You can imagine my surprise when I noticed this comment from H.K. Edgerton in response to the last post. For those of you who do not know of Mr. Edgerton, he is one of the more outspoken and charismatic proponents of the black Confederate myth. Interestingly, Mr. Edgerton is African American. He can be found in a Confederate uniform and carrying a Confederate flag on long treks through the South. His last mission took him to the inauguration of Barack Obama in January. I’ve offered extensive commentary about Mr. Edgerton over the course of the life of this blog, which you can find at the bottom.
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. If 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.
Unfortunately, Edgerton’s comment follows the standard Lost Cause narrative along with vague comparisons/references to the challenges that blacks faced in the Union army as well as the North generally. Still, it’s nice to know that he is reading the blog. See the following posts for additional commentary about Edgerton:
H.K. Edgerton Marches Through Texas
H.K. Edgerton and Nathan B. Forrest: Brothers in Arms
The Real Price of Forgetting the Past
H.K. Edgerton Goes to Washington
Edgerton Sighting in Ringgold, Georgia
Ran over this blog in a ‘net search of a related topic.
There IS documentation. Mostly, it is pension applications, and prison rolls for POW camps in the North. Get to a state archives, library , or at the very least, “footnote.com” and chack it out for yourself. Sad to say, when the sad hand of Jim Crow emerged in the 1890’s, I would imagine that many of the generation that followed the generation that fought in the 1860’s would make sure that these men did not recieve the same credit as dear old “dad.” This embarrasing stain of segregationist racism…I call it what it is…”evil”…had a lasting impact on the entire nation, of which we deal with today.
Yes, there was a national law forbidding persons of color to bear arms, as those people feared slave rebellions. In as much as there were the same racists in the North who saw to it that slavery should be outlawed, but black folks had better not live there.
There was a whole different take on race relations between those two generations. They (whites, both north and south) had accepted the social Darwininst notions that they were simply more “evolved.” One can look at the political debates between Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman, who made a political and monetary fortune off the back of racism, and his opponents: Wade Hampton (GOV of SC and US Senator), Samuel McGowan, and Bishop Ellison Capers…all of whom were general officers in the Confederate Army.
As for this idea that you “really aren’t a soldier” unless you are a rifleman, artillerist, or trooper betrays an appaling lack of knowledge of ANY army. Today what as known as “combat suppoort” or “combat service support” is just as much a part of an army as it was then. These organizations were more pragmatically organized to meet the need of service and suppoort at all echelons as it existed, and most, if not all, were NOT color bearing elements, i.e. a Division or Corps Support Brigade. These guys aren’t involved in the man to man shooting and killing, but are just as much a part of the organization as the guys pulling the trigger. They happen to get shot, blown up, run-over, killed, or captured, too. Just ask the bunch out of the 507th Maintenance Company that got captured by 1st line Iraqi mechanized infantry in Iraq back in 2003. It was no different then.
Also, one must take into account the chaotic adminstrative setting of the records. For example, I know my grandfather was in the Second World War, his mother knows it, his brothers know it, he has the scars to prove it, but he has no records available due to the “open minded” people firebombing the records depository during the Viet Nam war. The only records I’ve been able to find is an incidental jump manifest in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment shows that a man with a name was there and a telegraph to his mother that he was wounded. Now, template the same thing to a nation that was rent by war, reconstruction, the same apathy in public administration, and you might have a less than clear picture on any one. Another case in point is a great uncle who was in the 10th S.C. Infantry, who is shown present on the transcribed service records at the turn of the last century for a year and a half after he died in Corinth, Miss!!!! Or, the 1920 census that shows my still living grandfather as “mulatto,” even though he is “whiter” than most white people. Another was shown as having died in Charleston, but was alive in Virginia, and lists him as being placed on indefinite wounded furlough! He can’t be both, this silly teen vampire craze aside.
Anyway, there is no silver bullet document that will prove to people either way if they don’t approach the study of American History with an open mind. The fact remains that Historiography presents a means to study and draw conclusions. There is no scientific approach of “If X and Y, happened, therefore the reason is invariably z.” If one has a perception they are not willing to change in order to see facts as they are, if one is not willing to let go of “popular perception,” if one is not willing to forego mythology and embrace a rational historiographic approach, then this is no more than a semi-academic kabuki-dance.
Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I am going to hit on a few points here. First, pension records were not given to blacks for service as soldiers. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that shows that when they attempted to apply as such they were denied. Here are a few links to help you out:
You are a soldier if you are registered as one in the muster rolls and other administrative documents at the time. The slaves who performed support roles did not do so as soldiers. That is a distinction that mattered to the men in the Confederate army as well as the government. Free blacks were also not considered soldiers. Of course, they are “a part of an army” but that should not be understood as what constitutes a soldier. Your use is much too broad and ultimately useless as an analytical tool.
Finally, I know all about the racism in the North. It has nothing to do with this question. Thanks again for the comment.
Kevin, one thing that’s helped clarify my thinking on the “support roles” and “part of the army” argument for “black Confederates” is the way the present-day Army works in Iraq and Afghanistan. A vast amount of the “support” roles for the Army that in previous wars (say, World War II) were done by military personnel are now done by civilian contractors — camp construction and maintenance, food service, laundry, supply hauling, etc. — all of which are parallel to the services that slaves performed in the Confederate army, whether as personal servants or impressed laborers. (Indeed, the figures I’ve seen suggest we have far more of these private contractors in Iraq than actual military personnel.) And while it’s true that private contractors “serve” in the war zone, and often face similar risks, I don’t think anyone today would recognize them as soldiers.
The analogy is not exact, but it’s a useful one for me.
I agree that it can be helpful as you suggest. However, as you know all too well the racial component is crucial in terms of how the soldiers viewed those who performed these support roles.
Scott, a lot of folks here — many of them far more so than me — have been looking into this contentious issue for a long time, and have extensive experience going through all the sorts of documentation you cite in your first paragraph. You mention that you just stumbled on this blog doing a web search; I would strongly encourage you to dig more extensively and deliberately here and at the linked blogs of other, regular commenters here (e.g., Ken Noe, Robert Moore, and many others) before you start throwing out too many correctives. It’s ground that’s been very thoroughly covered. As any field commander will tell you, it’s a good idea to fully understand the terrain before you go charging off into it.
Kevin & Andy have fully addressed most of your points but one point unrelated to blacks & the Confederate army should not go unaddressed. No cause has ever been determined for the St. Louis depository fire but nothing I’ve read indicated that the investigators believed that a fire-bomb was a possibility. This report of the fire is from the National Archives web site: http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/nprc-fire.pdf. What happened was terrible and caused incalculable distress and burdens to veterans and their survivors and served as a warning to other facilities holding precious, irreplaceable documents, but there is no need to politicize it. If there had been even the slightest possibility that arson was involved, that would have been front page news. Serious charges should be supported by serious documentation.
Margaret, thanks for this. I’d never heard that allegation about the National Archives fire, but didn’t know anything about its actual origin, so didn’t respond to it. As you say, “serious charges should be supported by serious documentation.”
What more interesting is the way the allegation is just blithely tossed off in the curse of making an entirely different point. It’s not too surprising, really, because that seems to be almost universally part of the Southern heritage defenders’ arguments — completely and utterly blurring the line between discussion of historical events and current political and cultural ones. Not to pick on Scott, because I see this all the time, but I don’t think I’ve ever had an extended talk (in person or online) with Confederate heritage type that didn’t quickly devolve into a discussion about current-day politics. (My last f2f discussion about Black Confederates lasted no more than 45 seconds before I got the word “Obamacare” tossed at me.) It’s useful to keep in mind that much of what Confederate heritage folks continually bring up, that we consider to be historical topics (Black Confederates, the Morrill Tariff, Lincoln’s racism, etc.) really serve as little more than convenient proxies for what the speaker is really torqued about, which is present-day political or cultural disputes. That’s why, too, their positions on historical events are seemingly immovable in the face of traditional historical argument — because they’re not built up from historical evidence to begin with, but start out as a core belief, a matter of faith, that then goes looking for evidence that supports it (e.g., a 1920s photo of an elderly black man in a gray uniform.) As someone else on another blog said, you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place.
Slavery is and was wrong. The South was about free labor (slaves) and they lost because it was wrong. Please get over it, period…
Well are you going to Friend ole HK???
My Facebook page is now suggesting that I “Friend” H.K. 😀
Thought you might like to see Mr. Edgerton's other interests:
Hopefully, this is appropriate for your blog.
My Facebook page is now suggesting that I “Friend” H.K. 😀
Well are you going to Friend ole HK???
Well Kevin all this is very enlighting thanks for this blog.
For a better understanding of what may motivate HK Edgerton, I suggest that your readers read your post of September 15, 2006 entitled “The Real Price of Forgetting the Past.” You make some very insightful points in the post.
I see what you mean about the interpretation of the images.
And Thanks. I think this has been a very good week on your blog. I’m a little suspicious of the Southern Heritage/neo-Confederate camps on racial issues. But I feel like this blog has filled in a lot of missing material on blacks and their roles in the Confederacy. It’s much more complex than I wanted to think.
I’m glad to hear that. 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’d be interested in seeing even a couple of these photographs.
Can anyone suggest some links?
You can do a Google Images search for “black Confederates” which will give you pages of images. The problem is in providing the correct interpretation of the image and that involves serious historical research.
You’re kidding right? Thousands of photographs? I’ll call your bluff.
Mr. Edgerton has good reason to denigrate the federal school system, as it apparently failed to impress upon him the importance of proper English grammar.
Wait a minute here… “thousands of pictures”? Really? I know of a handful of pictures floating around the web allegedly of “black Confederates” that invariably turn out not to be so. Then there’s the photo-shopped picture supposedly of a black Louisiana state militia, which turned out to be black Union soldiers. Thousands? Hardly.
That should be “A photograph *without* accompanying detail is just a picture. It can be interpreted as one pleases, even inaccurately, which is most often the case.”
You say “You say that is a myth, even though there are thousands of pictures to prove otherwise.” If pictures alone prove the existence of something, then am I to assume that I am a Confederate veteran because I have an aged photograph of myself in a Confederate uniform holding an antique musket? I think not. Sure, there are pictures depicting alleged black Confederates, but just as the “nature of service” has been questioned in various comments on this site, the circumstances of the photograph must be questioned also. When was it taken? Why was it taken? Who was the intended audience of the photograph? Did the subject photographed consent and understand the purpose for which it was being taken and subsequently used? A photograph with accompanying detail is just a picture. It can be interpreted as one pleases, even inaccurately, which is most often the case.
(BTW, I have been a newspaper photographer and have seen photographs misused to present a specific viewpoint. I’ve even had a few of my own used this way, over my objections.)
The following are extracts from the Minutes of the Sixteenth Annual Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy held in Houston, Texas, October 19-22, 1909, pages 6-8, speech by Colonel Phillip H. Fall, Commander of Dick Dowling Camp, United Confederate Veterans, to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
“…Had you not thrown down the gauntlet and assumed the offensive for the old soldiers of the Confederacy, their names would have gone down in a partisan Northern history as rebels and traitors; who tried to disrupt what they call the greatest and best government on earth, when in fact, they in arbitrary, puritanical spirit, brought about the disruption, causing a war such as the world has never known, hiring nearly a million Hessians (immigrants from Europe who enlisted in the Union army during the Civil War) and nearly two hundred thousand Africans (free blacks and escaped black slaves who fought for the Union), to slaughter their brethren of the South. Nothing but a civil war could have ever satisfied the John Brown stripe of abolitionists, especially after their leader John Brown was hung…”
“…There were no hired Hessians or negroes in the Southern army. All fought for a principle they knew to be right and thousands upon thousands gave up their lives in defense of truth.”
It would appear that the men of the UCV, who were actually there, didn’t believe there were black confederate soldiers…
I’ve never understood Mr Edgerton; he is championing a cause that is not only lost but built upon a lie. And those he would cozy up to… I believe the man is sadly deluded and i pity his ignorance.
Were there Black Confederate soldiers? Yes, but in numbers so insignificant as to be less than that of women who masqueraded as men. Honor the individuals as they certainly deserve it; but the distortion of their numbers to support the agenda of the Lost Cause is sad.
So, let me get this straight. You guys are saying Mr. Edgerton is wrong to claim that there were voluntary black Confederate soldiers? You say that is a myth, even though there are thousands of pictures to prove otherwise. And you accuse Mr. Edgerton of distorting the historical facts. Come on guys, get real. I might have been born in the night, but it wasn’t last night.
Yes, that is what we are saying given the fact that the Confederate government did not authorize the enlistment of slaves and free blacks until the last few weeks of the war. So, yes, I accuse Mr. Edgerton and others of distorting the historical facts.
What has Jim Crow laws have to do with the subject at hand? We are talking about the 1861-1865 time period. Come on, stay on the subject path.
I’m really curious to know what Mr. Edgerton thinks of Jim Crow Laws, or are they just a fantasy devised by the Federal Education system? I mean, for a very l0ng time Mr. Edgerton would not even be allowed to vote in the South, so how do you twist that?
I like that you highlighted his reference to the “Federal school system”–Edgerton is apparently still fighting the good fight against the Blair education bill. He’s working off a very old set of talking points indeed….
Words fail me with regards to Mr. Edgerton and the SCV adherents….it is a matter of faith for them, not evidence, reason, or rationality.
It is as if an astronomy professor is confronted by a student who insists the world is flat. At what point does the professor give the student an F and move on to those who chose not to deny reality?
Seriously, keep up the good work. This site is a very welcome place.