Bringing Earl Ijames to You

Update: I now have the audio of this talk.  Unfortunately, the files are very large and as it stands I am unable to upload them for your listening pleasure. I will continue to work on this.  The talk is literally just a string of individual stories strung together.  There is almost no analysis of the documents or the broader issue of slavery and race in the Confederate South.

A couple of weeks ago one of my regular readers mentioned that he would be in town for Earl Ijames’s recent talk on “Colored Confederates” as part of the 21st Annual Savannah Black Heritage Festival.  Well, not only did this reader attend the talk, he took detailed notes as well as an audio recording of the presentation.  I have not heard the audio yet, but I am going to share the notes.  As you will see, it looks like this presentation rests on a great deal of circumstantial and weak evidence.  In fact, there is nothing surprising in terms of the kind of evidence that is typically offered in these cases.  The inclusion of so many pension records is quite telling.  So now we have a list of so-called black Confederates which can be easily checked and examined.  Apparently, during the talk Ijames mentioned that Henry Louis Gates Jr. contacted him during the research for the documentary “Looking for Lincoln.”  Gates wanted a firm number of “black confederates” to quote in the film.  Ijames responded, “only God in his holy archives really knows.”  I don’t really know how to respond to such a statement.  I have yet to hear from anyone at the North Carolina Museum of History or North Carolina Office of Archives and History re: Mr. Ijames’s unprofessional response to my request for his presentation.  Clearly, most of the documents cited in this talk were pulled from the NCDAH.  At this point we must assume that Mr. Ijames speaks for both institutions and that these institutions sanction his public presentations.  Here are the notes:

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, XVI, Part 1, p. 805
“There were also quite a number of negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.”

Jeremiah Day Letter (In NC Archives?)
Manuscript letter dated August 22, 1861 written to North Carolina governor Henry Toole Clark.  Day, a free black, writes of two sons “in the army,” and wants the governor to return a younger son conscripted into “service” for the army.

Hawkins W. Carter
A black man from Warren County, NC who claimed in his pension application to “fighting seven days with the Confederacy.”

John W. Venable
Enough said already.

C. M. McKaughan
Pension application filed July 23, 1929 (after mentioning McKaughan, Ijames went into a long diatribe about North Carolina Governor Charles B. Aycock, whose administration “kept blacks” from seeking pensions)

Tarboro Southerner, Saturday April 30, 1864
Notice for free blacks to register for “service.”

Miles Reed
North Carolina Troops Service Record, dated May 24, 1864.  Private Reed noted as a “free negro.”

Daniel Brooks
A black man interviewed by the High Point Enterprise on June 7, 1942.  (Ijames admitted to getting this information from an SCV member).  In the interview, Brooks claimed his master “enlisted” him to “build roads” for the Confederate Army.  He also worked on constructing defensive works before the Battle of Bentonville (Ijames claimed this as evidence for black “pioneer battalions” in the Confederate Army).

Lewis Douglas
A black man from Bertie County, NC that claimed in a 1928 pension application to serving as an “office boy” for a Confederate surgeon.

Adam Moore
A black man from Lincoln County, NC who claimed in a pension application dated February 6, 1931, that “I did my best for the Confederate Army.”  Furthermore, Moore mentioned officials “press[ing] me into service” to haul gold bullion for the Confederate Treasury.  (After this example, Ijames said he “would rather believe Adam Moore than some college professor.”  Greeted with applause from crowd).

Rufus Holloway
Quoted by the Raleigh News & Observer on July 24, 1955 as a member of the “slave army.”  Worked as a “body servant” for Dr. Tom Holloway.

Isaac High
In a pension application, High recalled his master “sending” him along with three other black men, Wylie Richardson, Porter Hunter, and Abe Dunn, to build obstructions at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.  High also worked on earthworks around Raleigh.  High wanted the pension since he “own[ed] a farm of 25 acres that has a mortgage of $700 and I can’t pay the interest.”  He claimed that during eighteen months of working for the Confederate Army, he “never received any compensation for the work rendered.”

Archibald McLean Letter (In NC Archives?)
In an August 1861 letter to North Carolina Governor Henry Toole Clark, the mayor of Fayetteville, NC discusses slaves working on arms in the former Federal Arsenal and performing “police duties.”

Confederate Veterans Reunion Photograph
Ijames exhibited a photograph dated 1925 from a reunion of the 45th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, Company C in High Point, North Carolina.  He pointed to the dark complexions of three men in the picture as photographic evidence of black Confederates.  He referred to one as Sergeant H.L. P. Watson.

Harper’s Weekly
Ijames displayed the infamous “Negro Pickets” sketch from the January 10, 1863 issue of the periodical.

Note: I want to thank my anonymous reader for taking the time to attend the talk and especially for taking such detailed notes that can be used as the basis for further exploration. I think it’s safe to say that a public debate between myself and Mr. Ijames is unnecessary at this point.

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30 comments… add one
  • napoleangunner Mar 3, 2010 @ 16:01

    In regards to Isaac High having “never received any compensation for the work rendered,” I'd be willing to bet his master received that compensation. It was fairly common in NC for masters to hire out their slaves to the government for labor on fortifications (Fort Fisher and other Cape Fear area installations) and other projects. I have seen mention in the Collins Papers where Mrs. Josiah Collins received payment from the government for the work of one of her slaves on the fortifications around Wilmington.

    And Johnny, if anyone should know about Governor Aycock, it would definitely be you 😉

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2010 @ 16:04

      That was my first thought. It was common practice for slave owners to hire their slaves out to the government in return for compensation. The lack of proper analysis in this talk is truly disturbing.

      • margaretdblough Mar 3, 2010 @ 23:44

        Kevin-In many instances it was statutory. Impressment statutes such as Mississippi's for provided:

        >.Act of the Legislature of Mississippi.
        AN ACT to authorize the impressment of slaves and other personal property for military purposes.
        SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Mississippi, That to provide for the public safety by aiding the military forces of this State and of the Confederate States engaged in defending the same to repel invasion and repress insurrection, the Governor of this State be, and he is hereby, invested with full power to impress able-bodied male slaves between the ages of eighteen and fifty years, or so many thereof as he may deem necessary, or as may be required by the military necessities or exigencies of the State, or as may be called for or required by the military commander of the State or Confederate forces therein, with the use of tools and implements, wagons, teams, and harness which may be necessary to render the labor of the slaves impressed effective; also subsistence for the same.
        * * * * * * * * * *
        SEC. 2. Be it further enacted, That the owners of all slaves impressed into the military service under the foregoing section shall be entitled to the same pay, rations, clothing, or commutation therefor for each of them as privates in the military service of this State, the said pay to be made monthly in advance by warrant of the State treasury upon the requisition of the Governor to the auditor, founded upon the return by the party making the impressment; but if the owner or owners of such slaves as impressed shall refuse to receive such compensation, then the party making the impressment shall act as arbitrator in behalf of the State, and the owner shall select a disinterested party to act as arbitrator in his behalf, and they to select an umpire in case of disagreement, who shall proceed to assess the monthly value of the service of the slave or slaves so impressed, and the award shall be final.<< Such statutes also provided for compensation to the owners if the “property” was damaged, lost, or destroyed while in military custody.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 4, 2010 @ 0:33

          Thanks for providing the links Margaret. The bigger problem for Ijames is that his “analysis” is bogged down with this emphasis on “colored Confederates”. It's absolutely meaningless given the various capacities in which blacks functioned. There is almost no context provided.

          • margaretdblough Mar 4, 2010 @ 1:22

            I think the core problem is that he refuses to admit that there IS a context or the inherent difficulty in determining consent in a culture in which that individual's consent is completely irrelevant.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 4, 2010 @ 1:29

              That is indeed a shortcoming in what I've read and heard from Ijames. The fundamental problem as I see it is a failure to interpret life in the army and the war as an extension of slavery. In other words, what we should be looking at is how the army functioned to protect a slave owning region and how it negotiated the shifting boundaries of the institution throughout the war. With Ijames everything comes down to individual stories. There is no attempt to understand the broader questions that are staring us in the face.

              Even with the postwar documents there is little analysis of context. The pension applications are used simply to determine status during the war rather than as a reflection of the time in which the program was introduced. His photograph of the veterans reunions suffers from the same problem. There is a fascinating story to be told about race relations during these events throughout the Jim Crow era, but Ijames can do very little with it.

              It's as if the most basic analytical skills are lacking.

    • johnnyjoyner Mar 3, 2010 @ 17:07

      Thanks, I like to keep up on NC's education governor

    • margaretdblough Mar 4, 2010 @ 2:17

      As I said in another comment, the impressment statutes that I've found in the OR specified that all remuneration for slave labor, including death benefits, would go to the master to compensate him or her for the loss of use or total loss of their “property”

  • johnnyjoyner Mar 3, 2010 @ 15:47

    I would love to hear the diatribe about how Governor Charles B. Aycock's administration kept “black confederates” from getting pensions. I am pretty knowledgeable about Governor Aycock and I have never even heard of anything relating to pensions in his papers or secondary sources. Especially considering his views on the Lost Cause, He held anybody that served in the Confederacy in the highest regard. He once delivered a three hour closing argument about what the word confederate meant and how it should be reserved for those brave boys in gray after the prosecutor used it describe a partner to the client that Aycock was defending.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2010 @ 15:51

      I just listened to it. I know very little about Aycock and had trouble understanding what Ijames was getting at. It's pretty convoluted.

      • johnnyjoyner Mar 3, 2010 @ 17:10

        Now I may have to attend a talk by Mr. Ijames just to see what his “evidence” for the pensions. I guess I need to clear my schedule.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2010 @ 17:13

          He basically uses the pension applications to designate individuals as soldiers. It's truly bizarre given the background to the pension process in the various states. Please take notes if you do attend one of his talks so we can all get a better sense of what is going on.

  • toby Mar 3, 2010 @ 13:20

    Mr Ijames' lecture, assuming the accuracy of the report, is just like this post .. more “sightings” of black Confederates, but no marshalling of evidence or comprehensive case for reassessment. Its not unexpected, but could not have been much worse.

    I do feel a tinge of sympathy for Ijames, who was gotten way over his depth, IMHO. The irony is that he probably could make a real contribution to Civil War studies if he applied himself to telling the full story (warts, unexpected twists and all) of the people whose records he has unearthed. That is being spurned because of over-inflation of the importance of what he is investigating. Focusing on the trees, rather than the individual pieces of wood.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2010 @ 13:52

      I no longer feel any sympathy for Mr. Ijames. Few people have the kind of access to primary sources as he does and fewer people are closer to a community of scholars in the NCDAH system and local colleges and universities. Given that I've had a chance of listening to the audio I am not sure he could make a real contribution. He is indeed in way over his head.

  • John Rudy Mar 3, 2010 @ 4:06

    Thought this was up your alley…

  • mariannedavis Mar 3, 2010 @ 3:23

    I would like to be outraged that a curator at a reputable state museum would be guilty of such shoddy scholarship, but I find instead that it makes me sad. I contacted NC Museum of History's Curator of Military History to see if they were planning to do any exhibitions related this potentially paradigm-shifting research on black Confederates soldiers. He replied that Earl Ijames is the one I ought to talk to, and that he (the military historian) wasn't sure what Ijames was planning for the 150th anniversary of the war. I'm guessing I am not the only one feeling sad about all of this.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2010 @ 10:57

      You said: “I would like to be outraged that a curator at a reputable state museum would be guilty of such shoddy scholarship, but I find instead that it makes me sad.”

      You took the words right out of my mouth.

  • David Rhoads Mar 2, 2010 @ 23:31

    Presumably this pittance amounts to the best and most convincing evidence Ijames has to offer. But even if you take all of these items more or less at face value, what you have is a series of sketchy accounts of blacks who were explicitly or most likely slaves–body servants and impressed laborers, etc.–and possibly one free black enlisted man. It certainly doesn't support the “thousands” of black Confederate soldiers Ijames claimed in one of the earlier posted articles. What these examples do pretty clearly demonstrate is that Ijames deliberately and wilfully conflates the status of enlisted soldiers and slaves into a single nebulous and misleading category, that of men “serving” the Confederacy. I suppose I can give him the benefit of the doubt that he believes doing this “honors” the men he talks about, but in order to achieve this “honoring”, he is apparently willing to hoodwink the more credulous members of his audiences and to do a real disservice to the cause of historical literacy.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2010 @ 23:37

      This is what I was supposed to agree to take on in the form of a public debate. Yes, it looks like these were slaves, including body servants, impressed laborers, etc. I hope Ijames is “deliberately” and “wilfully” conflating soldiers and slaves because the alternative that he isn't even aware of the distinction is even more disturbing.

      It's not surprising that Ijames is unwilling to discuss his findings in front of an academic audience. I keep saying it, but it is worth repeating that this is incredibly disappointing.

    • margaretdblough Mar 3, 2010 @ 23:51

      Ijames is clearly discussing impressment statutes which were very distinct from statutes governing enlistment and drafting of men into the army as soldiers despite Ijames' efforts to treat them as the same thing. Impressment statutes dealt with commandeering property for the war effort. It was particularly needed for the building of military fortifications since the army desperately needed white males of military age as soldiers, not laborers. It was this use of slavery to support the Confederate war effort and enable it to achieve a high level of mobilization of the white male population for military service that persuaded many in the North were hostile to blacks and to abolitionists to support the Emancipation Proclamation.

  • heidic Mar 2, 2010 @ 21:08

    Mr. Ijames documents all seem to come from rather early points in the war or in the later years of the war, or many years after the war was over. How accurate can his sources possibly be? The April 1864 Tarboro Southerner document that contains a “Notice for free blacks to register for 'service.'” stems from the want for men later in the war that led the Confederacy to allow blacks to enlist, a matter that had been contested amongst the C.S.A. government. Likewise, the claim that blacks were enlisted for pioneer batallions has no standing whatsoever, considering that if blacks were enlisted it was to do the manual labor for the army, and that is not a batallion in any way, shape, or form – they were laborers. In my opinion, Mr. Ijames lack of want to share his suppossed “academic” research and the documents that support his findings is because his so-called facts rest on tenuous sources.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2010 @ 22:04

      I can't say that I was expecting much, but this is incredibly disappointing. It looks like a hodgepodge of various sources brought together, but nothing that approaches serious analysis of the documents and nothing that resembles a serious interpretation. Here we have this and here we have this and so on.


      • Marc Ferguson Mar 2, 2010 @ 22:25

        It's the same old stew of jumbled facts, half-truths, and rumors, with no context or analysis, that are served up on any number of internet sites that push the “black Confederate” claim.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2010 @ 22:29

          and that is what is so disappointing about this. There seems to be almost nothing to respond to. Given his strong reaction to my advances I honestly thought that Ijames was capable of something more.

          • Jonathan Dresner Mar 3, 2010 @ 13:19

            Well, at least it brings the material together: once people have responded to this, all you have to do when it comes up in the future is say “this doesn't go beyond Ijames” and link.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2010 @ 13:50

              Exactly Jonathan. Ijames is routinely presented as an expert on this subject. Well, now we know exactly how far his expertise extends. Another benefit of the blogging format.

          • margaretdblough Mar 4, 2010 @ 2:20

            Did he miss the infamous Frederick, MD “black confederate” sighting?

  • jfe Mar 2, 2010 @ 20:39

    The OR comment is easily answered. There are several claims from Federal officers and men that the enemy was using black troops, especially early in the war. These blacks were impervious to capture or bullets, as none were taken prisoner or found dead on the field after a battle. I would question the accuracy of an ethnic identification made over hundreds of yards, under the duress of combat, with smoke to confuse the issue.

    • David Rhoads Mar 3, 2010 @ 1:56

      In the case of the report by Lt. Col. John G. Parkhurst, 9th Michigan infantry about the July 13, 1862, battle at Murfreesborough, Tennessee, quoted by Ijames, one wonders why he does not dig a little deeper into the histories of the units involved to see if he could find anything corroborating Parkhurst's observation. In the sentence immediately preceding the one quoted from Parkhurst's report, the “Texas and Georgia troops” in question are identified explicitly: “The forces attacking my camp were the First Regiment Texas Rangers, Colonel Wharton, and a battalion of the First Georgia Rangers, Colonel Morrison”. Parkhurst subsequently surrendered his regiment to the Confederates (commanded incidentally by Nathan Bedford Forrest, not someone I would have thought sympathetic to the idea of black soldiers), and he was therefore able to make an accurate identification of the units he had recently faced. The units Parkhurst identified conform with those in Forrest's own report (OR, Series 1, vol. XVI, Part I, pp. 809-811), though the latter of course makes no mention of any negroes at all, either slaves or soldiers.

      At any rate, if Ijames were serious about investigating and confirming Parkhurst's observation of armed and equipped negroes fighting alongside the Texas and Georgia Rangers under Forrest's command, the quotation he used in his presentation should serve as a starting point for his research rather than an end point.

    • margaretdblough Mar 4, 2010 @ 2:24

      The same claim has been made about finding “black” corpses among the Confederate dead at Gettysburg. Of course there were “black” corpses. By the time they got around to burying Confederates, some had been dead for many days, many since July 1, stewing in the hot sun. It's called decomposition, people!

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