Earl Ijames’s “Colored Confederates”

It looks like Earl Ijames is at it again.  You may remember this past summer that Ijames – a curator at the N.C. Museum of History – was involved in a grave site dedication for Weary Clyburn, who supposedly served as a soldier in the Confederate army.  I covered this story closely and offered a number of reasons to doubt these claims as I have for most of these silly stories about black Confederate soldiers.  Today it is being reported that Ijames will tell Clyburn’s story to 1,500 people later this week at the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference in Raleigh.  The problem is that there is no evidence that Clyburn served in the 12th South Carolina Volunteers, though that should not stop Ijames from making the claim.

The available evidence suggests that Clyburn was a slave who went to war with Capt. Frank Clyburn (12th S.C.) and was the legal property of his father.  In the most recent issue of North and South Magazine (June 2009) historians Thomas Lowry and Rev. Alex H. Ledoux offer a few observations about the difficulties of researching “black Confederates.”  One of the examples they cite is Clyburn.  According to the two there is no listing for Clyburn in Broadfoot’s Roster and there is no record of him whatsoever in the National Archives – even under alternate spellings.  [In fact, every case they cite begins with the usual evidence and ends with no record of service.]  Clyburn did apply for a pension, but this is of no help in determining his status in the army, though without any official military records it points to the obvious.  Though not Ijames’s exact words, it is safe to assume that the reporter captured his overall view:

“The historically accurate term is ‘colored Confederates,'” Ijames says, and thousands of them went to war from Southern states, including North Carolina. Some were slaves sent in place of their masters, or were forced or volunteered to serve alongside them. Others were freed blacks who offered their services.

Notice the lack of clarity in distinguishing between those who volunteered or were forced to accompany an officer.  They are treated as if they all deserve to be interpreted and remembered along similar lines – a complete lack of historic understanding.  How many free blacks openly served in Confederate ranks given the fact that the Confederate government did not allow it and that men in individual units were committed to running non-whites out of the army.

It isn’t clear whether Clyburn went to war just because his friend had gone; or he thought, as some soldiers did, that no matter who won, slaves would be set free; or he believed he could raise his stature by serving; or he fought because the South was the only homeland he had ever known and he was willing to die to protect it.

At some point we are going to have to come to terms with the fact that the available evidence doesn’t point to some of the more extravagant (or even modest) claims about thousands of loyal black Confederate soldiers.  Why is there such scant evidence?  Because they were slaves.  Look for their names in the private records of individual slaveholders and businesses, though we should always keep in mind that the vast majority have been forever lost owing to their status.  As I’ve said before, the most disturbing aspect of these stories is the deception of the general public as well as the families who are curious about their history.  History is a dangerous thing when you don’t know how to do it.

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151 comments… add one
  • Tom Vernon Jan 18, 2022 @ 14:43

    The shame here is that Mr Levine does not want to believe evidence that contradicts his view of history. In that he is like Anthony Fauci. Fauci declares that he speaks for science, just as Levine believes that only he can properly interpret historical fact. He is not the know-all and end-all of history, anymore than than I am the know-all and end-all of either science or history. One thing I do know, the picture of Weary Clyburn in his Confederate Veteran’s uniform is not fake, and I have seen many Black Confederate Soldiers in their uniforms, wearing the same reunion medals, seated at the same tables with their White comrades, and yes, they did receive Confederate pensions, just like the Whites.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 18, 2022 @ 16:47

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the reminder of why the Black Confederate myth remains so popular.

  • Lysander Spooner Feb 8, 2019 @ 11:28

    Narrative creation is psychological warfare and Ijames points out that Lincoln is a master at it. And he was!

    In the same way it’s hard to buy the idea of blacks fighting in the Confederacy, it’s also hard to understand why Native Americans would fight for the Confederacy. Ijames give a plausible explanation; but then that seems to indicate that they cared less for black slavery and more for destroying the US army. If blacks and NAs were previously making love children and fought together during the seminole war then clearly that relationship
    The Civil War liberation narrative looks like a historical correction, a revision of the narrative. According to abolitionist Lysander Spooner, Lincoln did not go to war to free slaves. Even more curious he summons the power to create a new state out of Virginia and subsequently admits it to the Union as a slave state.

    History is very perplexing. I think Kevin Levin is right.

  • Artsy Choci Nov 1, 2017 @ 7:27

    Earl Ijames is the best . Why spend time trying to dispute his research. Do your own research and get a life . Stop playing on someone’s else work. Slavery is over and the war is still going on.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2017 @ 8:20

      What research. He has not published a single journal or magazine article in a reputable publication. The only thing that I have seen is a blog post at a neo-Confederate website. Please.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Oct 27, 2015 @ 6:01

    I realize this discussion is six years old and perhaps long forgotten. But because Earl Ijames’ name and his research on this subject came up in a conversation a few days ago, it prompted me to look him up, which led me to this discussion. I read the blog and all 140 comments with it. I’m sad to see that things got pretty ugly here. I don’t know if they ever improved for anyone involved but it gave me some thoughts on the Black Confederate subject. It made me realize that in order to understand it, one needs to have a thorough understanding on race relations in the 19th Century South… and “relationship” is key to that understanding. In other words, we can have laws, customs and moral expectations; but personal relationships can complicate all of those things.

    Just to be clear here, pro-Confederate claims like “the war wasn’t about slavery” or “100,000 Blacks fought for the South” betray the thorough understanding I’m talking about. I think the more we understand the personal stories of Blacks and Whites, and masters and slaves before and during (and why not, after) the war, the more we can understand what really happened with this history. Just my very late thoughts.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 27, 2015 @ 6:10

      Unfortunately, there is no indication that Ijames ever managed to get below the surface on this subject, which is said given his access to rich trove if sources in Raleigh, NC.

      • Bryan Cheeseboro Oct 27, 2015 @ 8:42

        Again, too bad. It’s also too bad things became volatile because I don’t think any of you who were involved in the discussion certainly have the agenda of neo-Confederates in understanding Black Confederates. Theirs is a self-serving mission to make themselves and 19th Century White Southerners look progressive on race. To be sure, there’s little to no interest on the things I believe are essential in the critical elements of understanding this history.

        Thanks very much for taking the time to respond. Best wishes with your book when it comes out.

        • Kevin Levin Oct 27, 2015 @ 8:52

          Hi Bryan,

          It’s also too bad things became volatile because I don’t think any of you who were involved in the discussion certainly have the agenda of neo-Confederates in understanding Black Confederates.

          I certainly agree, but that made Ijames’s public presentations and interviews all the more damaging. He is in a position of influence and ought to have been more responsible presenting material that is so easily misunderstood.

  • terry Mar 18, 2013 @ 10:39

    Y’all be sure and write another Yankee book and call it “evidence” that black Confederates didn’t exist. LOL

    • Kevin Levin Mar 18, 2013 @ 10:42

      Working on it now, Terry. Thanks for the support. I highly recommend picking up the latest issue of The Civil War Monitor at your local bookstore, which contains my article on Confederate Camp Servants, which are all too often mistakenly referred to as Black Confederates.

  • RUDOLPH YOUNG Dec 14, 2011 @ 22:16

    You can never provide enough documentation because people have already made up their minds to believe or not to believe.

  • RUDOLPH YOUNG Jul 13, 2010 @ 23:20

    In the book, Black Southerners in Gray ,I never used the term “black Confederate soldier”. There was a man called Wyatt Cunningham of Union County , NC who was a teamster in the Confederate army. He was wounded at the Catawba River in Lancaster County ,South Carolina. In 1931 Wyatt recieved a Confederate pension. He was African American. I on the other hand was a truck driver in Vietnam. I was never wounded and i never recieved a pension. I was drafted and Wyatt was impressed into service. if Wyatt was not a soldier does it follow that i was not a soldier also?
    Rudolph Young

    • Kevin Levin Jul 14, 2010 @ 0:45

      Mr. Young,

      Thanks for the comment. Thousands of slaves were impressed into the Confederate army by individual states as well as the federal government. They were forced to work as slaves. In other words, we should see their work during the Civil War as an extension of their status as slaves. Nothing changed. You, on the other hand are a citizen of this country and as a citizen have an obligation to serve in the armed forces under certain conditions. The pension that Cunningham received was not for his service in the army as a solider. A number of states offered pensions to former slaves who did work for the army. The difference between being drafted and impressed is a crucial distinction regardless of the work you did while in the army.

      Thank you for your service to this country and for taking the time to write. I hope that answers your question.

  • Tom Lowry Aug 26, 2009 @ 11:05

    Foolish me. I guess some are that deluded. When I think of the “birthers,” and the flat-earthers, I may have muddied the waters.

    For my article about some REAL colored Confederate soldiers, see North & South magazine, June 2009, pages 58-60.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2009 @ 11:09

      Thanks for the reference. I actually cited it in a previous post at the time of the magazine’s publication. I appreciate your involvement on this forum.

  • Tom Lowry Aug 26, 2009 @ 9:39

    Yes, there were colored Confederates. In late December 1864, the governor of South Carolina secretly authorized the formation of the 28th South Carolina Infantry, an all black regiment with white officers. (Tradition holds that their commander, Colonel “J,” later served as president of a Louisiana insurance company.) The 827 men who volunteered were offered their freedom and a bounty of $100 Confederate money. After brief training, they reportedly fought bravely February 1, 1865 at Whippy Swamp Creek and at Fishburn’s Plantation on February 6. When the war ended, the regiment was sworn to secrecy and all records destroyed. A thorough search in National Archives showed nothing of the 28th SC, confirming the story.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2009 @ 9:47


      Very funny, Tom, but unfortunately there are plenty of people out there who will now cite this as evidence for black Confederate soldiers. 🙂

  • Ed Jun 20, 2009 @ 3:55


    I came across this entry and thought some of your readers might be interested.

    March 4 [1862], Tuesday
    A part of General Sumner’s division made an advance today. Some of the pickets stationed about 3/4 mile on our left of the railroad were fired on today by an old Negro, but they were too quick for him and he was shot through the heart and otherwise badly mangled. He lies there about half buried. I went on guard duty from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

    Caynor, William L. Sr., ed. Without a Scratch: Diary of Corporal William Homes Morse Color Bearer of the 5th Maine Infantry. N.p.: 2007. (ISBN 978-1-56837-406-2)


    • Kevin Levin Jun 20, 2009 @ 4:01


      Thanks for the reference. Unfortunately, without any additional information there isn’t much that one can do with this short snippet.

  • Kevin Levin May 28, 2009 @ 15:29


    Thanks for the comment. I couldn’t agree more that slaves deserve to be recognized for their experiences. As you well know historians have only in the last few decades seriously considered their history and experiences beyond the narrowness and racism of the Lost Cause.

    My problem with your involvement in the Weary Clyburn commemoration was that his identity as a slave was obscured by the Sons of Confederate Veterans who chose to acknowledge him for some military role. You of all people should know that this is a distortion and as a historian it was your responsibility to correct them.

    Finally, when are you going to get around to addressing the case of Pvt. Venable that you threw in my face? Supposedly this is a real black Confederate soldiers. Don’t you want to defend your reputation?

  • Kevin Levin May 28, 2009 @ 15:25

    [I accidentally deleted this comment from Earl Ijames so I must include it under my name]

    Kevin is correct in saying that slaves were not “soldiers”. Heck, slaves were not even counted in the census. Remember, they were “property”, only 3/5 human… so why would one expect to see them listed on a muster roll.

    The enslaved population in the South has rarely been credited with doing anything, much less partaking in the “Glory” of the War.

    Earl L. Ijames, Curator
    North Carolina Museum of History
    5 East Edenton Street
    Raleigh, N. C. 27601-1101
    (tel) 919.807.7961
    (fax) 919.715.6628

  • Jason May 28, 2009 @ 12:05


    I would be curious to know what your response would be to the existence of black slaveowners. There were a surprising number of blacks who owned slaves, particularly in Charleston SC and in New Orleans. Would they not have fought to defend the peculiar institution as well? As for other Confederate Blacks, Kevin Levin would flippantly dismiss their service “because they were slaves.” Even if that statement were true, is that reason enough to ignore their legacy? How many white soldiers on both the Union and Confederate sides were drafted and forced to fight as well? Should we forget about their service too?

    • Kevin Levin May 28, 2009 @ 12:12


      Thanks for the comment, though there is no need that I will “flippantly dismiss” anything unless it deserves to be. Yes, there were a small number of black slaveowners in South Carolina as well as elsewhere. Not enough has been done in terms of research, but I assume since you mentioned S.C. that you are aware of Larry Koger’s _Black Slaveowners_ (University of South Carolina Press) http://www.amazon.com/Black-Slaveowners-Masters-Carolina-1790-1860/dp/1570030375/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243543051&sr=8-1

      As for whether any served in the Confederate army you are going to have to get your hands dirty in the archives. Your distinction between slaves and draftees makes little sense. Draftees served as soldiers in the army and deserve to be recognized as such. A slave was not soldiers. The citizen soldier is a function of an obligation in a free society.

  • Admirer May 23, 2009 @ 19:51

    Oh and excuse me for writing his name wrong. It is Ijames. It is difficult to tell in the font on my computer.

  • Admirer May 23, 2009 @ 18:44

    I just wanted to say that this blog has been quite heated but very entertaining. I don’t know much, just the very basics, about this topic so anyone planing on attacking or questioning me can save it for someone else. All I wanted to say was that Levin, you did a very good job in supporting your ideas with facts and keeping your cool. However Ljames, you were doing well for a while but it began to slip through your fingers. Personal attacks don’t solve any problems, especially if you call go will a direct attack, such as the “IDIOT’ case. Even if you have been researching the topic for fifteen years, 15, if that will help you, it doesn’t mean that your point of view or idea has been proven right or can be the only answer. I think that you are too much on the extremist side and will perhaps admit that some of your evidence or views are wrong. Maybe slid into that grey area where some things support your case while others don’t. Hopefully you will continue to research and learn more about this topic. Maybe publish something so that not only I can understand to complexity of your stance, but also everyone who opposes you. But I really hope one day you realize that “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

  • Sherree Tannen May 19, 2009 @ 9:18

    And thank you, Chris. I agree with you that Ms. Rice deserves our deepest respect. Her private story has become a public affair. Maybe you or Kevin could give her a call some day and discuss your very legitimate concerns? Sherree

  • chris meekins May 19, 2009 @ 6:55

    Thanks. I mean no disrespect for Ms. Rice. I was taught very well to respect my elders. I would give an arm to be able to listen to Ms. Rice and benefit from her wisdom.

  • Sherree Tannen May 18, 2009 @ 20:39

    “At the same time Big Jess, the Senator’s father, was kicking the crap out of local African Americans and teaching yet a different lesson to both his son and those poor individuals who happened to be black and in his way (Tyson’s Radio Free Dixie lays out most of the power structure in Union County) . The political environment is important. I wonder if Ms. Rice commented on that or if her interviewer asked her such a question? Publish and let us know.”

    With all due respect, judging from Ms. Rice’s age, she knows all about the abuses of an oppressive white power structure. I think everyone should leave Ms. Rice alone–the SCV, the press, and we, the contributors to this blog. Points can be proven some other way. THIS is abusive, too.

  • Chris Meekins May 18, 2009 @ 13:32

    Ah, the comments continue!

    Yes, we disagree.

    Questioning dead Union County white power structure may or may not be fruitful but it at least gets at context. I have no reason to gain say Ms. Rice but her statements are likely second hand testimony – if you publish perhaps historians can look at her testimony and weigh it. Until then the jury remains out. Like the WPA ex-slave interviews, we should approach all oral testimony with caution – cultural dynamics create pressure points that often occur without the interviewee knowing it. When I am looking at a document written at the time and in the place of white power it strikes me as primary and important to understand that power.

    One reason I think it germane to the pension itself is that the application looks like it was all done on his behalf and not actually by Clyburn himself. I have only just peeked at it again on Saturday and do not have it in front of me but from the comments on the pension and the accompanying statements it seems likely that the white power structure was up to something here (not unlike, say, when the county apprenticed out someone or made an unwed mother file a bastardy bond – the county wanted someone to be responsible so they did not have to foot the bill – the pension could be seen in this line of inquiry as well – a means to put an indigent on the state’s fiscal rolls and not the counties (given the extraordinary number of pensioners in 1926 – 85 or so – it seems the county was finding a way to tap state funds). But unless we take into consideration such context we lose the chance to follow that line of inquiry. The line of inquiry may dead-end and be nothing or it may lead onto other items.
    When Robert F Williams’ uncle returned from the Great War and decided not to step and fetch anymore, to resist with aggression acts of aggression, he taught Robert something – and he should be teaching us something to. At the same time Big Jess, the Senator’s father, was kicking the crap out of local African Americans and teaching yet a different lesson to both his son and those poor individuals who happened to be black and in his way (Tyson’s Radio Free Dixie lays out most of the power structure in Union County) . The political environment is important. I wonder if Ms. Rice commented on that or if her interviewer asked her such a question? Publish and let us know.

    I am so very pleased that a decidedly different tone of exchange is evident in the most recent posts. It shows a great deal of fortitude and professionalism on all fronts. I commend everyone for respecting each other in such a manner.

    Earl I missed you at Ed’s retirement party today. It was in your quarters, the museum, and there was cake and goodies. How did you miss that? For all to know, Earl is a notorious cake fiend – cakes quiver when he walks into a room – they stand little chance against his advances! And somehow he stays skinny – its a darn shame.

    • Kevin Levin May 18, 2009 @ 13:50


      Excellent points re: the use of oral testimony. Often times it is the only sources available, but the “cultural dynamics” that you reference must be acknowledged when weighing the testimony. You are absolutely right to mention the WPA slave narratives. A number of scholars have analyzed individual testimonies in light of the interviewer’s profile. My students spent some time analyzing this not too long ago. Sounds like Earl and I have something else in common (in addition to our profound respect for J.H. Franklin). I have a horrible reputation at school as a cake fiend. I’m working on it. 🙂

  • Greg Rowe May 18, 2009 @ 9:50

    Mr. Ijames can respond for clarification as to what exactly he means, but, in the general sense of the media (the Internet and blogging falling into the subcategory of “new” media), “coverage” usually means a reporter was actually at the event that is being reported on. I’m not quite sure that is accurate because reporters in major newspapers get bylines with the caveat “from wire reports,” meaning the reporter pulled a report from the AP or some other wire report and constructed a story, but “coverage” is still the term given to it. You’ve cited and linked to your sources, your “wire reports” if you will, therefore by the broader definition of “covering” it, you did.

    • Kevin Levin May 18, 2009 @ 9:57


      You can easily go back to see whether the stories cited in my previous posts are AP. My guess is that most of them are North Carolina media outlets. I am the first person to admit that news coverage is typically weak – meaning that the those assigned are not in a position to ask inquisitive questions or evaluate the content of what is being said. I’ve done my best to stick to direct quotes whenever possible. In the end, this is another argument for why it is so important for people in Mr. Ijames’s position to share their work in the proper venue if they hope to be taken seriously by the public.

  • Earl L. Ijames May 18, 2009 @ 7:58

    Chris, the “foolish boy” was one of Ms. Rice’s twin brothers. His name was Lee. Also, according to Ms. Rice, Lee wouldn’t sharecrop in Union County with his aging father, so he ran off between the years of 1927 and 1929 and wound up working on the levees in New Orleans (flood of 1927) after Weary Clyburn applied for his pension. He returned sometime before Clyburn’s March, 1930 death.
    What I meant by you “coming around” is from the staunch stance of absolutely no fpoc volunteers. I don’t know what to say about the fact that I’ve actually shown you just some of the free negroes and fpoc with actual service records.

    I guess you are correct that we disagree about this topic. For example, I believe what Ms. Rice stated in her interviews instead of surmising what ulterior motives the Union County politicians may have had.

    kevin still won’t answer to or repost Pvt. Jn. Venable, Co. H, 21st Regt. NCT message that is conveniently omitted, why? BTW, kevin… how can you “cover the handling of Weary Clyburn” when you weren’t there. How did you managed to blog about the event BEFORE it was over?

    Richard, #98, that “there is no law for this” is written on the widow’s pension application of Pvt. Venable by the Forsyth County Clerk of Court, C. M. McKeon. John Venable’s wife was Sarah. She is listed with him in the 1880 census. C.M. McKeon further goes on to claim that this application is “colored widow of slave”. McKeon completely disregards the fact that Venable was a free person of color who is listed in the 1850 and 1860 census. He also ignores the deposition by a white soldier, Pvt. John Sawyer, who deposes that Venable was a “good soldier… and his widow deserves a pension”. The pension was “disallowed”…hmmm…

    • Kevin Levin May 18, 2009 @ 8:16


      Thanks for following up with this comment. As I stated in a previous comment either the comment in question did not come through or I accidentally deleted. Either way you are more than welcome to resend it and I will approve it. As for my coverage of the WC event I’m not sure what you mean. I followed it in the newspapers and commented on the available information. Perhaps you can clarify.

      Once again, I appreciate the fact that you’ve spent a great deal of time collecting primary sources in the archives. This is, of course, where all serious research must begin. My biggest concern is with the analysis that often accompanies references to these sources. This is why I consider your failure to publish to be such a concern. Historians must provide analysis of their documents in a way that lends itself to discussion and critique. Simply to throw out names with a few facts and expect me or anyone else to respond is a non-starter and does not constitute anything approaching scholarship. Let me be clear that I do not consider this blog to be a forum for doing history. My limited work as a historian is documented in my resume and my qualifications for discussing certain subjects is, in part, based on those publications. Serious history is done in the form of peer-reviewed essays and monographs.

      Thanks again for taking the time to write.

  • Sherree Tannen May 16, 2009 @ 8:35

    Thanks for responding, and have a good day, Kevin. I am sure you are exhausted from this conversation. Thanks again for staying on top of this issue. Sherree

  • Mike May 16, 2009 @ 7:39

    Thanks Dr. Victoria Bynum Your restatement of your statement and addtional facts cleared my miscoception of your views up. I tell my Students that it was an issue that I divide into 3rds, Tariffs, Slavery, Fear on both sides, sectional differances etc.

  • Sherree Tannen May 16, 2009 @ 2:23

    “At the end we are presented the conclusion that mass numbers of Blacks served the Confederacy, and that somehow absolves the Confederacy of the stains of slavery, and to a degree racism.”

    The above quote from Craig Swain on a post on Robert Moore’s blog affirms what Matt has said. This is a succinct summation of what motivates white members of heritage organizations. It does not explain the motivations of black men and women who are attracted to these organizations, however. Also, this stance mirrors the popular perception (in an inverted form) that Union soldiers were “gentlemanly” in their conduct toward black men who served in the ranks of the Union Army, which is not true across the board. Apparently there were instances of beatings, rapes, and humiliations of black citizens by the Union army. At Ebenezer Creek, the pontoon bridges were taken up and the slaves following the army were left to either drown or be slaughtered by Confederate troops. I am under no illusions as to how slaves forced to work and/or fight in the Confederate Army were abused. I am also under no illusions as to the outright evil that was the institution of slavery. If we are really going to have a conversation about race, however, it is time to have a real conversation. Slavery WAS the cause of the Civil War. White Southerners of the Confederacy fought to preserve slavery. White Northerners fought to end slavery. White Northerners were not, however, universally humanitarian in their views. The racist beliefs of both white Southerners and of white Northerners began before the Civil War, continued during it, and survived it. In the South there were beatings, lynchings, murders, and Jim Crow. In the North there was de facto segregation, and black men and women experienced (and still experience) that most degrading form of violence–poverty. Indigenous Nations faced the same army that fought the Civil War in the “Indian Wars”, and racism reigned supreme this time, with no overriding civilizing concept, like the ending of slavery. The massacres at Wounded Knee and Sand Creek were nothing short of appalling, and the Lakota and the Cheyenne were the ones treated like animals. It is time to stop passing the buck. Our entire history is based, in large degree, on the concept of white supremacy. It is truly a miracle that the abolitionists came out of the nineteenth century. They were remarkable individuals–somewhat like some of the Northerners I have encountered on this blog. Sherree

    To be clear so that there are no misunderstandings: I am not speaking for Craig. I just liked what he said.

    • Kevin Levin May 16, 2009 @ 2:37


      Our tendency to interpret the Civil War as a morality play obscures the place of race in both the North and South before, during, and after the war. While there is plenty of evidence detailing the efforts made by slaves to escape to the Union army during the war, you are correct in noting that what they found was often more hardship and plenty of racism. The experiences of slaves in contraband camps can be mapped along a broad spectrum. Over the past 20 years historians have analyzed the racial outlook of Union soldiers, though we definitely need more studies of contraband camps, which is why I am very much looking forward to Chandra Manning’s next book. As you correctly note, while we can easily define the postwar South along Jim Crow lines we should not overlook the fact that some of the worst racial riots of the twentieth century took place in cities throughout the North.

  • Chris Meekins May 15, 2009 @ 18:38

    Ken, Kevin, everyone,
    No, please, you have every right to enter me into the conversation. It is I who should apologize to you and to Earl as well – instead of doing what I knew was the right course in engaging in a historian’s debate I allowed myself to remain silent – took a pass, made it easy. Debate can be messy but it is worth the effort.
    I do agree that Kevin offers every chance for constructive debate – and appreciate that he will continue to do so. I would urge everyone, Earl included, to avail themselves of Kevin’s offer – put your thoughts and arguments together in a constructive essay and let the material and interpretation stand or fall on its merits. If I have learned nothing else from my professors, my tutors, it is this very thing. We all have the same pool of facts and evidence – its the web of interpretation that is our contribution.
    Ken, in fact, I will just state that I was very excited that you had quoted me – my geek friends at the Archives can no doubt testify to just how flushed with excitement I was! I am not quite a groupie but I do admire your work!

  • Sherree Tannen May 15, 2009 @ 18:33

    Condolences for your cousin, Richard. Sherree

  • matt mckeon May 15, 2009 @ 17:57

    In reference, Peter to #42 “What is the point of this?” (proving many thousands of blacks were soldiers in the Confederate armies).

    If secession occured to maintain, extend and protect slavery, and the Confederate armies fought to maintain, extend and protect slavery, with its underlying rationale of white supremacy, well that’s pretty negative.

    But it somehow, twenty thousand, or sixty thousand or ninety thousand black men fought for the Confederacy, then they would contradict that. If true, then the appeal of the Confederacy crosses racial lines, and is not about protecting preserving and maintaining slavery. Treated with contempt in their own lives, slaves are eagerly sought after now. Black skin is a tremendous asset to a gray uniform.

    The slaves were worked like animals and treated as property. But their service is not quite done yet. Even from the grave, they can add lustre to the reputation of the Confederacy, and revive the fading lost cause.

    Some people and groups very much need to find some black confederates. And lo and behold, they did.

  • Ken Noe May 15, 2009 @ 17:25

    Chris: Let me add that I regret dragging you into this the other day, and I would not have cited you this evening had I not been charged with misquoting you. I hope you can accept my sincere apology. –Ken

  • Richard May 15, 2009 @ 17:13

    I have come to appreciate that this topic is complicated. Folks in eastern nc lived in rural communties with large extended families and neighbors depended on each other. People did what was in their self interest, there was no guarantee that the North would win the war when it began. I recall seeing a pension application of a black man when I was at the NC archives and it stated “there is no law for this”. If he had served as a soldier they were not going to recognize it.
    Peoples modivations during the war were complicated. Tommorrow I go to New Bern to my cousins funeral at Cedar Grove. Across the street from her burial lies some of our ancestors. One man had a common law marriage with his slave. This marriage lasted until his death in 1870 and she inherited all of his property. They are buried beside each other. Some of the children went into the white community, others into the black. My point in this is that race is complicated and if you had an economic and social connection to the white community I dont think it would be out of the realm of possibilities that you might support the Confederacy.

    • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 17:15


      We do not disagree that issues of race and slavery are complicated. In fact, everything I’ve said in these posts and threads is premised on just that idea. But it is one thing to speculate on what might be the case and showing it through the proper analysis of primary sources. The latter is what I am primarily interested in as a historian. Thanks again for the thought.

  • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 17:11


    I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for offering your thoughts on this heated topic. I know it wasn’t easy given your relationship with Mr. Ijames. You are right that this debate has become much too heated, though I like to think that I gave Mr. Ijames every opportunity to explain himself. At the same time I understand his reservations and even his choice of words.

    Know that I expect you to call me on mistakes and interpretive disagreements in the future. As far as I am concerned this is what we are supposed to do as historians.

  • Chris Meekins May 15, 2009 @ 15:20

    I would also address why it took so long for me to reply – there is a National Genealogical Convention in Raleigh and I have been 11 to 12 hours a day at the Archives, serving the public. This is the first chance I have had to read the many comments in this section of civil war memory. You may imagine my surprise once I began working my way through the blog! I wondered why my nose was itching and my ears were burning!

  • Marc Ferguson May 15, 2009 @ 15:11

    I am disappointed that you chose to engage in invective, rather than address the serious questions of historical interpretation and analysis raised by Kevin and others in this thread. While I am quite sure that you know your way around an archive, surely you realize that the historian’s craft is not the same as that of an archivist, and fundamentally involves the interpretation and analysis of documents and artifacts, and the construction of a narrative that brings meaning to these materials. You claim: “In addition to pensions, reunion photographs, newspapers, officer’s reports, and original correspondence, I have actual service records of “free negroes” and “free persons of color” who enlist- at the beginning, middle, and end of the War,” yet also say, in a later comment: “You or anyone else won’t get my work until I’m ready to release it.” So what are we to make of this? This strikes me as singularly ungenerous, and runs counter to my experience with historians and archivists who genuinely want to add to our store of knowledge. Acknowledging that a handful of blacks (all or most of mixed race, and probably, as Bruce Levine argues, attempting to “pass” for white, meaning that their self-identity was not “black” and their actions seem to be a form of attempted racial assimilation) did manage to enlist, how do you explain the heated debate over enlisting blacks during the winter of 1864-65? How is it that there is not a single documented instance (unless you have discovered it) of anyone saying, “what is the fuss all about, since blacks have been serving honorably and effectively in our armies since the beginning of the war?”


  • Chris Meekins May 15, 2009 @ 15:07

    Let me first state that I consider having to make a statement an unfortunate turn of events. Where public historiography debates and personal relationships intersect feelings may turn on a dime and what is privately a friendship can be mistaken for public support and what is decried in public might be misunderstood as a personal attack. For in truth, as I understand it, a function of being an historian is to understand that public accountability has little or nothing to do with private friendship.
    Let me then state that I consider Earl a friend – a personal relationship. We worked in the same archives for almost eight years. I’ve met his children and his wife. We have talked of many things. We continue to work for the same parent agency – the Department of Cultural Resources. On all of these levels we have a working relationship and a work friendship.
    Let me further state that Earl misspeaks when he says I came around to his point of view on the subject of blacks in the Confederate armed forces. How he does not understand this to be so I do not understand. In a public historiography debate on the issue of blacks as soldiers in the Confederate armed forces I stand opposed to the idea that these men were willfully and of their own volition in the armed service. I hope that is simple and direct enough to make clear my position to everyone, public and private.
    I would also add that I believe Kevin is a personal friend, although I have had only minimal interaction and the friendship is certainly not as lengthy and complex as my friendship with Earl. I believe I also have a public historiography accountability with Kevin – a responsibility to challenge him on issues when I disagree or see flaws in his logic and the respect to accept such challenges from him in the same vein. In this case my public historiography relationship with Kevin is the stronger of the two. I have that obligation with Earl as well but have over time reduced that obligation – perhaps this is what Earl sensed and was persuaded he had changed me to his point of view. Rather I had just stopped trying to point out in the manner of historians the problems with his interpretations (as I understood those problems) precisely because it was not productive to do so and was often counter productive.
    Do I know either of you well enough to suggest that over the last few posts the tone went decidedly too shrill? Perhaps one of the reasons I quit trying to point out and debate as historians should do is that I found myself engaged in such exchanges that in the end I judged counterproductive. They do little to forward understanding of the subject and serve only to highlight bad habits. Kevin is correct that we should avoid pissing matches – there is always someone who has better credentials (unless you are, say Dr. Gallagher, then go ahead and piss all you want – you have earned it). Yet a CV is a tool with which to assess an historian – we should peek if we can do so without peeing.
    I feel a bit like Saruman atop Isengard trying to speak to each person in turn and offer fair words I know might be seen foul by the next person. It is not my intent to pander. I am sincere when I state it is a difficult place from which I email.
    In the related matter of the Clyburn pension. Earl is correct that the pension dates and the law dates are in the order mentioned: 1926 application, 1927 law change. A further declaration of clarity is needed. The August 1926 pension application was not made entirely under the existing law as read but rather, as stated on the pension, under the discretion of the authority granted to the pension board. Clearly the pension of this former slave was seen as something outside the normal purview of the pension act. It required sworn testimony from two sources, including a statement that the former slave was eligible under the South Carolina pension act (where his master served). With statements such as his having to support a “foolish boy” and he was too proud to rob or steal (normal actions Union County whites attribute to poor blacks?) the county pension board offered a helping hand – what a generous act of paternalism. We can only wonder what Clyburn’s son did to be labeled a “foolish boy” in a county that would give us two such noted historical figures as Robert F. Williams and Jesse Helms, both radicals in their own respects. Although major legislation in 1885 and 1901 enlarged pension eligibility (with smaller revisions after 1901), one could at any time petition the Legislature for assistance or the Pension board itself once established. In this the pension commissioners who put forth Clyburn for a pension followed the actions of many others before them, more often for white men than for black men but nonetheless a petition outside the regular function of the act. I do not claim to be an authority on the pension act or State Auditor’s office. I have studied it mainly to answer patrons in the archives and now to a small degree to further address this discussion.
    Finally let me recapitulate a few main ideas – Earl is my personal friend whom I disagree with on this historiography debate. Kevin is also a friend whom I happen to agree with on this historiography debate. I reserve the right to agree or disagree in future debates on all topics – I reserve the right to keep an open mind and be ready to accept evidence to either support or disprove such debates. In the case of blacks willingly serving in the Confederate armed forces I am not convinced. I remain open to constructive debate on the topic.
    And I implore everyone to keep the debates at a professional level – its simple enough to do. No comment should be taken as a personal attack when it is indeed merely critique of ability and training and under no circumstance should a response be vindictive – doing so only serves to illustrate the point against professionalism.

  • Ken Noe May 15, 2009 @ 14:05

    Mr. Ijames:

    Chris’s comment can be found near the bottom of this thread from October 2008. As you’ll see, I did not misquote him:



  • Peter May 15, 2009 @ 13:39

    A question which has yet to be raised in all of this:
    What is the pay-off if one can prove that large numbers of African Americans served as bona-fide soldiers in the Confederate armies?

    Perhaps because Mr. Ijames is actually commenting here, he can answer this question: If you prove that there are X-thousand African Americans who served in the Confederate armies, how does this change the story of the Civil War?

    • Jere Krischel Apr 29, 2010 @ 11:06

      I guess the pay-off is a re-evaluation of the very black and white (no pun intended) view of the Civil War as having righteous Northerners (who were very bad to black people too), and evil Southerners (who weren’t all hateful abusive slave owners). It forces us to confront the idea that the Civil War was a dramatic victory of Hamiltonian principles over Jeffersonian ones -> which is uncomfortable. I enjoy the fact that the Supreme Court can rule that discrimination is illegal, and have it be the law of the land, but I’m also wary that the Supreme Court can rule that the commerce clause allows for any manner of coercion and taxation. I’ve been raised to adore my American Empire, but I’m also suspicious of expansive centralized power.

      Frankly though, I don’t think we need to “prove” one way or another how many freed colored confederate soldiers there were who were fighting for their freedom without the baggage of race relations -> we should acknowledge that it did happen at some non-zero rate, though, and ponder on what that means for how we see the Civil War.

  • Earl L. Ijames May 15, 2009 @ 12:46


    The term is “Colored Confederate”. I have always maintained that Weary Clyburn was ENSLAVED! He wasn’t even counted in the census, much less in a Confederate Regiment! You discount what he actually did, while hiding behind your rambling attacks on me!
    Now, what about the example that I sent you earlier today about Pvt. Jn. Venable, Co. H, 21st NCST? He WAS counted in the census and in the 21st present and accounted for. I have many more like Venable, just in NC. But you or your kind will not get it w/o your own research and/or until I decide to let you see what I’ll publish. Why don’t YOU re-post it, or I’ll begin to cite you in my programs with your picture beside the definition of IDIOT!


    BTW, when you do post Venable and an apology, then I’ll consider not referring to you or the definition.

    I’m not stupid. You or anyone else won’t get my work until I’m ready to release it.

    • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 13:03


      I don’t discount what he did, but I do discount or question how it’s interpreted based on the available evidence. Actually, you have pointed out in the past and in the article referred to in this post that he was enslaved, but than you say this:

      It isn’t clear whether Clyburn went to war just because his friend had gone; or he thought, as some soldiers did, that no matter who won, slaves would be set free; or he believed he could raise his stature by serving; or he fought because the South was the only homeland he had ever known and he was willing to die to protect it.

      What are we to make of this point? If Clyburn was a slave than presumably he didn’t have a choice unless you have evidence to the contrary.

      No one has ever denied that there may have been a few free blacks who were able to enlist in the ranks and I agree that their service and experiences in the army need to be documented. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this was widespread; in fact there is plenty of evidence to the contrary from white southern soldiers who did not tolerate their presence. The problem is that these few cases that can be documented are used to make sweeping claims about race and slavery. We end up with quacks like H.K. Edgerton and others who have no historical footing for their claims. And the proper term is “Confederate Slave” since that denotes the status of the overwhelming number of blacks who were present in the Confederate army.

      You said: “But you or your kind will not get it w/o your own research and/or until I decide to let you see what I’ll publish.” I’m not going to hold my breadth. So, you haven’t published a single essay on this subject in all the years you’ve worked on it and you have the nerve to poke fun at my blog. I hate pissing contests, but my cv (which you can click on at the top of this page) probably gives me much more credibility than you will ever have. Finally, if you do choose to use my image at least use one that captures my good side. Thanks Earl.

  • Earl L. Ijames May 15, 2009 @ 12:26

    Dear Ken Noe,

    I know Chris Meekins didn’t tell you that Weary Clyburn’s 1926 pension application was after the March, 1927 pension law that “allowed for such colored servants, laborers, etc.” Please don’t misquote him. We worked together for years and debated this subject- until he came around. I’ll ask him personally since kevin has deleted my other primary source posts.
    BTW, a black republican of the reconstruction era in NC actually introduced pensions for colored confederates. They were tabled by the democrats, right before 1898 wilmington.

    • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 12:33


      I haven’t deleted any of your prior comments. Let’s at least be honest. Perhaps it didn’t come through or I may even have accidentally deleted it given all the comments I’ve received lately. You are more than welcome to send it again. I will let Chris speak for himself on this. I have Clyburn’s pension application in front of me and there is nothing in it that suggests that he served as a soldier. As far as I can tell you dropped the ball on this one. It’s nothing but a paradigm example of sloppy research and interpretation. Weary Clyburn went to war with Capt. Frank Clyburn (Co. E. 12th South Carolina) as a slave. He may have carried his owner off the battlefield, but he did so as a slave and not as a soldier. I know some people are not concerned with conceptual analysis, but sometimes it really does matter in working to get the story right. Did the dedication at the Clyburn gravesite emphasize that this man was coerced into war by the man who owned him?

      You still haven’t given me a list of your publications. Do you have any or are your presentations what you count as serious scholarship?

  • Earl L. Ijames May 15, 2009 @ 11:44


    kevin has already admitted that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You make an excellent point about the population of free people of color- 30, 463 that were COUNTED in the 1860 census. We had numerous Maroon colonies in NC who probably weren’t c0unted in that 30,463 number. Many people don’t discuss the fact that number is very close to the 34,658 slave holders in NC.

    However, the best point that kevin’s ever made is to read Dr. Franklin’s book, The Free Negro in NC. Like I have been doing, Dr. Franklin conducted his research in the (segregated) State Archives of North Carolina in the 1940’s. Like I also do, he’s analyzed the census data. Like I also do, he has physically gone to these places to check them out. I doubt that Dr. Franklin spent more time blogging than pulling and analyzing actual 20×24 census volumes.
    As a personal friend of Dr. Franklin, he granted me the privilege and honor to do his last interview- Jan’y, 2009. He commented on the complex interpersonal relationships of the FPOC, the enslaved population, non slave holding whites, and slave holders (black and white) in NC and how it destroyed his understanding (up to that point in 1943) of a slave society. It may seem indeed “peculiar”, especially to armchair historians. When that interview is released, I guess kevin will be jumping up and down about Dr. Franklin’s comments. He’ll claim that I manipulated Dr. Franklin AND Ms. Mattie Clyburn Rice.

    Oh, by the way, kevin, you missed a wonderful program in Raleigh this week, like you missed the Weary Clyburn Day in the Carolinas last year. Since you didn’t bother to attend, will you please refrain from commenting on something you know nothing about. In addition to Ms. Rice, we also honored another actual living descendant of a Civil War Veteran, Pvt. Luke Martin (1837-1920), 1st NC Colored Infantry (35th USCT). Pvt. Martin’s youngest son (born 1917) was also honored as a “standard bearer of genealogy and history”. I guess kevin will call the Pvt. Luke Martin’s of the world “the contemporary politically correct (USAAT)- United States African-American Troops!”
    kevin, I’m sorry that you won’t be able to attend another REAL scholarly program instead of a blog. For all others, I would look forward to meeting and sharing with you Tuesday in Greensboro, NC.


    • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 11:52


      It’s nice to hear that we have some common ground in our admiration for the scholarship of J.H. Franklin. I’ve read a fairly large chunk of his scholarship and have learned a great deal. Obviously, quite a lot has been done on North Carolina in more recent years, including John G. Barrett’s _The Civil War in North Carolina_ (University of North Carolina Press, 1963. I had the honor of meeting Dr. Franklin at a slave family gathering at Montpelier a few summers ago. He is one of my intellectual heroes. I’m sure I missed an excellent program in Raleigh and like I said, I wish I lived closer so as to attend the next one. It’s also nice to see that you are taking the time to honor black southerners who did, in fact, serve as soldiers in the Civil War (USCT).

      You still have yet to refer me to your published research on the subject. Like I said in the previous comment, I assume that with so much time spent in the archives that you would have published your findings given that this is such a controversial and misunderstood subject. I look forward to those references. In addition to teaching full time I’ve published a bit in university press books and scholarly journals as I assume a serious researcher such as yourself has done.

  • Richard May 15, 2009 @ 11:15

    I have been meaning to read this book for awhile, got to make the time. Its been fun following this post. Kevin, you might need to get a nice big beer/wine/mixed drink and relax after this one. LOL

    • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 11:23


      I actually get a kick out of it. It’s quite funny to watch people get all worked up about this. Unfortunately, the typical response doesn’t help us much with the subject under consideration.

  • Richard May 15, 2009 @ 9:13

    Its my understanding that there were 30,000 free persons of color in NC at the start of the war. What were they doing ? Many owned land and were free before the revolution. Looking at some of these individuals in my own family makes me distrust the standard cookie cutter response.

    • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 9:26


      That’s an excellent question. I would highly recommend reading John Hope Franklin’s _The Free Negro in North Carolina: 1790-1860 (University of North Carolina Press, 1943).

  • Earl L. Ijames May 15, 2009 @ 8:06


    Like I said, I don’t have time to blog with you. Meet me in person. In addition to pensions, reunion photographs, newspapers, officer’s reports, and original correspondence, I have actual service records of “free negroes” and “free persons of color” who enlist- at the beginning, middle, and end of the War. Of course, I have been doing this research for more than fifteen “15” years, strictly from primary sources. I have done hundreds of programs with primary sources of actual documents, photos, and artifacts. I don’t think that the United Daughters of the Confederacy would have awarded their Jeff Davis Medal of Honor for “shoddy” research. Likewise, I’ve even been awarded the Heritage Visionary Leadership Award by the United States Colored Troops Symposium. Some of the USCT re-enactors were blogging the same smack that you’re spewing- until they saw just some of the evidence. They have since recanted and apologized.

    Like I say, you don’t know me, nor have you ever seen any of my programs. If anyone cares to see for themselves, then come to the Greensboro Country Club, 410 Sunset Drive, Greensboro, NC, next Tuesday, 19 May 2009 at 11am. Otherwise, you’ll be relegated to Kevin’s ranting and railing against Earl, and not the facts! Kevin, I would expect you to show up in person and or shut up! You’re the one who doesn’t know what you’re talking about. You’re just attacking the messenger. Most parts of my program I recite literal verbatim of actual Civil War documents. I learned that from fourteen (14) years as an actual Archivist, not a blogger. If you dare to show up and see the program, then I’ll expect you to post a public apology! They’ll be nothing else for you to post. Gee, you might have to get a new website:-) I’ll leave you just one small piece of evidence- Pvt. John Venable, Co. H, 21st Regt. NCST, enlisted 5 June 1861

    • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 8:15


      I guess this means that you are unwilling to take advantage of my offer. I understand. Of course, you are correct in pointing out that I don’t know you. All I have are some newspaper pieces about your programs along with a handful of quotes that point to a general inability to interpret primary sources properly.

      I covered your handling of Weary Clyburn, which is all I really need to see in terms of your interpretive skills. Check out the latest issue of North and South Magazine for a short article that also takes issue with your handling of this. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend your workshop, but I do thank you for the invitation.

      Finally, since you have 15 years of research on this topic under your belt will you please point me to your publications so as I can better understand your work. Thanks so much.

  • C.B.McQueen May 15, 2009 @ 4:10

    Mr. Levin
    I am not sure who John Cummings is but I can assure you that I am not him.

    My name is Christopher B. McQueen I have a degree in US History and I minor in Black Studies from Suffolk University in Boston. We exchanged points about two years ago on this sight . You can search for me on linkedin, facebook, myspace and the Boston Globe, and I too have a blog called BullitstoDixie (though it is of a personal nature and not open for public consumption).

    I can’t believe that I have to link you to your own page for you to believe me. We debated here: http://cwmemory.com/2007/08/24/more-nonsense-about-black-confederates/
    I’m “Chris” I am not sure if that is laughable or just sad. Whatever it is, it is reveling as to your memory skills and your erroneous cocksure smugness.

    I have tied to refrain from ad hominem attacks in my other post but your wanton dismissal of innocent inquiry on my part and Ijames’ part is alarming and truly unacceptable.

    As far as Ijames’ publishing record goes; I have never seen someone so derided before he even is able to publish anything. You attack him based on newspaper articles. Is this good academic work? That was my point. Let the man do his research and work and then read his articles and publications. Is this good work on your part to completely malign him prior to this based on third person accounts? This behavior is consistence with your methods when you say that primary sources are “tainted with the obvious biases.” This my friend tells me that you have become what you despise.

    Regarding the relationship between the blacks that fought in the Civil War and the Amer. Rev., all you have to do is look to your own question that I quoted in my last post. It was you that framed the question on forgotten loyalty post-war(s). This question’s relevance is applicable even if we just consider blacks that fought on the Union side during the Civil War.

    Your fervor to attack people such an Ijames and the SCV is telling as to your personal beliefs and bias. The fact that my questions are “not worth your time” speaks volumes to your ability as a teacher. As I said I have not yet decided what I think on this subject and believe we should look into it further. Your assault on my innocent inquiry and other’s research efforts only reassures me that the subject should not be closed.

    • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 4:14

      Yes, as you were writing this wonderful comment I realized my mistake and corrected it. Your email sounded too close to a conversation I had with another reader a few weeks ago. I do remember you. I reread our exchange and thought it was quite productive. Other than that I stand by my last response. Once again, I apologize for my shortcomings. If you can point me to legitimate scholarly work by Ijames and the SCV on this subject I would really appreciate it. By the way are you really disappointed that I don’t remember you. In two years I’ve responded to thousands of comments/emails. Thanks

  • John Cummings May 15, 2009 @ 3:15


    Just because you have banned me and did not post my prior final retort to you, don’t flatter yourself in thinking I am now posting under an alias. I think you need to realize you have lit a fire under plenty of people and they can speak for themselves. I imagine that “C. B. McQueen” will confirm his own existence if indeed this is the post to which you refer. Rest assured, I will continue to read your blog but no, I am not using a pen name to respond.

    • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 6:29

      My mistake.

  • Sherree Tannen May 15, 2009 @ 2:13

    “Once again, I apologize for my shortcomings….”

    You don’t need to apologize to anyone for anything, Kevin. You have given your readers ample time and space to state their views, unlike some bloggers who speak about the free exchange of ideas publicly, yet block readers who disagree with them. The excellence of your credentials–and of your ideas–speaks for itself. Thanks again for maintaining this blog.

  • Kevin Levin May 15, 2009 @ 1:17

    Chris (with apologies to John Cummings),

    First, let me clarify my review of the book in question. I never set it was useless. What I did say is that the editors did a sloppy of job of analyzing the sources, most of which are postwar and do not help us to better understand the roles that slaves played in the Confederate army. In the hands of a competent historian they may indeed be very useful. The book is published by Pelican which is not a serious publisher.

    Somewhere around 5,000 free blacks fought with the Continental army during the Revolution, but I fail to see how this is relevant to the question of the roles blacks played as slaves in the Civil War. Blacks served as soldiers during the former and did not during the latter.

    H.L. Gates did not come down on the side of black Confederates. His documentary was focused on memory of Lincoln and it so happened that the SCV event that he attended included a ceremony with Ijames. Gates is irrelevant.

    I am not going to defend my credentials. You are indeed correct that I consider myself to be first and foremost a high school history teacher. And yes, I blog! My cv is easily accessible at the top of this page. Perhaps you can tell me what Ijames has published and where on this subject that makes him an expert. Than again, you are known for throwing names out there of supposed experts, but when pressed to offer references of scholarly work you are nowhere to be found.

    The rest of your comment isn’t worth my time and suggests that you interpret my posts in a way that suits you, which is fine. Once again, I apologize for my shortcomings, but if what I do here is so offensive to you than there is no reason for you to continue to read. In fact, you offer almost nothing that is helpful in better understanding this important subject. That you still think I am somehow trying to ignore the evidence is laughable. I know of no one else on the Internet who is pushing harder for people to take it seriously.

  • C.B.McQueen May 14, 2009 @ 20:57

    I have discussed this topic with Levin (see “More Nonsense About Black Confederates” on this site) and he gave me no reason to think that this subject does not deserves further investigation. Indeed, he did not answer my direct question as why a certain book, “Black Confederates” (that consist mostly of primary sources) is not credible, only that it is not put together well and not academic enough. As a trained historian myself, I am not sure how a book of mostly primary sources is not worth considering. Levin never fully explained and only quipped that it is not worthy. That may well be, but Levin was incapable of proving why short of saying newspaper articles don’t count.

    When I asked Levin about the blacks that fought along side militia men during the American Revolutionary War and why in particular, we regard them as heroes and men to be remembered, yet we ignore the few accepted accounts of blacks that fought along side Confederate soldiers (wearing grey or not), Levin simply ignored the question.

    Anytime a historian says the case is closed, as Levin does, you have to wonder.

    Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. has recently given the subject some thought (on his most resent PBS special) and not completely thrown it out as just discredited hacks trying to rewrite history. However small Gates’ consideration is, it is important. It is an affront to Levin’s closed minded thinking on this subject.

    Lavin’s mantra is archives and records, as it should be for any historian. But my initial question regarded archives and records, along with accounts and newspaper articles. Yet it was met with opposition. A true historian looks with an inquisitive eye, considers all accounts and hardly ever closes a door on their subject. And now we have Earl Ijames. As more and more credited and academic people look into this I am afraid that high school teachers with blogs will take a second seat to Ijames and Gates and the like. People simply want to know the truth and understand our past. How can we do that with closed doors? I personally am looking foreward to Ijames’ study.

    As to archives, records and personal accounts. The question is not whether these African Americans wore grey and “served,” thus being considered a “Black Confederate” in the truest sense of the word. The question is why did the numbers that we know of fight? It is accepted that some, if not many blacks picked up arms against the Union and fought alongside master and man alike. We must look into this question as to why these men essentially fought for the Confederacy, thus supposedly sealing their fate as slaves. The same question could be asked about why blacks, free and enslaved fought in the American Revolutionary War. More on that later.

    If we only see this subject through Levin’s looking glass; that is only defining “black soldiers” in the way Levin and others prior choose to (e.g. enlisted or nothing, no consideration) we do a great disservice to history. Indeed Levin deals in drawing lines of acute obdurate definitions, with no awareness that things might fall outside his rigid compartments such as the black men that fought along side colonist during the American Revolution.

    This is where Levin’s careful wording serves his purpose. Words like “serve,” and “military record,” “enslavement” point us away from “personal accounts,” and “pension records.” In short, Levin has taken it upon himself to edit history and disregard personal accounts and later pension records. And if he is forced to contend with such things, he says that they are “tainted with the obvious biases” or not without motive. On this he will refer you to a book entitled “Race and Reunion” by Blight, which offers more of the same, only less indignant and a bit more dry than Levin’s work on his blog.

    The point is, if we have to accept that some blacks fought in opposition to the Union in some capacity, as countless historians agree (and dare I say, that even Levin would admit to), then we must ask why. Simply saying they were slaves is shortsighted. This is a question that I believe Levin would rather not ask, and cannot answer.

    But what Levin does ask is “if we are to assume that large numbers of slaves and free blacks volunteered out of sense of loyalty and served in Confederate ranks than how do we explain Jim Crow?  How could the Southern states have passed laws that disfranchised the largest percentage of black southerners given their loyal service to the Confederacy?  Someone please explain this to me.”

    All Levin has to do is look to resent history, that is in relation the the Civil War. How is it that after a large numbers of blacks fought along side the colonist in the American Revolutionary War, is it that these same colonist then chose to hold those same people in bondage and second class citizens?

    To Levin I would suggest that these questions are not that hard, one just has to keep one’s eyes open and not isolate himself from the rest of American history.

    I am not an ardent defender of the Black Confederates existence or non-existence. I do however think that the subject is worth further investigation and I think that there is enough there to investigate, namely family accounts and slave accounts. I approached the question of black Confederates with an open mind. With Levin I hit a closed one to the question itself. This is merely a critique of Levin’s work and his dogmatic nature he subscribes to when discussing this subject.

    -C.B. McQueen

  • Lee White May 14, 2009 @ 12:03

    Mr. Ijames,
    As another true historian/interpreter I would echo Marc’s remarks and would be very interested in such a debate. However, I remain to be convinced, I have looked through thousands of primary sources and have yet to find anything about African Americans serving as Confederate soldiers, however I have found plenty of references to hostility towards the concept. All I have found were a few scattered references in post war material. Now, I have found plenty in regards to body servants, etc. But as Kevin asked, where do we draw our lines?


  • Marc Ferguson May 14, 2009 @ 10:57

    Mr. Ijames,
    I, for one, would be very interested in your responses to the points made by Kevin and in the comments.


  • Earl L. Ijames May 14, 2009 @ 9:15


    I don’t know you, but you act as if you know me, my research, and evidence. I could go on all night about your zeal to maintain “reconstruction” history, but I won’t. All I’ll say is that the latest piece of evidence I just scanned is an actual photograph of several “Colored Confederates” in uniform at a Guilford County, NC reunion. It was donated by one of the descendants. I would debate you anytime and anywhere. But as a true historian/archivist/curator, I deal with ONLY empiral evidence, not insults. While you’re posting absurdities behind your laptop, I’ve got my snake proof gear on checking out the Confederate Pension depositions at places like the earthworks around Raleigh. Like I say, I’d debate you with one arm tied behind my back!


    • Kevin Levin May 14, 2009 @ 10:02


      Thanks for taking the time to reply to my post. First, there is not one insult contained in any of my posts. I do offer a fairly strong assessment of your lack of sophistication and apparent carelessness when it comes to interpreting primary sources. That you would cite an image of “Colored Confederates” taken after the war as evidence for black Confederate soldiers is just another indication of this carelessness. You do, indeed, have access to primary sources, but this does not give you any monopoly on their interpretation. What you did with the available evidence for Weary Clyburn is an absolute disgrace. Not only did you distort his past, but you (along with the SCV) involved his descendants, which is quite unfortunate. Finally, that you would characterize my writing as an example of “Reconstruction history” suggests to me that you don’t know the first thing about the historiography of the South or the Civil War.

      How about I take you up on your offer? I would love for you to write up a guest post on how you go about researching the roles that blacks played in Confederate armies. How do you distinguish between one being enlisted as a soldier and a slave? What kinds of evidence are used and how do you go about interpreting various kinds of evidence? Are pensions evidence of service as soldiers? How should slaves be commemorated and remembered in your view? Of course, there are other questions to explore as well. So, what do you think? The ball is in your court. My guess is that this could be a very productive Online debate.

  • Bob Pollock May 14, 2009 @ 8:49

    Also, the statement that Lincoln “could have stopped it all by simply order Fort Sumter to evacuate and turned it over to SC” is extremely naive. It does not take into account similar situations occuring across the country. If Lincoln had turned over Ft. Sumter then where exactly would the appeasement have ended?

  • Kevin Levin May 14, 2009 @ 8:38

    Thanks for correcting the bogus reference to Grant. I meant to address it, but with everything else that was problematic with that comment I must have overlooked it.

  • Bob Pollock May 14, 2009 @ 8:35


    I don’t know where you got the quote you attribute to Grant (although I understand it is in the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War). It is a quote which apparently has been around a long time but it cannot be verified that Grant actually ever said it, and it is contrary to everything we know Grant ever did say and do. In letters to his father and father in law at the beginning of the war he acknowledged that he was volunteering his service to protect the the Union, but he knew slavery was the root cause of the crisis and, long before many others on the Union side, he understood that slavery would be a casualty of the conflict. In his Personal Memoirs he explicitly stated: “The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery.”

  • David Rhoads May 14, 2009 @ 8:08

    Also, for what it’s worth, the quotation attributed to Grant is bogus.

  • Woodrowfan May 14, 2009 @ 6:32

    Have you ever noticed that when the “Slavery, it wasn’t over slavery!” folks whip out the quotes, it’s always Northerners they quote? I wonder why they never seem to quote the secessionists at the time, who were quite clear why they wanted to leave the Union. If I want to understand why the 13 colonies declared independence in 1776 I don’t quote King George and Lord North, I look to the debates in the Continental Congress, to the Declaration of Independence, and to the writings of the revolutionary leaders to see what they said, publicly and privately. After all, in 1860-61, it wasn’t Lincoln and Grant who were trying to leave, it was 11 Southern states, and their leaders were very specific as to their reasons: they believed the Northern states had violated the property rights of the slave states through actions including refusing to enforce the fugitive slave act, by using abolitionists to spark slave unrest, and by electing Lincoln, the candidate of a sectional party that was openly anti-slavery. It doesn’t help to quote Lincoln saying that he would keep slavery if it preserved the Union since the Southern leaders did not believe him. They were convinced that the North was about to launch an assault on slavery, which was, in the minds of the secessionists, an assault on their rights and their freedom. All these quotes from Northern leaders show is that the threat existed mostly in the minds of the southern leaders, which, come to think of it, doesn’t speak well of them either..

  • Victoria Bynum May 14, 2009 @ 4:00


    My point is that slavery CAUSED the Civil War, even though many Northerners were not fighting to end it. As for Lincoln, there are many historical debates over whether or not he intended his actions to end slavery as well as prevent the Confederate states from breaking up the Union. We don’t even need to go there. Certainly many slaveholders believed that his election was tantamount to the end of slavery, simply because Lincoln took the free soil view, adopted by the Republican Party in its 1860 platform, that slavery would not be allowed to expand into the western territories. Most slaveholders could not abide being “dammed up in a world of slaves.” So, while the majority of northerners were not abolitionists. they did not need to be for slavery to be the cause of Civil War by 1860. Simply limiting slavery’s expansion was enough. As one of my history teachers told her class many years ago, “Slavery CAUSED the Civil War, but the Civil War was not fought to END slavery.” I would modify her statement somewhat, since abolitionist Northerners (and in fact some Unionist Southerners) and Unionist black soldiers did intend the war to bring an end to slavery, and they continually worked toward that end even when Lincoln denied it was his own goal.


    • Jere Krischel Apr 29, 2010 @ 10:59

      My understanding is that limiting slavery’s expansion was desirable in order to keep the West preserved for whites only. Lincoln was an active proponent of “colonization”, the deportation of blacks back to Africa or other countries. The proximate cause of the Civil War was the conflict between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians, as specifically brought to bear by tariffs that served to transfer wealth from the exporting south to the importing north.

      Another interesting note was the Union army response to the Emancipation Proclamation -> mass desertions. Although the end of slavery certainly was noble, I’m not entirely convinced that the Civil War was the best way to go about it, nor that those that started the Civil War really cared that much about the topic.

  • Sherree Tannen May 14, 2009 @ 2:27


    Dr. Victoria Bynum and other professional historians who have spent their lives studying the Civil War, and who are open and generous enough to share their knowledge with the public are doing us all a service, as is our host blogger. I have spent only two weeks combing through census records, and within that two week period, I have gained great respect for men and women who study and analyze history as a life profession. Even a cursory look at past records reveals the depth of the hold that the societal and cultural mechanisms that were put in place to sustain a slave society had upon the members born into that society, both black and white–a hold that was not only cultural and societal; but economic, emotional, and psychological as well. I found a will of an ancestor of a family in my area in which a black woman was to be kept in that family for one year after the man who wrote the will died, while the woman’s child was to be “sold”. After one year’s time, the child was to be sold, too. There is nothing ambiguous about that. There it is: a fact. What was most disturbing to me was the casual language used in the will, and the matter of fact tone of the legal transaction, which could best be described as “business as usual”. This was in 1852.

  • Mike May 13, 2009 @ 17:53

    For Victoria #25
    How do you say the war was over Slavery when I found these quotes with Google.

    A. Lincoln was NOT the great emancipator that he is portrayed to be since he was NEVER in favor of emancipation whatsoever.

    “I will say, then, that I am not, nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” — Abraham Lincoln

    “I am a little uneasy about the abolishment of slavery in this District [of Columbia]…” — Abraham Lincoln, 3/24/1862 letter to Horace Greely, New York Tribune editor

    “If I thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission, and offer my sword to the other side.” — Ulysses S. Grant

    “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” — Abraham Lincoln, 3/14/1861 First Inaugural Speech

    Abe was one of the finest Political persons of any time period. He played the war and the Nation like a fiddle. He could have stopped it all by simply order Fort Sumter to evacuate and turned it over to SC.

    Tariffs and the rapid industrialization of the South in GA and AL were the main reasons for the war.
    Abe used Slavery just like the NAACP has used the Battle Flag as a Poster Child to whip up money and support for other causes.

    • Kevin Levin May 14, 2009 @ 1:07


      We cannot understand the role that slavery played in the war by reducing it to a few quotes by one man that are taken out of context. Lincoln’s views on race and slavery have been carefully documented by numerous historians. I suggest that you start with David Donald’s biography, _Lincoln_.

      • Jere Krischel Apr 29, 2010 @ 10:55

        Another good start is “The Real Lincoln” by DiLorenzo. Very interesting stuff to read.

        • Kevin Levin Apr 29, 2010 @ 11:03

          DiLorenzo is not a historian and his grasp of the fundamental questions and historiography related to Lincoln is flawed. Start with David H. Donald’s biography of Lincoln.

          • Jere Krischel Apr 29, 2010 @ 11:20

            I’ll definitely check it out. I’ll freely admit that DiLorenzo writes from a perspective of conspiracy theory that may be a bit overblown, but he provides adequate references for his assertions and quotes, and taken with a grain of salt, should probably be required reading for any introduction to the Civil War. His hyperbole aside, DiLorenzo brings up some very uncomfortable facts that are not dealt with very well in other treatments I’ve seen.

            My understanding is that even DiLorenzo has some appreciation for David Donald’s “Lincoln Reconsidered”. I’ll have to put both of Donald’s books on my reading list.

            • Kevin Levin Apr 29, 2010 @ 11:35


              The problem is that DiLorenzo is not a historian, but an economist with a strong libertarian bent. There is nothing wrong with being a libertarian until you begin to view everything in the past through that narrow lens. His latest book blames our evolution into a strong nation state on Alexander Hamilton.

              • Jere Krischel Apr 29, 2010 @ 11:42

                Oh, I fully agree on your characterization of a narrow lens, no doubt. What I’ve appreciated about his work is the attention given to an otherwise overlooked point of view. Although he’s not a historian, and he’s definitely got several wagonloads of axes to grind with all kinds of people, it seems that past that, there’s a lot of good information he’s presented.

                It actually reminds of of a book called “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith, a militant lesbian who blames everything bad in the world on the male species, but still does a good job of dissecting some of the motivations for veganism. It takes a while to get past the overheated rhetoric, but there’s a lot of good information there.

  • Woodrowfan May 13, 2009 @ 10:07

    My great Aunt, who was, FWIW, a college professor, used to love to tell family ghost stories including how one of my great-great grandmothers appeared to the other members of her family the night after her funeral. While entertaining (and spooky to an enthralled 12 year old) it’s hardly proof of life after death or the existence of ghosts. Sometimes family histories can pass on unpleasant (or problematic) details to the past, and sometimes they’re totally false. Sometimes they’re only evidence of how the past is remembered and not evidence of what actually happened…You have to look to see how they fit the rest of the evidence…

  • ghost May 13, 2009 @ 4:50

    Kevin Levin:
    Of course they performed functions for the military, but they were certainly not soldiers. Most were there as servants or impressed by state governments as well as the Confederate government. They were “Confederate slaves.”

    As far as I know the Confederate government didn’t own any slaves.

    “Confederate slaves” would be as inaccurate as the phrase “Union slaves” to describe the slave labor used by the North during the war.

    • Kevin Levin May 13, 2009 @ 6:06


      I didn’t suggest that the Confederate government owned slaves [Actually, I don’t know the answer to that question] what I pointed out is that it did impress slaves and free blacks for military purposes throughout the war. This is common knowledge. They were not, however, recruited as soldiers since the Confederate government made that restriction explicit. The phrase Confederate slaves was coined by historian, Peter Carmichael, to denote the fact that blacks who were present in the army were there as slaves.

  • John Cummings May 13, 2009 @ 2:54

    Kevin, et al,

    Yes, I wrote this off yesterday, but if you will allow, please let me raise one more question. If we are so confounded at how a slave or freeman could have fought for the Confederacy or participated on their behalf somehow, can we explain how former slaves or free men of color would have themselves owned slaves prior to the Civil War?
    This is a very important point that has been glossed over (not purposefully) during all our impassioned soul searching. Therein may be the psychology we need.

    I thank you for your indulgence.

    A nonpartisan inquisitor. Honestly.

    • Kevin Levin May 13, 2009 @ 3:05


      I have no idea what point you are trying to make. Yes, we know that a very small number of black southerners owned slaves. I know of one book published by the University of South Carolina Press on the subject, though I have not read it. You may want to read it yourself since you have an interest in this. They would have owned slaves for any number of reasons. [There were also Jews who worked for the Nazis in Concentration Camps and they would have done so for any number of reasons.] To better understand it, however, you need to read books that others have researched or do the research yourself. This involves going to the archives… Let me be very clear once again: I am not interested in anyone’s “soul searching”. The problem of better understanding the presence of blacks in the Confederate army is a historical question that must be approached with careful research and a great deal of thought.

      As far as I am concerned you can believe whatever you want about the motivations and place of blacks in the Confederate army. Just don’t tell me that your belief constitutes the beginning and end of historical inquiry. Why can’t we just say that we don’t have the answers for many of these questions?

  • Kevin Levin May 13, 2009 @ 2:34


    Thanks for the comment. Of course, I’ve always maintained that blacks were present in the army, but we need to be careful when we refer to them as having “served” in the army. As you point out the presence of blacks in the army was a function of their being owned. Within that context we have a great deal of research to do; it does us no good to speculate as to how blacks experienced the war. We need to dive into the archives and find what is available. Unfortunately, it is a difficult topic given that most blacks were illiterate. Much of our evidence will come from white southerners, which can be extremely helpful, but is also tainted with the obvious biases. State and Federal documents will also prove to be helpful as thousands of slaves and even free blacks were impressed to work on plantations as well as factories, mines, etc. As a young aspiring historian, perhaps you should keep this in mind as you begin your undergraduate career. Which reminds me: Congratulations on the eve of your high school graduation.


    I agree with the thrust of your comment except your assumption that slaves were “brainwashed” by their masters. I’m not quite sure what that means, but I am sure that it is false. The literature on slave life is quite extensive, but I’ve not read of across the board brainwashing.

  • Richard May 12, 2009 @ 18:06

    Wow, all this passion for Confederate slaves/soldiers. Its interesting how much of this is influenced by the thoughts of the political right/left. Either you have the research or you dont. People did what was necessary to survive, this applied to both slaves and white soldiers. Im not talking about the slave master and his children. They always got the positions of authority in the Southern Army. The slaves mind was totally brainwashed by the slavemaster. The slave master looked down on working and poor whites and his slaves developed this same trait. How can you be a loyal soldier when your mind is imprisioned?

    Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave. (Roy: Blade Runner 1982)

  • Crystal Marshall May 12, 2009 @ 17:02

    I don’t want to feel like I’m helping to beat an already dead horse–I’m sure I’ll repeat, in much more jumbled prose, some of the well-reasoned thoughts that have already been said–but this is how I see this whole issue. I know this issue has been debated countless times on this blog and other blogs, and never fails to inspire a host of conflicts and emotions. I’ve been content to “sit on the sidelines” and just read the discussion, but now if may be allowed to say something of my own…

    I look at this issue through the perspective of my grandfather’s own wartime service. Although he served in World War II, there are many parallels between his situation and that of the “Black Confederates”. (My grandpa passed away several years ago when I was rather young, so I have a less-than-detailed account of his life, but I’ll try to relate his story as best as possible with the scant knowledge that I have.) Anyhow, my grandfather was born into a prominent family in Estonia, and as such when the Germans came in during WWII, he was hunted down and captured, and conscripted into the German army. He was forced to decode messages from the Allies, until he managed to escape to Sweden under a made-up name. While in Sweden he met my grandmother (who had escaped from the Russians in Finland), and eventually they made their way to America, after my grandfather’s long and distinguished career as a world-respected oceanographer who worked for both the UN and the US government. His heart was always with Estonia, though, and so he was overjoyed when the Soviet Union finally fell and his homeland was free once again. (He adored Ronald Reagan and always kept a picture of him on his desk because he was so thankful for what Reagan had done to help free Estonia and the rest of the world from communism.)

    Sorry for the family history…now, as to how this relates to the whole issue of “Black Confederates”. Technically, you could call my grandfather a “German soldier”. At which point my grandfather would probably utter a few choice words in Estonian while adamantly proclaiming that he was never, and would never consider himself to be, a German soldier. Just because he was forced into the army does not mean that he agreed with the Germans, that he was loyal to them, or that he did what he did for the Germans with pride or even with a sense of indifference. Quite on the contrary. My grandpa was simply put in an untenable position and then got out of it as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t say my grandfather hated the Germans–he was too kind and loving to hate anyone–but he had an extreme disgust for them, only rivaled by my grandmother’s dislike of the Russians. (And when I say Germans or Russians, I mean the armies, not the entire people of those countries. My grandparents were well aware that there were many good people in both countries who were fighting the injustices and tyrannies of their countries.) This is similar to those whom we might term “Black Confederates” or whatever other term people use. Did blacks serve, and even fight, on the Confederate side of the war? Yes. No one denies that. But it is not a matter of simply saying that they were there. It is more than just their presence. It is their motivation, their feelings, their emotions, their reasoning. To really understand this issue we have to understand the complex emotional factors. Why did they serve/fight? I would put forward the proposition that most, like my grandfather, were simply dragged into the armies against their own wills, brought by their masters and forced into submission to possibly even pick up a gun and kill the men who were bringing them the promise of freedom. These black men had no free will. Even if they thought they did, even if their masters thought they did, they were still controlled by forces beyond their control, by the constraints of the larger societal structure. As someone pointed out earlier, what was driving these men–the vague promises of freedom, of uniting with their families on other plantations? Or perhaps the simplest of all, they were conscripted against their will. But by all accounts these blacks conducted themselves with honesty and bravery, until the time when they could really, truly, finally be free.

    Sorry for the long post, Kevin…thanks for keeping this post open and allowing me and others to work out our thoughts. The horse isn’t dead yet :0)

  • matt mckeon May 12, 2009 @ 15:21

    When my father retired he decided to research his family background. There was a wonderful story among our uncles and aunts of a long ago jealous wife shooting a rascally husband while he dandled a pretty housemaid on his knee, and then the poor children cheated out of a vast inheritance.

    Dad was an old police reporter and dug into the papers and records. The actual story was of poverty, alcoholism and suicide. No murder, no inheritance, not even a housemaid.

    The moral of this story: beware of family tradition.

  • Michaela May 12, 2009 @ 14:01

    John, I don’t care if your professors/friends are African Americans or not re: the issue of the “loyalty” of black Confederates. “Loyalty” is by definition something somebody oppressed cannot produce. Similarly, a Jew thinking that concentration camps weren’t all that bad is not producing an interesting comment towards historical analysis either and certainly doesn’t make it “true”.

    Ken, Thanks for enlightening us on political affiliation of the editor of the Harper’s Weekly. I had actually images of Rush Limbaugh in front of my eyes when I read his editorial.

    Sherree, Exactly! And it makes it more inviting to hear about your ancestor’s history when we include the full story and don’t confuse their position as “soldier” with that of white Confederate soldiers or call them “loyal” for the obvious reasons.

  • John Cummings May 12, 2009 @ 13:51

    Well, never mind Kevin. Looking back at your previous posts I see you have already dismissed two of the gentlemen I referred to unnamed above, Professors Walter Williams and Ed Smith.
    You really have absolute power here and that will never change because you know what you know and that is that.
    You can take great joy in this communication from me for it will be the last effort I ever make to influence any discussion in your forum. I know that will not break your heart and will delight some of your reader as well.
    I now join the ranks of those who you have ostracized.
    Enjoy yourself.

    • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 13:55


      And if memory serves me I asked for you to provide references for the research they have done in this particular area. You never provided any. Good luck and I do hope you will take some time to read. There are plenty of really good books out there on this issue.

      Yes, you join a long list of folks who have not been allowed to get away with vague references and an almost complete lack of interest in understanding the complexity of the past.

  • Ed May 12, 2009 @ 13:41


    You state, “However you slice it they were members of the military.” That is my point, the definition changes based upon the reference. Some groups include certain individuals and other groups don not. The Black Confederates comes down to the definition you use to define “Confederate”.

    Some define it to those who enlisted or served with recognized regiment. Others define it has having served in a military capacity.

    In the books “Black Confederates” by Charles Barrow, J. H. Segars, and R. B. Rosenburg and “Black Southerners in Gray: Essays on Afro-Americans in Confederate Armies”
    by Arthur W. Bergeron (Editor), Thomas Cartwright (Author), Ervin L., Jr. Jordan (Author), Richard Rollins (Editor), Rudolph Young (Author) almost every example given, the Black Confederate served as a cook, teamster, body guard, etc., but not as enlisted “soldiers”.

    So are we really just arguing about the same conclusion: blacks served in a military capacity for the Confederacy?

    • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 13:44


      Of course they performed functions for the military, but they were certainly not soldiers. Most were there as servants or impressed by state governments as well as the Confederate government. They were “Confederate slaves.”

  • John Cummings May 12, 2009 @ 13:27

    So with this I suppose some of us have been blessed with the ability to speak in absolutes, and to speak for entire cultures based on our perceptions of their sufferings.

    My personal experience with an African American who embraced a shared heritage with the Confederacy dates back some sixteen years ago. He shared with me his family story and the experiences he encountered by being an African American wearing Confederate Gray to reenactments. The many attitudes he encountered were as varied as you might imagine. There were those who treated him with shear revulsion and those who welcomed him with open arms. I am sorry to say that I have not been in personal contact with him in about ten years and that is something I would like to correct. He is a fine gentleman and an astute researcher of American military history. We had shared many engaging conversations. I wonder what he might bring to this discussion today.
    Are there other readers of this blog who know of African Americans that are examining the Confederacy from this non staus quo direction? I’d certainly like to have an opportunity to have a discussion with H.K. Edgerton. That’s my curiosity.

    In the past twenty years I have encountered three college professors of African American ancestory who maintain a decidedly contrary view to the norm regarding the Confederacy and its cause. If these gentlemen would jump into this blog it might get interesting.

    • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 13:42


      I don’t know what more to say to you. No one here is speaking in absolutes. You think that I and other readers of this blog are somehow trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Some of the top historians in the field have commented on this issue and have written excellent studies that shed light on this issue. I have cited a few in a previous comment. What more do you want. What does your African American have to do with the historical question of the role and status of slaves in the Confederate army. Is this person a historian who has done research in this area? If not, than I don’t care about your friend. I’m sure he is a wonderful gentleman. H.K. Edgerton is not a historian so his antics are also irrelevant as history, though they are very interesting as remembrance. The descendants of Weary Clyburn believe he served as soldier and the SCV has affirmed it, but there is no evidence that he was a soldier and plenty to suggest that he was a slave. They are simply wrong. My family tells plenty of stories about its past and some of them have no basis whatsoever. They are funny and some of them even work to maintain continuity within the family, but they are not steeped in fact.

      At this point your overall point is completely incoherent. I am more than happy to talk about what you’ve read, but enough about your friends.

  • Sherree Tannen May 12, 2009 @ 11:37

    “The effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws disrupted black American family life far into the 20th century and not just resilience, Sheree, but depression and mental disorders were the outcome. Maybe taking cues re: the teaching of the CW from black communities might be helpful. ”


    Well, yes, I certainly understand what you have said here, having watched this history unfold in the lives of men and women with whom I was (and am) intimately connected, and having lived much of the history myself. The only thing I would disagree with is the idea that black men and women have anything to learn about the Civil War. They were born knowing all anyone would ever need to know about it, simply by being born black. White men and women have nothing to teach black men and women. Just as white men and women have nothing to teach Indigenous men and women, who also suffered–and still suffer–severe dislocation of family, and intergenerational trauma. It is the turn now of white men and women to listen and learn. (I think you are saying the same thing, just differently. I enjoy your comments as well.)

  • Marc Ferguson May 12, 2009 @ 11:29

    Concerning the question of who should be considered soldiers, only those considered to be soldiers during the war itself. It doesn’t matter what we think, it’s an historical question.

    As to honoring someone for their “loyalty,” especially a slave serving the Confederate army, this is not historical narrative, it is polemics. When we start applying this epithet, “loyal,” to slaves during (and the freedmen after) the war, we are accepting a slave-holder’s ideal of how slaves should behave, not describing the motivations of real people. Anyone doing so is buying into the ideology of slave relations that prescribes certain socially and culturally expected behavior for blacks in Southern slave society. “Loyal” slaves were those whose behavior fit the expected stereotypes and didn’t cause problems, and after the war those who had the temerity to leave the plantations seeking a better life, or even negotiate with their former masters, were decried as “disloyal.” Anyone celebrating a slave who accompanied the Confederate army for their “loyalty” is perpetuating this racist stereotype, and is substituting this stereotype for an attempt to understand the real role of that individual and the relations between whites and blacks in the Confederate armies.

  • Ken Noe May 12, 2009 @ 11:04

    Ed, I posted the Pickens comments in part to make a point. There were plenty of blacks in camp and yes, even on the march–no Civil War historian denies that, to claim otherwise is simply to create a straw man–but that doesn’t make them soldiers. And don’t take my word for it. 5th Alabama soldiers did not consider them to be soldiers, but simply soldiers’ slaves. They opposed letting them become actual soldiers just two months before the war ended. Instead of making up definitions as we go, as some do, I think we could simplify matters and finally move on simply by using the definition Confederates themselves used in the 1860s. As John wrote, “when we examine the Civil War we must acknowledge the mindset that existed then, and not continue to apply our current day emotions to that task.”

    Of course, a similar definition survived into the 1920s, for whatever that’s worth. As Chris Meekins pointed out earlier, Weary Clyburn’s much-discussed pension came specifically after the state legislature extended the pension system to “servants.” As Chris pointed out, Clyburn never seems to have applied for earlier soldier pensions.

    John, as for Harper’s Weekly on the causes of the war, I must point out that its editors supported the Democrat Douglas in 1860, and were so moderate on slavery that other editors attacked it as “Harper’s Weakly,” charging that they put southern sales ahead of principle. Harper’s opposing emancipation in summer 1861 thus ultimately is like Keith Olbermann opposing waterboarding–representative of some folks’ views , but not all it seems, and hardly significant enough by itself I think to cancel out thirteen years of congressional debates, stump speeches, party platforms, secession declarations, and speeches from Confederate commissioners, all of which focused on the growing sectional divide over slavery and especially its expansion. As in a court of law, where is the preponderance of the evidence? Which is a long way of saying that I agree with my friend Professor Bynum.

    • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 11:20


      You are absolutely right. The most effective way to come to terms with the status of slaves in the army is to examine the letters of the men in those units. It seems odd that we even have to suggest such a move. Isn’t that what historians do? 🙂 Thanks for pointing out the political affiliation of Harper’s Weekly, which helps to provide some context with which to understand what was printed.

      As for Weary Clyburn it is also important to understand the political hierarchy at work when he applied for his servants pension. Thanks again for taking the time to comment, Ken.

  • Bob Pollock May 12, 2009 @ 9:58


    Your assertion that “Robert E. Lee turned down his commission in the United States Army to be loyal to his state,” may be “etched in stone” on Confederate monuments, but not among historians.

  • Ed May 12, 2009 @ 9:27


    Not all of the Union veterans organizations would consider the soldiers in Washington worthy of their group. The second largest organization, the Union Veterans Union, had the following qualifications:

    “At least six months continuous service (unless discharged on account of wounds) in the Army, Navy or Marine Corps of the United States, between April 12, 1861, and April 30, 1865, and an honorable discharge therefrom, is required for membership. Part of said service must have been at the front.” (History of the Grand Army of the Republic by Robert Burns Beath)

    • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 10:51


      Thanks for that little piece of information. That said, remember that this apparently has to do with membership in a veterans organization, but you are not suggesting that we don’t consider those who do not meet these qualification to be soldiers. However you slice it they were members of the military. Again, this has more to do with how veterans arranged their affairs not with whether they were a part of the military. There is an important distinction there.

  • Michaela May 12, 2009 @ 9:12

    I read your post with great interest, wished that I had edged you on enough that you would actually convince me of something, but you didn’t. So, to your news magazine point:
    “Now so long as we are on the border of Virginia, and the runaways and derelicts amount to a few hundred in number, it is easy to provide for them, and to keep books of account with their reputed owners. But when the refugees are counted by thousands and tens of thousands what is to be done with them ?”
    The editor of a popular news magazine in the 1860s utters an opinion of what to do with runaway slaves and asks what to do if the numbers become overwhelming…nothing towards Northern policy.
    “This is a question which should not be left to the discretion of the Federal commanders. Men’s opinions will differ : Government should have a uniform policy. The people of the North, moreover, who will be sorely taxed to provide means to put down this rebellion, have a right to know whether any part of their money will be used for the support of thousands of fugitive slaves who, after the war, are to be returned to their conquered owners.”
    Here you actually might not have read carefully enough because this passage proves nothing more than that he is not aware of a government policy (which says nothing whether there was one and what it stated) and that he wished there was one. And “are to be returned” says nothing about what Lincoln’s government had decided, only that a news editor in 1861 is apparently comfortable enough to make such a statement that slaves should be returned…so maybe there are many readers that agree with that statement or not, I don’t know. And maybe that tells me of the racist views of the North? Probably?

    And to the many blacks that are described in your account John, you are telling me that there are many blacks marching along. And now? How should we honor them: as black “soldiers” or “slaves”? And what does either mean? Are we putting head stones with inscriptions re: the loyalty of these black men on it? Based on what evidence? In that sense how does your comment relate to the post? Are you ok with Ijames honoring blck Confederate soldiers for their “loyalty”? Or do you just want to say, “there were blacks marching on the Confederate side”? Then I agree with you, but so what.

    Sheree, I always enjoy reading your post. In no way should any historian fail to give a personal account where available or put a face to all those men and women in slavery. But I see no benefit in changing the word “slave”. It means that you can rape, beat and burn this human or treat him kindly, whatever you choose. At a time past the Renaissance and the Enlightenment having a slave is not what people were just “used” to think (John!). To have a slave in 1861 is a decision mostly based on the economic benefit and a society’s choice to exploit people of dark skin color like objects. Describing these men and women “slaves” gives me the historic context and does not take away from the human rights violation.

    The analysis of the social context especially re: the black community in the Civil War is important because history is distorted (and was distorted) without it and how we approach this today says more about our current society than about the past. The effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws disrupted black American family life far into the 20th century and not just resilience, Sheree, but depression and mental disorders were the outcome. Maybe taking cues re: the teaching of the CW from black communities might be helpful. To a degree however, after having witnessed the work of John Hennessy and David Blight I worry the disconnect is too big. And these are two men that listen and want to take cues to embrace all Americans. Actually, to analyze the American CW and the role of slavery should be done without having any expectations on how African-Americans “should” react or “should” find pride in it. And Mr. Ijames spreading assumptions is just inaccurate and no help to anybody.

  • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 9:07


    I think much hinges on how we define a soldier. Whether an individual volunteered or was drafted seems to me to have no real significance. They both served, though the reasons for their service are different. Both served as soldiers and operated under the same legal conditions. Of course those who served in the fortifications around Washington ought to be considered soldiers. Would you argue that only those men and women who today have seen combat are part of the United State military? Of course not.

    How we understand pensions is more complex. You are indeed correct that many southern states after the war offered pensions to black men, but the pension application and overall process did not hinge on whether the individual served as a soldier. Some states awarded pensions to servants and others who were impressed by the state government. I can’ speak for northern states, though I have no reason to deny your assertion. Thanks for the comment.

  • Ed May 12, 2009 @ 8:45

    I think some of this argument is based upon the definition of a soldier and if only soldiers can be considered Black Confederates. Here are some of the points made:

    Participated under there own free will. Should those drafted by the Union be considered non-soldiers?

    Didn’t fight. Should those that never fired a shot while in the defense of Washington be considered non-soldiers?

    At the same time the Union never considered paid black men who worked fortifications, etc., soldiers thus they never received federal pensions. Southern states did offer pensions to the black men who served in the capacity. The G.A.R. and U.C.V. took the same position.

  • Sherree Tannen May 12, 2009 @ 8:44


    I keep thinking about the reconciliation monument in Richmond, the motto of which begins with the sentiment (and the words) that we must acknowledge the past, if my memory is correct. Yes, that is what we need to do. We can’t change the past, but we can change the present. Continuing to deny that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, or insisting that men who were slaves eagerly fought for their “country” cheapens everyone’s experience, particularly the experience of black men and women in this nation. It is time that this stops. Have a good day, Kevin. Thanks for yet another in depth look at this vital issue. Sherree

  • John Cummings May 12, 2009 @ 7:36


    Let’s be fair. When in an earlier post I brought up Steiner’s report it was passed off as unreliable and suspect. It was cast aside as either propaganda or pure fiction as it was asserted no other accounts reported that many “negroes” being seen among the ANV as it headed north.
    I don’t believe in labeling something as “nonsense” until we have really exhausted all the avenues of research. If we personally find it hard to understand how a slave or freeman could have, even in small numbers, been loyal to the Confederacy that is our problem. We should proceed with the attitude that it is “curious” perhaps that that is what is being suggested, but we should never make rash accusations based on our own and modern day mindset.
    Robert E. Lee turned down his commission in the United States Army to be loyal to his state. That was his perception of the order of things based on everything he was ever taught. Give that possibility to a slave or former slave, no matter what we today think of the institution, and there are many possibilites of how these men would have viewed their place in the sceme of things. This is the real debate or question is it not? What was this master/slave relationship? How did either side view their place in the world and what cross over was there in reconciling these things in their individual minds?

    Kevin, as I have tried to impress upon you before, I am not the Boogie Man. I may have a smidge of Devil’s Advocate in me sometimes but it is certainly not more than an attempt to keep things fair. And believe me, I am being non-partisan. Everything is not etched in stone.

    • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 8:00


      You were the one who started this thread by insulting me and assuming something that I never said. If you expect to be taken seriously than you need to be more respectful in framing your comments more carefully and in a way that engages rather than simply dismisses. I agree that we should reserve judgment in cases until we have sufficient evidence – I’ve never suggested otherwise. I also agree that we should refrain from judgment based on our own “modern day mindset – I’ve never suggested otherwise.

      Finally, I certainly don’t need you to remind me that “everything is not etched in stone.” A careful reading of this blog seems to me to demonstrate that point quite clearly.

      I am not closing comments to this post, but I am going to end this little thread. Nothing more needs to be said.

  • John Cummings May 12, 2009 @ 6:59

    I’m not even talking about combatants. I am simply showing that given the number of blacks that spent time in whatever capicity with the 5th Alabama, they had to be visible while the army was on the march. I can’t imagine the 5th Alabama was the only regiment to have these men along, thus I am stressing the point that discrediting Steiner is not good history. Cooks, teamsters, laborers, whatever, there they were, as seen. They didn’t vanish and then reappear when needed.

    • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 7:04


      Well then what exactly what are you so upset about. I’ve never denied the presence of blacks in the army; in fact, no one has been more vocal about doing the necessary research to better understand their role. Ijames is not interested in this. His sloppy “research” tends to run rough shod over these distinctions and insists that “thousands” of blacks fought in the army. This is simple nonsense and makes little sense given the official policy of the Confederate government as well as the attitudes of most white soldiers in the Confederate army.

  • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 6:56


    I am not treating any account with “ridicule.” What you don’t seem to understand is that I don’t consider any one account to be evidence of anything. Primary accounts must be analyzed on their own, compared with other primary sources, and understood within the context of broader questions. Again, the 5th Alabama would have included black men within its ranks, but these were not soldiers, they were slaves serving in various capacities. I am not denying anything; what I am disputing is what the evidence tells us. Slaves were present with Confederate armies and our job as historians is to understand how they functioned and how their presence, along with the war, challenged and shaped the master-slave relationship. What is so difficult to understand about that? In the future you need to be much more careful with your comments. You said:

    “Yet his account [Steiner] is dismissed because it is deemed unreliable? Why should it be discredited?”

    Again, no one is denying his report. What is being disputed is what it tells us about the make-up of the 5th Alabama and the Army of Northern Virginia. I suggest you read the following books to better understand this issue:

    Bruce Levine, _Confederate Emancipation_ (Oxford University Press)
    Joe Glatthaar, _General Lee’s Army_ (Free Press)

  • John Cummings May 12, 2009 @ 6:27

    And no, I was not talking about an “entire black regiment”.

  • John Cummings May 12, 2009 @ 6:24


    I guess you missed my point. I’m talking about the 5th Alabama. No silliness here. No ridiculous claims! Ken Noe lists numerous mentions of blacks being in that regiment throughout the war. They fought at Antietam. That’s an example of one regiment out of all those that were with Jackson’s Corps “taking the advance” as Steiner says, out of Frederick. 5th Alabama, D. H. Hill’s Division, Rodes’ First Brigade. If they are an example of regiments with negroes among them then multiply that times the probable number within Jackson’s entire Corps and you may very well indeed have the numbers that would have influenced Steiner to report what he did. He witnessed Jackson’s men head off to Antietam. Yet his account is dismissed because it is deemed unreliable? Why should it be discredited? That was my point, sir.

  • Victoria Bynum May 12, 2009 @ 6:16

    Mr. Cummings, You are right when you state that “an opinion existed that the war had been declared to bring back rebelling states into the Union, and that the runaways where still viewed as property, and that the authorities had every intention of honoring the Fugitive Slave Act.”

    And slavery also caused the Civil War. There is no contradiction here.

  • John Cummings May 12, 2009 @ 4:39

    The constant worry expressed here about “manipulation of the past”, is rather bizarre when contrasted to certain ‘truths” that also reveal themselves as time goes on — on these very pages. It wasn’t long ago that I was raked over the coals for suggesting that the 1862, published observations of Dr. Lewis H. Steiner, regarding large numbers of blacks seen amongst the columns of the Army of Northern Virginia while passing through Frederick, Maryland, was a primary source that could be taken at face value. Yet here, in this thread, we can find an example of numerous blacks within the fold of the 5th Alabama Regiment. There now, is a primary account of one regiment (who fought at Antietam) that had blacks present throughout the war. Multiply that times all the regiments that marched through Frederick and you might have numbers that would have certainly given Steiner the impression he wrote of. Yet, that thought was treated with such ridicule. I suggest that there may be a bit too much massaging of “history” right here in this blog to benefit the self righteous beliefs of some posters, and the all too glorious intent of the blog creator. An attitude of “oh it just can’t be!” is not serious examination of history if there are indeed numerous examples of things that point to the contrary.
    And if I may be permitted, I will offer another piece of primary source material. This is in contrast to the continued assertion that the cause of the war was slavery. If that was the universal opinion in the spring and summer of 1861 then the message did not get to an editor of Harper’s Weekly newspaper who had concerns regarding “contraband slaves” and the financial strain of taking care of them. This is from the July 6, 1861 issue of the paper, several weeks before the 1st Battle of Bull Run:
    —This, without doubt, will be the most difficult problem with which Congress will have to grapple. And yet it can not be neglected. As was clearly foreseen at the outbreak of hostilities, wherever our armies march slavery disappears before them. Not that our troops are necessarily abolitionists. But the slaves run away or are abandoned as the troops approach. An old negro found at Hampton by one of our regiments, the other day, being asked if he had run away from his master, replied, “No; massa ran away from me!” It must be so throughout the revolted section of the country. As our armies advance the masters will run away from the slaves, or the slaves will run away from the masters. In either event the result will be the same. Now so long as we are on the border of Virginia, and the runaways and derelicts amount to a few hundred in number, it is easy to provide for them, and to keep books of account with their reputed owners. But when the refugees are counted by thousands and tens of thousands what is to be done with them ? This is a question which should not be left to the discretion of the Federal commanders. Men’s opinions will differ : Government should have a uniform policy. The people of the North, moreover, who will be sorely taxed to provide means to put down this rebellion, have a right to know whether any part of their money will be used for the support of thousands of fugitive slaves who, after the war, are to be returned to their conquered owners. The question, we admit, is very embarrassing. Every possible solution presents grave difficulties. But it is the duty of Congress to decide it one way or another, and we trust members will go to Washington prepared to assume the responsibility.”
    An interesting statement, no? “returned to their conquered owners”, this seems to indicate that an opinion existed that the war had been declared to bring back rebelling states into the Union, and that the runaways where still viewed as property, and that the authorities had every intention of honoring the Fugitive Slave Act.
    When we examine the Civil War we must acknowledge the mindset that existed then, and not continue to apply our current day emotions to that task. Yes, slavery was a regreatful blemish on the national picture, but it was maintained as an institution by people who on a large scale believed it right for their time.
    I am non-partisan in this discussion, I am attempting to seriously examine the facts as they are and leave all modern emotions behind. That is the only fair way to examine what has gone before us.

    • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 5:39


      Of course there were large numbers of blacks with the Army of Northern Virginia. In fact, there were probably thousands, but they were slaves performing various functions. Than you go on to say following a ridiculous claim about Antietam:

      “There now, is a primary account of one regiment (who fought at Antietam) that had blacks present throughout the war. Multiply that times all the regiments that marched through Frederick and you might have numbers that would have certainly given Steiner the impression he wrote of. Yet, that thought was treated with such ridicule. I suggest that there may be a bit too much massaging of “history” right here in this blog to benefit the self righteous beliefs of some posters, and the all too glorious intent of the blog creator. An attitude of “oh it just can’t be!” is not serious examination of history if there are indeed numerous examples of things that point to the contrary.”

      What regiment was that John? Can you confirm this account? Have any military historians who’ve written about Antietam ever mentioned an entire black regiment? The process of history doesn’t simply involve citing a source and than concluding that it’s true. You must first analyze it and evaluate it based on other sources. This is how history works. You seem to have no understanding of this process whatsoever and I ask that you refrain from making such outlandish claims in the future. Your reputation hangs in the balance here. Do it on your own blog. I’m losing my patience for your silliness.

  • Sherree Tannen May 12, 2009 @ 3:11

    “……And that is what I find most disturbing about these stories of so-called black Confederates. When the SCV honored Weary Clyburn with a headstone they not only distorted the past, they manipulated the emotions of his descendants. These men deserve to be honored and remembered for who they were, regardless of family stories and the agendas of heritage organizations.”


    I could not agree more with the above statement. It is this distortion of the past that keeps the “contours of the argument”, as you have so aptly phrased discussion before, false. As long as the SCV insists upon (either consciously or not) manipulating the public memory of the actual past of these actual men, we cannot honor the men, or their past–which was considerable, in my opinion.

    I have found, in recent research that I have done, that my erstwhile ancestor, whose ghost I am ready to resurrect on a moment’s notice so that I can put that ghost against a wall and execute it if necessary, continues to surprise me in the most unexpectedly pleasant ways. One of those ways is the following: apparently, my ancestor served in an ironworks and salt petre division of the Confederate army. He was 19 in 1863 and his brother was 16. They were both in a battle, and only one came out alive–my ancestor (obviously) The other brother is buried in an old family plot that has been in the family since the late 1700s. At any rate, here is what is interesting in this context. Men who were slaves were brought in (ie, forced) to work in the salt mines and in the ironworks divisions. So, it is conceivable that my ancestor worked side by side with black men who were “slaves”. (I do not like the word “slave” because it objectifies black men and women) It is also conceivable that this experience may have been part of my ancestor’s past that prompted him to have a black man sit at the table with him and eat one day, after the war was over, which was completely unheard of at the time. I find the possible connection of my ancestor, who worked in the salt mines, with black men forced to work the same salt mines, wonderfully appropriate and worthy of remembering, if this did occur. At the very least, my ancestor must have noticed that the work he did in the mines was very similar to the work the black men who were forced to be slaves were forced to do. So the question would be, what did the black men who were forced into servitude and further forced into an army dedicated to keeping them in servitude, teach the white men who may have worked with them, or who maybe even fought with them (under duress, albeit)? I think that maybe Denzel could get his acting teeth into that narrative.


    PS. BTW, Kevin. I noticed in the photo of you and Thomas Jefferson, that you bear a striking resemblance to Jefferson! Just don a white wig, and I think you could play Jefferson in your next acting gig, lol.

    Nice to talk to you as well.

  • Sherree Tannen May 12, 2009 @ 1:40

    Again, the person making the claim that a black man who was a slave forced into the ranks of the Confederate army (“forced”, tacit and clearly understood, I would think, by virtue of the fact of being a slave) is, himself, a black man. Why? My answer would again be, for what it is worth to this discussion, that southern black men and women have nowhere to go in American history, outside of their place in the civil rights movement.

    As was implied in a comment made in the last discussion on your blog concerning this issue, Kevin: what man, in the South, whose skin color was black, could Denzel Washington be cast to play in a fictionalized account of the Civil War? Not a slave fetching a pail of water for his “master”. How about a soldier? Could that be the appeal of these stories for black men and women in the South? History is, after all is said and done, a narrative, and everyone wants a respected–and respectful–place in the narrative.

    Yes, black men were the “property” of their “masters”, both legally, and in fact, as far as physical freedom, and the total lack thereof, goes. Yet, at the same time, those black men were never property or slaves, nor were the white men who “owned” them “masters”; they were men, and that is the point that is too often lost. If the black men whom some white men erroneously believed they “owned”, were, at any time, given guns to fight against the men who came to free them; those black men must have shocked their “masters” by their bravery, even if the white men involved did not document that bravery. Slavery never broke the spirit of the black man. Never. To call these men “soldiers” or “slaves” is equally offensive. They were neither. They were men. That does not mean, of course, that the black men whom some white men believed they “owned” fought for the “country” that enslaved them (if they ever did, indeed, fight) or for the men who enslaved them. They fought for their own lives, instead, as they were shot at from the North and the South–and even if they carried a pail of water most days, or were called “boy” by some very foolish men, who were themselves “boys”. Thanks, Kevin.

    • Kevin Levin May 12, 2009 @ 2:25


      Nice to hear from you.

      You said: “History is, after all is said and done, a narrative, and everyone wants a respected–and respectful–place in the narrative.” I think this is an excellent point and one that I suspect has a great deal of merit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from African Americans how difficult or unwilling family members are in discussing the history and legacy of slavery in their families. No doubt, there is a strong pull to cast one’s ancestors in a way that is more palatable.

      And that is what I find most disturbing about these stories of so-called black Confederates. When the SCV honored Weary Clyburn with a headstone they not only distorted the past, they manipulated the emotions of his descendants. These men deserve to be honored and remembered for who they were, regardless of family stories and the agendas of heritage organizations.


      I think it’s the American Genealogical Society.

  • Larry Cebula May 11, 2009 @ 21:12

    Why on earth is the National Geographic Society hosting such a person?

  • Eric A. Jacobson May 11, 2009 @ 17:40


    Keep up the good work. This might be off the topic of alleged “black” Confederates, but how about an interesting mulatto Union soldier named Thomas Eston Hemings? Hemings served in the 175th Ohio Infantry and died in a prison camp in Mississippi in early 1865. His father was a fellow named Madison Hemings. Who was Madison Hemings, some might ask? Well, Madison was Sally Hemings’ son and we all know Sally supposedly fathered at least a couple of children with. So, there you have it. It is possible that Thomas Jefferson’s grandson died in a Rebel POW camp. How about that for irony? I suspect that Thomas Hemings felt a little more strongly about his service than did the “alleged” slave fighting alongside his master to protect his home and everything he supposedly knew. Hemings was also real.


  • Michaela May 11, 2009 @ 13:54

    Mike and Lee, that is exactly the point: “Property” is the defined relationship of a slave to his master. While I appreciate the story of Lady Bee’s grandmother and while I see how similar stories might have arisen between master and slave, the Confederate slave soldier was property going to war to fight for a social order under which he and all people of African origin would remain property (and Lady Bee’s grandmother was property, too). Whether they were freed afterward and whether they had a brotherly, fatherly or gay relationship with their master does not change what they were under law: property. And as that they had no right to the decision making of going to war. The bond “forged under the slave/master relationship” may be interesting to investigate but less in a psychological than in a legal way. That some 10, 100 or more Black Confederate soldiers fought in the CW is actually completely irrelevant to the issue of slavery. As you write Mike, none of these men had the same chances to advance in their society as a white man. So whatever their motivation was doesn’t change that the Civil War was fought over slavery and was fought to keep black people in bondage whether they were to a very minuscule part of the force that kept them there or not. And whether an African American, white or Hispanic person in the 21 century is proud of those Black Confederates that fought for their Southern country or not does not change anything with respect to the reason why this war was fought. And it certainly does not justify slavery.

  • Marc Ferguson May 11, 2009 @ 13:31

    Ijames: “…or he fought because the South was the only homeland he had ever known and he was willing to die to protect it.”

    This comment mystifies me. Yes, I’ve read the claim that blacks “fought” for the Confederacy because they were defending their “country,” and this is a variation on that particular “loyalty” theme. My problem here is with the idea of black slaves viewing the “South” as their homeland. The idea of the “South” is just that, an idea. It is an abstraction, and one that had significance in the political and cultural conflicts of antebellum America. Yes, I know that there are states in the geographic south of the U.S., but the claim of a “South” is a cultural identity claim, an abstraction. This abstraction of a “South” that was being defended was based on a particular set of social, cultural, and economic ideas, articulated largely in contradistinction to an abstract “North,” that I have trouble believing represents anything like black slaves in the states of the Confederacy would have held as fundamental aspects of their identity or as an object of loyalty. Did they really have a notion of a “South” that they viewed as a “homeland” and were willing to die to defend? Or, more specifically, could Weary Clyburn have conceivably held such an abstraction and felt loyalty toward it? Other than Mr. Ijames speculation, is there any basis in the historical record for slaves having felt patriotic loyalty to a “South” in opposition to a “North,” and specifically for Clyburn having felt such a loyalty?

  • Mike May 11, 2009 @ 12:16

    It has to go back to the relationship and bond that was forged under this slave/master relationship for some of them. For example a family in my county took care of an old colored lady for decades until she died in the 1930’s I got the same story from my Grandfather as I did from the ladies Granddaughter. Lady Bee told me her Grandmother had been a house slave on the farm where she had grew up. During the war she killed 2 union soldiers who were trying to rape her Missie who she had been raised with and whom she serves as an personal attendant. Her owner wrote into his will that she and her linage should have a place on the farm, a job and total care till they died or decided to move on.

    Others could have free blacks who saw a chance for social advancement, other freedom and others by force.

    I believe as we study and look at the Sharecroper / Land owner relationship we can get a frame of ref. with which we can look further back to the Slave /Master relationship.

  • Lee White May 11, 2009 @ 11:56

    Ok, now I am waiting for the stories of the thousands of horses that fought for the Confederacy, what about the thousands of Confederate Cows that died so that a Confederate soldier would not starve? These are as ridiculous as the other claims and sadly about the same level that a slave would have been considered by most of them.

  • Michaela May 11, 2009 @ 11:09

    This might be too obvious and thus nobody says it, but I truly do not get it. Would somebody please elucidate: why would a black man who was either freed by his owner or was still a slave fight in the American Civil War on the Confederate side? I can only come up with a handful reasons: he was paid, he was promised freedom, he was promised property, he was loyal to his master (in the sense of being able to make a decision of acting loyal out of free will because he had joined the plantation out of free will, stayed there out of free will and raised his family there out of free will), he was threatened, he was promised to be transferred to another plantation to be with his wife, he might have been convinced that the world order of the black man being enslaved was perfectly ok, his master had no fear or suspicion to arm him and his friends and started to see him as an equal. And if you chime in and enlighten me to understand why a black Confederate soldier fought for his country and therefore the existing social order, do not tell me your grandfather had a friend who heard it from his cousin rather send me to the library and let me read the source. And as those black Confederates were fighting for the South, please explain to me in detail what you mean by “South”, “Southern heritage”, “their country”, etc. I am sure once I understand it, I can grasp the idea of thousands of black Confederate soldiers. And as it is no secret that I am Kevin’s wife, do not hold it against me that his Northern schooling and liberal views have been no helpful source to truly get to the bottom of this; ) No, seriously, educate me.

  • Mike May 11, 2009 @ 11:02

    I will second the gaps in the CSA Army records. My Grandfather back 5 generations was a Confederate Soldier who served with the Army of Northern Virginia under Gen Lee. But the SC records show very little info on him. My best evidence of his service is his oral testimony and some paper work I got from the Arkansas Confederate Pension Board. In that packet is a signed and notarized document stating that 3 men still living in SC had served with him and that he was a True Blue Johnny Reb. I have lots of stories because the old warrior was tougher than a pine knot and lived till 1933. My grandma on my Dads side was 20 when he passed and she told me lots of stories that he told her as a girl.
    But in all my on-line research I have not found any more evidence of his service. At times the Gaps for Whites is almost as bad as it is for ” Black Confederates”.

    Kevin it must have been a great paradox to have seen your Property on the battlefield fighting with you. I can only guess it was a desire for freedom or a deep devotion to some one you had grew up with that would drive you to defend that which sought to keep you in bondage.
    This issue should bring forth mountains of research and a dozen books over the next 5-15 years. I am pumped about the prospects of what we will find.

  • Kevin Levin May 11, 2009 @ 10:28

    Ken and Victoria,

    Thanks for commenting. This is obviously a touchy issue for many, but the problem is that so few people are seriously attempting to understand these stories within the context of a slave society at war. I’ve read hundreds of soldier accounts and have never come across a wartime account of blacks fighting as soldiers in Confederate ranks. Probably no one knows more about the Army of Northern Virginia than Robert Krick and he admittedly has only come across a small handful and estimates that maybe as many as 500 free blacks fought in the entire army. This is obviously an exception to the general rule that must be explained on a case by case basis. It tells us nothing about the official policy of the Confederate government and it certainly doesn’t tell us much of anything about how the overwhelming majority of white southerners (slave and slaveowner) thought about blacks.

    Thanks again for weighing in. The more people steeped in the actual historical record the better.

  • victoria bynum May 11, 2009 @ 10:15

    Thanks for an enlightening, carefully-analyzed post, Ken. I’ll only add that in all the Civil War records I have studied, I never found a single white soldier refer to black men as a fellow soldiers of the Confederacy. I did find examples of free black men trying to obtain exemptions from service after the Confederacy conscripted them during the final stage of the war.

  • Ken Noe May 11, 2009 @ 9:20

    I’m a little hesitant to weigh in when this topic obviously has become so charged for many but here goes…Samuel Pickens, the son of a woman who owned over 200 slaves, served most of the war in the 5th Alabama. Double checking some notes this morning for an article I’m re-editing, and having read this post and the comments, I looked for all of Pickens’ comments on African Americans in camp. He’s only one soldier, but I think what he wrote is instructive.

    2/7/63: “I set to work on [a chimney for his tent] and got a negro to do dobbing for us.”

    2/27/63: “This eveng. Braxton, M. Jones’ boy got back from Amelia Co….with a barrel of eatables.”

    4/14/63: “Maj. Websters boy says his master has caught grt. many fish.”

    6/8/63: “yesterday evening I wrote to Icha and sent the letter by Jim Boardman’s boy.”

    1/21/64: “Antony Bayley’s boy ran off to-day.”

    11/15/64: “Tom, I & the servants live entirely on our basket of edibles brought from home.”

    12/12/64: “Bill Shelden accompanied by servants Perry & Dave started home on furlough this morning & took our letters.”

    2/17/65: “A meeting of the officers was held in our Regt. yesterday evening to find out their views on the subject of taking negroes into the army, & if they thought the negroes would be most effective in separate organizations or mixed in with ours as recruits….I think it was generally believed that negroes would do better service thrown in with the whites, but they did not like the idea; however, anything rather than subjugation by the Yankees.”

    So what do we have. There obviously are quite a few African Americans in the 5th Alabama’s camp. They are described always as “servants” and “boys,” and generally have no identities apart from their masters as far as Pickens is concerned. They’re trusted enough to do things that slaves did before the war, like provide food or deliver letters. They all seem to get along well enough–no descriptions of beatings and lynchings like I’ve found in some other diaries and letters. They don’t seem to be ever involved in combat. And clearly, given the last entry, Pickens and his comrades did not consider them fellow soldiers, or else their recruitment and deployment wouldn’t have been such a controversial issue two months before Appomattox. Note that most men in the regiment did not want to serve in the ranks alongside enlisted black soldiers, and Pickens was only willing to do so out of desperation.

    I’m not opposed to using postwar accounts, or even oral history, but the best accounts are always those written at the time. Post-war descriptions and pension records run the risk of being shaped by ideas and events in Reconstruction and beyond. Muster rolls and the like are iffy, ghost is right. But as Kevin suggests, we have thousands of contemporary Confederate soldier accounts. Over the last few years I’ve read the 1861-65 letters and diaries of 320 Confederates, and what strikes me is that Pickens’ comments ultimately are the norm. I’ve run across a lot of “servants” mentioned in those sources, but still not one “black Confederate” voluntarily fighting for home, cause and comrades. So maybe the ultimate answer to Weary Clyburn is to be found in the surviving ’61-’65 sources of the 12th South Carolina? Maybe it’s time that someone actually looks?

    (The entire Pickens diary, by the way, can be found in Guy Hubbs’ excellent “Voices From Company D.”)

  • ghost May 11, 2009 @ 9:00

    Confederate records are incomplete.

    My great-grandfather served two years in the Confederate army, drew a pension after the war (with all the necessary witnesses to his service), but he appears on only one muster roll in that two year period (muster rolls were filled out every two months).

    Why? It’s the only existing muster roll for his company during that period.

    His brother enlisted about the same time, was killed in battle a year into service, but he appears nowhere in the record.

    • Kevin Levin May 11, 2009 @ 9:05

      Thanks for the comment. You just pointed to one of the problems with Confederate military records. That said, there is a very different problem when it comes to tracking the presence of slaves in the Confederate armies. Their names are unlikely to appear in muster rolls since they did not serve as soldiers; however, they will appear in the letters of soldiers and officers as well as other official forms having to do with their sale or leasing to the army. Unfortunately, and as I pointed out in a previous comment, most slaves’ names will not appear at all in the historical record since they were not deemed worthy of remembrance by name. So, the long and short of it is that the project of understanding the role of Confederate slaves must be undertaken with great care and attention to the available evidence as well as to the broader issues involved.

  • Kevin Levin May 11, 2009 @ 7:43


    It seems to me that plenty of people look like fools right now. The fundamental problem is the framing of what needs to be understood. The question that serious historians must address is how the Confederate war effort challenged and shaped the master-slave relationship. Until we understand this we are going to continue to read stories, pushed by the likes of Ijames, that tell us very little about history.

  • Mike May 11, 2009 @ 6:45

    Well I agree with you Kevin we must have more solid evidence so we are not duped and 5-10 years down the road be made to look like fools. Growing up in the Delta of Arkansas I heard many stories about Black Confederates. But without solid Historical evidence we are left with Family Stories and some tall tales.

  • John Cummings May 11, 2009 @ 5:37

    This is your blanket statement: “I covered this story closely and offered a number of reasons to doubt these claims as I have for most of these silly stories about black Confederate soldiers.”
    “Silly stories”, your words, and quite derogatory and unprofessional.

    • Kevin Levin May 11, 2009 @ 6:06


      As a whole these stories are misleading and quite silly. I stand by that claim. I have never denied the presence of blacks in Confederate armies. There were thousands who took part in the war effort. In fact, no one has been more vocal in calling for the serious investigation of their role in the Confederate war effort. I am not going to apologize for caring about the way in which people approach this subject and I am surely not going to apologize for having high standards for such claims.

      I’m sorry to be such a disappointment to you.

  • John Cummings May 11, 2009 @ 4:17

    What is most disturbing Kevin, is your zest for cultural cleansing. You have a dogged determination to eradicate the possibilty of any vein of reality to these stories.
    You have elevated yourself to such a position of absolute authority, and you demean anyone of color who might embrace an ancestor claiming such fraternization. The way you treat it as so abhorrent is the real danger. You do an injustice to history by using words like “silly” and “deception”. I have a personal friend who’s family has maintained one of these claims throughout their family history, all by themselves, not influenced by the likes of the SCV or any other group you may determine as somehow duping them. You already ackowledge the problem of a lack of clear records due to their “status”. How much of our history is anecdotal because of these conditions? Diminishing a “family memory” is a barbaric form of research. How much of the slave narratives do you pick and choose from to meet the needs of your theorem? What do you dismiss when it is contrary to your end game?
    If you really want an examination of this aspect of history then get off the pedestal.

    • Kevin Levin May 11, 2009 @ 5:14


      What is so striking is that you have nothing to say about the poor use of evidence by Ijames. You apparently have an incredibly low threshold for making claims about the past, which I am sorry to see. I’ve commented extensively on this over the past few months and have been very specific in my criticisms. I say nothing about those stories that have been passed down through the Rice family. What I have commented on is Ijames’s apparently poor research skills. Unless you want to comment on this than I have nothing more to say to you.

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