the necessary archival materials, work that should have been carried out by those making the claims.
Still, as I pointed out there are limitations to what a blog can do in addressing these issues. Most importantly, blogs easily lend themselves to partisan bickering since they can be attributed to an individual or organization. In the eyes of most observers all is equal on the Web. Anyone and everyone can establish their own website and/or comment on a subject regardless of their background and competence. That is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve met some very talented and smart people through this site, but I’ve also been forced to deal with outright incompetency. The black Confederate issue provides us with a case study of the pros and cons of the dangers and possibilities associated with the Web. Continue reading
This guest post on black Confederates/Confederate slaves by historian, Peter S. Carmichael, ran last July and received a great deal of attention. Given the number and range of comments on a recent post on the subject I thought it would be helpful to run it again for those of you who are new to the blog. I refrained from responding to most of the comments since we are still mired in fundamental problems when confronted with this question. Yes, a few of you out there get it that what is needed is serious research and attention to the question of what it is we are even talking about. Others are citing sources that make little sense without serious critical analysis while others are hung up on vague comparisons with the north that have nothing to do with the subject. And then there are always a few on the fringe who fail to see beyond their attachment to contemporary political/cultural issues. As far as I am concerned, Carmichael’s essay constitutes a starting point for those of you who first want to understand the broad analytical contours of the subject. It does not provide all the answers, but does address the questions that need to be examined.
“We were the ‘men’”: The Ambiguous Place of Confederate Slaves in Southern Armies
On August 6, 1861, the Richmond Enquirer ran an extended article, entitled “Ebony Idols,” on a camp slave named Sam who refused to leave his master during the battle of First Manassas. Sam received public acclaim for his stalwart behavior under fire, and the Enquirer recounted a boastful speech that he delivered to a group of Richmond slaves. Sam promised his black audience that “I wasn’t scared. I am not one of those kinds.” The story of Sam was intended to assure white audiences that slaves, even when the Yankees were shooting at them, would remain forever faithful. This claim of slave fidelity largely rested upon the Enquirer’s denying Sam his manliness, and utilizing antebellum stereotypes to describe black men as effeminate sambos.
Looks like a group of Confederate reenactors were told by event organizers in Smithfield, Virginia that while they will be allowed to march in an upcoming parade, they will not be allowed to fire their weapons. The reenactors decided that the only reasonable thing to do was to “secede” for reasons of authenticity.
In other news, the state of Georgia along with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Children of the Confederacy, and the Georgia Civil War commission [Have I left anyone out?] are going to honor the state’s Jewish Confederates. I just want to say that as a Jew this ceremony is long overdue. It’s nice to know that the service and sacrifice of tens of thousands of Jewish Confederates is finally being recognized. Seriously though, has anyone taught these people how to make a good potato latke?