Mourning Black Confederates

memorialservice03I have no idea when this ceremony honoring black Confederates (Confederate slaves) took place or who is behind this particular website, but this image of two women dressed in mourning attire is quite striking. Are the women who are placing flowers at the grave site white? If they are than we’ve come very far indeed in rewriting history and reconfiguring our understanding of race and gender in the antebellum and Civil War South.  Bizarre indeed.

Some choice quotes:

“Randall Burbage, commander of the South Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Confederate heritage is something that cannot be bought or earned, but instead has been inherited through birthright.”

“Our heritage, black and white, is intertwined. It has been since the founding of this country.  It gives us the opportunity to see where we came from and where we’re going. Being a Confederate is something to be proud of. We honor these men because they are Confederate soldiers.” – Theresa Pittman, president of the S.C. Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy

Civil War Memory has moved to Substack! Don’t miss a single post. Subscribe below.

93 comments… add one
  • Zunny Matema Aug 12, 2009 @ 5:41

    Hi Kevin and Sherree,

    Thank you for your responses. I guess it is never too late when it comes to history. Sherree, the images you created by retelling the story of your grandfather and the movie house in Virginia will stay with me forever. I understand what you’ve written from stories my mother shared with me from Memphis, TN and my grandmother’s stories from Meridian, MS. The stories of land taken from my Cherokee and Choctaw ancestors and the life they led on the periphery of their communities is, as you say, part of the American story. There is so much more to say.

    I have a couple of historical bombshells to drop. Kevin, I’ll email you before I present them as stories for your website. I have photos but since several historians have offered to buy these photos from me and I refused, I don’t know how to share them with our group and still preserve my right to them. I’ve been thinking for years that I would publish an article for one of the Civil War Journals but some how I haven’t gotten around to it. Of course, there are, I’m sure, those who know what I know, but so far I haven’t run across them.

    Kevin, what a wonderful opportunity you offer to all of us to learn from each other and expand our knowledge of history. Thanks a bunch. Sherree, I’l be in touch.

  • Sherree Tannen Aug 12, 2009 @ 3:24

    Zunny and Kevin,

    I still receive comments on this post via email, so I am one reader who has not moved on. Therefore, I would like to respond to Zunny’s comment, if I may.

    Your observations about race relations in the South are very accurate, Zunny. I am in the process of a close reading of Victoria Bynum’s Free State of Jones, and highly recommend the book as a truly brilliant study that illustrates through the meticulous and precise examination of one southern community, a history that I believe was repeated throughout the South. Bynum’s analysis of Jones County, Mississippi explains my own personal history in the mountains of Virginia better than any history I have ever read or hope to read.

    The South I knew and know is a complex land of extremes that include violence and beauty; racial tolerance and equality and total oppression of the races by white supremacists; and communities in which the color line was ignored and defied, juxtaposed with communities that included “whites only” adherents and enforcers. The American South is the place in which the American experience and American ideals of liberty came face to face with one another in an explosive and final way that defines the culture still, in my opinion. Your mother is right. When it comes to race relations in the South, there is no guessing involved. Either a southern white man or woman is for or against a man or woman of another race. There is no in between. The same holds true for the black community or Indigenous communities; black and Indigenous communities either accept white men and women or they don’t accept them. When the races do come together, however, the American dream of equality is achieved beyond even what our founding fathers of the nation that came to be called America, but that is still Grandmother Turtle Island to many, envisioned. That could be because we are all related, after all, as are all members of the human race, whether we want to accept that or not.

    I went to Virginia recently before my trip to Rome. In my town, there is an old theatre that was built in the 1920s. The theatre was decorated with a “Mayan” theme. The Mayan symbols are interspersed with murals that depict the local history of the area. This style of decorating offers a very interesting atmosphere, to say the least.

    The history of my family, (and the history of the black community in our area, of which my family is a part) is also intertwined with the history of this theatre. In the 1930s (I think) my grandfather (whose grandmother was Cherokee) came from North Carolina to the mountains of Virginia. Once there my grandfather became something of a local legend because he introduced our isolated mountain community to “moving picture shows” by showing at this theatre, “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.”

    My father, as a young boy, used to sit in the balcony of the theatre with the black community, as his father ran the projector. (The balcony was the designated Jim Crow section) I asked my father how he reconciled the fact that there was one section for whites and another section for blacks. He said that since he sat in the balcony and all of his friends were black, that he thought he was black, too, so no problem. He was in his section. Plus, he agreed with our local historian who is a black woman married to a white man: the balcony seats were the best seats in the house. ( I agree with this assessment, too, in this sense: the men and women who sat in the balcony seats were the men and women who held the moral ground) That is not to say, of course, that my father and the men and women of the black community did not understand the power structure. They understood it, and they understood it well, and they defied it, carrying that defiance into the civil rights era and beyond.

    Anyway, to make a long story longer, my mother’s best friend, who is African American, used to sit in the balcony as well in the Jim Crow era. Recently, a young relative of mine performed in this theatre. Of course I called my mother’s friend and asked her to come to the performance. My mother’s friend said, yes, of course, she wouldn’t miss it. So, together, my mother’s friend and I sat in the front of the theatre to watch our “daughter” perform pieces by Strauss, Puccini, and Verdi (This young relative is daughter to an entire community: white, black, Cherokee and Mexican American, as her father is first generation from Mexico) It was a wonderful experience–a Southern experience–an American experience, at America’s finest.

    Thanks, Kevin. Thanks, Zunny. Thanks all. Your love is returned, Zunny. I am not a Facebook member, so I cannot communicate that way. If you would like to correspond some, though, my email is the following: Sherree

  • Zunny Matema Aug 11, 2009 @ 15:44

    Talk about coming into a discussion late, I am very late. Here goes anyway. If no one responds that’s okay because most have probably moved on. Several things: First, my great, great, great grandfather, Jesse Kimball was a waiting man for Captain Dent from Livinston, Alabama. Their outfit was the first to leave Livingston and ended up in Virginia where they remained until the end of War Between the States I don’t know where that leaves my g.g.g.grandfather but his service may have been cut short when Captain Dent took ill. Nonetheless, he was there in service to Captain Dent.

    A second thought: My mother was born in Memphis, TN. She always said that only an African American who was born in the south could understand how they and whites feel about each other. She would always say, “If a white man in the south really likes you, you’ll know it and he will defend you and protect you no matter what. Those who don’t will show it and you don’t have to guess the way you do in the north.” So, I noticed her feelings about whites through the years. There was a tenderness for those who showed kindness, fairness and compassion. She had many white friends at work and they often came over to our home. When she remarried, she married a white man from Pound, W. Virginia. If you squinted, you missed Pound.

    Here’a my last contribution: There were many “whites” who were fair-skinned blacks passing for white. No doubt about it. Who would have known. Many of those passing signed up to fight on the Confederate side to further keep guessing minds from their suspicious thoughts. There were many children born to white mothers by black fathers and of course there were black women who bore children by white masters, white overseers, whites who traveled from plantation to plantation doing odd speciality jobs and others who found a black woman at their disposal. We can’t forget this because if the few who fit this criteria are factored into the the mix we have a different view of just who some of the “white” Confederates might have been.

    I apologize again for chimming in so late in the discussion.
    Love you all,

    • Kevin Levin Aug 11, 2009 @ 16:25


      It’s never too late to comment on a post. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. You are indeed correct that racial distinctions were indeed complex and need to be taken into account when analyzing this complex issue.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 18, 2009 @ 3:00

    “Could someone please tell me when African-Americans were extended the Confederate heritage “birthright” by white decendants of Confederates? As I understand it, a “birthright” is something that has been handed down because of one’s birth, but at some point, because of the nature of the relationships between black Southerners and white Southerners, it had to have been given by their descendants because I believe former Confederates themselves would not have recognized African-Americans as having a Confederate “birthright.”


    That is the whole point. The argument just becomes absurd. That is because the history has been lost. Thus, any history can be presented as truth, until someone refutes the false history with facts.

    Kevin, you state the following in another post: “I actually believe that there is an incredibly interesting story to be told about the presence of black southerners in the Confederate army. Unfortunately, it’s not the overly simplistic one that the SCV and others are currently pushing. Often times the past does not conform to our own needs.” I agree with that statement. I also think that a direct line can be drawn from the slave who is caricatured in the newspaper article that Peter Carmichael features in his essay, Neptune King, and HK Edgerton. Either Mr. Edgerton is totally calculating and has an agenda of his own that is beyond my comprehension, or he has adopted as his persona a caricature of himself. My point is that if we ridicule him, we are becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  • Greg Rowe Apr 17, 2009 @ 15:46

    I guess my problem with this topic is as it relates to this quote:

    “Randall Burbage, commander of the South Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Confederate heritage is something that cannot be bought or earned, but instead has been inherited through birthright.”

    Could someone please tell me when African-Americans were extended the Confederate heritage “birthright” by white decendants of Confederates? As I understand it, a “birthright” is something that has been handed down because of one’s birth, but at some point, because of the nature of the relationships between black Southerners and white Southerners, it had to have been given by their descendants because I believe former Confederates themselves would not have recognized African-Americans as having a Confederate “birthright.”

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 17, 2009 @ 2:53


    Thank you for responding, and my apologies for misunderstanding you. I keep saying that we all need to remain unemotional in these discussions, but I cannot follow my own advice. When we speak of these issues, I am thinking of the descendants of the black men and women in my area who became much more than mere acquaintances, but family, as I have discussed before, and the depth of the tragedy is so great that I really cannot express it. My father’s best friend never broke free of the chains of the legacy of slavery. He and my father were friends for decades. When this man (whom I loved too) died, there was a problem with the undertaker because of his race, and my father went truly bezerk (spelling?) and knocked a string of bottles off of the dining room table, and then started to go to the funeral home so that he could knock out the undertaker, but was stopped by some of his friends. We are plumbing some very deep waters here. None of us know what it means to be a black man or woman unless we are black. HK Edgerton knows, and he has taken a position that I quite simply cannot understand, but that I want to understand for the sake of the grandchildren of the same man I just talked about.

    As far as the emancipationist view gone wild–I am not talking about any scholarly work. I am talking about what I perceive to be a pervasive attitude in our culture in which some Northerners seem to co-opt African American history as their own. Obviously I would have made a terrible history major, since that is an assumption that I cannot prove. Good thing I majored in English.

    Have a good day, Marc, and thank you again.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 17, 2009 @ 3:07

      A Word of Advice:

      Make sure you include a name at the top of your comment if you are responding to another commenter. I sometimes blockquote those passages that I feel a need to respond to.

  • Marc Ferguson Apr 17, 2009 @ 2:04

    my comment was not addressed to you. I agree with you that the SCV appears to have attempted to co-opt African-American history (American history really) to suit their own agenda. As for an “emancipationist view,” I don’t really know what you mean by this (are you referring to Gary Gallagher’s work on CW memory?), but I know of no one who argues for the moral superiority of black men and women in our national narrative.


  • Sherree Tannen Apr 17, 2009 @ 1:03

    “Some people want to push the ‘black Confederate’ idea out of some misguided sense that ‘honoring’ black slaves who ‘served’ the Confederate army is somehow racially healing.”

    I think this comment was addressed to me, so I will clarify my point, Kevin, with your continued patience for this marathon thread.

    First, I am not pushing the idea that black men who were slaves willingly joined the Confederate Army so that they could fight to remain slaves. In fact, I have consistently advocated just the opposite, and find that position ludicrous. There were black men who were slaves and who were forced to be laborers and camp servants in the Confederate Army, however. I think everyone agrees on that point. How are those men to be remembered and honored? Where do they fit in the modern narrative of the history of the Civil War that has its heroic themes in spite of all claims that it does not? They didn’t break away to freedom. They didn’t rise up and kill their masters. They didn’t write slave narratives. They were just born in slavery, lived their lives as slaves, were forced to fight for the army that was determined to keep them in slavery, and died as slaves. Where are these men honored in our national narrative? In fact, where is the southern black man honored as a man in white society at all prior to the civil rights era? Increasingly, I am beginning to believe that this debate has nothing to do with black men and women at all, but with preserving the sense of identity of the white population. It seems that, in order to maintain the national narrative, there is a need to demonize the white Southerner and patronize the black Southerner, other than black Southerners of the civil rights era and truly heroic scholars like John Hope Franklin. Since I just got categorically tossed into the Lost Cause crowd, more or less, it might be time for those who study others to study themselves. I am trying to understand why Mr. Edgerton, who was a leader in the NAACP, has taken the stand he has taken. I cannot fathom his reasons, and I wish he would tell us why, so that maybe we can understand. He is right at the center of an incredible, unsolvable paradox, and that may seem foolish to some, but it is not foolish to the men and women who have lived the history you are discussing. Also, I wish that there were a larger number of African American contributors to this discussion. I am again struck by Henry Louis Gates comment that the African American men and women at the SCV meeting were simply honoring their ancestors. Gates was not endorsing the SCV. Neither am I. In my view, Gates was honoring the right of the black men and women at the meeting to choose what they want to do. The modern black men and women at the SCV meeting are obviously not slaves, but free agents, and they are capable of making their own decisions. If they want to go to a SCV meeting; they can go. And they should not be chastised by white men and women for doing so. If the black community has something to say about it–fine. It is not the business of the white community. Now, this is a fascinating turn of events in this discussion. I have been a lifelong opponent of the SCV, and a person who has advocated, and still advocates, that the Confederate flag be retired, and who has fought all of my life for the equality of others, as has my family, and I find myself in the position of having to defend myself. This generation is not the first generation of multi-culturalists. We have been around for a long time. We just didn’t call ourselves multi-culturalists. I am back to my major point. Why are some African American men and women attending SCV meetings? Could it be that they have nowhere else to go? This story is not about white men and women. It is about black men and women. The SCV seems to have decided to co-opt African American history and reshape it into a parody of the Lost Cause myth. Those who go too far with the emancipationist view are co-opting African American history, too, and assuming a stance of moral superiority that belongs to black men and women alone in our national narrative. Then, there are historians, who, when presented with all of the facts, and disciplined by their profession, present a narrative that is as accurate as possible. All of these points of view are needed. But for the everyday person, there is still the need for a dream. And the everyday person will continue to dream. And sometimes those dreams become reality, as in the election of an African American man as President of the United States. We all participated in making that dream come true–including the black men who were slaves forced to be camp servants in the Confederate Army, and who died as slaves.

  • matt mckeon Apr 16, 2009 @ 14:38

    It’s interesting to contrast the phantom legion of black soldiers fighting for the CSA and the actual black soldiers who fought in the Continental Army.

    1. Neither the British or American armies were attempting emancipation or fighting preserve slavery. The mythic black confederate soldier actually fights to keep himself, and his family enslaved, to protect and perpetuate a system that oppresses him.

    2. Black men who joined the Continental army did so with the promise of freedom at the end of the road. Black soldiers expected personal freedom, if not an end to slavery as an institution, although as noted above, slavery would be gradually eliminated in several states after the Revolution. The imagined black confederate soldier doesn’t even get that.

    3. At some point we all have to accept that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, the world is round, evolution is real and the Holocaust occured. It’s fun to bat this around, but fundamentally it’s not serious.

  • David Rhoads Apr 16, 2009 @ 11:39

    One last word from me regarding Steiner:

    It’s an eyewitness account published in the same year it was recorded. Maybe there was some sort of agenda associated with its publication, but if so it is not obvious from the report itself. Don’t take my word for it, though. The report is easily available online via Google books search so anyone interested can read it in its entirety.

    I don’t think Steiner’s report can just be written off as a lie or even as patently misleading (although I suspect that he generally overestimates the numbers of people he sees marching through Frederick–white and black alike ). I do think that anyone who reads the passage in question and concludes that Steiner was saying there were 3,000 black soldiers in the ANV is arriving at a wrong conclusion. My reading of the passage–and remember, it’s basically a passing comment, hardly even rising to the level of some of the anecdotes Steiner relates in the report–is that it expresses Steiner’s consternation at seeing black men closely intermingled with Southern whites, working and traveling with them in similar physical circumstances, in a manner that apparently was easily accepted by the white Confederates even as those same white men would react in “horror” (Steiner’s word) if the blacks in their midst actually thought to use those weapons to fight for the Confederate cause.

    It’s a long way from that to claiming that there were 3,000 black soldiers enlisted in the ANV and Steiner is not the one making that jump.

  • Jim Apr 16, 2009 @ 11:35

    The SCV is similar to the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) regarding membership qualifications. I was reading about black service in the Revolution and it seemed to be similar to the CW. Example, an estimated 5K black served as soldiers in the Revolution, some free and some slave. Many more than this flocked to Britain’s offer of immediate freedom if they revolted and/or joined British forces.

    This was a catalyst for northern states to free their slaves in the years or decades following the Revolutionary War. This also set the stage for the struggle for control of Congress on how to treat blacks under the law given their relative value in each region and ultimately led in part to the CW. It seems necessary to include the Revolution in one’s study if they were seriously interested in American race relations.

  • Marc Ferguson Apr 16, 2009 @ 11:20

    It is a fundamental rule of thumb, recognized by every competent historian, that no historical document can be taken at “face value.” Steiner’s account does not stand up to scrutiny if one is looking for enlisted black Confederate soldiers. We have already read among the comments here, by whom I don’t recall, a sensible interpretation of what Steiner might have seen, one that is consistent with the rest of the historical record. Another piece of “evidence” that is often put forth for the existence of black Confederate soldiers is an account by Frederick Douglass from the fall of 1861. Clearly, Douglass could have no first-hand knowledge of black Confederate soldiers. Douglass was already campaigning for the enlistment of blacks in the U.S. army, so he clearly has a motive for playing on Northern fears that the Confederacy would tap the resource of manpower represented by Southern slaves.

    Some people want to push the “black Confederate” idea out of some misguided sense that “honoring” black slaves who “served” the Confederate army is somehow racially healing, others are pushing an agenda to confuse the role of slavery in bringing on the war, and others merely misunderstand the actual historical questions raised in looking at the experience of blacks and what may have motivated their actions during the war. The term “black Confederate,” as both Kevin and Robert have pointed out, frames the questions in a way that obscures rather than illuminates the real history of the experience of Southern blacks during the Civil War.

  • allen Apr 16, 2009 @ 10:39

    Sherree —
    Don’t hold your breath waiting for the SCV to become “inclusive”. It is a hereditary, genealogical organization which requires proof of descent from a member of the Confederate military who gave “honorable” service. There are simply not very many black men who qualify, and fewer still who are interested.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 16, 2009 @ 9:46


    I do not know anything about Steiner, other than what I have read here, so I cannot comment on that issue. You clarified what you said above concerning the SCV, so thanks. I think that some members of the SCV are seriously attempting to turn the organization into an organization that is inclusive. Other members are not, however. If you are a SCV member, I would definitely think from all that you have said that you are one of those members who is completely sincere and tolerant of everyone. The problem is the organization’s history, and the organization’s current views on the Civil War, as I understand those views to be from SCV websites. Unless all of the scholarship of the past thirty years is wrong; the SCV is portraying a false history. As I have said above and repeatedly, that does not mean that the scholarship of the past thirty years is infallible. No one here has said that. No history is ever complete or final. As far as doing other things–I think I’ll go take a walk myself. It helps to clear the mind.

  • John Cummings Apr 16, 2009 @ 9:27

    Kevin, what organization should have taken the lead in this “narrative thread” ? Is the SCV not an organization dedication the memorialization of their ancestors?

    And your comment about the 3,000 extra men serving in Lee’s Army, well we are back again to what constitutes “serving” and if they were not “really” soldiers as this thread is promoting then what is wrong with 3,000 non combatants being in tow with his Army? I still have to wonder what the point would have been to even mention something like this if Steiner didn’t witness something that looked like it. There is always the possiblity that 1,000 was exagerated to 3,000 just because in his mind “wow, that sure is a whole bunch of negroes wearing gray!” and he just threw out a number. So why should everyone else look at subservient negroes as unusual? Would that not have been the way they were expected to be, taking acre of the manual labor needs of the Army? Does Steiner say “and they went on to fight and die in the bloody battle up the road”? No he simply states that there were a good number of them present and that many were armed which is not altogether a streatch of the imagination considering there are pictures of armed body servants with their masters.

    Oh yeah, I was going to shut up and worry about other things.
    I appreciate your time.

  • John Cummings Apr 16, 2009 @ 8:52

    OK Larry, Steiner is a fat lie and he did it because it just felt good and he probably got bonus points from his employers. Yeah, just a bold face lie of a story wedged into the true account of what he witnessed. Let’s just forget it even exists.

    How many things are suprisingly not mentioned by others (thus far known) and so they too are not deserving of further investigation? Oh, but surely everyone would take notice and make a big deal of blacks in tow with the Confederate Army, it would just be too unexpected, really! Just as unexpected as Steiner himself thought it was! Interesting.

    Well, as I said in the previous post, maybe I should worry about other things than this.

  • John Cummings Apr 16, 2009 @ 8:38

    Did I SAY a large element of the SCV? NO, but apparently it was construed as such. Am I reading it correctly that the only people capable of such thought has to come from the SCV? That is what you got out of it but that is NOT what I said. Wow, I thought there was enough evil to go around that they didn’t all reside in one organization! But apparently that is the belief.
    My point, and I hope you appreciate it, is that there are those who look at the SCV with suspicion because they are supected of pulling the wool over peoples eyes with the “Black Confederate” trend for their own gain rather than a true gesture of commemoration. AND, there are those who look at African Americans who are joining SCV camps as infiltrators, intent on erradicating the organization. When I say THOSE, I mean any number of people from the general population who might take in either side of the argument and come up with such conclusions. My use of the wording “very large element” is meant to emphasise that there IS an element of the population and not just one or two squeaky wheels in the world. Everyone in the world is not huddled together in two seperate camps. The camps are numerous and intertwined.
    I personally think the “infiltration” notion is down right silly but there it is. And I also think that the wholesale accusation that the SCV is using “Black Confederates” as a “whitewash” is just as silly. The whole world must be corrupt then because everyone is sure suspicious of the true “reason” behind everyone’s actions. Hidden agendas make the world go round I guess and we should never know what the heck to expect. Shall we hide our heads in the sand or buy purple track suits or get a good supply of Kool Aid brewed up for the apocalypse?
    I ernestly would like to see someday, everyone get along and accept past as past and realize, “gee, there are some ironies in the world”.
    No matter how hard I try to pitch in and offer a fresh perspective on what makes up the various schools of thought on this subject, I keep getting kicked.
    Sorry to be such a nuisance. I know you mean well.
    Maybe I should worry about other things than this.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 16, 2009 @ 8:43


      I think the point that is being made is that the SCV has taken the lead in pushing this narrative thread. They are the ones celebrating black Confederates and IMHO are engaged in misinterpreting the past for their own purposes. To what extent does this reflect the belief of its members I cannot say, but that doesn’t even matter to me. In the end the events are rightfully attributed to the organization.

      The problem with the Steiner document is that it is patently misleading and wrong. I say this without knowing anything about the intent of its author. I’m sure R.E. Lee or any other general would have loved to have learned that he had an extra 3,000 men serving in the army. It’s simply ridiculous and once again suggests the need for serious research on the subject.

  • Larry Cebula Apr 16, 2009 @ 8:10

    “To supply an answer regarding the Steiner document: Yes, I do think that we should consider it at face value since I think most of us will agree that nothing else about it seems false or intended as “propaganda”.”

    Again, how it could it possibly be true? What happened to those 3000 armed black men that they were never seen before that day, never seen after that day, and never seen on that day by anyone but Steiner? How can it possibly be true?

    Historians do not get to cherry pick their evidence. Each piece of information is considered in the light of all the other information we can dig up on a topic. We are not lawyers, looking for some shard of evidence to reinforce a conclusion already arrived at. And some primary sources turn out not to be truthful. Steiner is clearly one of those.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 16, 2009 @ 7:50

    “There is a very large element that believes that “Black Confederate” are a lie designed to CORRUPT the SCV by allowing blacks into the organization. That element’s fear is that once in, blacks will take over the organization and destroy it from within.”

    What does that say about the attitude toward race exhibited by the SCV, John? You said a “very large element” of the SCV feels this way. Is everyone thus to applaud the SCV for allowing a few black members into the organization so that the organiztaion can espouse its theory of the Civil War?

    Mr. Edgerton, I hope you read that comment and that you were as insulted by it as I, and other readers were, I feel certain.

    John you are not thinking this through. Read what you said here and see if you would feel honored to belong to an organization that saw you and your race in that manner, if you were African American.

  • John Cummings Apr 16, 2009 @ 7:09

    Ok, everyone, remember, I am the non-partisan here, so don’t call me a “lost causer” or anything else. If there is a largely overlooked element of our national heritage possibly sitting here, I want to examine it. I think we all owe it to ourselves to consider it. If you don’t understand what I am saying here and/or are new to this post, please go back to the top and take my previous comments into consideration. Reading seperated pieces can make it difficult to get the full gist.
    To supply an answer regarding the Steiner document: Yes, I do think that we should consider it at face value since I think most of us will agree that nothing else about it seems false or intended as “propaganda”. The numbers of what we are calling “Black Confederates” fluctuates from comment to comment and the definition of “service” certainly is a point of debate and that is part of what we are hoping to establish.

    Now for those who just emphatically insist that “Black Confederates” is a lie designed by the SCV to manipulate and control things for their own designs, let me fill you in on something: There is a very large element that believes that “Black Confederate” are a lie designed to CORRUPT the SCV by allowing blacks into the organization. That element’s fear is that once in, blacks will take over the organization and destroy it from within. That sure is another side of the coin here is it not? So what is the truth? Both ends working against the middle?

    Be CLEAR, anyone who reads this. I am reporting to you something you might not be aware of. It surely demonstrates there are NUMEROUS points of view within this subject matter. It is a vicious circle.

    I am personally disturbed though about the continued use of the word “myth” as that shows an intent to shut the door on any possibility of any number of freemen or slaves participating on behalf of the Confederacy. Are we really capable of declaring an absolute in this question? “Handful” thus far maybe, but I think a lot of intelligent people have taken considerable effort to show that there is some number to be considered here.

    Again, I have ancestors both north and south and I am perfectly willing to examine all aspect of our nations growth and maturity without applying a modern mindset because we can not speak definitively for those that can no longer speak for themselves.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 16, 2009 @ 6:14

    Mr. Edgerton,

    Now that I know that you are there, and with your permission, and our host’s permission, I would like to say something to you.

    I do not believe that you are a “white supremacist”. If you are, then I am a black militant. (I am not African American by blood, just by ways of the heart. And I am not militant either, most days) We have all been taught a false history in the South–which I feel that you understand even though you are not saying this–and in counteracting and refuting that history, sometimes the corrections have been too severe, and the new history taught has become false, too, in some ways, in my opinion. The facts are still there, though. You know what they are. And you know better than I. The simple fact is, though, that four million black men and women were no longer slaves by the end of the war, and they were not freed from slavery by the men who wore gray, but by the men who wore blue, and ten of thousands of those men in blue were black men. My great great grandfather wore gray, and then, for whatever reason, he put the war behind him and just became a man again, not a man who could not let go of the past. I think you have brought much healing to a certain part of the white Southern community. Also, I think you are highlighting the fact that the black men who were in the Confederate Army need to be honored. Now, it is time to help bring healing to all of the South. I know that you headed a chapter of the NAACP, so I won’t presume to tell you what you know and don’t know. I will just say to you that you are in a position to help bring about an end to this old dead war at last, and to bring a real peace for all of us so that our children and grandchildren can grow up without prejudice and hatred, no matter what their race. I hope you will consider this and rethink your position. There are millions of black children in the South who could use your help in setting an example. Thanks for listening. Sherree

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 16, 2009 @ 5:11

    “If you are saying that we need to get beyond both of these views and using history to satisfy our purposes, I agree.” Yes, Robert, that is what I am saying.

    “We have smatterings of information here and there, but ultimately, it is much more the white man’s story about the role of the black man. I have to wonder if we aren’t hemmed-in to a relentless cycle of theorizing and speculating when it comes to telling the story.” I am saying this, too.


    I don’t know who you were referring to in the comment, “The shame is that you truly believe the propaganda of your Northern Master,” but that cannot apply to me because I don’t have a Northern master, and I am from the South and was educated in the South. It also does not apply to anyone else. I am really glad that you weighed in on this conversation, though, because your voice is needed. And you have to admit that there is some rather large irony in the fact that you are presenting the theory that I should be presenting, if all cliches held, and I am presenting the theory that you should be presenting, if all cliches held. That is, at the very least, interesting, don’t you think?

    I don’t agree with a thing that you just said, but I really admire you for being willing to stand up all by yourself, if necessary, for what you believe in. I just think that you are behind the wrong cause–and apparently you think I am behind the wrong cause, too. I don’t have a cause, though. I am just trying to figure our history out. And the more I try to understand it; the less I understand.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Apr 16, 2009 @ 4:52

    Mr. Edgerton,

    This is some of the most ridiculous anti-North stuff I have read in a long time. However, this is typical of what the radical SCV members promote today as well as those who espouse the morality of the Lost Cause. Your handful of names does not number the 50,000 – 100,000 I hear touted regularly by others. Stop trying to promote the idea that countless blacks served as soldiers in an army which fully intended on returning them to slavery if victory was achieved. See my prior post regarding Cleburne’s slavery proposal to see how folks really felt about the idea.


  • Dan Wright Apr 16, 2009 @ 4:31

    When I read an SCV account of Black Confederates I can’t help but roll my eyes. The SCV’s agenda is transparently obvious. But it sparked an excellent discussion on this blog, which I’ve been following for a couple of days. I’m not a historian, just interested in history, so I don’t have much to add except my thanks to everyone who contributed.

  • HK Edgerton Apr 16, 2009 @ 4:18

    It is unfortunate that those of you who were educated in the Federal school system have such a dim view of the honorable Black confederate soldier. I f you can be so proud of the Black Union soldier who received half the pay of his counterpart, one who fought with a bayonet at his back from his white counterpart, watched as his wives were raped by the union soldier and used as concubine, watched as his Southern Black and White families homes were burned, food stuffs to feed innocent women and children stolen, animals killed, women raped and murdered. You go ahead and be proud of the Battle of the Craters, and Denzelle Washington’s Glory as the Union Whites murdered their black’s returning to their lines.

    Here in the South we shall continue to honor Napoleon Nelson ant the other the Black men who rode with the Honorable General Nathan Bedford Forrest , and the likes of Holt Collier, Levi Carnine, Rev. Mack Lee and celebrate Dick Poplar in Petersburg, Virginia. The shame is that you truly believe the propaganda of your Northern Master.

  • Robert Moore Apr 16, 2009 @ 4:04

    “That is not what this debate is about, however. It is about two competing theories of history that too often have little to do with the actual people in question.”

    Sherree, I don’t know that I agree, but then, I’m more in the in-between in this theoretical exchange than I am on one side or the other. There is, as Matt states, a hunt for “Black Confederates” and I feel that this is being used just as Matt suggests in line item #3 of his comment. It’s just wrong to be manipulating the voiceless dead like pawns, but then, that goes for telling the story of white Confederates and the Civil War South as a whole just as much as it does for those blacks who “served.” It seems that many in the SCV like to push this numbers issue across several categories of people to advance an argument. Likewise, however, I’m seeing the flip side in some comments that are reflecting a reluctance to accept that some slaves (perhaps impossible to actually quantify) could have even thought about participating willingly in any form with a government that would have surely continued to hold them in bondage if that government were victorious. I think that this more reflective of the modern mentality, perhaps formed by elements that created our collective “memory” of slavery over the last forty or so years. If you are saying that we need to get beyond both of these views and using history to satisfy our purposes, I agree. Perhaps the greatest problem in getting to that point, however, is that there is little to tell us in absolute terms what those slaves who were “serving” actually felt about that service. We have smatterings of information here and there, but ultimately, it is much more the white man’s story about the role of the black man. I have to wonder if we aren’t hemmed-in to a relentless cycle of theorizing and speculating when it comes to telling the story.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 16, 2009 @ 2:26

    I agree with your and Matt’s assessment, Kevin. I did not understand what the debate was about until I read Peter Carmichael’s essay. It seemed obvious to me that no one would willingly fight for his or her enslavement. That is not what this debate is about, however. It is about two competing theories of history that too often have little to do with the actual people in question. In other words, this debate is about today, not about the past. I think you have said that before–that memory is more about the present than it is about the past. It is also yet another attempt to co-opt African American history, and that is nothing short of shameful. The men and women at the ceremony in question deserve proper remembrance of their ancestors. The true tragedy is that they seem to have nowhere to go for that remembrance, other than in the privacy of their own homes, and so we are back to one of the overall themes of your blog: that the way in which the Civil War has been remembered in public spaces has rendered much of the history of African Americans invisible. I hope that positive and constructive ways of honoring the men who were forced to serve in the Confederate Army as laborers and servants are found in the future, for the sake of the men, and also for the sake of their descendants.

  • Matt McKeon Apr 15, 2009 @ 17:01

    This issue always generates a lot of heat, but it really is a dead end. There’s no real controversy about black soldiers in the Confederate army, no real discoveries to be made.

    1. Blacks “serving” in the Confederate army. Well, a waiter serves you coffee, and a soldier serves his country. 90% of the case for “black confederates” is the multiple meanings of the word “serve.” Blacks served in the Confederate army? Blacks in the old south served everyday of their lives, and their children and children’s children did to.

    2. There are service troops in the military. Sure are. But you’re not restricted to those jobs because of skin color.

    3. The hunt for the black confederate soldier is an attempt to “blackwash” the Confederacy, to somehow break the ring of: The Confederacy was about slavery, slavery was about race, and slavery is wrong. Far from honoring the long dead black men, these long departed souls are being raised up to honor the Confederacy. These men, worked like animals and treated as property, not being honored or remembered for what they were, but used to burnish the faded reputation of the old South.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 16, 2009 @ 1:06


      You are absolutely right. I haven’t taken the time to comment much on this thread since nothing has been introduced that hasn’t been discussed in previous threads. Again, what we need is solid research and not simply the collection of individual accounts with and “I gotcha” mentality.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 15, 2009 @ 14:56

    I just got the chance to read all of the comments, Kevin, and this was a good thread, in my opinion, because it was more or less free flowing and contains a lot of information from many different perspectives, as well as some very direct interaction with participants. Then, at the end, you pull the thread back together and refocus the issue. (Forgive me for being an English major and for analyzing the text itself, please. Old habit. Also, in one of my comments I said, “I am almost afraid to go look up records of the past, for fear of finding that the ancestors of one person I love was oppressed by the ancestors of another person I love.” That should read “were”.) (Not that that matters to anyone but me.)

    I can’t get the last picture on the website out of my mind–the picture of the older black woman wearing a red scarf. If she is being exploited by the SCV, I am personally offended by that, as I am certain that many of your readers are, and as you, yourself, are. It would seem that after the long abuse of slavery and its legacy that we could have, as a nation, the simple decency not to continue the abuse.

    I read all of the information linked to by your contributors. It is contradictory and confusing. I am again grateful to you for maintaining this blog. I was able to decipher the information and to decide what I thought was fact and what was not, with the help of your contributors and you. I think that some very pertinent questions that may already be in the process of being addressed were raised. The main question for me is how is the Southern black man to be treated in the broader narrative of the history of the Civil War with the same respect and dignity as the Northern black man? There is a sense of shame that can overtake men and women when they are oppressed, and also a sense of guilt as well–guilt as in why did I (or my ancestors) not break out of bondage? Did I lack courage? Faith? Strength? That is an unfair burden to be placed upon already burdened shoulders. I see this same sentiment in many soldiers who survive combat and who wonder why they lived and their comrades didn’t. The Southern black man who did not break free from slavery was in no way less brave than his Northern counterpart who did. His story is a different story, and it needs to be told in his voice, and not in the voice of the Northern black man, not in the voice of the Northern white man, and certainly not in the voice of the SCV.

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 13:37

    From my work on the Charlottesville Artillery (p. 28)…

    “Though the Charlottesville men found their trek into Pennsylvania greeted with general indifference, their accompanying slaves were particularly hard in comments about what they found. Sergeant Major Davis commented: ‘Jim and Thornton were great cronies, marched at their own sweet will, without orders from anybody, but keeping of course along with our commissary wagon… passed some villages or settlements of what they called ‘free niggers’ upon whom they looked down with contempt as they had always been accustomed to do at home, and freely expressed their sentiments.'”

    “Jim” was Capt. Carrington’s servant (not sure if he was his slave or if he was owned by someone else). Nevertheless, he was with the company until Capt. C was captured at Spotsy CH in May 64. After that, he returned to Capt. C’s home with the captain’s personal items.

    Another slave with the unit was “Chapman.” Much the same as with “Jim,” Chapman was with Lt. F.S. Bibb until the lt. was wounded.

    In all, there were probably (according to Sgt. Maj. Davis) about a “half-dozen servants,” with the unit, yet as well documented as this unit’s activities were (many of the men were UVa students who left a good papertrail of info), not once was there mention of the slaves/servants as being considered soldiers.

  • Larry Cebula Apr 15, 2009 @ 13:05

    We keep coming back to the Steiner document.

    Historians often write about history as a puzzle and evidence as pieces. It is a nice metaphor. Except that any historian will tell you that some pieces end up not fitting no matter what you do. Which should not surprise us when we are dealing with primary sources that are after all the works of fallible human beings. People forget things, make stuff up, embellish and exaggerate, spin the facts, and selectively leave things out. A historical puzzle always ends up with some pieces missing, but with others left out entirely.

    What Steiner wrote cannot have been true. Because if there were 3000 blacks under arms in that army, why did no one else see them? Where were they before Steiner saw them Where were they after? I don’t know why Steiner wrote what he did, but I know that it is not true.

    To be clear I am not saying that no black person in the American south supported the confederacy. But I have not seen any evidence for more than a handful.

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 13:01

    Slaves were leased the government, brought by slaveowners, brought by sons and other family members of slaveowners, hired out individually, and, quite possibly, permitted to hire themselves out. As for the service of blacks in the ranks, I think in some cases, the Confederate govt. was saying one thing, but some units weren’t adhering to govt. policy. The service of free black Henry Brown begins to tell us a little something in that he was not permitted to carry a firearm.

    As for the comparison with conscripts, as much as I’d like to discuss the role of conscripts, I don’t think that bringing them into this discussion about blacks with the army helps clarify things. No matter what, conscripts were officially on the muster rolls, while most blacks who were in the service of the Confederacy, in whatever the capacity, were not. I’d like to see where the discussion about blacks in the service of the Confederacy goes, considering the momentum it has here already.

  • Jim Apr 15, 2009 @ 12:50

    “we need to be thinking about the master-slave relationship”

    Are you saying there were no free blacks in the Confederate army? You may be over-simplifying the issue. If blacks were not fighting for the South, then who were they fighting for? And how is this different from conscripted soldiers? After all, books are written with titles like “Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight” which makes most soldiers subservient to some degree, but they were soldiers.

  • Jim Apr 15, 2009 @ 12:46

    “we need to be thinking about the master-slave relationship”

    Are you saying there were no free blacks serving in the Confederacy? You may be over-simplifying the issue. If blacks in southern service were not fighting for the Confederacy, then who were they fighting for? And could you say the same about conscripts North and South? Are they any less soldiers for the South? I’m trying to get past the game of semantics. After all, books have been written with titles like “Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight” making most soldiers subservient to some degree.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2009 @ 12:51


      I am saying that the evidence which places blacks in Confederate armies must be understood as an extension of the master-slave relationship. Slaves were leased to the government, brought by slaveowners, etc. Of course there may have been a few blacks who fought in the ranks, but as far as we can tell they are exceptions. In fact, the Confederate government prevented free blacks from serving and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that when they were exposed they were forced out. Now, were there thousands of blacks with Lee’s army as it moved into Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863? Of course, but they were present as slaves and not as soldiers. Again, my point is that our job as historians is to understand how the war altered the master-slave relationship. The evidence (limited as it is) can help us if we are very careful.

  • David Rhoads Apr 15, 2009 @ 11:51


    I’ll confess that I don’t know whether Steiner was an abolitionist. But I will say again that there is absolutely nothing in his report to suggest that it was intended as propaganda to “prod the North into enlisting black soldiers,” icepick119 and his overwrought conclusions notwithstanding. (Although I do agree with icepick that “Steiner’s report was not written to glorify the Southern soldier.”)

    I should clarify and say that I didn’t doubt your statement that someone might make such an argument (although I personally hadn’t run across it). I was simply saying that, based on what is actually in the report itself, the argument has no merit.

  • Bob Pollock Apr 15, 2009 @ 11:41

    Just to clarify – Are you saying this is an unreasonable interpretation of the document?
    Am I missing something? Are you arguing that we should take the statement at face value? Don’t get me wrong here , I’m just trying to follow this discussion.

  • John Cummings Apr 15, 2009 @ 11:18

    David, there are endless debates on all sides. As an example, regarding Steiner, of what I termed “habitually … blasted as being ‘propaganda’ intended to shame the Federal government into enlisting black troops”, I will post a quote that readily comes to mind from an older blog dated December 9, 2005. This appears on the website. The author of the post went by the name “icepick119”:

    “The main organizers of the U. S. Sanitation Commission such as Frederick Law Olmstead and Mary Livermore were abolitionists whose funding in part came from other well known abolitionist such as Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and William Lloyd Garrison. Abolitionists or those with their sympathies, such as Steiner, were prevalent in the Sanitary Commission. These same abolitionists were bringing increasing pressure on the Lincoln Administration to enlist Blacks in the Union army. If one reads Steiner’s report and its glaring inconsistancies, you can’t help to see it as nothing more than a piece of propaganda written to prod the North into enlisting black soldiers.
    Steiner claimed that there were “over 3,000 negroes” that were in Confederate uniforms and armed and “supplied, in many instances, with knapsacks, haversacks, canteens” yet later on in his report, he described the regiments of white Confederates marching thru Frederick as men “mostly without knapsacks; some few carried blankets, and a tooth-brush was occasionally seen pendant from the button-hole of a private soldier.” Now what is wrong with this picture? Negro Confederate soldiers with better equipment than their white counterparts?
    Steiner, by writing of the armed black Confederates in his report, is attempting to shame the Union for not arming the Blacks in the North. Steiner’s report was not written to glorify the Southern soldier because the remainder of his report portrayed the Confederate troops as stupid, filthy and braggards.”

    So there it is, one shining example of the “propaganda” rhetoric that is out there, attempting to cut Steiner’s report to pieces. The same post accuses Frederick Douglas of a similar “propaganda” tactic when in September of 1861 his essay “Fighting the Rebels With One Hand” includes reports of blacks fighting in the Confederate ranks.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2009 @ 11:35


      The fundamental problem with this debate is there is no consensus on what we are talking about. As Peter Carmichael shows in his guest post on the subject, the term ‘black Confederate’ is misleading and steers the debate in the wrong direction. We can’t understand Steiner or any other piece of evidence until we properly frame the issue. Overall, we are talking about the way in which the war altered the slave-master relationship and not whether blacks “served” in the Confederate army. At the same time there is very little critical research on the topic so we don’t have the proper framework to understand reports by folks like Steiner. Slaves were known to wear uniforms; this does not mean that they were serving in the Confederate army. Slaves probably at one point picked up a rifle and fired at attacking Union columns; this does not mean that the served in Confederate ranks.

      Again, we need to be thinking about the master-slave relationship in our analysis of the role blacks played in the Confederate army.

  • Allen Apr 15, 2009 @ 10:45

    As one who drops by this blog now and then, it strikes me that if you were to quit sniping at the SCV you’d have little or nothing to write about.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2009 @ 10:47


      No doubt, I definitely enjoy commenting on the actions of the SCV. The history of the organization offers plenty of examples of how memory can be used for partisan/political purposes. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • David Rhoads Apr 15, 2009 @ 10:36

    Thought I’d add a couple of observations about the Steiner account of “black Confederates” offered above by John Cummings.

    First, in regard to the claim that Steiner’s report is “habitually … blasted as being ‘propaganda’ intended to shame the Federal government into enlisting black troops”: If anyone actually argues this about the report (and I’ve never before heard such a thing myself) it is ludicrous on its face, as a simple reading of the report will quickly demonstrate. The report has literally nothing at all to say on the subject of enlisting black troops into Federal armies nor does anything in it suggest even the slightest intention to “shame” the Federal government. The report does display an obvious anti-Confederate bias, but that is to be expected.

    Second, there are only two references to “negroes” in the entire report, both in the 24-page diary section. The first (from pages 19-20) is the one that John has already quoted in its entirety (more on that in a moment). The second (from page 21), also from the section dated September 10 and still commenting on the Confederates passing through, reads as follows:

    “Their apologies for regimental bands were vile and excruciating. The only real music in their column to-day was from a bugle blown by a negro. Drummers and fifers of the same color abounded in their ranks.”

    These two brief quotations are together everything Steiner has to say in his report about “black Confederates”.

    Now, as to the first quotation, it is for the most part an unremarkable account of blacks marching intermingled with white Confederates. The detail that stands out, of course, is Steiner’s observation that “Most of the negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabres, bowie-knives, dirks, etc.” So what does this tell us about the status of the blacks that Steiner saw? Were they slaves, soldiers, both or neither? In and of itself, the account is ambiguous as to these questions. Were it coupled with unambiguous documentation such as hundreds or thousands of enlistment records of blacks who served with the ANV or even with independent accounts of hundreds or thousands of blacks who shouldered arms and fought at Antietam, then it would be no great leap to say that these men were in fact Confederate soldiers. But there is no such unambiguous documentation, and given that, it is just as easy to conclude that the “armed” blacks Steiner saw were slaves bearing their masters’ burdens on an arduous march. Indeed, there are a number of compelling reasons to conclude that the latter interpretation is much the more plausible. No doubt it would have come as a great surprise to General Lee to discover that he had 3,000 black soldiers enlisted in his own ranks as of 1862.

    At any rate, if this Steiner quotation is the best evidence the “black Confederate” crowd can offer (as seems to be the case, given how ubiquitous it has become), that in itself is telling.

    Finally, for me, the most interesting thing about this quotation from Steiner is the irony with which he notes the “promiscuously” close intermingling of the blacks with the whites within the Confederates army, given the “horror rebels express at the suggestion of black soldiers being employed for the National defence.” I’m reminded here of the cliché that Northern racism is characterized by the desire of whites to be physically separated from blacks, whereas Southern racism is characterized by a tolerance for physical proximity as long as the social hierarchy is rigidly maintained. Or as Dick Gregory put it, “Down South they don’t care how close I am as long as I don’t get too big, and up North they don’t care how big I am as long as I don’t get too close.”

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 9:44

    I should add that in Henry Brown’s service record with Co. F, 8th SC, there is no mention of his race. In his record with the 21st SC, he is only listed as “colored” when on the Field and Staff records. The records filed with others from his company (Co. H) make no mention of race.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 15, 2009 @ 9:14

    I know that I just said that we should refrain from being emotional about these issues, but I cannot express to all of you how truly heartbreaking all of this is. I am almost afraid to go look up records of the past, for fear of finding that the ancestors of one person I love was oppressed by the ancestors of another person I love, in some final and irrevocable way. I have family on both sides, too–the black side and the white side–not of blood, but of the heart. Then there are the Cherokee, the Principal People…..O Captain, my Captain, I sure wish that bullet had missed you and that you had survived to steer us through that most terrible storm that is still not over.

    Definitely off the charts emotional. Thank you all.


  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 9:02

    “Tribute to Henry Brown From Gen. W.E. James, Who Knew Him Well…”

    “On Saturday evening Henry Brown, a most highly respected colored man, died. He had lived a long life and had been one of the land marks of this community, and from his conservative and upright life he had commanded the respect of both white and colored people. …The Darlington Guards in full uniform with arms marched to his late residence and were placed in front of the hearse…it was determined that a number of white gentlemen should act as pall bearers—should take charge of the body and attend it from his residence to the colored Presbyterian church of which he was a member. Arriving at the church the Guards presented arms and the white pall bearers took it into the church…

    Henry Brown came from Camden and had been a free man all his life…When the War broke out Henry Brown went with the Darlington Guards…and remained with that company until the 1st Regiment was disbanded. He then went with the 8th Regiment to Virginia as the drummer for that regiment. He was regularly enlisted in Company E…and he remained with that regiment till its reorganization in 1862, when all above the age of thirty-five were discharged….on the 21st of July ’61 the regiment was stationed at Mitchels Ford on the South side of Bull Run. The battle began two miles above and at 12 o’clock the regiment was ordered to go where the battle was raging. As soon as the order came Henry began to beat the long roll. This indicated to a battery on the other side of the Run the position of the regiment and the shells began to fall thick and fast. It was some time before the Colonel could stop him but he was beating all the time regardless of the danger. He followed on to the battlefield and was under fire with the others.

    After leaving the 8th regiment he joined Capt. S.H. Wilds’ company and remained with the 21st S.C. regiment to the close of the war.

    When…the reconstruction period began…Henry was given the office of Coroner, which he held for a while, but when he saw the injuries that were being done to the white people by those men who were in office, he allied himself with the white people and remained so for the rest of his life. When Camp Darlington No. 785 U.C.V. was organized he had his name enrolled and never missed a reunion…He prided himself on being a Veteran and took great interest in the camp. We shall miss him. He has gone to join the great majority of those who marched to the tap of his drum. But we, too, shall soon follow them.”

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 8:58


    Consider Henry “Dad” Brown, a free black who was a drummer with Co. H, 21st SC Infantry. He’s on the muster rolls as a musician.

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 8:40

    I’ll throw another wrench into the mix with this link…

    Having put this stuff on the table for consideration, how do we address the multiple situations that are present in the images presented in this link? Furthermore, is this a form of digital rhetoric trying to convince us of one way of thinking when it comes to service of blacks in relation to the Confederacy?

  • Larry Cebula Apr 15, 2009 @ 8:31

    Also, John, I want to congratulate you on your attempts to go to the primary sources for this controversy, and thank you for sticking around to discuss this.

  • Larry Cebula Apr 15, 2009 @ 8:25

    John, the Steiner piece is curious, but it is a huge outlier. Where, in the millions of pages of primary source eyewitness accounts of the war, are additional accounts of blacks under arms in the southern ranks? Where are the additional accounts even from that campaign? It would have been a very striking sight to people on both sides of the conflict, and would have been mentioned and written about again and again. But it was not.

    As to the slaves who sometimes dug trenches or hauled freight for southern armies, I think it is preposterous to call them confederates. You might as well use the same name for the enslaved field hands who grew crops that were fed to southern armies.

    To get most of us (or me at least) to accept the term black confederates, you are going to have to show us free blacks who willingly joined southern armies.

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 8:22

    Off topic… but, speaking of the problems with the medium, John, it’s actually all of us who are the problems. With the new medium, we need to learn how to both read and write again. As opposed to what some theorists think, the “writer” is not “dead” in this environment. There should be, for example, no need to assume that we know what the other person is thinking or read something into what was written. We simply need to learn more often to ask for clarifications before we pounce. Of course, the other potential problem is when the other person can’t effectively express in written words what they mean or skirts around the issues at hand. Sorry to run on about this, but I was very interested in your comment about the medium.

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 8:16

    John, No offense taken, though my comment may have suggested something akin to an elevated voice. I too had kin on both sides, most of the more direct kin, incidentally, were actually in gray.

    What we need to do, as a truth seeking people, is to examine what is in front of us and consider all that it might mean and, more importantly, stop generalizing and assuming that we know the people of the past in terms of absolutes. We usually know much less than we realize. As I always say, we have to look at all angles of the cube (my metaphor for history) in front of us.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 15, 2009 @ 8:13


    This quote is from the link that Robert provided above: “Historians estimate the total number of Black men who sided with the Confederates either as laborers or soldiers range anywhere from 60,000 to 90,000.”

    If this statement is true, and even if the men were not soldiers, they need to be honored in an appropriate manner. That is a staggering number of men who have been rendered invisible to history.

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 8:06

    Sherree, Oh, I certainly agree. I think we need to look at the bigger picture and realize that the story is not so easily defined and should not be painted with a broad brush. Were there truly “Black Confederates” and did they, as they name suggest, embrace the only life and land they had known? Absolutely, at least I think it possible. Did others only “serve” because they were worried about what might happen to them or their families if they didn’t? Once again, absolutely. Did others jump at the chance for freedom whenever it came available? Absolutely, again. For that matter, free blacks were just as much caught in the in-between. Some actively participating in efforts to see their brothers in bondage freed, while others embraced, once again, the land and life they knew, and some even took measures to defend that.

    I think the best way that we can honor these men of the past is to show that we make the effort to try and understand, but we can’t go about this with blinders. I think there are people wearing blinders on both sides of the fence in the larger discussion about the role of blacks in the Southern Confederacy.

    I think the link that I just posted is an excellent example of how some are taking the defining of blacks in their service to the Confederacy to the extreme. Even if 60,000 – 90,000 blacks did serve in some capacity for the Confederacy, it, by no means, indicates that they were falling all over themselves in love with the idea of the Confederacy. I see the atmospheres exhibited at some of these events with Confederate reenactors as suggesting some sort of absolutes in defining “Black Confederates,” and that’s just wrong. It’s manipulating the past to satisfy a modern agenda.

  • Jim Apr 15, 2009 @ 8:02

    We can prove that there were thousands of free blacks, thousands of black slaveholders and thousands of white slaveholding Union soldiers at war time, so it takes no stretch of imagination to admit that there would also be black Confederate soldiers, even if unofficial. I believe there was the occassional woman involved in combat also. Point is, we should admit that it happened leaving to argue only the numbers involved. If blacks were not officially recorded soldiers, then it is a moot point.

    I have read Confederate diaries stating that their slave did voluntarily take up arms against Union soldiers. I believe Frederick Douglass also stated with concern that blacks were fighting as soldiers against the North.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 15, 2009 @ 8:00


    I understand. No one is attacking you. These are highly charged issues, emotionally. I get emotional, too, and so do others. It is best to remain calm, though, if we can. The conversation is a lot more productive. Thanks everyone for the discussion and, as always, thank you Kevin for providing this forum. Sherree

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 15, 2009 @ 7:40

    Well, you know, in the end, this is heartbreaking, Robert. These men deserve to be honored, and not exploited yet again for a political agenda. They are unsung heroes, too, even if it is the post heroic age. Who knows why they stayed behind and did not go North? Maybe they couldn’t get free. Maybe they didn’t want to leave family members. Or maybe they just stayed. They deserve our respect, and so do their descendants, and they have it. The more people who become aware of these issues, the better. I know of one young granddaughter of the descendant of a freed slave who has the chance to grow up outside of all of this, and she is one young lady among many. I am grateful for that. Too much damage has been done for too long. As scholars, you and others who have commented here have the opportunity to help bring about change. Just remember that when you get the thesis blues, lol.

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 7:19


    I’m pretty sure that the 10-12 “Black men who were body servants, or valets, to soldiers and who also drew CSA pensions” who are mentioned in the above cited online site are among the 16 “Black Confederate veterans” (so sayeth the Morning News Online article from whence this story rises) mentioned in the link that Kevin points us to here in this post. They received pensions, but the piece doesn’t clarify if these pensions were for the men as veterans or servants.

    Also in this online piece, it’s interesting to note the story of Henry Dad Brown. He was a drummer, but was “not allowed to carry a firearm because of his race.” Contradicting information when you consider the Steiner piece mentioned by John. It’s all a part of what makes this so difficult to sift through.

  • John Cummings Apr 15, 2009 @ 7:17

    Its obvious that the medium makes it difficult to ascertain when one is speaking directly to a specific individual. Robert, I was not taking you to task, I was saying you brought up what I thought was a valid point. Any further use of the word “you” was meant to be anyone in general who may imply such a thing, whatever that thing might be. It is hard at times when writing emotionally charged to maintain clarity in these matters of address. Please forgive what was construed as a slight. I do appreciate your exchange toward my quote of Steiner.

    Sherree, I was not insulting Kevin in that last post, I was conforming to his wishes expressed here and in personal correspondence that “Of course, any of us can collect and present encounters between Union soldiers and blacks that were present in the Confederate army. What we need to understand is their status.”

    And to everyone, I presented the Steiner quote as it is one of the most compelling and does give room for continued research into his assertions. I personally feel we will do ourselves an injustice if we simply write it off as a fictional piece of “propaganda”. Let’s look to see what does exist. I have seen, and can’t come up with it now unfortunately, reports of Union soldiers finding the corpses of what they thought looked like “Black Confederates” on the battlefield, and there are counter suggestions that these bodies simply looked “black” due to decomposition, effects of sun and rain….

    And again, to all, believe it or not, I am coming at this as a non-partisan, no hidden “Lost Cause” agenda involved. Ancestors on both sides of the war! That apparently is difficult for some to fathom, but it is true.

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 6:25

    Sherree, Yes, and that’s where there are problems in the way that organizations such as the SCV exploit “Black Confederates” to serve a modern agenda. If we are to really honor the sacrifices of these men, we don’t need to trivialize their sacrifices by seeing them defined as simply as “Black Confederates.” That phrase is problematic and it conveys more misunderstanding than understanding.

    On the military point, I’ll add that the point that I’m trying to make is that most of those who are being “honored” as blacks in the service of the Confederacy are all too often being recognized as “soldiers.” Yet, as some find it convenient to do so today, they were not identified then as soldiers, and they were not recognized even over 60 years after the war as soldiers. They were recognized for what they were… cooks, servants, etc., all in support roles that were not deemed as meriting “veteran” status.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 15, 2009 @ 6:07

    “Blacks were, therefore, not only exploited at the time of the war, but were forgotten by the state governments in which they were technically employed, in the name of “National defense.”

    Thanks, Robert. You are always a much needed voice of reason. Sherree

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 5:55

    “If you tell all the cooks, drivers, clerical workers, laundry workers etc that make up our forces in Iraq that they are not legitimately enlisted, “not real soldiers”, you would have a riot on your hands. “Non combatants” certainly make an army function, and on ocassion they do pick up arms…”

    Hold on a second here John… let’s be clear on something. First, my role in the Navy was supply… a support element (though I was a submariner, which meant I was also a ready-combatant). Nonetheless, was on the record as being in the ranks. I enlisted. Ultimately, there are lots of people in the ranks of the military who are cooks, drivers, etc…. in support elements… these people are soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, etc. Then there are lots of people who are not in the military who are cooks, drivers, etc…. also support elements… these people are not soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, etc. Bottom line is, how does the government define a soldier? How do we as people define a soldier? There are military support elements and then there are non-military support elements. Same goes back then… and blacks, while some may have been armed, were not on the records then as military elements and, more importantly (emphasis here), were not recognized some 60 years later in pension records as military elements.

    Even over 60 years after the war, state governments that were issuing pensions to Confederate soldiers, opted also to issue pensions to Confederate servants. The governments, which had their fair share of Confederate veterans, did not, I repeat, did not acknowledge those cooks, body servants, etc. as SOLDIERS, even some 60 + years after the war. Armed or not, they weren’t seen as true comrades in arms, period. What makes things even worse is the servants pension legislation. Go through these and tell me how many you find that were actually applications of blacks and how many were applications of whites. I guarantee you, despite the objective of this particular pension, it did not recognize even those blacks who served in non-military capacities. While I have gone through only a few counties, I’ve found not one black applicant.

    As for the Steiner quote… how many of these “negroes” with “arms, rifles, muskets, sabres, bowie-knives, dirks, etc.” ended up on the Confederate pension lists? Did they all get killed? That would seem absurd. Yet, we don’t see a black Confederate in every other Confederate pension application that we pick up. In fact, I’m not sure exactly how many have been found but I would dare say that they don’t make up a significant percentage. Blacks were, therefore, not only exploited at the time of the war, but were forgotten by the state governments in which they were technically employed, in the name of “National defense.”

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 15, 2009 @ 5:39

    You know, John, you made some very interesting points, that I, for one, would like to hear everyone discuss, if those involved in this conversation are so inclined, because I quite simply do not know what to believe anymore. Then, you had to go and insult Kevin again. Will you please stop doing that? Also, will you please try not to get so angry? If Kevin did not want to hear what you have to say, then he would not hear you out. (I am speaking of my experience on this blog as a reader, with Kevin as moderator, and I am not speaking for Kevin himself, of course, since Kevin is quite obviously more than capable of speaking for himself.)

  • John Cummings Apr 15, 2009 @ 5:21

    Robert, you do allude to a tremendous point here and it is one that has followed me for the 16 years I have pursued “Black Confederate” and that is that being a cook, teamster, or any number of “labor” positions is considered a very valid enlistment status, even today. If you tell all the cooks, drivers, clerical workers, laundry workers etc that make up our forces in Iraq that they are not legitimately enlisted, “not real soldiers”, you would have a riot on your hands. “Non combatants” certainly make an army function, and on occassion they do pick up arms, and by personal knowledge, they are fully trained in the use of them should the need arise.
    I realize that for the sake of argument Kevin who prefer I not simply present first hand “encounters”, but one in particular I would love to put out here for review. It has gotten a lot of play in print and other forums. Habitually, this account, written by Dr. Lewis H. Steiner, Inspector of the Sanitary Commission, is blasted as being “propaganda” intended to shame the Federal government into enlisting black troops. This portion of the document I will present here, is but a small segment of the entire document, published in 1862. It is comprised of Dr. Steiner’s personal experience witnessing the Confederate Army during their occupation of Frederick, MD, on their way to what would become the battle of Antietam.
    “Wednesday September 10. – At four o’clock this morning the rebel army began to move from our town, Jackson’s force taking the advance. The movement continued until eight o’clock P.M., occupying sixteen hours. The most liberal calculations could not give them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 negroes must be included in this number. These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only in cast-off or captured United States uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons, State buttons, etc. These were shabby, but not shabbier or seedier than those worn by white men in the rebel ranks. Most of the negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabres, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. They were supplied, in many instances, with knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, etc., and were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederacy Army. They were riding on horses and mules, driving wagons, riding on caissons, in ambulances, with the staff of Generals, and promiscuously mixed up with all the rebel horde. The fact was patent and rather, interesting when considered in connection with the horror rebels express at the suggestion of black soldiers being employed for the National defence.”

    Have at this document and tear it up if you will, click your heels and you’ll be back at home in Kansas, whatever you want to do. I could go on and on but our host has asked us to bring something fresh to the table. It is time to do that.

  • Robert Moore Apr 15, 2009 @ 4:07


    You say,

    “It is strange how there are those who will say ‘how dare you suggest that we would have enlisted blacks’ and there are those that cry ‘how dare you suggest that a black man would fight for the Confederacy.'”

    I think that most of us here say neither, but what we do recognize is that it is much more complicated than that. “Service” or the “nature of service” is too often misinterpreted by people today as the status of “soldier.” THAT is the major problem in the way that people reflect on these men. It’s being abused to the point where it seems that commemorating “black Confederates” is more of an agenda not to commemorate the “service” of the blacks, but to justify the motivations for service of the whites in the ranks. Is it really necessary? I don’t think so.

    Distinctions were made in the nature of service of blacks back then, and even into the servants’ pension records, yet why do some feel the need to erase these distinctions today in interpreting the past? It actually does more damage to understanding the past than aiding it.

    “I will suggest this regarding ‘lack of documentation’: 1st – The Confederacy did not officially condone enlisting blacks until the last weeks of the war, thus nothing official, nothing recorded as such.”

    There are some blurred lines in this situation. While it is true that the Confederacy did not condone enlistments of blacks, I’ve seen where it did happen from time to time. The problem is that the service records rarely or never state that those blacks who enlisted were black. In my experience it’s more a matter of putting two totally separate pieces of information together to make sense of things. The only way that I would have realized that Charles Brown of Co. K, 10th Va. Infantry was a slave is because of a postwar article. Likewise, I would have been skeptical if I saw this article by itself and saw no military record to support it… but the record exists, though with no mention of his being either a slave or black. (Mr. Jacobson, not meaning to aggravate, but just asking a question… how do you explain this?) Did he “bear arms?” It doesn’t seem so… there is no mention of any such thing in the postwar article, but, in the service records he DID “enlist” as a cook. The record of enlistment is an official indicator that most blacks who are “honored” as “Black Confederates” today, did NOT get. There were a number of black cooks, body servants, teamsters, etc., usually these people were slaves (though free blacks were “pressed”… yes, I said “pressed,” and I mean it in the forced sense… into the service of the Confederacy as well (look for John Dogans/Dougans in my Southern Chronicles site and/or in my Cenantua’s Blog). It’s interesting to see that most of these cooks, body servants, etc., remained “in the service” of the Confederacy, but were not accepted into the ranks officially during the war, or, more importantly, in the pension legislation in the 1930s (at least in Va.).

    “2nd – With that consideration, how many of you have found documentation of slaves beyond something like “Male, age 37, answers to Buck” or “Tilly, Mulatto female 16.”

    Actually, I have.

    “Even as freemen, the records are very thin.”

    Check the Freedmens’ Records and sometimes, Southern Claims Commission Applications… they aren’t all there, but what one finds there is of value.

    Robert at Cenantua’s Blog… and Southern Unionists Chronicles… and Too Long Forgotten

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 15, 2009 @ 3:48


    Kevin, I just spent some more time on the site in question, and confirmed what I already knew. It is indeed bizarre. You can become a black Confederate veteran, learn about “Belgium Dixie”, and link to take Hebrew online, all at once. Brilliant! Wish I had thought of that. We’re back to the surreal again, and the ones who lose (if this website is for real) are the black men and women pictured, so it is time to stop bickering and to start reaching some constructive compromises, as I know is taking place in venues outside of the blogosphere. Thanks, Kevin.

  • Sherree Tannen Apr 15, 2009 @ 3:07

    “Of course, Neptune King may also have simply had a “mad minute” ; it happens sometimes in combat, even for non-combatants…as witness the occasional medic or doctor who mans a weapon to cover the wounded. Sometimes they even get the MOH for it…

    It is also clear that Neptune King was a slave who was, essentially, ordered to accompany his owner’s son to the war, not – in any sense of the word – a free agent.”

    Just to be clear–and I think and hope that my statement was clear–I did not say that Neptune King was a free agent who, for some unknown reason, decided that he loved to be a slave and fought to remain one. That is ludicrous. My point was that there is no way to quantify or understand the human element or the human spirit. I think that Peter made a similar point, but I will not presume to speak for Peter. I was paying tribute to Neptune King, who deserves to be honored like his brother in the North who did pick up arms and fight for his freedom. The way to honor him is not through the type of ceremony depicted here, however. That seems fairly obvious to me. But that is not for me, or for any of the rest of us, to decide. It is up to the black men and women in question, who are free agents. To think that we know what is best for them is paternalistic and insulting. Some of those men and women are older, and they can write the book on racism and what it means to be the recipient of its evils. The real problem is the distortion of history that is taking place on a grand scale in what is becoming a foolish debate. If the SCV wanted to prove that the organization is multiculturalist in nature, then its members would be in the forefront of public debates, advocating for the kind of change that brings about true equality for all Americans regardless of race, and this ceremony proves that the organization is not doing that. Again, this seems obvious to me. John does have a point about the African American men and women who attended the ceremony, however, and Henry Louis Gates made a similar point about the African American men and women who attended a ceremony to honor their ancestors, even though it should be quite apparent to everyone that Gates is not a SCV supporter. Now, on the other hand, maybe this whole thing is a hoax. Michaela, I think the other woman dressed in black is Miss Melanie, but I am not sure. What do you think?

  • John Cummings Apr 15, 2009 @ 0:29

    Eric, I am amazed that you take it upon yourself to be the subject of that posting! Matter of fact, I happened to be responding to Kevin’s initial subject post and you just happened to be there before me. Convenient. Please take note that I continue to address Kevin in further posts.
    No, no personal affront made to you at that time, but now you are being spoken to directly.
    There are some interesting Federal “encounters” with “black Confederate”, and I will post them later for your amusement I guess. They do exist, but they will probably crumble under the high standards expected. Its a lie if you call it a lie, right?
    Have a nice day.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2009 @ 1:06


      As you probably noticed in the Carmichael essay, the problem with the label ‘black Confederate’ is that it runs rough shod over the complexity of the master-slave relationship that was still intact within the Confederate army. Of course, any of us can collect and present encounters between Union soldiers and blacks that were present in the Confederate army. What we need to understand is their status.

  • Michaela Apr 14, 2009 @ 18:23

    Scarlet O’Hara, very funny Sherree! I had the same thought, when I saw those black dresses. Along those lines, I am imagining two German women wearing 1930s fashion black dresses and hats, kneeling down at a WWII memorial to fallen soldiers in Berlin today to honor the handful of Jews that were not identified by the Nazis as enemies of the State and fought in the Wehrmacht. And I am serious! Lets all hope that my home country has learned that much that it would not be a picture that would just find criticism on a history blog in Germany. Sometimes comparative history can give you a whole different perspective.

  • tf smith Apr 14, 2009 @ 18:14

    Of course, Neptune King may also have simply had a “mad minute” ; it happens sometimes in combat, even for non-combatants…as witness the occasional medic or doctor who mans a weapon to cover the wounded. Sometimes they even get the MOH for it…

    It is also clear that Neptune King was a slave who was, essentially, ordered to accompany his owner’s son to the war, not – in any sense of the word – a free agent.

    Prof. Carmicheal’s essay is well done; did I miss it, or has a referenced version been published in an academic journal?

    • Kevin Levin Apr 15, 2009 @ 1:04


      The Carmichael essay was pulled from one of his academic conference presentations. It has not been published; however, he is working on a book-length manuscript on the subject.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:40

    Well, John, I see it only took you one post to call me a bigot – a totally expected response. I challenge you to provide documentation written by Civil War participants or service records which will support your apparent argument that blacks actually served and fought in the Confederate armies. I’m sure I will be waiting a long time. Funny how Federal soldiers never said they encountered these alleged black CSA troops. Like I said, blacks were serving as cooks, teamsters, etc, but not in a infantry, artillery, or cavalry capacity.

    On a different note, it is interesting to note that a number of blacks did enlist in 1861, but by the time conscription comes around in early 1862, guess what? Those “troops” suddenly vanished because the Confederate government DID NOT want blacks serving in the military because it contradicted exactly what the Confederate government was fighting for. It would be quite hard to allow blacks to serve as soldiers when what Jeff Davis and Alex Stephens were really trying to do was keep them enslaved.

    Another example would be how Pat Cleburne’s proposal to emancipate slaves based on military service was received by the CS government. Bythe way that happened in 1864 so if so many blacks were serving as soldiers why did the Davis crew flip out when Cleburne issued his proposal? So John to be blunt, you may want to read what people like William Bate, W. H. T. Walker, A. P. Stewart, Patton Anderson, States Rights Gist, and Joe Wheeler said about Cleburne and his proposal. To save you the time, they (all Confederate generals and peers) called Cleburne a traitor, accused him of sedition, said he should be hanged, and Gist even said he could sense “the Serpent of Abolitionism” cloaked in Cleburne’s idea. Pretty forward thinking on their part, don’t you think, John?

    Like I said before, this idea that black served as soldiers for the CSA is pure and utter hogwash. Keep spinning your modern day Lost Cause gibberish. Someone has to do it.


  • Sherree Tannen Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:51

    “Unfortunately, Neptune’s story has been either co-opted by the neo-Confederate crowd as proof of black loyalty or quickly dismissed by some academics as white propaganda. Both groups need to stop sparring and start acting like historians. I am not hopeful that this will happen, as the political agendas of both sides will not allow either party to disengage. But for those who can put politics aside, who do not need to invent a mythical Confederate army of black and white brothers, and who do not need to demonize the white South for slavery, Neptune’s account might bring an end to this tiresome morality play. The combatants over this issue today, I might add, love to perform this play because it keeps the focus on them and not on the historical actors. If we put the spotlight on Neptune, however, his story reveals how little we know about the many and varied moments of emotional and physical intimacy that existed between males slave and their male owners. We must explore these complex encounters, which promise to reveal new insights into the master-slave relationship, African American manliness, and class divisions within the slave community as well as Confederate society as a whole.”

    The above quote is from Peter’s essay, Kevin. The essay is brilliant! You are right. Everyone should read it.

    If I may focus on Neptune for a moment, and share something that I understood years ago, it might shed some light on Neptune’s actions (emphasis on the word “might”) When I first began to read the novels and short stories of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, I was struck by the anger that was expressed by the writers through several characters who were robbed of the company and care of their parents (particularly of their mothers) because those parents had to work for white men and women. The sentiment was that the love that rightly belonged to black children was robbed by white society and given to white children. This could not be more true. The only observation that I could add to that insight, however, would be that there is one thing in this world that cannot be stolen, but given only, and that one thing is love. White society could rob black men and women of their time, of their youth, of their bodies, of their minds, of their children, and of their happiness, but never of their souls, or of their love. When a black man or woman loved a white man, woman, or child, it was because that black man or woman chose to love the white man, woman, or child. That love belonged to the black man or woman to be either given or withheld. It could not be taken. It was the same with forgiveness as well. The black man or woman decided when, where, how, why, AND IF he or she would forgive. That is power. Spiritual and moral power of the highest degree, and that is a muscular love that only a true adult is capable of giving. I am not talking about these ridiculous minstrel cliches. I am talking about the same black men and women who brought this nation to its knees through their understanding of the complexities of the human spirit, best personified by Dr. King. Maybe that was what Neptune did. Maybe he loved the white man he saved not because of race or in spite of it, but just because he did, and even if the white man was incapable of understanding.

    No–in case my point is not clearly understood–this is not an endorsement of the SCV position on this issue.

    On a lighter note, I believe that I have identified one of the women in mourning attire–It’s Scarlet O’Hara!!

  • TF Smith Apr 14, 2009 @ 12:27

    Documentation, of course, is what provides evidence, which is a key concept in jurisprudence, history, and rational thinking generally; anecdote is what supports mythology or theology – there is a difference, as anyone who has relied on eyewitness testimony in court understands, generally to their sorrow. Anyone can “say” their ancestors came over on the Mayflower, were full-blooded Mohicans, or were abducted by aliens – saying so does not make it so, however. Neither does playing dress-up…

    Again, where, when, and how are the reported “black confederates” supposed to have served? Under whose authority? Who were their officers? Were they fighting men or hewers of wood and drawers of water? Were they regulars? Volunteers? Irregulars? In or out of uniform? Were they enlisted by the CSA or secessionist state governments? Were they impressed? Conscripted? Purchased? Sold? Paid? Forced at gunpoint? Inquiring minds wnat to know.

    Given slaves’ status as property in the CSA between 1861-65, if nothing else, one would expect that their owners would look for compensation for their use by the CSA authorities; are there OR records to and from the CSA War Department related to this?

    Finally, when someone writes “how dare you suggest that we would have enlisted blacks” one has to wonder what “we” is being referred to…

  • John Cummings Apr 14, 2009 @ 11:10

    I will say that over the past 16 years or so, I have written about “Black Confederates” and been attacked for it by both sides of the fence, but never from the African American community. I have a personal friendship with a gentleman that has claimed ancestors in the Confederate Army. That is his family story and he is constantly the subject of much white derision, but that is his story and he sticks to it, with pride. The articles I wrote in 1993 placed me at great odds with some people of note on both sides of the Mason/Dixon. It is strange how there are those who will say “how dare you suggest that we would have enlisted blacks” and there are those that cry “how dare you suggest that a black man would fight for the Confedracy.” But this has always come from white people, at least in my own experience.
    I will suggest this regarding “lack of documentation”: 1st – The Confederacy did not officially condone enlisting blacks until the last weeks of the war, thus nothing official, nothing recorded as such. 2nd – With that consideration, how many of you have found documentaion of slaves beyond something like “Male, age 37, answers to Buck” or “Tilly, Mulatto female 16.” Often times names are not ever mentioned in the “inventory” of some owner’s property. I have conducted genealogical research for African American families and it is a rough road to hoe, I will attest to that, due solely to “lack of documentation”, but we are not seeing anyone question the existance of slaves are we? Even as freemen, the records are very thin.
    Ok, that’s that for now.

  • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:07


    First, I said absolutely nothing about the participation of African Americans in this ceremony. You were the one who unloaded on me. My interest in photograph was of the two women dressed in mourning attire. I’ve commented extensively on the issue of so-called black Confederates and I’ve even commented on the involvement of African Americans. Once again, it’s a complicated subject and I’ve tried my best to understand it. All you have to do is ask a question of me and I am happy to respond to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, you chose to make some ridiculous and unwarranted assumptions about my interest in this subject. You will forgive me if I fail to give the idea of lunch with you any serious consideration for now.

    For those of you interested in my extensive commentary on this subject I suggest you browse by category, which you can find under the post title.

  • TF Smith Apr 14, 2009 @ 9:39

    Kevin –

    I appreciate the response, and it gibes with what I expect on these questions – there is not any signifcant evidence of the alleged “black confederate” troops, and so the motivations of those promulgating it today are well worth considering…history, it is not.

    Interesting in comparison how much documentation there is regarding southern white loyalists – as witness “Lincoln’s Loyalists” – much less the histories of African-American volunteers, north and south, for the Union.


  • Paul Taylor Apr 14, 2009 @ 8:57

    Kevin –

    I know very little about this issue, however it seems logical that even if “Black Confederate” soldiers existed, they were, relatively speaking, a miniscule number. The documented evidence of “Black Confederates” seems minor though the primary source evidence showing that preserving slavery was the South’s main reason for fighting is overwhelming.

    That said, I can envision black slaves with rifles in the Southern trenches, given the grim manpower realities for the South in 1865. I’ve also sincerely wondered if there were ever white soldiers in another trench maybe 50-100 yards back, ready to shoot any of their black “brethren” who would dare turn to skedaddle in the face of the oncoming Yankees?


  • John Cummings Apr 14, 2009 @ 8:48

    Well Kevin, would you go up to those who attended that ceremony and tell them they really have no idea of what they’re doing or talking about? Even if their ancestors simply did as you insist, cook, drive wagons, dig ditches, watched over their “masters” as body servants, but yet came home after the war and began the long family tradition that “Grandaddy fought with the Gray.”, do you do them a service my minimizing their remembrance? There is no debate here as to the abhorrence of slavery, what we are debating here is the legitamacy of some people’s exercise of “Civil War memory.” I hope we are not suggesting that they are easily fooled and just further victims of the white man’s oppressive ways. Something in the collective memory brought them to that ceremony and by the looks of it they did appreciate and enjoy the whole thing.

    Kevin, I come to your blog because it does provide opportunity for meaningful dialogue and an exchange of ideas. It would be an awful shame if you thought my participation was not wanted.
    I think we will have a fine time of it when we do have an opportunity to have lunch together some day.
    With what I hope is construed as mutual respect,
    John Cummings

  • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2009 @ 8:15


    Oh my, somehow you’ve cracked the code and have exposed my real intentions for all the world to see. I marvel at your ability to read my mind. Now, do you feel better that you’ve uncovered the truth? For someone who finds me this detestable it is surprising to note just how much time you spend on my site. Perhaps you should get out of the house/office and take a walk.


    Most of the cases that I’ve commented on involve either no research or faulty research involving various postwar sources such as pension records. The problem ultimately comes down to the failure to engage in thorough research.

  • Larry Cebula Apr 14, 2009 @ 7:21

    I wish the Confederate heritage groups would do more to honor the Easter Bunny. Because the liberal academic establishment fails to acknowledge the contributions of this ten foot tall, pink, magical creature.

  • TF Smith Apr 14, 2009 @ 7:09

    Kevin –

    In all the various discussions of alleged “black Confederates” and the research into slave labor personnel/units attached to the Confederate armies, are there any primary source documents – from whites or blacks, free or slave – that provide the organization, chain of command, make-up, finances, or duties of these same personnel?

    Has anyone come up with the unit roster for (I’m making this up, of course) the 1st CSA Volunteers (Colored)? Or the contract between the CSA War Department and Mr. O’Hara for (another made-up name, of course) “O’Hara’s Company of Colored Pioneers”?

    I’m just curious, given the well-dcoumented levels of literacy among the US population in 1860 and the huge amount of official records generated by the CSA between 1861-65, if anyone can point to something more substantial than anecdote in relation to these issues?

    How much evidence (written, printed, recorded, photographed) is there regarding these questions/issues?

    As always, great job on the site.


  • John Cummings Apr 14, 2009 @ 7:08

    So Kevin, you found the website that you posted the link to. Apparently in looking at all the photographs contained of the number of African Americans sitting there during the ceremony and mixing with the apparent SCV afterward, you laughed to yourself and declared them all a bunch of dupes. What they are embracing you have ridiculed. You find yourself able to speak for the entire race? You want to perpetuate divisive rhetoric?
    Now you suggest others ignore my half of the discussion?
    What is your real agenda?

  • John Cummings Apr 14, 2009 @ 6:32

    And I bet you refuse to believe that Japanese people fought for the U. S. during WWII, or that Native Americans fought alongside the white man during the Indian Wars, and landsakes, why would anyone of German stock have fought against the fatherland during either of the World Wars? “It just don’t make no sense.”

    Got to keep history sanitized or people might get the wrong ideas, eh?

    And, (for those who don’t know me yet) I have ancestors who fought for both sides during the Civil War and I honor and respect all of them, so watch out how you try to label or slam me. For you to assail African Americans who honor their heritage, because you believe it some sort of sham, is ludicrous. You’re as bigoted as the bigots you abhor and you’re essentially calling these gentlemen “Uncle Toms” for even considering they have an embraceable common heritage. Take a long hard look at the well documented racism that ran throughout the nation prior to, during and after the Civil War. You are hell bent on keeping the fires fanned.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 14, 2009 @ 6:55


      Your comment isn’t worth a response and I would urge others to ignore it as well.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Apr 14, 2009 @ 4:57

    Oh yes, and I’m sure that if one did just enough research we would all find out the “black Confederates” that some so enjoy talking about today didn’t carry a rifle, but had a skillet, spade, or harness in their hand. But don’t ever let the evidence get in the way of the truth. This is all simply a new version of the Lost Cause – early 21st century vs. early 20th century.

    It’s funny how 100 years ago blacks in the Lost Cause annals were godless savages who were offered Christianity, etc while being enslaved. Sounds like a decent trade-off, huh? Now, 100 years later, those same godless souls have advanced in the new Lost Cause diatribe. They left the farm, picked up a rifle, and fought side by side with their masters for FREEDOM!!!! Of course they did……..or not.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *