How Much for the Black Confederate?

[Hat-tip to Ta-Nehisi Coates]

Looks like I missed a very interesting Antiques Roadshow last night.  A descendant of Andrew Chandler brought in the original famous photograph of his great-great-grandfather and slave, Silas Chandler.  The piece was assessed between $30,000-$40,000, by the very capable, Wes Cowan of History Detectives fame.  This is one of the more popular stories floating out there in the crazy world of black Confederates.  Silas Chandler is regularly touted as one of the best examples of a black Confederate who fought for the cause.  The standard “neo-Confederate” line can be found here [warning: turn the mute button off first] and you can even buy a Chandler Brothers t-shirt from Dixie Outfitters.  The transcript of the appraisal as well as a video can be accessed here.

I was a little disappointed with Cowan’s interpretation, though I guess it could have been much worse in different hands.  Cowan should have responded immediately to the following from his guest:

The gentleman on the right is Silas Chandler, his slave, or as we’ve always called him, manservant. Andrew Chandler fought with the 44th Mississippi Cavalry, as did Silas. They’re about the same age, joined the Confederate army when Andrew was 16, Silas was 17, and they fought in four battles together.

Silas did not fight with the 44th Mississippi.  He was a slave.  And Silas did not join the Confederate army when he was 17.  He was a slave.  Cowan correctly identifies Silas as enslaved, but then goes on to ask the following: “And Silas actually received a pension from the Confederate government for his service during the war, isn’t that correct?”  No, it’s not correct.  The Confederate government did not issue pensions; rather, veterans were able to apply for pensions from the states in which they lived following the war.  However, Cowan fails to mention that while some slaves did receive pensions this did not signify status as a soldier.  The viewer is left to wonder whether Silas was indeed a soldier. I know, it’s an excusable mistake, but in this case it makes all the difference.

We need to be careful when it comes to telling these stories.  We need to be sensitive to the military records when determining service as a soldier as opposed to simply throwing words such as “service”, “fought”, “joined” around loosely as is typically the case.  More importantly, we need to be careful about imposing our assumptions about the relationships between these men.  I am happy that the descendants of these two men are now close friends, but that has absolutely nothing at all to do with understanding the master-slave relationship through Andrew and Silas Chandler.  We need to take care of our history.

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125 comments… add one
  • Brian Apr 22, 2011 @ 4:51

    The fact that you seem to be a historian yourself Mr. Levin or at least a scholar of the war between the states, as I refuse to define it as a civil war, your viewpoints are obviously very strong.
    I neither agree or disagree to the notion that black confederate soldiers existed…or that they took up arms in defense of the south, point being that history itself from this era is a bit skewed and has been redefined over time… some of which purposefully and in my mind with an attempt to cover the atrocities commited by the north.
    We have been taught from the time we were children that Abraham Lincoln was this great President, but as I devulge deeper and deeper into his words, actions and obvious intent I have come to believe he was nothing short of a tyrant.
    You will find it hard pressed today to be able to have a serious discussion about secession or state sovereignty that wont be countered by slavery… Although the two are connected to the war, they really are two separate and distinct subjects.
    So as you say that serious historians can not base much weight on online sources, my counter to you is that we as American’s can take little to no weight in the texts written by those historians for their intentions over time have been anything but honest and truthful…

    As they continue to try to say that Lincoln was the great emanicipator, that the south was the agressor, or that Lincolns whole purpose was to save the “union” are all lies repeated by historians sir…

    So whether or not black soldiers actually picked up arms against the north may be supressed as an unpopular thought to further perpetuate the great Lincoln lie… The evidence you seek sir may no longer exist, was destroyed or has yet to be found… truth of the matter is, we can no more say there were NO such actions by blacks as we can say there were… it would be better to assume that little is known and leave it as possible rumors…

    • Kevin Levin Apr 22, 2011 @ 5:07


      Thanks for the comment. I am not sure what secession or Lincoln has to do with this particular issue.

      You said: “The evidence you seek sir may no longer exist, was destroyed or has yet to be found… truth of the matter is, we can no more say there were NO such actions by blacks as we can say there were… it would be better to assume that little is known and leave it as possible rumors…”

      Actually, there is plenty of evidence to consider on this subject and it tells us a great deal about how the Confederate government and military attempted to utilize their enslaved population for military purposes. The problem is that the debate is now focused overwhelmingly on numbers and assumptions of slave loyalty. The relevant evidence for this, unfortunately, does not exist. Your speculation as to why this is the case is just that – speculation. Serious historians must work with the available evidence.

    • Andy Hall Apr 22, 2011 @ 6:16

      As they continue to try to say that Lincoln was the great emanicipator, that the south was the agressor, or that Lincolns whole purpose was to save the “union” are all lies repeated by historians sir…

      I fear you’re making the common mistake of assuming that a sort of childlike, grade-school, Presidents Day pageant-understanding of Lincoln and the war, is what serious, professional historians actually believe and write. It really doesn’t sound like you’ve read historians like McPherson and Foner and Donald, whose analyses of Lincoln are far more complex, and critical of the man, than you seem to be aware of.

      I agree that the hagiography of Lincoln as an unblemished saint is wrong. But seriously, it’s not really different than the way Robert E. Lee is worshiped on the other side of the debate, or the way Lincoln is depicted as a purely evil, Machiavellian (and Marxist) tyrant. All these views are childish cartoons, and exceedingly unhelpful for anyone trying to look at the history of that era in a balanced way.

  • John W. McBryde Oct 16, 2010 @ 8:52

    I hate to say it but this controversy could go on until we are all dead and have joined our ancestors. The issue will still not be solved. Much of our history is not based on actual written fact but stories written after the fact based on one’s interpretation what happened to them. Some history has been written by the victors of the war with a slant to favor them. As they wrote history to favor them, the Southern told history to favor their side. I am sure some slaves fought with their masters. Whether they were actually put on the muster roll as soldiers or not is conjecture. The next time you look at a Teddy Bear remember it came into being because of a Black Bear hunt in the Mississippi swamps with President Theodore Roosevelt and a famed bear hunter who killed around 3000 bears in his lifetime—Holt Collier. By the way, he could pick a apple off your soldier right or left-handed. He sharpened that skill while serving in the 9th Texas Cavalry during the CW. Did I mention he started out as a slave to Howell Hinds?

    • Kevin Levin Oct 16, 2010 @ 10:29


      Thanks for the comment. I disagree with your assessment of the situation. Historians know plenty about the role of enslaved and free blacks in the Confederate war effort. What we know is that blacks did not serve, though a select few may have been able to maneuver around these restrictions. You said: “Whether they were actually put on the muster roll as soldiers or not is conjecture.” It’s not conjecture at all. Either they are on the muster rolls or they are not. I’ve studied this issue extensively and I’ve never actually been able to confirm a case of a black Confederate soldier. There is no serious historian who will give the stories found Online much weight because they are based on poor evidence and sketchy interpretation. Thanks again.

  • jeffry gow Apr 13, 2010 @ 15:33

    dear mr. levin. even though i do believe that all of this information shares an underlying theme, point taken and thanks. jeffry r. gow

  • jeff gow Apr 12, 2010 @ 22:05

    you will never take care of your history until you admit the truth that abraham lincoln was a racist to the end, the north did not travel south to free the slaves and the abomination of racism also existed north of the mason-dixon line. if not then why was segregation permitted in ohio even as current as 1936? the great jesse owens was not even allowed to share the same dormatory or even eat with his fellow classmates at ohio state university? another case; where were most of the race riots during the civil rights years? detroit, pittsburg cleveland, buffalo, chicago. and don’t forget about the faithful union state of california. remember the awful memories of oakland and watts? the list goes on and on and i think i have proven my point. because sadly i too lived some of this. the first time i heard the infamous “n” word was not in mississippi but by ignorant relatives in buffalo new york. one more thing. if the freed slaves were so happy to escape the evil south. why didn’t they stop in beautiful downtown buffalo or cleveland? why did many of them choose to keep on their sogiern to the cold northland of canada? could it be that true freedom was really thre and we are all just a bunch of self-righteous yankee hippocrites. sincerely, jeffry r. gow bowling green ky.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 13, 2010 @ 0:39


      I don’t know who this is directed at, but I agree with you that the issue of race has throughout American history been a national problem. I suspect that African Americans who moved north at various times were seeking jobs in urban centers. Perhaps you should read Ira Berlin’s latest book. Unfortunately, this has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this post. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • joannsampsonwelchmd Mar 11, 2010 @ 17:20

    I am the Great Great Granddaughter and mother of the Great Great Great Granddaughter of Silas Chandler. I am also extremely frustrated by the “LIES” that are being told about the life of Silas Chandler. It is very important that our true family history be documented accurately. Unfortunately, his legacy has been slandered by the perpetuation of ridiculous assumptions that have been injected with fairytale-like rubbish. I grew up listening to many stories told to me by my mother , Myra Chandler Sampson, (told to her by her grandfather) about the life and motivation of Silas. He was a slave and a proud man who did what he had to do to survive and provide for his family. This did not include willingly or happily serving as a confederate soldier, fighting for the confederate cause. I am posting this comment to help document the truth and counter the inaccuracies of those with a selfish motivation to distort history.

  • Myra Chandler Sampson Mar 10, 2010 @ 5:33

    I am the Great Granddaughter of Silas Chandler. The lies being told about Silas fighting in the confederate army keep growing. And that is what they are “LIES”. The majority of the decendents of Silas are also disgusted about all of the lies told about our ancester. Silas was a slave, and did what he had to do in order to survive. I am a Black Chandler who grew up in West Point, Mississippi where it was unheard of to even look at or even speak to a white Chandler. I have a letter signed by the majority of the decendents of Silas demanding the Iron Cross and Confederate flag be removed from Silas' grave. Signing this letter is the Granddaughter of Silas who is 107 years old and still lives in Long Island, New York. I grew up with my Grandfather, who was the son of Silas. He told us all about Silas and how he saved his money and hid it in the barn and bought his freedom. He also bought the land where he built his house. That record is in the Clay County court house as of this day.

    • margaretdblough Mar 10, 2010 @ 13:24

      Thank you.

    • bobhuddleston Mar 10, 2010 @ 22:12


      Thanks for the eloquent — if frustrated — reply!

  • Peter Oakes-Munro Mar 6, 2010 @ 22:25

    Hi folks. I'm a Canadian who studies mostly WW One and I've had a lot of experience with photographs and their interpretation. I think your missing the point. If this tintype photo is genuine then why would it have been taken? Was Andrew Chandler being humourous by dressing up his slave, Silas, in the Confederate Uniform complete with knife, pepperbox and shotgun OVER his master lap? Would Andrew have ever dared to show this to the other white Confederate soldiers without risking a beating or worse? Perhaps it was meant for home consumption, ' Look Chandler family, I really am taking care of Silas! I've armed him and put him in the glorious grey of the Confederacy'. In nineteenth c. Canadian photos that show blacks photograhed with whites, be it military or sport, the blacks are usually seperate from the whites or are on the ground in the front like lapdogs.

    Silas could have been a freed black or maybe a slave but either way this is a portrait of two friends, two equals.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 6, 2010 @ 22:51

      Hi Peter,

      I'm pleased to see that you are trying to offer an interpretation of the photograph. First, it was not uncommon for slaves to find themselves in uniform. I've read a number of accounts where slaves were able to make extra money in camp for such purchases and there are even cases of slaveowners who outfitted their slaves themselves. The reasons for slaves in uniform is a question that is worth close analysis and probably hinges in large part on the varied relationships that had been established on an individual basis during the antebellum years. You've located an important question, but without careful research we will not be able to offer an explanation that is worth debating.

      To suggest that the image shows “two friends, two equals” is meaningless without supporting evidence. Do you have such supporting evidence?

      Thanks again for the comment.

  • Johann Van De Leeuw Jan 23, 2010 @ 14:29

    “Silas did not fight with the 44th Mississippi. He was a slave. And Silas did not join the Confederate army when he was 17. He was a slave.”

    What are your sources sir?

    • Kevin Levin Jan 23, 2010 @ 14:58

      There is no service record for Silas Chandler that would allow us to categorize him as a soldier. So, it is the lack of sources, as is usually the case, that is problematic. And since there is no record we cannot properly describe him as “fighting with”, “joining” or “serving with” the Confederate army. We can safely assume that he was enslaved to Andrew Chandler.

      Thanks for the question.

      • Jere Krischel Apr 29, 2010 @ 11:35

        Interesting thread. I’m wondering why we have to assume anything -> why can’t we just say we don’t know? It seems clear that anyone who wanted to make a firm claim to a specific number of freed blacks serving as confederate soldiers would have a fairly high burden of proof, but it doesn’t really seem like anyone is disputing the fact that it did happen at least a little. It’s almost as if the argument that goes back and forth is primarily because of the different frames being put around the question -> the facts are the same, but people are talking with different semantic understandings.

        Maybe Silas Chandler could be described as “possibly fighting with” or “possibly serving with” the Confederate army. Perhaps the caveat “most likely was enslaved”, but certainly we cannot say such things with complete confidence.

        • Kevin Levin Apr 29, 2010 @ 11:38


          In some cases, as you note, we must be silent. In the case of Silas Chandler we know that he was a slave so it makes no sense whatsoever to describe him as “serving with” or “fighting with” anyone. As a slave, however, he was indeed serving. As I’ve pointed out over and over the issue isn’t really about numbers. The problem is that the people who are arguing for this do not understand the broader issues relating to slavery and even basic facts about Confederate policy on the enlistment of blacks into the army.

          • Jere Krischel Apr 29, 2010 @ 11:50

            I appreciate what you’re saying. It still does look like from the outside that the issue is about numbers, though. You’ve got some people very passionately insisting that their one example is technically true given caveats X, Y, and Z. And then you’ve got the point of view that seems to say, “even if that’s true, it’s not representative, so there’s no point in proving the example”. When pushed to it, it appears that those people insisting on their one example are still willing to accede they don’t have proof of any larger representation (though they may suspect it), and those people insisting that any single anecdotal example is not representative therefore extra suspect are still willing to admit that any one instance might be true (though they may doubt it).

            Now this is completely putting aside any other ulterior motives that might be ascribed (knee-jerk defense of common wisdom, or wishful reinterpretation of common wisdom), which I think for the most part people try to avoid getting dragged into.

            Anyway, very interesting stuff, mahalo for your coverage of it!

            • Kevin Levin Apr 29, 2010 @ 12:04

              It probably is the case that from the outside it looks like a question of numbers, but that is because most people simply do not understand the complexity surrounding how slaves were utilized during the antebellum period and how the war challenged the master-slave relationship. There are a small number of cases that are being shared via the internet that supposedly demonstrate the truth of the individual claim as well as claims about total numbers. Most of these people are not familiar with how to interpret the kinds of evidence (postwar photographs of blacks at Confederate reunions and pension records to name just two) that allow us a window into the lives of these men. My next book project will be a study of this issue and I am planning a magazine article on a prominent “black Confederate” for one of the Civil War magazines.

              • Jere Krischel Apr 29, 2010 @ 12:10

                Looking forward to your book and article. I’ve always noticed with my study of various historical periods that the truth always ends up more interesting and nuanced that I ever imagined when I began.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 23, 2010 @ 23:25

      One way to answer this question is to use the standard offered by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for membership.


      Now, if we can't find evidence of service as determined by the SCV, well …

  • citizenofmanassas Jan 21, 2010 @ 13:14

    Oh come on now. There was slavery in the North, and therefore the Union before and during the war. It matters not, their geographical location, only that they were in the Union, including West Va, which broke away from VA and was a slave holding State signed into Statehood by Abe.

    It is relevant to point out that blacks fought in the Rev war, again simply to prove the point they were willing to fight even though there was slavery and they were subjected to it.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2010 @ 13:15

      I've allowed this to go on long enough. This will be the final comment that I allow from you on this post. I appreciate your willingness to contribute to this thread and I do hope that it was informative. Best of luck on getting through Levine's book. Thanks again.

    • EarthTone Jan 21, 2010 @ 18:16


      Assuming you're still reading this thread, I want to offer this point about OR, which is a restatement of what others here are saying, but put in a different (hopefully useful) way.

      Your singular problem is that you seem to assume that any OR is self-validating. Which is wrong.

      The bottom line is, you can't believe everything you read. Sometimes people get their facts wrong. Sometimes people say things based on false information. Sometimes people misinterpret facts. Sometimes people lie.

      Academic/professional historians are trained to NOT take things at face value. They are trained to question the evidence, and to obtain corroborating evidence.

      When people like you do take things at face value, without questioning the evidence or seeking other corroboration, the result is that you're not taken seriously.

      Meanwhile, claims of black Confederate SOLDIERS require even more “evidence” to prove their legitimacy, IMO. The context of these claims are that (a) it was against Confederate and social mores for blacks (especially slaves) to serve as armed fighters; and (b) it is clear that many (almost all?) of the blacks present with Confederate fighters were slave laborers, who could be confused as being soldiers because of their proximity to the battlefield.

      In this specific context, citations of black Confederate soldiers need to really be vetted before they can be accepted as true. It needs to be asked: how did these black men become soldiers despite government policy? How did these black men become soldiers despite white concerns with arming blacks? Are we calling these men soldiers, when they were actually Confederate slaves? These questions need to asked and answered to validate a claim of black Confederacy fighters.

      No one doubts that there were SOME black Confederate soldiers. But the evidence you citied for the one event noted is nowhere near robust enough to prove your point. Keep these things in mind when you see others making claims black Confederate soldiers… they may well be making the same mistakes.

      Speaking of claims regarding black Confederate soldiers, you might be interested in this:

  • citizenofmanassas Jan 21, 2010 @ 12:59

    It's relevant because someone posted why would the South allow blacks to have weapons if they wanted to keep blacks enslaved? The fact there was slavery in the North during the war did not prevent black Union soldiers and prevent blacks during the Rev war from being soldiers.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2010 @ 13:09

      Again, you seem not understand fundamental facts about the war. Slavery did not exist in the Northern states by the beginning of the Civil War. You could say that slavery existed in the United States during the war since 4 Southern states remained in the Union.

      The Revolution has nothing to do with your initial comment. Either stay on topic or let's end this thread.

      • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 26, 2010 @ 9:22

        “Slavery did not exist in the Northern states by the beginning of the Civil War.”

        This is open to debate, depending on how you interpret the terms of New Jersey's emancipation measures. Although NJ finally ended slavery in name in 1846, in 1860 there remained eighteen “apprentices for life,” as I believe they were called under earlier legislation passed in 1804. Some renderings of the 1860 census returns do not mention these people as slaves:

        This following rendering makes specific reference to the eighteen “apprentices for life”:

        While another website dismisses the distinction and says they were slaves:

        People who want to claim that there was slavery in the North in 1860 use this as their example.

        New Jersey's legislature recently apologized for slavery, which led to this odd interview on NPR:

        • Kevin Levin Jan 26, 2010 @ 10:50

          I've always taken the view that New Jersey did acknowledge those 18 black individuals as slaves at the beginning of the Civil War, though I am aware of the reference to “apprentices for life”. Of course, I should have clarified that point. What I meant to say was that all northern states had taken the initiative to abolish slavery gradually in the period following the Revolution. Our friend Richard Williams has decided to make a big deal about this:… No doubt, I think he will have some fun with it. I hope he has some fun with it. Thanks so much for the links.

          • Sherree Jan 26, 2010 @ 11:12

            I would say that that point is moot, given that there were roughly four million slaves in the South.

            The NPR interview was not just odd; it was close to bizarre. I think that it illustrates how men and women of similar philosophies reach across regions and join hands. All I can say in reaction to some of the views stated, is to echo the assemblyman with whom I most closely identify: “Oh my God.” Notice how the tragedy of the Holocaust, the tragedy of slavery, and the tragedy of Wounded Knee were all lumped together as events in the past that everyone just ought to get over. The apology itself, on the other hand, was a wonderful step in the right direction, imo, as are the efforts by some in Richmond to publicly acknowledge the history of the city's extensive involvement in every aspect of the slave trade and slavery itself, and as the capital of the Confederacy.

            • Kevin Levin Jan 26, 2010 @ 11:50

              I think the question of how to characterize the remaining few black individuals in the North is actually an important one. It tells us something about how white New Jerseyans perceived race on the eve of the Civil War. My initial comment doesn't reflect that because I wrote it on the fly.

              • Sherree Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:10


                In that context, yes the information is important. But it is not important in the context within which Richard places it. And besides, who cares what Richard thinks?

                • Kevin Levin Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:13

                  Well, I certainly don't want to ruin Richard's shining moment. 😀

                  • Sherree Jan 26, 2010 @ 12:20

                    Doubt you could if you tried. Nothing penetrates certain ideologies–certainly not facts.

                    This too shall pass.

          • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 26, 2010 @ 18:22

            Well, Mr. Williams will find the whole matter a bit problematic if he chooses to gloat. Here's what he claims:

            “So Levin's assertion is factually incorrect.”

            Actually, not quite. Slavery was abolished in New Jersey in 1846. The census does not list the people in question as slaves. It's very specific about their status. Mr. Williams is also factually incorrect, in that he simply relied on one source, and took the source to his liking as being true, and failed to do more research. The picture is simply more complicated than either flat statement would have us believe.

            However, let's see how he handles this discussion. It contradicts his premise about this blog.

            Does the fact of the situation in New Jersey materially change our understanding of why white southerners seceded? No. They were very honest, even blunt: they advocated secession because they wanted to protect slavery.

            • Kevin Levin Jan 26, 2010 @ 18:29

              I'm not going to make too much of this. This is typical Williams behavior and his readers will no doubt soak it up. Remember, this is the same guy who describes Stonewall Jackson as the “Black Man's Friend” and who believes that Crocker's “Politically Correct” book is good history. 😀

            • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 27, 2010 @ 5:27

              However, check this:


              Pages 4 and 5 do list these 18 people as slaves (12 male, 6 female).

              • Kevin Levin Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:36

                Thanks, but like I said, I've always interpreted the 18 as slaves in 1860. The funny thing is I actually think that RW believes that I already knew this. I've commented on NJ's recent decision to apologize so it must have crossed his mind. It's interesting to me that Richard would make such a big deal about a comment written on the fly after going out of his way to stating how unimportant I am. That's hilarious considering that now we know that Richard is trolling through my comments looking for something to nitpick. And the best part of it is that he does it during working hours.

  • citizenofmanassas Jan 21, 2010 @ 12:38

    I'll check the book out.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2010 @ 12:39

      Excellent. I look forward to hearing from you upon completion of the book.

  • citizenofmanassas Jan 21, 2010 @ 12:38

    Indeed the Yankees used Confederate Pows as shields too. They also mistreated and underfeed Confederate Pows.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2010 @ 12:40

      Historians have written quite a bit in recent years about the mistreatment of slaves on both sides.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 21, 2010 @ 4:43

    “So, why would it be such a leap to believe free blacks would fight for the South?”

    I believe tens of thousands of free blacks fought for their enslaved black brethren in the South. I believe far fewer fought for the Confederacy. There's more to the South than the Confederacy.

    By the way, the source you cited was silent on whether the black men mentioned were free or enslaved. Thus you cannot say with any certainty that they were free.

  • citizenofmanassas Jan 21, 2010 @ 2:26

    It is about history, because it's the official record of the war, which of course is in the past.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2010 @ 2:29

      Why don't you start with Bruce Levine's book and get back to me. I guarantee that you will enjoy it and you will learn a great deal.

  • citizenofmanassas Jan 21, 2010 @ 2:19

    I never said the OR was a history book, I said the very thing that you just said about it.

    Slavery existed in the north before and during the war, so it is relevant to the topic. West Virginia in fact was admitted as a slave State by Abe himself.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2010 @ 2:24

      You implied that it was some kind of a history book, just not a “traditional” one.

      None of this is relevant to the fact that you failed to substantiate your initial claim. West Virginia was not a northern state. There is a difference between slave states that stayed in the Union and northern slavery. Let's get our facts straight please. You are quickly losing credibility here.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 21, 2010 @ 4:44

      How is the fact of where slavery existed relevant to whether armed blacks were at a small-scale action in Virginia in June 1861? Please explain.

  • citizenofmanassas Jan 21, 2010 @ 1:58

    The OR of course is not a traditional history book that is written by single arther or even a few, so, there is not personal opinion to add to the overall theme of the book. You know that of course. But, you still do not trust the official records of the Government. It's not as if it was written by someone with an agenda or done to misled people.

    Someone, I'm not sure who it was, maybe it was you, said it was unlikely a Goverment that defended slavery was willing to arm the very people they wanted to keep in enslaved. So, that is why I brought up slavery in the North and during the Rev war.

    You simply do not want to believe, because it would go against your views and your agenda, and that is exactly what you have. Funny, how you want to put trust in the official stance of the Confederate Government, but do not want to put trust in the OR. Many books have used the OR as a source and reference.

    The fact there are pictures, letters, eye witnesses etc that prove there were black Confederates, you are not having any of it.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2010 @ 2:10

      You apparently do not understand what the OR is. It's not a traditional history book at all. It's in large part a collection of reports from various levels of command and departments. It is a source that can be used by historians along with a wide range of other sources. It's not a matter of trust. You still don't get it. These reports need to be interpreted. Go look at any set of reports for a given campaign/battle and you will notice that many contradict one another and they do so for any number of reasons. It then becomes the historians job to judge the relative value of each report based on a number of considerations.

      Slavery in the northern states was gradually abolished following the Revolution. It is of no relevance to this issue.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 21, 2010 @ 4:47

      “The OR of course is not a traditional history book that is written by single arther or even a few, so, there is not personal opinion to add to the overall theme of the book. You know that of course. But, you still do not trust the official records of the Government. It's not as if it was written by someone with an agenda or done to misled people.”

      And yet the record of Confederate commanders in the OR make precious little mention of black Confederates. As you are so familiar with the 128 volume work, and Confederate free blacks were all over the place, could you cite ten documents from Confederate sources in the OR that testify to free balcks fighting for the CSA in 1861-1864? Thanks.

  • citizenofmanassas Jan 21, 2010 @ 1:38

    Do you realize that while you are tearing the OR up as a source, you are putting your full faith in the writer of the book because in your opinion he has done a lot of research. There were lots of things done during the war that were against official rules, yet, you are hung up on the if there were officially black confederates or not. Does it matter if they were official or not? Were they handed out unofficial guns to go along with their unofficial status?

    The reason why I bring up the agenda is pretty simply, your tone comes across as bitter and hateful for anyone who dares to think or say anything that does not meet the pc standard. The North had slavery, yet allowed blacks to freely enter the service albeit at a lower pay rate, and of course in segregated units. There was debate going on in the North about the use of black soldiers too and if they could handle being soldiers. Heck even Abe himself did not view the black man as being his equal which of course was a common opinion of that day. It was almost two years into the war before recruitment of black soldiers really got underway.

    During the Rev war blacks fought for America, even though there was slavery. So, why would it be such a leap to believe free blacks would fight for the South?

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2010 @ 1:46

      What you call “tearing” we call critiquing. I put my faith in no history book. The author must offer an argument that stands on evidence and interpretation. We are “hung up” on whether there is evidence for the existence of black Confederate soldiers — official, unofficial or whatever you want to call them.

      I'm sorry that my tone bothers you. Unfortunately, everything else in that paragraph is irrelevant to the issue at hand. Actually, that you bring up the North and slavery, etc. suggests that you have nothing else to contribute.

      Finally, during the war blacks fought with the Continental Army as well as the British. It's not a leap at all as long as you provide some evidence that holds up under scrutiny. You haven't done that today.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 21, 2010 @ 4:53

      “Do you realize that while you are tearing the OR up as a source, you are putting your full faith in the writer of the book because in your opinion he has done a lot of research. There were lots of things done during the war that were against official rules, yet, you are hung up on the if there were officially black confederates or not. Does it matter if they were official or not? Were they handed out unofficial guns to go along with their unofficial status?”

      You're right. There were a lot of things done during the war that were against official rules. For example, you aren't supposed to slaughter people who are surrendering. Take Fort Pillow as an example. And you aren't supposed to put POWs in harm's way … yet Lee did just that in October 1864, although he backed down when Grant called him on it.

      You can find documentation for both of these claims in the OR.

      Now, could you show me Confederate sources in the OR that bear on your question of free blacks fighting for the Confederacy? Could you explain to me why Robert E. Lee never spoke of his black soldiers? After all, Lee's men loved him, and he they. Why would he overlook the service of his black soldiers when he supported measures to enlist blacks in 1865? Don't you think he would have mentioned this? After all, we're talking about Robert E. Lee here.

  • Richard Jan 20, 2010 @ 23:58

    Im curious. What kind of southern ideology benefits from the concept of Black Confederates. Is this something rich elite white people sit around and talk about. The Southern people I grew up with would have thought this whole discussion was a joke. I orginally thought it was just some gimmick to get noticed.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2010 @ 0:29

      This is a relevant question, but we don't need to transition to agendas since the issue at hand is one piece of evidence that has been put forward as reflecting the existence of black Confederate soldiers. I think we can all agree that it doesn't.

  • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 22:49

    On one hand, we have people who believe in NPS employees because they have done research. We have a link to the OR, which indicate there were black Americans on the Confederate side. We have another poster who provided that due to the official Confederate Government policy, blacks were not recruited into the Army and when found to be in the ranks were purged.

    It's just all over the place on the issue. We have some who believe slaves fought, some who don't believe any free blacks fought, and if they did what was their motovation, in other words, well some might have fought if I agree with the motivation they provide.

    Besides the NPS employee, nobody else has put their name to any research other then providing they have read letters of Confederate soldiers. Well, I suppose if the OR can't be trusted, then letters from soldiers, and a very small sample at that, should not be trusted either.

    I'd like to know the motovation behind why some refuse to accept there were black Confederates. I'd like to know why you would refuse to believe such, in the face of research by a very respected NPS employee who has done extensive research.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 23:00

      I referenced Bruce Levine's _Confederate Emancipation_ more than once for you. You seem to think the OR is some kind of holy grail that needs no interpretation. It is a source that is extremely valuable to historians, but like any source it must be interpreted. You provided an interpretation of one particular item and it was challenged by two very talented historians who have published extensively on the Civil War. Please stop reducing this to questions of agenda. You failed to provide sufficient reasons to believe your interpretation of the source which was simply to say that there was a large number of black Confederate soldiers at Manassas. Your interpretation was then challenged, but you have not yet responded convincingly to those challenges. What more do you want?

      You say, “We have a link to the OR, which indicate there were black Americans on the Confederate side.” No we don't. We have a link that suggests that there were black men present in the Confederate army. No one disputes that. There were thousands of black men with the army and based on the available evidence it is safe to assume that they were present as slaves.

      Confederate armies were extensions of a government that pledged to protect the institution of slavery. Why would they arm the very people they were trying to maintain in a subservient position?

      The “motivation” behind those on this forum who “refuse to accept…black Confederates” is that we need evidence to convince us. You haven't done that today and based on what you've said here it is clear to me that you will be unable to do so in the future.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 21, 2010 @ 0:02

      My impression is that in the responses to the report you brought up, no one said, “this can't be true because I don't believe there were blacks in CSA military service (voluntary or otherwise).” Prove me wrong. Rather, you have been the person who repeatedly mentioned agendas, although you don't like it when you are held to the terms of your own reasoning.

      The OR is filled with reports, some accurate, some not accurate, and in some cases, it's very evident that the reports were deliberately inaccurate. So the mere appearance of a report in the OR is by no means a sign of its accuracy.

      You have not put your name to anything, so I find your complaint amusing.

      All evidence is weighed for its accuracy. Maybe you take everything you read at face value. I would not do that. Perhaps I should offer some other things found in the OR and ask you if you think they are accurate. If you think all of them are, that will be very interesting. If you think they are not, then you're back to explaining why you think this report is accurate.

      “I'd like to know the motovation behind why some refuse to accept there were black Confederates. I'd like to know why you would refuse to believe such, in the face of research by a very respected NPS employee who has done extensive research.”

      I'd like to know why you ask this question. Ever hear of constructing a strawman?

  • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 22:23

    Here's a black man who may well have been present on the Confederate side in this action:

    Maxey Gregg's servant, Billy Rose.

    Gregg commanded a provisional regiment that served two months, returning home prior to First Manassas. Among the soldiers in his command was John Chesnut, Mary Chesnut's nephew.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 22:41

      Thanks for linking to this article. I've actually seen this before. I love the clarification: “…for though a pure negro, he is by no means an ebony black one” along with the standard, “faithful servant” and “worthy of the trust” references.

  • msimons Jan 20, 2010 @ 21:19

    Oh another undocumented CW Picture showing an armed Negro Slave. OH my didn't they know that was against the Law! What are we to make of this? Is it a Forgery??? I know Kevin and the There were No way in Hades Black Confederate will launch a full assault on this. ;>)

    Have fun folks, I am going to stay out of this other than making this last statement.
    I belive there were Free willed Black Confederate Soldiers, I have seen too many pictures in person and online to discount their existance even if I can not prove it YET with any Historical Record that would pass muster. So the Search for the Truth goes on.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 21:27

      We've all seen photographs of armed black men from the Civil War. I am editing a collection of letters from a South Carolina captain who brought his slave with him. His slave was uniformed and even carried a weapon on occasion. He was, however, a slave. And when the Union navy anchored just outside of Charleston Harbor he ran off.

      A photograph tells us nothing. We then have to go and try to interpret it along with any other available evidence. What is so difficult to understand about this process? More to the point, it is irrelevant what you believe. What matters is whether you can support what you believe with a reasonable interpretation of the available evidence. That is how history is written. That you admit to not being able to “prove it” means that you have no reason to believe it.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 21:43

      Actually, the photograph in question is well known. So is the story behind it.

      I understand you believe there were “free willed black Confederate soldiers.” How many? Where did they serve? Why did they join? What are the broader implications of their service? How do slaves exercise “free will” in such matters?

      • msimons Jan 24, 2010 @ 0:36

        less that 5000 based on what I have seen so far mostly free blacks from LA.
        We see blacks mentions in all areas of the war but no defentive evidence has been found. I believe as I have read about the Confederate Marines the evidence was lost in the fog of war. I hope someone some where will find the smoking gun to prove these pictures and letters right. As for How slaves exercise free will ? I see that as the free will to offer ones self for service.
        I have read one case where the story says the Body servant upon returning with his matsters body requested to return and fight in his masters place and was allowed to do so.

        Till we find more proff all we have is photos and letters.

        • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 24, 2010 @ 0:55

          “I have read one case where the story says the Body servant upon returning with his matsters body requested to return and fight in his masters place and was allowed to do so.”

          You do understand that what you describe kinda underminds “free will,” as he could not do as he wanted to do, but had to ask to be allowed to do it.

          I think it is perfectly understandable that some enslaved blacks would have wanted to join masters in the army, especially if they were unmarried. For some, I have no doubt there was a personal attachment. For others, a change of scenery, a relief from old patterns and habits. For others still, the chaos of war opens up opportunities to escape, and going to the front closes the distance to freedom.

          This still leaves unanswered the broader implications of service.

        • Kevin Levin Jan 24, 2010 @ 4:17

          You said: “I hope someone some where will find the smoking gun to prove these pictures and letters right.” Why do you hope these stories are eventually proven to be true?

          • msimons Jan 25, 2010 @ 21:42

            Because I want all those old colored people who told me about their kin fighting for the South to be vindicated in the academic world that thus far had derailed and denyed the truth of their oral history.

            • Kevin Levin Jan 25, 2010 @ 21:49

              That has to be one of the silliest blanket claims about academia that I've ever heard. I am not going to bother with a response to this other than to say that you've laid out a very dangerous criteria for how historians ought to go about investigating the past.

  • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 21:10

    I want to add a few thoughts following Ken Noe's comment re: the lack of evidence of black Confederates in his most recent research project.

    Over the past five years I've read hundreds of Confederate letters written in the summer of 1864 during the Petersburg Campaign. By the summer of 1864 black Union soldiers had become much more visible on the battlefield and would play a major role in the failed Union attack at the Crater on July 30, 1864. What I find interesting is that while Confederates comment extensively about these black soldiers in blue uniforms I have never come across a letter that includes a reference to black Confederate soldiers. Where are the references to the loyal black Confederate soldiers who will meet these men on the battlefield? Not one. In addition, newspapers throughout the South included scores of editorials about the question of whether the Confederate government should recruit slaves into the army, but only a few that I've come across actually supported it. As someone else mentioned, why was there a need for a debate if these soldiers were already present in the army?

    The problem is not that we refuse to believe that black soldiers fought in significant numbers for the Confederacy; rather, the problem is that we have no reason (no evidence) to believe it.

  • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 20:14


    Sorry about getting you confused with Ken.

    Why would the men be mentioned at all if they were not relevent to the action? if talking about the men in past tense, and while it might not be correct, the term picked is suitable to discribe the state they were in, which is to say they had pikes.

    There are a lot of leaps to think the men were tossed into the report for no reason at all, to believe they were not relevent, were Union men if anything, etc. But again, you are of the opinion to make those leaps.

    I'm not shifting the discussion at all.

    • msimons Jan 20, 2010 @ 21:23

      If your going to play ball here; you best get your ducks in a row or this bunch will eat you up.

      • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 21:48

        Another way to say it is that if you are going to share your ideas on this forum you better be prepared to be held accountable. 😀

      • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 23:51

        Damn good motto for this blogsite.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 22:08

      Are you telling me that the Confederate commander had no idea that he had 150 picked armed men available to him … when that force would have increased his available force by nearly 20%? If they were positioned on a flank, they were relevant to the action, because if they had attacked, they could have helped overwhelm the Union force. There were only 271 Union soldiers involved in the action.

      I'm not sure what dictionary you are using to claim that “picked” means “men armed with pikes.” Please share your source of that usage. In any case, the source you cite mentioned that not a gun was fired. That would suggest they were armed with weapons that fired bullets.

      Perhaps you can show me where Confederate ordnance officers issued pikes to black men. Were these the pikes at Harper's Ferry? How ironic. 🙂

      All I've pointed out is that there's really not much to go on here. Is this the best piece of evidence you have that there were black Confederates? Because, frankly, if I wanted to make the case that there were black Confederates, I wouldn't use this as evidence to make my case.

      • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 22:18

        Unfortunately, what I think is needed here is a basic primer that introduces rules of historical analysis.

        • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 22:26

          Which is why this discussion is far more educational than any episode of History Detectives. 🙂

  • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 19:05

    Ken and Brooks,

    Thanks so much for the thorough comments. The two of you are putting on a clinic on how to interpret evidence.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 16:29

    Let's not make too much of Wes Cowan's “expertise.” History Detectives delights in highlighting rudimentary research practices as if they are magic. Antiques Roadshow is yet another travesty, where one can't decide whether to laugh or cry. On Cowan, see how he identifies himself: I think Cowan's performance in this instance exposes him as something of a fraud.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 16:41

      Perhaps I was too easy on him, but given the crap that is on television I tend to see HDetectives as a bit of relief. I somehow have to justify a new flat screen television.

  • Citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 15:20

    There is an account in the Official records of the war regarding action at Vienna, VA in 1861. The Yankee General clearly spells out he saw 150 black Confederates.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 15:32

      With all due respect, this is the kind of sloppiness that concerns me. The officer says clearly that he saw “150 armed picked negroes” and not black Confederates.

      We now have to ask why they were armed as well as their status.

      • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 7:13

        What is sloppy about providing an account of who he was facing. Those details I don’t believe are going to be included in any account. Do you think he was concerned with the arms of the other Confederates? Do you really think the officer would/should have called a “time out” to run over to check on their status or ask why they were armed?

        Of course we can’t speak for the officer or even his opinion on the fact he provided the account of the black soldiers. However, I do believe we should take his account for what it is, that he came upon armed blacks that were on the other side.

        • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 16:35

          What is sloppy is that you are not citing the document properly. He doesn't call them “black Confederates”. He refers to black men carrying weapons. All I am saying is that we do not know much from this report. We certainly do not have a reason to assume that these men were soldiers since the Confederate government excluded blacks from joining the army.

          Your other comment was deleted for lack of content. I have very little patience with readers who post comments anonymously.

          • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 8:31

            We know he saw them and they were fighting for the other side, otherwise, he would have made it known, they were fighting for the North.

            Its obvious you do not want to admit that blacks did fight for the South, and that’s fine that’s your opinion. But I don’t know why you want to question the official records of the war. But, you don’t want to question the fact just because the Government excluded blacks from joining the army, that does mean it did not happen.

            I don’t believe I posted anything without using my name and email.

            • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 9:29

              Frederick Douglas wrote that he saw black Confederates with arms. There are plenty of other reports that bear that out as well. Any serious historian is not so closed minded they allow their agenda to get in the way of the facts. You might also want to know there were Jewish Confederates, hispanic Confederates, American Indian Confederates. There were also black slave owners.

              • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 18:21

                No he didn't. Go back to that reference, which I believe appeared in Harpers Weekly and what you will notice is that Douglass simply passed on information that was conveyed to him. What you need to remember is that Douglass was at the time trying to convince Lincoln to accept black men into the United States Army.

                Again, you are throwing references around w/o any attempt at analysis. Since all of these points have been made on this blog before I am going to end this line of discussion. I urge you to browse through the category of posts on this subject.

            • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 19:11


              I'm not an expect on English, but do you think the past tense word for pike might be picked, as in the men had pikes?

              I think if the men were union soldiers it would have been noted. The fact the men did not fight, says little too since not all troops at every battlefield fought, and this was a small action.

              Why don't you ask the others why they do not want to believe there were blacks who fought who were not slaves?

              There is no reason behind why I believe there were black Confederates other then there were black Confederates, and they should be talked about just like other topics concerning the war.

              • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 19:18

                There is no past tense for the word. Brooks can speak for himself, but the reason we are not asking is because the available evidence does not point to significant numbers of free blacks fighting as soldiers in the Confederate army. The Confederate government expressly forbade their recruitment. There is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that when blacks were uncovered in the ranks they were dismissed from service.

                White southerners debated the issue of black recruitment throughout 1864 and into 1865. Again, I recommend reading Levine's books for an excellent survey of this debate and the eventual decision very late in the war to recruit limited numbers of slaves.

              • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 19:49

                Pike is a noun, not a verb. I don't think you need to be an expert on English to know that. Why didn't the CSA commander mention the unit armed with pikes? He mentioned his artillery and cavalry, for example.

                Why should we talk about black Confederates? We talk about things because we think they are important. Why are they important to you? What does their existence signify?

                I admire your efforts to shift the conversation. That suggests to me you can't defend your analysis of the evidence on its merits. I'm unaware of anyone here who does not believe that there may have been some free blacks who fought on the Confederate side. Show me where they deny this categorically.

              • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 19:49

                Pike is a noun, not a verb. I don't think you need to be an expert on English to know that. Why didn't the CSA commander mention the unit armed with pikes? He mentioned his artillery and cavalry, for example.

                Why should we talk about black Confederates? We talk about things because we think they are important. Why are they important to you? What does their existence signify?

                I admire your efforts to shift the conversation. That suggests to me you can't defend your analysis of the evidence on its merits. I'm unaware of anyone here who does not believe that there may have been some free blacks who fought on the Confederate side. Show me where they deny this categorically.

          • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 18:12


            You dismiss one report because it does not match up with your opinion, and accept the other one as fact, since it does not mention the black Confederates, even though it does not mention them one way or the other.

            Exactly what type of record would you accept for you to believe there were black Confederates?

            • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 18:18

              Ken is simply doing what any good historian does with evidence. He is asking questions and trying best to judge what it shows. Your first comment suggested that this report proved the existence of black Confederates. What we are pointing out is that there are reasons to disagree. Again, that is what good historians do.

            • Ken Noe Jan 20, 2010 @ 18:39

              Not all reports are equal, though, as you imply. It's not much of a stretch to believe that Gregg knew how many men he had under his own command. They took roll. I'd be more wary of using his estimates of Federal numbers. In contrast, the U. S. army launched an official investigation into Schenck's actions after Vienna. Common sense suggests that he might have had reason to stress the odds he faced. So yes, in this case, I'm more willing to accept Gregg on his numbers than Schenck. That's not because of my opinion on the issue, though, it's simply logical.

              As to the broader issue, I've described a handful of blacks in Confederate arms here and there, when the sources seemed reliable. But I've also had someone take my own words, rewrite and distort them, and then plaster them all over the internet under my name to “prove” the existence of many “black Confederates.” So you'll have to forgive me if I'm suspicious of other bits of “evidence” or the issue in general.

            • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 18:53

              The Union informant mentioned they were not fighting at all, just lying prone on the grass: “… a body of 150 armed picked negroes, who were posted nearest us in a grain field on our left flank, but not observed by us, as they lay flat in the grain and did not fire a shot.” The Confederate commander, who mentions every single other unit under his command and identifies commanding officers, did not mention such a detachment, period. Odd to say that, especially if the men were “picked.” By whom?

              Now, I would assume that the Confederate commander knew about the men under his command. Do you have any evidence to the contrary? Did the Union forces actually see these men? No.

              Now, you've told us that these were black Confederate soldiers, armed with pikes. Nothing, absolutely nothing in the source, tells us that.

              You dismiss whatever evidence (including the CSA commander's report) does not match up with your opinion … sound familiar? Once again, you're simply admitting that you interpret the evidence in some way because of your opinion about black Confederates. You can't escape having your own perspective assessed in light of your own logic.

              Here's my question: no one, including the historians with whom you are arguing, denies that there were enslaved blacks with the Confederate armies. Heck, I can offer much better evidence than you have of that fact. My question is a simple one: what do you conclude from their presence? Anything? After all, since you so insistent that other people don't see black Confederates because of their assumptions, you should reveal your assumptions, because you do see these black Confederates, and you seem angry that other people do not. Why is this so important to you? Tell us why this matters.

            • Ken Noe Jan 20, 2010 @ 20:05

              “Exactly what type of record would you accept for you to believe there were black Confederates?”

              Forgot to answer this, sorry. I recently completed a project that required me to read the letters and diaries of 320 CS soldiers. They wrote a lot about slavery, slave labor in camp, their opposition to emancipation, and their mixed feelings about the 1865 Confederate Congressional debates over arming blacks. But not a one of them–not one–described black men fighting beside them as armed soldiers for the Confederacy. What I'd need are a lot of letters that did describe that. I'd also need evidence that the 1865 Confederate slavery debates never took place after all, because why debate the issue if black men were already soldiers in Confederate service? Finally, some official mention from the Confederate government before 1865 would help.

              This has been interesting, but as I'm waiting for the garage to call about the car, I must take leave of the discussion.

        • Ken Noe Jan 20, 2010 @ 17:05

          Read the report again, sir. Schenck “the Yankee general” clearly never saw one black man under arms at Vienna, nor did anyone under his command. He is merely reporting what a “perfectly reliable Union man….the same reliable source” told him later. Note in particular that the 150 men “were not observed by us” and moreover “never fired a gun.” So what we're left with is an unnamed civilian source and a comment he made days after the action. And even then we don't even know if he was providing eyewitness or secondhand information.

          • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 8:46

            You are correct, the General did not see them personally. However, given the General accepted all information from the source its a streach to not believe the source.

            There are many other reports of black Confederates including from Frederick Douglas. I simply do not understand why people are so closed minded to this issue. Particually many of the same people complain the history of black Americans takes a back seat to the rest of our history.

            • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 17:41

              The Douglass report that you speak of does not demonstrate the existence of black soldiers in the Confederate army. What you refer to as “closed minded” is really nothing more than what serious historians do when confronted with evidence. They ask questions.

              I highly recommend that you read Bruce Levine's book, _Confederate Emancipation_ (Oxford University Press). This particular OR source does not point to black Confederate soldiers. It does if you are already convinced that thousands served. Unfortunately, the kind of evidence that would demonstrate such a presence doesn't exist.

            • Ken Noe Jan 20, 2010 @ 18:05

              Yes, but how reliable was the source, really? Look at a different issue. Based on the civilian's information, Schenck reported that “at least 2000” Confederates were arrayed against him. Yet in the next report, Maxcy Gregg is very exact about his numbers at Vienna: 575 infantrymen, 70 cavalrymen, and 34 gunners, 680 in all counting Gregg himself. (And no armed blacks). Thanks to the source, in other words, Schenck reported that the force he faced was three times as large as it actually was. So the civilian was either prone to exaggeration, or simply a bad observer. That doesn't speak well for his assessment of those 150 black men. The fact that Schenck believed everything the guy told him doesn't speak so well for him either. No, this one is too flimsy to accept as definite fact.

            • EarthTone Jan 21, 2010 @ 2:02

              {There are many other reports of black Confederates including from Frederick Douglas. I simply do not understand why people are so closed minded to this issue. }

              The reason has been stated: The use of black in general and slaves in particular was against the policy of the Confederacy.

              It's like someone saying that there numerous cases of American female soldiers in WWII. The use of women as fighting soldiers was forbidden. As such, any citation of women in battlefield situations must, by necessity, be greeted with skepticism.

              Beyond the fact that blacks were not allowed to join the Confederate armed forces as a matter of policy, there were social barriers as well. For various reasons, the idea of arming blacks was problematic for whites (in both the South and the South, I would add). There were fears of armed slave revolts, concerns that blacks weren't good enough fighters, and plus, whites did not want to fight alongside blacks.

              Given this, any incidence of black Confederate soldiers must be seen as an exception, and in need of some type of validation before it can be believed… just as a supposed case of American WWII females soldiers would need some validation in order to be believed.

        • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 17:11

          The general in question saw nothing of the sort. He reported what he had heard from a Unionist informant.

      • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 19:36


        If you look at my very first post, I provided a link to the OR. I incorrectly said the General saw the men, but then corrected that in a later post. It seems to me that others want to pick apart the OR to fit their view points.

        I'll admit I may not be the best writer, and may not alway use choose the best words(for example when I say soldier, I'm using it in the general term, and when using the term fighting, it means they are on one side, either Confederate or Union) to make my points, however, I still think if the blacks mentioned in the OR were Union men, the General would have mentioned it, or added a note onto what he was told by the source.

        Elsewhere on this page, there is a reference to a NPS employee who provides an estimated number of blacks he thought fought for the South. I did not see anyone question his numbers, or ask where he got his numbers from. It seems to me if people want to be so exact and measured on this issue, why not questions regarding his numbers or his opinion? What are his sources for such numbers?

        • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 19:52

          You also said the men were armed with pikes. Where is the evidence for that in the OR?

        • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 21:39

          “Elsewhere on this page, there is a reference to a NPS employee who provides an estimated number of blacks he thought fought for the South. I did not see anyone question his numbers, or ask where he got his numbers from. It seems to me if people want to be so exact and measured on this issue, why not questions regarding his numbers or his opinion? What are his sources for such numbers?”

          Because Bob Krick's searches through the combined service records and rosters have been discussed before. We're well aware of the source. Bob's name is attached to his findings. Yours is not.

          • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 21:46

            I would just point out that Bob Krick is one of the most respected NPS Civil War historians. He has published extensively on the Army of Northern Virginia and is familiar with all of the relevant archival sources.

      • chrismeekins Jan 21, 2010 @ 3:19

        Could perhaps picked in this case mean gathered? We picked apples from the orchard. It seems to me that it could be saying 150 armed gathered Negroes which makes more sense to me than picked being some form of weapon.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 16:35

      A few questions: if these armed African Americans were lying down, how could someone tell they were armed? And why does the Confederate report make no mention of these men? Are we to assume that “black Confederates” were invisible to their white Confederate counterparts, and visible only to the enemy at a distance? Or might it be that these armed black men were in fact looking to fire upon the Confederates (which would explain why the Confederate report does not acknowledge them)?

      • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 8:24

        A pike(non firing weapon) is a pretty long weapon, easily seen from a distance. Why would the Confederates mention them? They did not need to mention men by race, they knew the troops they had, so there was no need to single them out(I think this is where our twenty first century mind gets in the way of just looking at the evidence as it is provided by the first hand accounts).

        • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 17:42

          Hmm…I wonder what else we could prove with such logic.

          • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 18:56


            I'm sorry you seem to have an issue with the official records. It seems you the one that is projecting in this thread. I asked exactly what type of record you would accept in order to believe if there were black Confederates. You did not respond. I don't want to assume you ignored the question, so I'll give you another chance to respond to it.

            I did a quick tour of this blog/website and it seems to be very anti-confederate and not open to the idea there were black Confederates. Of course that might not be your view.

            • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 19:08

              You are missing the point. Brooks is not taking issue with the OR. He is taking issue with your interpretation of one report in the OR. There is a significant difference between the two. You are the one making the claim about what a specific source shows. Brooks and Ken disagree. That is the nature of historical discourse. It is you who refuses to follow up on their counterpoints.

            • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 19:43

              C.O.M. … I don't have an issue with the OR at all. Indeed, in this discussion I've drawn on multiple reports, whereas you seem content to select just one. Nor was I the person who first brought up what people want to believe or not to believe. You did.

              Your question about what evidence I would require to accept the existence of black Confederates was directed at Kevin. Please try to follow your own postings. I mentioned that I've come across evidence of enslaved blacks with Confederate forces, so your point falls flat. I would point out I'd need far better evidence than you have offered in this thread. I've come across diary entries recently by women reporting on the actions of black servants at the front, for example.

              Now, about those pikes … did you just make that up? They aren't mentioned in the OR report. I don't have any trouble with that. Do you?

              You say that you've posted with your name. How gave you the name “citizenofmanassas”? That's quite unusual. Does it say that on your social security card? 🙂

        • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 17:49

          But the account you cite does not mention pikes, and mentions that they did not fire a gun. And you would have us believe that men lying down in the grass would nevertheless point their weapons … pikes or rifles … at the sky. If the men were prone, as the report offers, how could an observer see how they were armed (since obviously the weapns would be concealed)?

          I simply asked whether the Confederate commander mentioned these men at all in his report. He does not. Are you saying that he was deliberately concealing their presence? That he did not know where (or who) his soldiers were? The report makes no mention of these men, period, regardless of color. That's not an issue of looking at evidence from today's eyes. After all, the informant mentioned their race. He wasn't from the 21st century. The Confederate commander simply doesn't mention them, period.

          You have repeatedly misrepresented the report which you have brought to our attention. It's not clear you've even read it carefully. And, as you live in the 21st century, maybe you are seeing this report through your eyes, instead of simply looking at the evidence … because, if you had simply looked at the evidence, you would not repeatedly misrender it.

          • citizenofmanassas Jan 20, 2010 @ 18:07

            I admitted that I was wrong in saying the General saw the men. Did the Confederate officer mention his other troops by race? You certainly are reading what you want into the report, because you simply do not want to believe there were black Confederates. If they were Union troops it would have been noted as much, but it was not.

            • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 18:30

              You find reading what's written to be a challenge. I simply asked whether the Confederate commander mentioned the men at all. I did not say whether he needed to mention them by race.

              I'm not reading anything into either report. I'm just reading them. You have read into it that they had pikes, for example, without a shred of evidence to support that. You've not answered several direct questions about the evidence or your reading of it. The best you can now do is to assume (there you go again) that anyone who disagrees with you must not want to believe there were black Confederates. Thus you admit that you see that how people read evidence depends on their preexisting assumptions, and if you apply your own reasoning to yourself, you read the material a certain way because you want to believe there were black Confederates.

              I haven't said anything here in this thread about the broader issue of blacks in Confederate military service. I've simply pointed out that your interpretation of this evidence is not supported by the very evidence you offered. I've not speculated as to your agenda. I have, however, held you accountable to your own logic. If you feel offended by that, that's your problem.

  • Tim W. Jan 20, 2010 @ 7:50

    How could there be slaves fighting for the confederacy? The confederacy was built upon the notion that the black man was not equal to the white and that slavery was the base on which it was built. There can be no argument against this because VP Alexander Stephens said it himself in his “Cornerstone Speech”. I find it hard to believe that the Confederate Government would allow a slave grasp a weapon and engage in combat because once he had done this, would it not be fair to grant him his freedom for fighting for their cause? I mean, that would be that only incentive in my opinion that would prod a slave to fight for a society that was built on the back of slaves. If a slave’s incentive was freedom for his service, would that slave also want his family to become free at the conclusion of his service? Economically and socially, it seemed outright hypocritical for the Confederacy to enlist and arm slaves. They struggled with this issue the entire war once their manpower pool began to decline and when it was approved, the only instance where there were actual black confederates was in April 1865 when a company or two of slaves were mustered into service in Richmond, Va but they never saw combat since Richmond fell practically the day after this occurred. If there were “black confederates”, they could only have been servants, cooks, and performed other jobs within an army that would free up a white man to serve in the Southern battle line.

  • chrismeekins Jan 20, 2010 @ 1:19

    You would have been proud of the panel at UNC Wilmington last Friday. The discussion was on USCT but, of course, the audience found its way to the Confederate service question. To a person all four panelist jumped into the question pointing out the ambiguities of claims and acknowledging some who have service records (estimated at 300 by one panelist (Dr. Mark Elliott, UNCG) and in the hundreds by another (Dr. Chris Fonveille, UNCW). The four member panel took turns expressing and stressing serving versus soldiering (for free blacks) and just being there as a slave. Dr. Richard Reid supported the other panelists. The fourth member was a retired UNCW faculty whose name escapes me, Dr. Haley maybe. It was great to see them engage a mixed crowd (students, NC DCR members, re-enactors, regular folk) and forcefully bite at the topic. It was brilliant,IMHO.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 1:29

      I read something about it, but I am so pleased to hear that it was a success. Bob Krick of the NPS also estimates that the total number of blacks who served as soldiers probably numbered no more than a few hundred. I don't know anyone who has spent more time with service records than Krick. That sounds right to me. More importantly, it sounds like it was a civil and educational discussion and that is exactly what is lacking. Thanks so much for the comment.

  • Richard Jan 20, 2010 @ 0:04

    I have a very simple question. Did slaves pick up guns and murder Yankee soldiers? Did they flee the the Confederate army to join the Yankees? How many did flee and how many stayed with their masters when the opportunity arose to escape? Very basic questions.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 20, 2010 @ 0:18

      We know that tens of thousands of blacks escaped north during the Civil War. I have no doubt that given the number of slaves present with the Army of Northern Virginia that some ended up with rifles in their hands and fired those rifles in the direction of Union soldiers. The numbers are almost impossible to determine given the records. That along with sloppy analysis opens up room for the nutty claims that abound.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 20, 2010 @ 17:18

      I have one very simple question: what broader conclusions should we draw from the answers to your questions?

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