Blacks in Gray or “Enough is Enough”

I have to admit that I thought the publication of Bruce Levine’s Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War would generate a more intelligent discussion of this controversial and confusing issue.  Those hopes were certainly misplaced.  This debate, specifically points to the wide gulf between the goals of those interested in preserving a certain vision of the war and those who apply a more critical methodology to the evidence that is typically used to prove the willing participation of Southern blacks in various Confederate armies.  Aspects of this debate remind me of the debates surrounding U.F.O.’s and Alien Abduction.  It is much more interesting to analyze the messenger than the evidence provided, including his/her geographic, and economic/social background.  Those who believe in the veracity of these stories tend to collect individual accounts regardless of the origin of the stories, the accumulation of which is supposed to be considered a sufficient condition for drawing a specific conclusion.    So it is in the debate over Black-Confederates.

Bruce Levine does two things in his article, “In Search of a Usable Past: Neo-Confederates and Black Confederates” which is included in the edited volume Slavery and Public History.  (See two earlier posts on this book – here and here.)  First, he sketches the reasons behind the continued claims of Black Confederates and later provides a short overview of the actual debate that took place in the Confederacy (from the beginning of the war) over whether to recruit blacks into the army.  Those interested in a more complete account of the actual debate should read Confederate Emancipation.

What I like about the structure of Levine’s article is his decision not to take on Neo-Confederate claims of Black Confederates directly.  And the reason is because it is unproductive to do so.  Consider the standard approach to this debate.  Individual stories are cited as evidence of a certain conclusion, but there is almost always no critical discussion of the origin of the source or whether the account really implies only one conclusion.  For an example, check out the discussion on this topic over at Civil War Talk Forum.  (This is a great example of why I usually steer clear of on-line discussion groups.)  You will find the same lack of critical analysis in books that purport to demonstrate broad commitment to the Confederacy such as Black Southerners in Gray by H.C. Blackerby, The South Was Right! by James and Walther Kennedy and the edited collection Black Confederates. All of these books have been released by partisan presses which suggests that they did not go through any serious editing or review that is regularly carried out in more mainstream and university publishers.  These debates lack any attempt at analysis, but this is exactly what is missing from the debate.  Just consider the spectrum of supposed numbers of Black Confederates that were to have served: they range from 1,000 to 100,000.  More depressing, however, is the sloppiness that lay just behind this debate.  Finally, even if we can establish a certain number of blacks who “supported” the Confederacy one way or another we still need to know what this means.  Of course it does not necessarily follow that they were considered as officially serving in a Confederate army since we know that the final authorization did not take place until March 1865.  More on this later.

Levine sketches out the reasons behind these claims.  They all fall under the broader concern of those who wish to  vindicate the Confederacy and honor their own southern ancestors:

1. “Insisting on a massive black presence in southern armies aims to strengthen that assertion by demonstrating that African Americans identified with and were loyal to the Confederacy.  The southern war effort thereby comes to appear as the cause not merely of slave owners, nor even of southern whites more generally, but all southerners, white as black, free as well as slave.”  (190)  The point is important here.  The emphasis on loyal black southerners masks the further question of the extent of white loyalty to the Confederacy which is widely debated among academic historians. As we all know, not all Southern slave states joined the Confederacy.

2. “Painting the Confederate army as a sea of both white and black faces it is hoped, will convey a very different impression of the war’s significance.  Recruiting a sprinkling of black members to modern Confederate heritage or reenactor groups is useful in the same way.  ‘Obviously we’d like to have more black or minority members,’ Ben C. Sewell III then executive director of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told one reporter,  ‘because the fact that we have minorities and welcome them deflects some of the criticism we seem to get’ when championing the official public veneration of Confederate symbols.'”  I still find it difficult to understand why blacks today align themselves with Southern Heritage organizations.  Consider the reasons provided by H.K. Edgerton.

3. “The claim of a massive black presence in southern armies is meant to accomplish something else as well: to demonstrate once and for all that the Confederacy did not stand and did not fight for slavery.  After all, the neo-Confederates ask, would so many blacks have so enthusiastically supported a war effort that was defined by such a goal?”  For many neo-Confederates this is a wonderful example of the split between the preservation of memory and critical historical analysis.  I will not belabor the point here except to suggest that scholarship over the past 30 years has demonstrated (and continues to show) the complex ways in which slavery shaped the nation and especially the South in the years leading up to and through the Civil War.  Perhaps what is needed is a distinction between why any one individual fought in the war and the reasons behind secession and the creation of the Confederate States of America. (190)

4. “The Black Confederates campaign also aims to reinforce a particular view of the postwar Reconstruction years.  Just as abolitionists are to blame for slavery’s survival into the 1860’s, so the North bears responsibility for subsequent conflicts between southern whites and blacks–and even for legalized segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror.” (193)

I would like to see proponents of the Black Confederate interpretation to address two issues.  The first is one that Levine raises and the second stems from my research on the Crater.  Levine clearly demonstrates the difficulties that General Patrick Cleburne and others who attempted to convince the government to recruit (on a limited basis) blacks into Confederate armies.  Almost no one, including Jefferson Davis, believed that this was a good idea.  In fact many argued that it would be a fatal blow to the Confederacy, including Howell Cobb who concluded that “If slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”  I refer the reader to Levine’s chapters on this subject.  His analysis of the debate from December 1863, when Cleburne first proposed the idea, to the end of the war is well documented and provides a thorough analysis.

The other issue that I would like to see addressed is the reaction of Confederate soldiers to the presence of black Union soldiers at the Crater.  As I’ve shown in a number of publications (check out my recent article, “The Earth Seemed to Tremble” in America’s Civil War [May 2006]) white Southerners were not simply outraged that the Federal commanders had unleashed U.S.C.T.’s on the battlefield.  They were just as concerned about what it meant – nothing less than a leveling of their society.  Many soldiers understood and wrote clearly about their fears of what losing the war would mean to the racial hierarchy of the South.  It is not surprising then that during the postwar years, and increasingly during the Jim Crow era, white Southerners would distance themselves from the memory of black Federal soldiers in their public commemorations of the Crater.

Previous posts: Black Confederates, Black Confederates – Part 2, Eric Foner on Black Confederates, Black Confederates, Part 3, Blight on Levine.

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27 comments… add one
  • Ro Bert Hile Aug 5, 2013 @ 10:24

    I have another book to suggest. Since most of the people who want to brand the South with fighting for slavery live north of the Mason Dixon and just think they can read our minds, I would hope they would at least read and find out how long they were involved with slavery, even in Africa. The book is: Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, Authors: Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank who are all from the Hartford Courant Newspaper (oldest in the country).

    You folks really need to contact me. You’ll find out way the South still fights the war. But you will have to take my 30 year study for fact since it is based on fact. Oh, I do have a college degree in History and in Geography. A re-enactor since the 1980’s and a former VP of the Austin Civil War Roundtable for 3 years. I think I do know what I talking about. I didn’t just take someone’s word for my information. My library has a number of diaries, journals, and letter collections. Some of letter collections can be found at North Dakota and LSU Universities on live Civil War sites.

  • Jennifer A. Simpson Nov 14, 2010 @ 9:25

    Great presentation Kevin! The link for ‘the reasons provided by H.K. Edgerton’ no longer seems to work. Could you possibly post a current link to his reasons? I too find it very hard trying to understand why blacks today would possibly want to belong to Southern Heritage organizations or reenact in Confederate regiments.

  • Kevin Levin Apr 10, 2008 @ 5:36

    Mr. Hile, — What do I have to say? Well, I guess I would say that there were roughly 15 black men present.

    • bert hiler May 30, 2013 @ 0:19

      Dear Sir,

      Those Blacks at that reunion were wearing reunion pens from the many reunions the former Confederates had had over the years. They were proud of their Confederate service. One was a cook for Robert E. Lee, another was a Regt. musician and wore his uniform.

      I would suggest that your read Southern Blacks in Confederate Gray. It is a small collection of essays by mainly northern profs who have done the digging and put together by the Southeast History group. In short, don’t go on feelings go on facts, you’ll be amazed what you’ll find out. Like the Southern people aren’t stupid and most never had a sister to marry.

      It is that sort of profiling that is called racism.

      Bert Hile

      • Kevin Levin May 30, 2013 @ 1:41

        Glad to see we were able to solve this problem. 🙂

  • Bert Hile Apr 10, 2008 @ 0:23


    What do you say to the 1932 “last reunion” on the Confederate Armies held in Richmond, where, from newspaper pictures there were about 15 Blacks present?

    Bert Hile

  • Kevin Dec 30, 2007 @ 14:09

    Phineas, — Thanks for taking the time to write. I agree with you that the intellectual worlds of white southern slaveholders included a deep understanding of history. That said, they did not need to refer back to the Mamelukes, Janissaries or any other relevant group. They needed simply to reflect on rumors of slave rebellions or the actions of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel and countless others. I also would ask that you explain what you mean by “aided.” Slaves clearly aided Confederate forces in various ways that do not imply freedom of choice or loyalty to their cause. Historians desperately need to explore the ways in which the war altered race relations and the slave-master relationship in particular.

  • Phineas Dec 30, 2007 @ 13:54

    There are plenty of instances in Western history where slaves of all races aided their oppressors in the oppressors wars. Not every slave ran off to join Spartacus, earlier with Hannibal seemingly poised to blot them out,the Romans offered a chance at freedom if they fought well in the conscripted ranks of the legions. Self interest,class divisions amongst the slaves,and a narrow perspective-“This is always how its been”- brought these episodes about. Those southerners with a higher education, had memories of the Mamelukes and the Janissaries of the Moslem world;slave warriors who gradually exerted political influence with their swords against their legitimate masters. That nightmare vision of armed,disciplined, African American soldiers more than willing to tip an election in their favor, was I believe, another reason those Dixites didn’t want large contingents of slaves with rifles and cannons under their flag.

  • Kevin Levin May 23, 2007 @ 18:54

    Richard, — Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment. Even the shortest amount of time spent with documents that get below the paternalistic nonsense of slaveowners brings home the horrors of it all.

  • Richard Phillips May 23, 2007 @ 9:15

    Hello Kevin

    Just wanted to make another comment about black confederates. I can remember many years ago in college (22 years to be exact) I did research on civil war prisons, comparing southern and northern prisons. I can remember looking at records for Elmira Prison that showed blacks were captured with confederates but they were released and allowed to go back come. I share your interest in race and it is something I have been looking at for some time. I think my interest must come from my family experiences. My mother was from Maine and was 20 years old when she saw her first black person. My father was from North Carolina and I was raised in Charleston SC and Fayetteville, NC and Lumberton, NC. Most of my experiences in life, school, work, home, have been in situations where I have been the minority. I mention all of this because I think it gives me a unique perspective. I did not grow up in an all-white school and go home to my all-white neighborhood. I am also a first generation college graduate with a degree in Business and recently with a second degree in Computer Networking. One thing that has has stuck with me all these years is a comment Dr. Bolich told me when I was a young man. “If you want to be successful in business you don’t need a business degree, you need a psychology degree”. I think the same thing applies to history. When looking at slavery I think one has to look at how this system created fear and how people did what was necesssary to cope with the situation. Being a family man I have been struck with a sense of sadness when looking at records in the NC state archives that deal with slavery. The greatest fear I think a slave could have would be the selling away of children. The slave master needs some cash so he grabs a child away from his/her mother to sell. Looking at my own 11 year old son I can imagine what it would do to me to have him snatched away, never to be seen again. I think if I were a slave I would do what was necessary to keep my family together, including going off to war. But this still would not make me a supporter of the “Cause”. Just a man doing what was necessary.
    It would also be interesting to note how this slave system impacted the minds of the slave masters children. A white child would have been raised by a black women along with black children and there would come a time in his/her development when he would be made aware of the racial differences. Whites calling there slaves “Aunt” and “Uncle” is an interesting look into the minds of some slave owners and may help explain why some have the belief in the loyal slave, a friend.

  • Kevin Levin May 21, 2007 @ 7:47

    Though I appreciate you taking the time to comment I am not sure why I am responding. The idea that anything like a “sacred trust” could define a relationship between slave and slaveowner seems to be patently absurd. That sounds as ridiculous as Richard Williams’s claim that a slaveowner could be considered a “friend” of a slave. I’m not sure I would wish that “sacred trust” on my worst enemy.

  • Chas May 21, 2007 @ 0:09

    There are many blacks, just as whites, that refuse to admit that blacks fought for the Confederacy, even in the light of historical documentation.
    However, the documentation is there.
    The fact also remains that many blacks were loyal to their slave masters as there was a sacred trust between the two.
    It only stands to reason that when the South was invaded, many blacks supported their white masters in war, and in many cases returend home with them.
    An excellent example is Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC.
    Another area that may have many confused is the fact that a great number of blacks were involved in the slave trade itself, that is the importation of slaves, as well as slave ownership.
    An excellent example of this is the book BLACK MASTERS detailing the life of one William Elliston of Charleston, who owned more slaves than the richest white planters at the time of war.
    Why so many black and whites want to interpret the past as the way the “feel it must have been” is simply ignorant in my humble opinion.
    Bluntly, it’s rather like you can lead a dumb ass to knowledge, but you still have a dumb ass.
    Best Wishes,

  • Bruce Apr 19, 2007 @ 22:46

    “Bruce, — I apologize if you find my questioning of your statistical conclusions difficult to fathom.”
    Careful, the elitist in you is starting to show.
    Difficult to fathom? Where did I say that? Can’t you just be happy revising history instead of my post? That was a joke, don’t get your intellectual feathers up…..Looks like I have teased the teaser.
    I Continue to resist? Methodology … lets see, a particular set of rules or procedures in a given process. How about, I read Steiners official report and placed it into it’s historical context, took into consideration his official position, what side he was on, his possible motivations for being inaccurate (or accurate) and his biographical information before and after the war (impressive)- give me a break- if you are any kind of researcher at all you know of Steiners report. If you don’t you should not even be commenting on this subject. You won’t even consider this as a possible source of information when Manning will quote a few lines from a letter and uses it as viable source to make extensive conclusions. As I said, I do not disagree with all of her conclusions, I just have a problem with what I consider her over reaching extrapolations. As far as the second point in your post, do you not see how a mountain farmer would have a different perspective on blacks than a poor white farmer living next to a plantation in South Carolina? Wow that’s historical myopia- in other words ones failure to see the entire landscape…duh
    I have been studying American History for over 25 years as an admitted amateur. I became fascinated with The “Civil” War because of the concentration of information that came forth out of this dynamic period. Not just genealogical but cultural as well. I came across a Newspaper clipping from a New York paper (I have a copy somewhere) about the battle of Vicksburg and how one of the most efficient gun crews on the bluffs holding the Yankees at bay was manned entirely by “Coloreds” Then a while later I read some letters from ex-confederate officers who were writing on behalf of black pensioners. When I was at Arlington Cemetery visiting my Grandfather’s grave I noticed a Black Confederate on the Confederate monument. Not important, but interesting. I then found out about the Black Pioneers that marched with Stonewall who built bridges cleared roads ect. I have of course devoured dozens of books on this period, but when I came across “The Impending Crisis” 1857 by Helper, the statistical information involving slavery really peaked my interest as it differed from the impressions I received from my “official” education. When I came across Steiners report I was stunned. If this report is true 6 to 8% would be accurate including logistical support, at least in this instance. Just go ahead and debunk this detailed account-at least give it a try, call it an isolated concentration, call it a mistake, just do not, as a professional researcher ignore it. It demeans you. I simply want to understand why Blacks would choose to fight for the South in what I believe were large numbers and I would like to fully understand the motivations by both the North and the South after the war to erase them from the historical record. I admit I am an amateur (however very well read) who is open to different view points. As evidence of that I read and enjoyed Manning’s book and yes learned plenty from it. It is the latest arrival along many other sources on my very cluttered book shelves. Your responses are an adept attempt at side stepping as you have addressed nothing. You are obviously not open to debate as your responses have failed to address even a single point. Your excuse that they are not worth responding to is petty at best. As this appears to be such a broad topic, how about addressing only Steiners report as a possible reference for the level of Black Confederates in the Southern Armies? If not, I will respectfully move on to a more dynamic environment as I find this fun but pointless. Bruce

  • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2007 @ 19:01

    Bruce, — I apologize if you find my questioning of your statistical conclusions difficult to fathom. When someone offers statistical conclusions my first instinct is to ask what those numbers are based on. Since you continue to resist presenting your methodology I will ignore the claim.

    You said: “Tell that to the Scotch-Irish farmer in the Blue Ridge Mountains who rarely came in contact with African Americans until they marched up the Valley with Stonewall together. The problem I have is she will take a phrase from one letter and paint the entire canvas with it.” First, I don’t know what to do with the first claim and the second is patently false. I do agree that Manning’s project is difficult and I welcome any challenge to her conclusions. Please do not make the mistake in thinking that my praise for the book is meant to forestall debate. That said, Manning is careful not to take one claim as sufficient for the kinds of generalizations that you cite. I understand that the dissertation that the book is based on is much more extensive.

    My initial point about what it means to have “served” is meant to tease out what those who argue for large numbers of black Confederates mean when they do so. Most of what I’ve found on the internet is nonsense. I am interested in careful analysis.

  • Bruce Apr 15, 2007 @ 18:33

    “What does it even mean to refer to “Black contributions to the Southern war effort?”
    You must operate on an intellectual plane on which I have no access. For you not to understand the meaning of “Black contributions to the Southern war effort” has thrown me for a loop. If you can’t see how this book counters the current definition of “the neo-confederate movement” lets just not discuss that as I find it obvious. As far as new sources, more diaries and letters and official records are becoming available every day due to the centralization of records and collections and their exposure through the Internet.
    Well you guessed wrong. So I will comment.
    I have read Manning’s book. She mixes quite a brew and stirs all the issues, taps the keg and pours out glass of slavery. I actually welcome and will recommend the book as it provides additional material to this issue. I am not even saying all of her conclusions are incorrect, I just treat it as a well thought out, well constructed attempt at justifying her thesis, and maybe that is as it should be. I kept wondering how many times she was going to repeat that Slavery was key in justifying Southern manhood. Tell that to the Scotch-Irish farmer in the Blue Ridge Mountains who rarely came in contact with African Americans until they marched up the Valley with Stonewall together. The problem I have is she will take a phrase from one letter and paint the entire canvas with it. I love her conclusion that when the South began official enlistment of Blacks the common soldier quit fighting. Gee, and all this time I thought Grant deserved the credit. “To ordinary confederate soldiers, black enlistment meant that the surrender of the wars purpose had already happened, which made the surrender of its Army nothing more than a matter of time” Officially sanctioned or not ordinary Confederates had been fighting and marching with blacks since First Manassas. To me this is a hideous generalization.
    For reasons of balance she describes Northern Racism as well as Confederate atrocities. Fort Pillow was a battle in which many details are in dispute. Some Federals were given no quarter-with little distinction between black and white. Many of the blacks present were taken prisoner and some escaped, and the following day under a flag of truce the Federals on the river came ashore and removed their wounded. That’s not quite the definition of a massacre. I often wonder about the role of Forrest’s black troopers at this battle. The real story at Fort Pillow is the complete lack of command and control which allowed 1200 rebel rifles to pour volleys directly into confused and leaderless troops, and then after being decimated failing to surrender the fort. There is period testimony that some Confederates were killed when groups of Federals would surrender and then join back in the fighting. The Unionist Press effectively used it as a tool for propaganda but that does little to help us understand the mindset of the Confederate soldiers who in many cases actually showed restraint at Fort Pillow. Two years after printing the massacre story the Bulletin printed “there was much misrepresentation about the Fort Pillow affair. It is not true that the rebels took no prisoners. On the contrary, about 200 were taken prisoners and carried South.” Actually 336 survived out of 557 at the Garrison. The ultimate retaliator, Sherman himself reviewed all the evidence and took no punitive action, yet Manning uses it as her best example of a Confederate atrocity without expanding on the details. Of course, you already know all this. This is typical throughout the book. As I read the book I folded pages over where I felt there were extensive generalizations or misinterpretations of the facts (my opinion) I have 26 creased pages.
    She often compares the mindset of the “typical” Federal soldier with the “typical” Confederate-the Confederates were invaded as the North was barely affected by occupation-this is glossed over. Yankee atrocities on the Southern civilians both black and white are well documented, yet she practically ignores this as if it didn’t happen. This is especially true regarding black women, yet she spends pages on how Federal soldiers are aghast at the way Southern slave owners treated and worked their slave women-when the vast majority of slave owners owned less than five slaves and worked with them in the fields. There is so much missing from this book I compare it to a statistician who is data mining to reach the conclusion he wants. Her analysis often becomes so far reaching it appears to be intentional. I really have no stake in this debate other than historical curiosity, my ancestors fought on both sides of the conflict and debated the issues into the thirties. “Grant was a butchter!” “Lee was a traitor!” until they had buried them all.
    There is a much evidence that my percentages of Black Confederates are accurate. The most compelling is from Dr. Lewis Henry Steiner Chief Inspector of the United States Sanitary Commission during the occupation of Frederick Md. It is an interesting source as his estimate seems not to include cooks, teamsters, musicians, bridge builders, blacksmiths ect…and he is a Federal. His numbers of 3000 armed Blacks in 1862-when things were going relatively well for the South is compelling. He actually overestimates the total number of troops so there is of course a margin of error. Union estimates of Confederate forces are often overstated. This could be partly due to the African American support structure that was counted by some and not by others. Again, you of course already know this. I stand by this figure. I am sure you have read “Conquering The Valley” by Krick. There is some well sourced material of Black Confederates who became engaged directly in the battles there, including a black “fifer” who was on a gun crew at the front of the battle. What was a musician doing on a gun crew?They were often on the rosters as cooks, musicians ect. because of the politics involved in having them listed as soldiers.
    I have always considered the slave issue key to the motivations behind the conflict but more from an economic perspective, such as the tariff issues and Federal spending in the North, so I did enjoy the new perspective this book provides. Again, I am just an amateur and I am obviously over my head here so I will leave the field of battle to you, the intellectual ….Bruce

  • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2007 @ 6:23

    Thanks for taking the time to write, but I have to admit to not understanding the point of your comment. What new sources do you refer to? What does it even mean to refer to “Black contributions to the Southern war effort? What is your estimate of 6-8% based on? I have no sense that you’ve even read Manning’s book, and my guess is that you haven’t. Finally, I don’t believe these books “counter the neo-confederate movement” since most of what they argue fail to approach the basic guidelines of a historical interpretation.

  • Bruce Apr 14, 2007 @ 3:20

    I think it is amazing how the new sources that are accessible to the public(some documented some not)about Black contributions to the Southern war effort has shaken up the established historical perspective. Do I welcome this debate?-you bet. So when I say that 6% to 8% of Southern Armies including logistical support included Black confederates, I am labeled a neo-confederate? I have an idea-lets figure out why they were there, and that should start with a clear view of the fabric of Southern culture prior to the conflict. Thanks to the Internet the writing of history is no longer a spoil of war. Although I found it interesting, I don’t really find Chandra Manning’s book adding much to the debate. It is obvious that slavery was an identifiable aspect of the conflict- even to Johnny Reb. The fact that there are two books out to counter the “neo confederate” movement is worthy of comment itself. By the way, I have always been a fan of Mahone, especially during his post war political struggles.

  • Kevin Levin Apr 7, 2007 @ 17:23

    Hi Richard, — Nice to hear from a new reader and thanks for the kind words. I agree with much of what you said. Part of the problem with this debate is the lack of solid historical analysis which leads to sloppiness when it comes to making specific points about slavery, race, and the Confederacy. In addition to Levine’s book which was mentioned in the post I highly recommend Chandra Manning’s new book _What This Cruel War Was Over_. It is the most thorough study of how non-slaveholding Confederates understood the role of slavery and race in connection with their service. Hope to hear from you again in the future.

  • Richard Phillips Apr 7, 2007 @ 16:42

    Laurinburg, NC

    I find the idea that blacks fought for the Confederate Army strange. I can find examples where an individual might get a confederate pension after the war but they were not considered soldiers. In Robeson County NC you have a very diverse group of people. About 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Indian. Many people have heritage from all three groups. I mention this because when you look at Confederate records you see people who are discharged from the army. Reason: “discovered to be a negro”.
    My family in NC fought for both the Union and Confederate armies. It was a war of “brother against brother”.
    The Civil War was a very complex event and it has been my goal to understand why my ancestors took the actions that they did. I do not think that a non-slave holding yeoman farmer in Onslow County is thinking in the complex and deep terms that many historians talk about. They are concerned with growing enough food to eat. Fighting or not fighting did not seem to be an option for many. They would come get you or you could hide out in the swamps, which many did. Some would go over to the Union like my people did and they did it for the $100, not out of any type of ideology.
    Having been raised in the South many of the images show Lee going into to battle bravely. The reality involves boys from Onslow County charging Union cannons at Malvern Hill and getting blown to bits.
    The Civil War was a dirty, bloody mess full of suffering. I know I have strayed from the original post but I must say I have enjoyed looking at this site.

  • Kevin Levin Apr 1, 2007 @ 6:00

    Daniel, — Thanks for taking the time to write to inform me of the ongoing discussion over at Civil War Forum. I have to admit that the tone of the discussion reinforces why I stay away from Message Boards. To say that this site reflects an “anti-South” or “Yankee” position is to admit that the person has nothing productive or historically interesting to say.

    I assume that “anti-South” simply means that I don’t necessarily hold beiefs that fall in line with a narrow view that celebrates the white South during the four years of the Confederacy. Well, I plead guilty. I don’t celebrate anything. I am a historian who is interested in the complexity of American history wherever it is.

    And so it goes.

  • Daniel Chambers Mar 31, 2007 @ 22:21

    “Individual stories are cited as evidence of a certain conclusion, but there is almost always no critical discussion of the origin of the source or whether the account really implies only one conclusion. For an example, check out the discussion on this topic over at Civil War Talk Forum. (This is a great example of why I usually steer clear of on-line discussion groups.)”

    This caught my eye as I am a participant in that forum.

    When your take on that forum was presented to that forum, there were 3 distict responses:

    Most answered that we, as ordianry folks interested in the CW should not be held to that standard of discussion requiring specific sourcers as historians would.

    Others endorsed your suggestion that one should back their words with sources.

    The, only, so far, opinion which ignored your point of discussion and went directly to the issue of “Black Confederates”, informed us that “This “Civil War Memory” blog has an extremely biased viewpoint (anti-South).”, and “…as to who is or is not a Black Confederate the SCV and UDC should make that determination.
    Why should a Yankee have any say in it?”

    So it goes.

  • Tom Sep 11, 2006 @ 22:32

    “In my research I have repeatedly heard the line about black Confederates. Another favorite subject of these neo-Confederate types is the mistreatment of the Native American population by the Federal government.”

    Yes, no doubt the Yankee doesn’t want that comparison brought up.

    After all, how do you make Genocide look good?

  • Kevin Levin Jul 11, 2006 @ 21:34

    Hi Sarah, — Good points. The popularity of these comparisons should give you a sense of how uninterested many of these neo-Confederates are in the historical questions surrounding the Confederacy, slavery, and so-called black Confederates. It is simply a diversion tactic. Of course there is much to blame in the way the Federal government handled Native Americans, but that has nothing to do with questions related to the issues just cited.

  • Sarah Jul 11, 2006 @ 20:38

    In my research I have repeatedly heard the line about black Confederates. Another favorite subject of these neo-Confederate types is the mistreatment of the Native American population by the Federal government. This is all anecdotal, of course, but several times the subject of Native abuse has followed directly on the heels of a conversation about black Confederates. I just find it interesting (and little noted) that neo-Confeds will hold up the wrongs of the Federal government to neutralize the wrongs of the Confederacy (or perhaps to suggest that the Federal government was more heinous than the Confederacy).

  • mark bey Jun 11, 2006 @ 7:48

    Yo Kevin I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for stickin those Lost Causers with selective memory. Mark

  • Kevin Levin Jun 8, 2006 @ 17:11

    Good point Cash. The problem as I see it is on-line discussion groups are too democratic. It is much too difficult to impress upon people that there is a hierarchy to the study of the past. There is a positive side to this, however, in that these networks give a wider range of people a chance to voice their own views (regardless of whether they have any justification in doing so). Informed voices seem to me to get lost in the mix. That’s just my view.

  • Cash Jun 8, 2006 @ 17:02

    Great points, Kevin; however, I do disagree on one very minor comment you made–I don’t think academics and other trained historians should stear clear of online discussion groups because their knowledge, their perspective, and their rigor are sorely needed. You won’t convince any hard-core neo-confederates out there, but you will help the members who are genuinely interested in accurate history, if nothing else by providing a great example.


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