Earl Ijames Is At It Again

Looks like Earl Ijames is taking his “black Confederate” roadshow out once again.  We first met Mr. Ijames, who works as a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, in the summer of 2008 in a series of posts I did on Weary Clyburn [and here].  In a comment contained in the second link Mr. Ijames introduced us to Private John Venable, who he believed served in Co. H, 21st NCST.  I assumed this was one of his ironclad examples given Mr. Ijames’s insistence that I acknowledge his findings.  With some help from archivists at the North Carolina Department of Archives and History it didn’t take long for us to poke a sufficient number of holes in Ijames’s interpretation of the documents related to Venable.  Unfortunately, Mr. Ijames never responded to the findings and interpretation of his colleagues.

Well, it looks like none of this is enough to prevent Mr. Ijames from presenting his “findings” to the general public.  I wonder if he is going to reference “Pvt.” John Venable in his presentation to the Chatham County Historical Association on February 28:

Many people find it hard to believe that any African American, slave or free, would have willingly served on the side of the Confederacy in the American Civil War. But Earl Ijames, a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, says that many did just that, and that their reasons for fighting were as varied and complex as those of white soldiers. These black soldiers, as well as the blacks who served the Union cause, will be the topic of Ijames’ presentation. Whatever their reasons for serving, Ijames says, these men deserve to be recognized for their valor. “It’s a miscarriage of justice for this many people to be just blotted out of history,” he believes. Ijames has spent some 15 years studying this interesting and controversial topic.

[Update] Here is a description of the presentation on the Chatham website:

Many people find it hard to believe that any African American, slave or free, would have willingly served on the side of the Confederacy in the American Civil War. But Earl Ijames, a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, says that hundreds did just that, and that their reasons for fighting were as varied and complex as those of white soldiers. These black soldiers, as well as the blacks who served the Union cause, will be the subject of Mr. Ijames’ talk on Sunday, February 28.

“The historically accurate term for the African Americans in the service of the Southern cause 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 free blacks who offered their services. Whatever their reasons for serving, Ijames says, these men deserve to be recognized for their valor. “It’s a miscarriage of justice for this many people to be just blotted out of history,” he believes.

Ijames has spent some 15 years studying this interesting and controversial topic.  He will present some examples of people who served and discuss the historical evidence available to document them.  He will invite questions following the presentation.

The public is invited to attend the program to learn more about this fascinating and often ignored subject.

It’s difficult to believe that “many” African Americans served in the Confederate army given that the government expressly forbid it until close to the end of the war.  Given that fact, I would love to know what evidence Mr. Ijames has that would support his claim that the “service” of African Americans in the Confederate army has been “blotted out” of history.  I don’t expect much from organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans on this topic, but don’t people who are in positions like Mr. Ijames have a responsibility to be competent purveyors of the past?  Finally, I find it hilarious that Mr. Ijames would imply a conspiracy surrounding this subject and yet, as far as I can tell, in fifteen years he has never published his findings in a peer-reviewed journal.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

41 comments… add one
  • Genie Coats Oct 20, 2011 @ 16:20

    I enjoyed visiting with you again, Earl. It had been a long time. Your presentation, as ususal and expected, was excellent. You got the furniture nuts in our chapter’s juices flowing.

    When we were talking before lunch, you mentioned an Act of Parliament during ( I think you said) William III’s reign in England, making it enticing and profitable for boatmakers to come to the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas to use our resources. You thought maybe that’s when Eddie’s ancestors may have first come. What was that Act you were talking about? And was it an English deal, or something the Americans dreamed up?


    • Kevin Levin Oct 20, 2011 @ 16:26


      You may have better luck emailing Mr. Ijames directly. I am not sure that he keeps track of old posts.

  • tom/ uncle Jun 13, 2011 @ 9:20

    Perhaps these mythical unfreedom fighters were like Mr Lijames the progeny of the master. Pampered by the master/father and trusted to hold a gun.

    • Andy Hall Jun 13, 2011 @ 9:47

      That’s an unnecessarily personal and ugly insinuation. You’d do better to focus on his work.

  • margaretdblough Feb 12, 2010 @ 3:43

    Richard, There were definitely a few brave souls who recognized despite decades of propoganda what a con job the whole mudsill/free, white, and 21 thing was and had the courage to say so (and it took bravery. Look at the treatment of Hilton Helper, a virulent racist, who wrote a book arguing that slavery was economically harmful to the South)

    • Richard Feb 12, 2010 @ 13:07

      Margaret, If I am understanding your point correctly you are saying that you could be anti-slavery and have no love for the black man. I would agree with that. The article listed below is interesting.

      “Free Labor Associations supported and sometimes led by soldiers of the First North Carolina held meetings throughout the Union-occupied areas designed to recruit for the regiment and support Foster's candidacy. The Buffalo soldiers believed that slavery needed to be ended as the first step toward deportation of Negroes. They therefore insisted upon the vigorous and prompt enforcement of the Confiscation and Emancipation acts.”

      • Richard Feb 12, 2010 @ 13:11

        Im surpised Kevin has not blocked me, Im way off topic.

      • margaretdblough Feb 13, 2010 @ 0:39

        Richard, Obviously, only Kevin can speak for Kevin, but, IMHO, there is relevance. It was a very complex situation on all sides, pro-slavery, anti-slavery, and the large number of people who wished the whole thing would leave them alone because it had no relevance to their existence. There were people like Helper and, it appears, President Andrew Johnson whose dislike of slavery had nothing to do with the morality of enslaving others, but because slavery brought blacks to the Americas in the first place. However, there were others who, even if they believed that blacks were inferior in every way to whites, felt it was morally wrong for one person to deprive another person of their freedom. However, on the pro-slavery front, once slavery as a positive good became the dominant justification any hint of the idea that blacks could function, much less succeed, without white control threatened the very foundation of the peculiar institution. The very qualified bill to allow black enlistment that passed the Confederate Congress in the dying weeks of the war passed very narrowly, after heated debate. A significant portion of the Confederate Congress when faced with a stark choice between almost certain defeat and allowing blacks to serve chose defeat.

  • margaretdblough Feb 12, 2010 @ 0:26


    Regardless of Hammond's staggering personal failings (which might have been ignored or swept under the rug, but for the fact that the girls were Hamptons), he spoke as a Senator from South Carolina on the floor of the US Senate.

  • bobhuddleston Feb 11, 2010 @ 2:55

    Given the amount of miscegenation in slavery days – and after – I wonder how many African-Americans today could legitimately claim membership in the SCV and UDC.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 11, 2010 @ 10:56

      Absolutely! The SCV and UDC clearly do not need to butcher the past in order to present a bi-racial front to the general public.

      • margaretdblough Feb 13, 2010 @ 0:44

        Archivists from the border states love to tell tales of men (for the SCV) and women (for the UDC) excitedly coming in for verification of the family history that great-great-granddaddy fought in the __ Tennessee or the __ Missouri so that they can join the organizations and the the archivists have to tell them that they have some good news and some bad news: the good news is that great-great-granddaddy DID fight in the regiment in question; the bad news is that the regiment was in the Union, not the Confederate armies.

  • bobhuddleston Feb 11, 2010 @ 2:50

    From CivilWarDate.com:
    John W. Venable

    Residence was not listed;
    Enlisted on 6/5/1861 as a Private.

    On 6/5/1861 he mustered into “H” Co. NC 21st Infantry
    (date and method of discharge not given)
    (No further record)


    Sources used by Historical Data Systems, Inc.:

    – North Carolina Troops 1861-65, A Roster


    • Kevin Levin Feb 11, 2010 @ 10:37

      Yes, this we know, but there are questions that still must be answered. Please click the link in the post on John Venable for additional information.

  • Richard Feb 11, 2010 @ 0:27

    I am currently reading a book on Potters Raid and the author uses the term Black Confederate. He describes a free man by the name of James H. Jackson who had been a mason in Wilmington and had enlisted as a “colored bugler” at Zekes Island near Ft Fisher. Jackson was born in England in 1833. His father was born in England and mother was from the West Indies. Served as Asst Postmaster of Greenville after the war.

    What is the definition of a “Black Confederate”. Slave or Free? Both?

    • Kevin Levin Feb 11, 2010 @ 0:31

      A black Confederate is whatever you want it to be. That's part of the problem with all of this. 😀

    • EarthTone Feb 11, 2010 @ 1:03

      Richard, the problem is that the term Black Confederate has been conflated by some to mean a black person who served out of patriotic loyalty to the Confederacy/the “Southern way of life.” The sub-text is, slavery wasn't that bad a thing, because after all, blacks patriotically served the CSA.

      • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 11, 2010 @ 1:14

        This seems to be the real crux of the matter. That is, trying to find out about the facts of this service (numbers, motivation, status, degree of “will”) is one thing. What one makes of it in a broader context is quite another.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 11, 2010 @ 1:23

          And that is what I find so disappointing about Ijames. Here we have someone who works with the documents and yet, based on previous posts, his research is sloppy.

          • margaretdblough Feb 13, 2010 @ 0:56

            Kevin-To me, an ethical researcher is one who researches with an open mind. That doesn't mean that he/she can't have a hypothesis, but a good researcher goes where the evidence leads, even if that ultimately means disproving the original hypothesis. Even if they come across something that appears to be a gold mine for their hypothesis, the ethical researcher still critically examines it just as conflicting evidence would be scrutinized.. If the evidence is a mixed bag or there are credibility issues, the ethical researcher acknowledges the conflict and explains why he/she came to the conclusions that he/she did so their work can be peer reviewed. An unethical researcher starts with a pet theory and cherry picks only things that support the theory, even if making it fit requires taking procrustean measures. Conflicting evidence is either ignored, attacked, or mocked. Supporting evidence is not scrutinized at all. The ethical research understands and acknowledges the role of constructive criticism and peer review. The unethical one regards any questions, even if it doesn't amount to criticism, as a personal attack.

            • Kevin Levin Feb 13, 2010 @ 1:41

              I couldn't agree more.

            • Richard Feb 13, 2010 @ 2:00

              Margaret, I like the way you talk. I am a laymen when it comes to history but I do have a passion for Eastern NC. Your comments about an ethical reseacher remind me of my days solving engineering problems in a manufacturing setting. You start out thinking you know the problem put by the time you finish you may have come up with an entirely different solution and many more unanswered questions. They use to tell us “let the data speak”. I would think challenges by your peers would be welcome because it can only make your argument stronger. And theres nothing wrong with saying Im wrong.

        • abirchler16 Feb 11, 2010 @ 23:25

          The “real crux of the matter” is that so many people prefer to see African-Americans as a monolithic people who all think and act in stereotypic manners. The posibility that some African-Americans might have had motives of their own for their actions destroys your prejudice, and can not be tolerated.

          • Kevin Levin Feb 11, 2010 @ 23:30

            You are absolutely right and it's a problem not just for historians but for anyone who chooses to generalize about a specific demographic. Our responsibility as historians in this case is to look carefully at each case study. Unfortunately, the kinds of documentation that would allow us to meaningfully examine the motivation of black southerners before and during the war are very limited.

          • Richard Feb 11, 2010 @ 23:45

            The same kind monolithic stereotypes have also been applied to whites who fought for the south. Everbody fighting to keep the slave master rich. Or better yet there was so much fear of blacks that it created white unity across socio-economic layers. Not a very sophisticated approach. Historians are products of the times in which they live.

            • margaretdblough Feb 12, 2010 @ 0:08

              You think that is not a very sophisticated approach adhered to by historians who are judging through the perspective of the time in which they live? You might explain that to S.C. Sen. James Hammond who made what is known as the “King Cotton” Speech to the U.S. Senate on March 4, 1858 (officially “On the Admission of Kansas, under the Lecompton Constitution; the entire speech is at http://www.sewanee.edu/faculty/Willis/Civil_War

              >>In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill. Fortunately for the South, she found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand. A race inferior to her own, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigor, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes. We use them for our purpose, and call them slaves. We found them slaves by the common “consent of mankind,” which, according to Cicero, “lex naturae est.” The highest proof of what is Nature's law. We are old-fashioned at the South yet; slave is a word discarded now by “ears polite;” I will not characterize that class at the North by that term; but you have it; it is there; it is everywhere; it is eternal.
              . . . .We do not think that whites should be slaves either by law or necessity. Our slaves are black, of another and inferior race. The status in which we have placed them is an elevation. They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them, by being made our slaves. None of that race on the whole face of the globe can be compared with the slaves of the South. They are happy, content, unaspiring, and utterly incapable, from intellectual weakness, ever to give us any trouble by their aspirations. Yours are white, of your own race; you are brothers of one blood. They are your equals in natural endowment of intellect, and they feel galled by their degradation. Our slaves do not vote. We give them no political power. Yours do vote, and, being the majority, they are the depositaries [sic] of all your political power. If they knew the tremendous secret, that the ballot-box is stronger than “an army with banners,” and could combine, where would you be? Your society would be reconstructed, your government overthrown, your property divided, not as they have mistakenly attempted to initiate such proceedings by meeting in parks, with arms in their hands, but by the quiet process of the ballot-box. You have been making war upon us to our very hearthstones. How would you like for us to send lecturers and agitators North, to teach these people this, to aid in combining, and to lead them? . . . <<

            • Richard Feb 12, 2010 @ 0:21

              Fine speech by a rich slave owning child molester.

            • Richard Feb 12, 2010 @ 0:29

              Margaret, I prefer something more like this. It reflects more of the history I grew up with. It was an attempt to get people to join the Union army. I know there is the element of propaganda but there is always a kernal of truth.

              “The great non-slaveholding masses of the South, who are, in every State a vast majority of the citizens thereof, have hitherto been kept down and bound hand and foot, like a blind giant, by the negro-driving aristocratic minority. The whole number of slave-holders in the entire South is less than half a million. Yet there are millions of white men in the South, who own no slaves at all, but who are themselves, or have been heretofore, the most abject and degraded serfs. ”
              “The reason why the poor white man of the South is not allowed to be educated, and is kept chained down in the dungeon of ignorance, is the same, precisely, for which the negro is.

              (Fighting Unionism) New Bern Weekly Progress Oct. 27, 1862

            • Leonard Lanier Feb 12, 2010 @ 14:17

              The comment from the New Bern Weekly Progress does not contain an “element of propaganda,” it is propaganda. When Burnside's Expedition captured New Bern, NC in March 1862, Federal troops took over the local paper and started to print pro-Union sentiments. Local white residents so despised the new version of the Progress that they burnt down the newspaper’s offices in December 1864.

            • Richard Feb 12, 2010 @ 14:30

              Do you have any information on who these local whites were? I bet I will be familiar with the names.

            • Leonard Lanier Feb 12, 2010 @ 15:33

              I don't think anybody knows exactly who burnt down the printer's office. Union officers in New Bern suspected Confederate sympathizers, but I believe they never arrested anyone for the arson. I draw my information from an article that Judkin Browning wrote in the June 2009 issue of Civil War History entitled “'I Am Not So Patriotic as I Was Once': The Effects of Military Occupation on the Occupying Union Soldiers during the Civil War.”

              The article discusses the relationship between troop morale and military occupation in eastern North Carolina. Browning also uncovered some great descriptions of the “locals” by Federal soldiers. For instance,

              “Daniel Read Larned, General Burnside's personal secretary, wrote that the poor whites of New Bern 'are a most forlorn and miserable set of people.' He described their 'contemptible' appearance, saying 'they are white a[s] chalk, long, lean, a[nd] lanky with long yellow hair.' Another soldier claimed, 'They are horribly sallow, pale, and all have the shakes.' One Massachusetts soldier was struck by their ignorance, declaring, 'The fact is the poor whites of the south are not so well informed as a boy ten years old in the north and have not much more judgement.'”

              Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, I find these disparaging remarks quite humorous.

          • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 15, 2010 @ 0:49

            “The posibility that some African-Americans might have had motives of their own for their actions destroys your prejudice, and can not be tolerated.”

            The question is a simple one. What were their motives? Do you know? If not, then I'm puzzled as why you would say something about one's “prejudices,” without defining who you are talking about and the prejudices you attribute to them.

            I prefer to find out what actually happened rather than to speculate about things and to charge that other people are not as wonderful because they don't agree with me. The best way to promote constructive discussion is to set aside such rhetoric in favor of researching the facts.

      • Richard Feb 11, 2010 @ 1:58

        For myself the whole issue is about the slave/master relationship. I would wager that those in support of this idea probably come from a slave owning background where ole Uncle Amos was a cherished family member. (Never considering what Mr. Amos thought). They project their ideas of loyalty on Amos never considering he might just be a man trying to make the best of his life with the limited resources and opportunities available.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 11, 2010 @ 2:10

          It's difficult to know whether that is the case. Ijames is certainly not of that background. Part of the problem is that our memory of the war has left so little room for understanding slavery that most people fail to see the problem with the basic argument. On top of that there is an apparent inability on the part of many to engage in basic historical analysis.

  • Leonard Lanier Feb 10, 2010 @ 22:53

    According to the online schedule, Earl Ijames will also give the W.W. Law Lecture at Savannah’s annual Black Heritage Festival on February 18 at 6:30 pm. The title, surprise, surprise, is “In Search of the Colored Confederate Soldiers.” More information at http://savannahvisit.com/events/calendar/288.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 10, 2010 @ 22:55

      I noticed that one as well, but forgot to mention it. Thanks

      • TF Smith Feb 11, 2010 @ 15:10

        Given the realities of literacy in the US population in 1860-65, isn't it amazing that there aren't scores, even hundreds, of letters from various Beauregards to various Magnolias mentioning how proud they are that the Confederacy's “sable arm” has taken the field against those horrible, heathen yankees?

        Where – anywhere – in the volumes of memoirs written by various and sundry CSA officers (“50 years with coloreds, Ah mean, the Colors-ad nauseum) is there a mention of the Confederate regiments filled with those of African descent? The USCT's are mentioned fairly regularly in the later volumes of Battles and Leaders; yet no mention by the ex-CSA contributors to the African Legions that filled the ANV and the AoT…odd, that.

        And no, the Louisiana Native Guards are not what I'm asking for…

        • Kevin Levin Feb 11, 2010 @ 15:25

          As much as I agree with your point I think it is important to steer clear of the broad observations whenever possible. I've made it a point to challenge specific claims made on this site and have even suggested that a digital history project could do much more to explore the available evidence.

          In the case of Ijames he was given an opportunity to present his evidence for one John Venable, after archivists (his own colleagues) challenged his claims, and he chose not to. Just about all of these claims rest on flimsy evidence and poor analysis and that is where the fight needs to be waged. Thanks for the comment.

      • Leonard Lanier Feb 12, 2010 @ 13:42

        It just so happens that I'll be Savannah on February 18 for the annual meeting of the Southern Anthropological Society. Since the conference does not start until the next day, I'm going to try and attend Ijames's lecture. I’m curious to see if he can do a better job defending his “research” in person. I seriously doubt it.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 12, 2010 @ 13:53

          We look forward to your report. Do me a favor and pay careful attention to the names referenced.

Leave a Reply

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