I don’t have much sympathy for adults who buy into the black Confederate meme. In the end, it is simply a reflection of their gullibility, lack of basic historical knowledge relating to the Civil War and an inability to properly interpret primary sources. On the other hand and as a teacher, I am disgusted when children are brought into the picture. They become the victims of the stupidity of others. Consider this little gem of a book, titled, Entangled in Freedom: A Civil War Novel, which is slated for release in January 2011. The book is authored by Kevin M. Weeks, who is known for The Street Life Series. Here is a short description:
Entangled in Freedom, the first novel in this young adult fiction book series, takes a closer look at the life experiences of African-Americans in the Deep South during the War Between the States. Young adult readers follow main character Isaac Green through the dirt roads of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia to Cumberland Gap where Isaac serves with the 42nd Regiment Georgia Volunteers C.S.A. Historical accounts are derived from 19th century official government records as well as real life family narratives of co-author, Ann DeWitt.
These two names should ring a bell. Not too long ago I shared a new website on black Confederates that was created by Ann DeWitt. It’s unfortunate that Ms. DeWitt did not take proper care of her family’s narrative. Sometimes simply repeating family stories does not honor the memory of one’s ancestors, especially if those stories are inaccurate.
Born in Kentucky in 1840 to a white mother and mulatto father, he served in the
Civil War as a black Confederate soldier. Following the war, he moved
You won’t find Peter Vertrees listed as a Civil War soldier for either side.
This source provides not one piece of evidence for the claim. Thanks for the comment.
We’ve discussed Peter Vertrees’ case at length on another forum. He was a personal servant to Dr. John L. Vertrees (1829-99), Assistant Surgeon of the Sixth Kentucky Infantry. Peter Vertrees was not recognized either in 1861-65 or by his 1921 Tennessee pension as a soldier. Here is his pension application:
Thanks, Andy. I can’t keep track.
Denise=”Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was dangerous BECAUSE of its accuracy. If the book is fantasy or alternative history (like the one about what things might have been like if Lee had automatic weapons at Gettysburg), then describe it as such. BTW, you are the only one bringing up book burning.
Thanks for the suggestion, but I am not a fan of book burning.
You mean General Barnard Bee, not “Bell.” And actually, James I. Robertson has concluded that the “first version” of the Stonewall Jackson story you mention is the correct one. He came to that conclusion after conducting a great deal of research over the years, weighing all of it carefully, and presenting his evidence pro and con as well as his conclusions in print, where others could weigh and critique it. That’s how you decide what’s correct. Before you take Richard Harris’s words as gospel, for example, ask yourself some more questions. Who was he? What was going on in Mississippi in February 1890? Does it matter that a few months later a brand new Mississippi state constitution would throw him and other black legislators out of office, or legally deny all blacks the right to vote? Is it possible that he was trying to head that off? And how would a court judge evidence presented 35 years after the fact?
Thanks for providing the context for that particular reference.
But the point is that DiLorenzo does not have a version since he has not done any research on this issue. If you can show me a study that he has done on this issue than perhaps I will have something more to say. If you are actually interested in this subject than I highly recommend that you read Bruce Levine’s book, _Confederate Emancipation_. I don’t really know what you are getting at here.
It is a fairly straightforward process to determine whether an individual served as a soldier. Again, you need to look at the muster rolls and enlistment papers. Is there any evidence in DiLorenzo’s book that he has done this research? If he has than you ought to share it with us. If he hasn’t than his commentary is worthless.
My source was T J Lorenzo.
the next section is the finish of the speach
When the news came that the South had been invaded, those men went forth to fight for what they believed, and they made no requests for monuments. But they died, and their virtues should be remembered. Sir, I went with them. I too, wore the Gray, the same color my master wore. We stayed four long years, and if that war had gone on till now I would have been there yet. I want to honor those brave men who died for their convictions. When my mother died I was a boy. Who, Sir, then acted the part of a mother to the orphaned slave boy, but my “old missus”? Were she living now, or could speak to me from those high realms where are gathered the sainted dead, she would tell me to vote for this bill. And, Sir, I shall vote for it. I want it known to all the world that my vote is given in favor of the bill to erect a monument in honor of the Confederate dead.”
On the day of the vote, former Slave John Harris was joined in equaled zeal by 6 other Black Representatives in the Mississippi Legislature to pass the bill for the Confederate Memorial. It is amazing how much history has been deliberately buried and suppressed.
Sorry Kevin my computer burped, the second comment was simply the finish of the speech given by Legislator Richard Harris .
With your permission the finish of Richard Harri’s speech
“When the news came that the South had been invaded, those men went forth to fight for what they believed, and they made no requests for monuments. But they died, and their virtues should be remembered. Sir, I went with them. I too, wore the Gray, the same color my master wore. We stayed four long years, and if that war had gone on till now I would have been there yet. I want to honor those brave men who died for their convictions. When my mother died I was a boy. Who, Sir, then acted the part of a mother to the orphaned slave boy, but my “old missus”? Were she living now, or could speak to me from those high realms where are gathered the sainted dead, she would tell me to vote for this bill. And, Sir, I shall vote for it. I want it known to all the world that my vote is given in favor of the bill to erect a monument in honor of the Confederate dead.”
On the day of the vote, former Slave John Harris was joined in equaled zeal by 6 other Black Representatives in the Mississippi Legislature to pass the bill for the Confederate Memorial. It is amazing how much history has been deliberately buried and suppressed.
My source-T J Lorenzo.
So was he a soldier or a slave?
If you want to know if any individual served as a soldier in the Confederate ranks you need to consult the relevant primary sources. You need to check out the relevant muster rolls and enlistment papers for the individual. Lorenzo is not a serious historian and he certainly has not done any research on this topic. I have no idea what sources Lorenzo used nor do I have any way of identifying the individuals referenced in your quote.
Please understand that this is not the way to go about researching this subject. Slaves were not enlisted as soldiers. The Confederate government was explicit on this issue until the very end of the war. What exactly do you think you are looking for? Again, go to the regimental records and find the papers. Anything short of that is a complete waste of time.
These legislators were neither at the time of the vote — they were politicians keeping an eye on getting out the white vote! Rep. Harris states in his speech what he was — a slave (to paraphrase, I wore the same color my MASTER wore).
“There were a few ugly incidents in which African Americans were forced to volunteer for the Union army. One should also remember that Confederate conscription of blacks was for service as laborers, whereas Union conscription was for service as soldiers.”
So please explain the difference in a black man being conscripted by the north as a soldier and the south as a laborer. Is involuntary service slavery? And who built the earthworks for the north Involuntary Soldiers or laborers that were contraband?
During WWII blacks were still for the most part cooks and support personnel, so by your definition they would not be soldiers or sailors? Or does the Slave vs Freeman make a difference. It should not.
If a slave works as a soldier and a free man by his side is doing the same thing; can you tell me they are two different military distinctions.
Former Slave and Legislator Richard Harris elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1890. On February 23, 1890 he delivered a speech on the floor:
“Mr. Speaker! I have arisen here in my place to offer a few words on the bill [raising funds for a Confederate Monument]. I have come from a sick bed, perhaps it was not prudent for me to come, but Sir, I could not rest quietly in my room without contributing a few remarks of my own. I was sorry the hear the speech of the young gentleman from Marshall County. I am sorry that any son of a soldier should go on record as opposed to the erection of a monument in honor of the brave dead. And, Sir, I am convinced that had he seen what I saw at Seven Pines and in the Seven Days’ of fighting around Richmond, the battlefield covered with the mangled forms of those who fought for their country and for their country’s honor, he would not have made that speech.
The difference is that one fought as a soldier in the United States army and the other functioned as an impressed slave or servant (personal slave) within the Confederate army. The former was a free man and the latter was not. Your comparison with WWII makes absolutely no sense given that they fought as United Soldiers, though you are correct in pointing out that they were discriminated against. The distinction has nothing to do with what jobs they performed, but with their official designation. This is not difficult.
p.s. You will notice that your other comment was not approved. I am not turning the comments section into a platform for people to share stories that they’ve picked up in some unidentified source w/o any analysis of the content.
“Is involuntary service slavery?”
Are you arguing that the draft is slavery, and that selective service thus violates the 13th Amendment?
To my mind, the salient difference between the thousands of men enlisted in the USCT and the thousands of African Americans conscripted as laborers by the Confederacy is that the former were regularly issued arms and ammunition, and the latter were not.
What is so curious is the inability of so many to appreciate why Confederate authorities would have been hesitant to equip slaves with rifles. White southerners expended a great deal of energy preventing such an occurrence throughout the antebellum period.
Thanks you for the clairification.
I was speaking of the Confederate government’s push to impress large numbers of slaves during the war. The United States accepted black volunteers for service, but I don’t believe there are any cases of them being drafted. Sorry for the confusion.
Actually, African-Americans were conscripted into the Union army, just like whte men, once the Enrollment Act of 1863 was signed into law and implemented.
I stand corrected. Thanks Mark.
Mark is right about this. However, it is easy to misunderstand the process, because African American draftees were forwarded to units of the U.S. Colored Troops, which were classed as volunteers. A similar situation obtained for white draftees sent to state volunteer units. Thus you could be drafted into the “volunteers.” There were a few ugly incidents in which African Americans were forced to volunteer for the Union army. One should also remember that Confederate conscription of blacks was for service as laborers, whereas Union conscription was for service as soldiers. A synopsis of Union conscription of blacks will be found in Provost Marshal James B. Fry’s final 1866 report published in the “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Series III, volume V, pages 654-662, though some statistics were omitted in this version.
Hi Mike. Thanks so much for the clarification and Fry reference. It’s extremely helpful.
The post is about the book’s description, which given what we know about the history of this subject, is pure fantasy.
I thought DB Cooper was never found after he parachuted from the Boeing 727 that he hijacked in 1971. Perhaps he should go back into hiding, lest the FBI track him down. (I’m glad that DB has found a new calling as a historian of the Lost Cause; at least he has beat the odds of recidivism.) Nonetheless, I am astounded that he is courageous enough to use his real name when posting on this blog!
Have you read the book?
” In 1859 the state legislature stated that all free blacks over 21 were to leave the state by Jan. 1, 1860 or be reenslaved.” Interesting!
Did you know?
The Revised Code of Indiana stated in 1862 that “Negroes and mulattos are not allowed to come into the state”; forbade the consummation of legal contracts with “Negroes and mulattos”; imposed a $500 fine on anyone who employed a black person; forbade interracial marriage; and forbade blacks from testifying in court against white persons.
Illinois — the “land of Lincoln” — added almost identical restrictions in 1848, as did Oregon in 1857. Most Northern states in the 1860s did not permit immigration by blacks or, if they did, required them to post a $1,000 bond that would be confiscated if they behaved “improperly.”
Senator Lyman Trimball of Illinois, a close confidant of Lincoln’s, stated that “our people want nothing to do with the Negro” and was a strong supporter of Illinois’ “black codes.” Northern newspapers were often just as racist as the Northern black codes were.
The Philadelphia Daily News editorialized on November 22, 1860, that “the African is naturally the inferior race
.” The Daily Chicago Times wrote on December 7, 1860, that “nothing but evil” has come from the idea of Abolition and urged everyone to return any escaped slave “to his master where he belongs.”
So I guess that’s why the Underground Railroad channeled Escaped Blacks to Canada.
The North did not want blacks to live with them!
Of course I am aware of the legal discrimination present in the North throughout this period. I could add pages to what you’ve listed here. But what does that have to do with the subject of this post?
Dear Kevin & folks,
What’s really troubling about this book (even before it’s published) is its potential for distorting the truth to our children. A scarier notion is that the book will be picked up by the education entities and become part of a course curriculum. That could be damaging to our children. I speak from experience.
When I was in the third grade, we had to read aloud ‘Little Black Sambo’. I was the only black kid in my class and there were only a handful of African American kids in the whole school (k-8th grade). It took my Mother’s involvement to get that book physically out of the classroom and out of the curriculum. However, the damage was already done. There is a generation of whites who were taught by the public school system that blacks were inferior to them. Public education! I’m 59; do the math!
If this book, also, distorts reality and hides behind the shield of ‘fiction’, we must see to it that everyone is forewarned; children and adults alike.
This is potentially a DANGEROUS book.
Thanks for adding your voice to this discussion. it’s a fascinating topic, but as you mention a potentially damaging one for those who are subjected to this misinformation. I’ve thought quite a bit about why African Americans would involve themselves in perpetuating this narrative, but I have no firm answers. I suspect that remembering ancestors as soldiers is much more pleasing than remembering the horrors of slavery, but in the end it comes down to a basic ignorance of the relevant history involved. The Confederate government explicitly denied the rights of free and enslaved blacks to serve as soldiers. There is nothing controversial or even surprising about this given the fact that the government was working to protect slavery.
Interesting post, as always.
Having just watched “To Kill a Mockingbird” with two twelve year olds, I was reminded again of how fiction does indeed help to shape the imaginations of young children (and of adults as well) For me, To Kill a Mockingbird was a fine movie for my young relatives to watch, and I would prefer that it be shown to all twelve year olds across America and that “Family Guy” cease to be produced. That would be a form of censorship, however–something that I do not condone. Fortunately I live in a country that basically prevents that sort of thing.
I think that you did what you needed to do: you pointed out that a book that proposes to be based upon historical fact, is not based on historical fact. That is your job as an historian. Beyond that, the issue broadens and is not so clear. In addition to watching to Kill a Mockingbird with the kids, the adults in our group discussed how certain books had been temporarily banned in a public library several years ago–books like The Grapes of Wrath. I suspect that Grapes of Wrath was banned for a number of political reasons arising from a political philosophy with which I do not agree. In order to keep Grapes of Wrath on the shelves, however, we have to put up with Family Guy and books on Black Confederates. That is the way it works, as you know.
Congratulations on completing your manuscript! I have always thought of the plot of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea as a metaphor for writing–you start out looking for the big fish, and if you travel deeply enough into the water, you know you are damned lucky to come out alive, if at all, much less with a completed manuscript. It matters, of course, that you get published. But then again, maybe it doesn’t . Publish here, if all else fails. (which I feel certain it will not) It is a new world, and what you have to say about this topic is important. It is like opera being translated into English as it is performed in English speaking countries, or mass being said in English and Spanish, instead of in Latin, or the Bible being translated into German. If the publishers don’t get it, the majority of your readers do.
Nice to hear from you and thanks for the kind words. I am happy to be finished.
In regards to conscription of free blacks by the Confederacy this began at least as early as 1862.
My great-great uncle a free mulatto man was forced to drive a wagon for the ANV during the Second Manassas and Sharpsburg Campaigns before he escaped back home. Two years later he and all the other males in his family were forced to work with the Confederate engineers in working on earthworks at Petersburg.
To add to Vicki’s posts below it would also be useful to think about Arkansas. In 1859 the state legislature stated that all free blacks over 21 were to leave the state by Jan. 1, 1860 or be reenslaved. There were only 144 free blacks in Arkansas in 1860 (compared with 111,115 slaves). Newspapers of the time track this (which Vicki has kindly put on her website http://www.uttyler.edu/vbetts). It was to be put on hold until Jan. 1, 1863 according to an assembly decision in 1861 but of course the war just made that difficult to deal with. This is tracked generally here (http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=407).
Emmanuel-As Ira Berlin pointed out in his book about free blacks in the antebellum South, “Slaves Without Masters”, once Black slavery as a positive good for both races took over from the earlier slavery as a necessary evil that God would eliminate when He saw fit defense as the predominant rationale for slavery in the South, the very existence of free blacks, especially free blacks who were functioning and supporting themselves were seen by many as threatening society. That was the rationale behind the Arkansas law & if the war hadn’t broken out, it would have been interesting to see how many other slave states followed suit.
I’m currently annotating mostly Trans-Miss items in Footnote.com’s Confederate Military Records–Misc. It’s a slow process, and I’m only in the A’s. However, I’ve run across index cards for maybe a half dozen names so far with “Free Negro Conscript appears on a receipt roll for clothing date of issue Jan 1865” and the name of a witness. They are not listed as being assigned to any regiment in any capacity, and there is no place listed either. Does this ring a bell with anyone who has studied the topic more in depth?
For example, I just passed William Allen, and the witness was Thomas Stephens.
I am going to have to go back and double-check, but I believe the Confederate government conscripted free blacks as cooks, teamsters, and other support roles beginning in spring 1863. It may have started earlier. Stephanie McCurry [Confederate Reckoning] does an excellent job of situating this within the broader process of conscripting slaves and the eventual recruitment of slaves in the Confederate army at the end of the war.
It’s not coming up easily in her index, but I’m finding that good detailed indexing is a lost art in many history books, a loss perhaps due to economics (page space or paying a good indexer) or to the computer generated mostly proper name indexing that I’ve seen in some cases. Bleh!
I’m guessing that this conscription was in Virginia. It would have to be in a location still under Confederate control, and one in which there was a good size free black population. For example, Texas was still Confederate, but there would have been very few free black males to conscript due to pre-war laws in place.
Again, if I remember correctly she comments on Virginia and North Carolina.
I’m finding a good discussion of the impressment of slaves in Virginia and North Carolina, but not the conscription of free blacks. But I’ll keep looking.
I hope I didn’t send you on a wild goose chase. I just don’t have the time to confirm the reference. Sorry about that.
Kevin-Try this from the OR:
>>GENERAL ORDERS No. 32.
ADJT. AND INSP. GENERAL’S OFFICE,
Richmond, March 11, 1864.
I. The act of Congress relative to the employment of free negroes and slaves in certain capacities and the instructions of the War Department relative to its execution are published for the information of those concerned:
AN ACT to increase the efficiency of the Army by the employment of free negroes and slaves in certain capacities.
Whereas, the efficiency of the Army is greatly diminished by the withdrawal from the ranks of able-bodied soldiers to act as teamsters, and in various other capacities in which free negroes and slaves might be advantageously employed: Therefore,
The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That all male free negroes and other free persons of color, not including those who are free under the treaty of Paris of eighteen hundred and three, or under the treaty with Spain of eighteen hundred and nineteen, resident in the Confederate States, between the ages of eighteen and fifty years, shall be held liable to perform such duties with the Army, or in connection with the military defenses of the country, in the way of work upon fortifications or in Government works for the production or preparation of material of war, or in military hospitals, as the Secretary of War or the commanding general of the Trans-Mississippi Department may, from time to time, prescribe, and while engaged in the performance of such duties shall receive rations and clothing and compensation at the rate of eleven dollars a month, under such rules and regulations as the said Secretary may establish: Provided, That the Secretary of War or the commanding general of the Trans-Mississippi Department, with the approval of the President, may exempt from the operations of this act such free negroes as the interests of the country may require should be exempted, or such as he may think proper to exempt, on grounds of justice, equity, or necessity.
SEC. 2. That the Secretary of War is hereby authorized to employ for duties similar to those indicated in the preceding section of this act, as many male negro slaves, not to exceed twenty thousand, as in his judgment, the wants of the service may require, furnishing them, while so employed, with proper rations and clothing, under rules and regulations to be established by him, and paying to the owners of said slaves such wages as may be agreed upon with said owners for their use and service, and in the event of the loss of any slaves while so employed, by the act of the enemy, or by escape to the enemy, or by death inflicted by the enemy, or by disease contracted while in any service required of said slaves, then the owners of the same shall be entitled to receive the full value of such slaves, to be ascertained by agreement or by appraisement, under the law regulating impressments, to be paid under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of War may establish.
SEC. 3. That when the Secretary of War shall be unable to procure the service of slaves in any military department in sufficient numbers for the necessities of the Department, upon the terms and conditions set forth in the preceding section, then he is hereby authorized to impress the services of as many male slaves, not to exceed twenty thousand, as may be required, from time to time, to discharge the duties indicated in the first section of this act, according to laws regulating the impressment of slaves in other cases: Provided, That slaves so impressed shall, while employed, receive the same rations and clothing, in kind and quantity, as slaves regularly hired from their owners; and, in the event of their loss, shall be paid for in the same manner and under the same rules established by the said impressment laws: Provided, That if the owner have but one male slave between the age of eighteen and fifty, he shall not be impressed against the will of said owner: Provided further, That free negroes shall be first impressed, and if there should be a deficiency, it shall be supplied by the impressment of slaves according to the foregoing provisions: Provided further, That in making the impressment, not more than one of every five male slaves between the ages of eighteen and forty-five shall be taken from any owner, care being taken to allow in each case a credit for all slaves who may have been already impressed under this act, and who are still in service, or have died or been lost while in service. And all impressments under this act shall be taken in equal ratio from all owners in the same locality, city, county or district.
THOMAS S. BOCOCK,
Speaker House of Representatives.
R. M. T. HUNTER,
President pro tem. of the Senate.
Approved February 17, 1864.
II. The Bureau of Conscription will direct the enrollment of all the persons described in the first section of the act aforesaid east of the Mississippi River who are not unfit for the service required from them, by reason of physical or mental incapacity or imbecility, and will assign them to the performance of the duties mentioned in the act, or similar duties in any of the military bureaus, or with troops in the field, as there may be any call for such service.
III. Applications for an exemption on the grounds that the interests of the country require it, or because it is demanded by justice, equity, or necessity, will be made to the enrolling officer in writing, and will be dispose of by him according to the general directions contained in the regulations published in Orders, No. 26, 1864, under the “act to organize forces to serve during the war.”
IV. For the execution of the sections in the foregoing act, relative to the employment and impressment of slaves, the provisions of Orders No. 138, of the 24th of October, 1863, will afford the requisite rules for the guidance of the military bureaus and commanding generals, with modifications hereafter mentioned. First. That slaves shall not be impressed when the services of free negroes can be obtained. Second. Slaves under the age of eighteen and above the age of fifty are exempt. Third. The hire for slaves impressed shall be according to the rates fixed by the appraisers under the act to regulate impressments. Fourth. The limitation as to the term for which slaves shall be impressed for service shall be for twelve months, instead of the term fixed by said orders, if the exigency shall require it.
V. All impressments for service in the various military bureaus under this act will be by special order upon application to the War Department, disclosing the efforts that have been made to provide other labor specified in the act, the necessity for the impressment, and the plan proposed to secure it.
VI. The general commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department will superintend the execution of the law for that department.
Adjutant and Inspector General.
Forgive me if this has been covered elsewhere, as I have been searching the site but there’s a lot of material here, but do you have a definition of “black confederate” that you are working from? Are you strictly talking about free black volunteer combat soldiers? If not, what’s your definition?
It’s a great question. One of the most fundamental problems with this whole issue is the lack of any precise definition. Most references that you will find on the Internet gloss over the distinction between slave and soldier or fail to understand what it means to “serve” in the military. When I refer to black Confederates I am usually referencing this broad swath of commentary, but my preference is to describe them as Confederate slaves. If you read the link that I provided in an earlier you would have noticed that this is a phrase coined by historian, Peter Carmichael. What I like about this reference is that it properly describes these men in terms of their legal status. Just about every case that you will come across is that of a slave. The phrase also leaves sufficient room to do the proper analysis surrounding how these men were utilized during the war. I don’t worry about “free black volunteer soldiers” because if they existed they are an exception to the general rule.
I guess that is also one reason that these “free Negro conscript” cards caught my eye. You impress property from owners, such as mules and slaves. You conscript *men* and you might even go so far as to say you conscript “citizens” or at least legal residents (not sure on that…) since you would not conscript men who held allegiances to foreign countries.
So, how exactly would the white national Confederate government view the status of free black men living within its boundaries in peace time and war time? Prior to the war rules varied state to state–I mentioned Texas because in 1858 it passed laws encouraging free blacks to choose masters and enter/reenter slavery or leave the state. Partially as a result we had only 355 total free blacks on the 1860 census, although there may have been more.
Would the fact that free black men served some function within the army, even if involuntarily conscripted, be likely to change their treatment postwar had the Confederacy succeeded? McCurry looks at the questions raised by the proposal to use slaves in the military and what that meant to masculinity and citizenship. What about the admittedly few free blacks who should have been one step up already, having no masters to consider? (And I’m not asking any one to do research for me–I just know there are knowledgeable folks that frequent this blog, and thought maybe someone more familiar with the topic might be able to toss off an answer.)
Just one of those passing questions that pop up while flipping electronically through original documents.
Vicki-Check out the OR excerpt I posted above. The act referred to “all male free negroes and other free persons of color, not including those who are free under the treaty of Paris of eighteen hundred and three, or under the treaty with Spain of eighteen hundred and nineteen, RESIDENT in the Confederate States.” (emphasis added); there is no indication that they were considered citizens or with any political rights.
I guess I’m a little puzzled by all this.
Children are always brought into it, so to speak, when it comes to history. They read biographies of famous Americans and books on historical events which, given the nature of the texts and their audience, tend to simplify things, present models of behavior, and so on. So simply to deplore this book on the grounds that children are being exposed to a perspective with which I disagree in itself doesn’t necessarily move me very much, because they are always exposed to perspectives and renderings of history with which I may disagree, sometimes deeply. I don’t think first graders learn about King Philip’s War when they recall Thanksgiving, for example, and one can go on and on about the history presented in Pocahontas. I have a Native American colleague who deplores Little House on the Prairie because of the impression it leaves on young minds about relations between whites and Native Americans.
An unfair reader may take what I’ve said and try to distort it into saying that I don’t care what children read or what messages they get, but I can’t do very much about such idiots. That’s happened before, and I’m sure it will happen again. But I think my job is to tell others exactly why I think the history being taught is wrong, based upon bad information, or is part of some bizarre effort to reshape historical narratives to comport with political propaganda.
That said, of course I understand that teaching children about the Civil War through the story of a single individual that may not rest upon the soundest of factual foundations is something to wonder about. It might bear comparison to Johnny Tremain, a book that offers many readers their first glimpse into understanding the origins of the American Revolution … and one might well wonder what taking Isaac Green through the journey from slavery to the Confederate army might do toward shaping children’s understanding of slavery and the Civil War. I suspect I might not be happy with the result, but, as I have not read the book, my vague impressions must remain exactly that. I can’t judge what I have not read.
Now, if I really wanted to be able to influence what children read (and, at times, I have been able to do that, for I have reviewed my share of children’s books prior to their publication), I might contact Mr. Weeks directly and express concern with the DeWitt narrative. And, of course, once the book came out, if you found it unsatisfactory, then have at it. Don’t get mad, get even. But I guess at present I would not read your entry and know what to make of it. I would wonder instead about the larger questions of what do we teach our children about our history in ways that provide for an evolving understanding of that history as they grow older. I can’t criticize a narrative I have not read.
I realize that what I have written will not please people at either extreme, who may well jump on it to satisfy their own agendas, in the process misrepresenting what I’ve said. That’s happened before, and from both extremes, as well as from a few sadly demented individuals who are not blogging regulars. My only hope is that people of a reasonable mind who care deeply about these issues might respond constructively.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I am certainly sensitive of the need to introduce children to history in an age-appropriate way. At an early age the stories will probably be wrapped more overtly in moral lessons, which will, in turn, shape the overall narrative. Certain distinctions will be lacking and the level of analysis will be minimal. None of this is necessarily troubling to me. You are correct to point out that I have not read this book. I do see this book as part of a much larger problem with how we understand core aspects of Civil War history. The authors in question are already responsible for a website that perpetuates many of the myths associated with black Confederates. The book claims to follow a black man who served as a Confederate soldier, which is problematic given what we know about the Civil War. I’m not sure I understand why I need to read it given what the authors claim the book is about. Thanks.
Brooks and Kevin,
There are number of books which introduce children to this complex subject in a thoughtful, age-appropriate and fact-based manner. I know of one picture book, designed to be read by adults to very young children, which candidly outlines Lincoln’s willingness to delay or even forgo the freeing of slaves in order to preserve the Union.
The problem with this work is that it has all the earmarks not of a historical novel, but of a fictionalized dramatization of actual events. I am reminded of the recent HBO mini-series about John Adams. This was a carefully researched work of politics and history that filled in the blanks of John and Abigail’s relationship with imagined scenes that rang true because of what is known about the two. Again, “Entangled in Freedom” lacks that underpinning of scholarship, but is marketed as though that research had been done. This is indeed, Brooks, a work of fiction, but it is not being marketed like “Harry Potter.”
By the way Kevin, I hope you will forgive my female chauvinism. I can’t but wonder why there are not more comments on this subject from mothers. For good or ill, it is usually we who help the kids choose books to take home from the library.
Thanks for the comment. Brooks can speak for himself, but I don’t think he is suggesting that there is nothing to worry about with this book, just that he is inclined not to comment on it until it is published. I can certainly appreciate such a position.
“This is indeed, Brooks, a work of fiction, but it is not being marketed like ‘Harry Potter.'”
Perhaps you have me confused with someone else. I don’t know how this responds to anything I’ve said. Indeed, I’ve objected to another responder’s characterization of the book as just fiction, stating that historical fiction, especially that which claims to be based upon a true story, is a different genre.
Again, I like to read a book before commenting on it, since I don’t know the message of the book. I have my suspicions, and I’m fairly sure that in that regard Kevin and I may share much common ground.
You are right, of course, I confused your comments with Brian Schoeneman’s, though how I did that, I cannot guess. I apologize. This should teach me not to comment after a glass of wine, or before two glasses.
It happens to the best of us. 😀
Hi–I suspect a rendering of a name with a middle initial where the first and last names begin with the same letter have something to do with it. No problem. And, having just been through the Harry Potter section of Universal Studios in Orlando, I’ve been Pottered out. However, there might be a good amusement park based upon some Civil War topics. I’ll leave it to a mischievous imagination to figure out what rides might appear, except to say that you can’t use the Fast Pass to go on the McClellan ride, but you can use it on the Ride Around McClellan. 🙂
But I think my job is to tell others exactly why I think the history being taught is wrong, based upon bad information, or is part of some bizarre effort to reshape historical narratives to comport with political propaganda.
This is exactly why I’ve written on topics like the apocryphal ninja, why I’ve started writing reviews of ‘history-based’ children’s literature.
I have to take issue with the “you can’t comment unless you’ve read/seen/experienced it” argument, though. As Kevin notes, the main themes, sources and characters are present in the publicity materials. If I see a book blurb that says “the exciting true story of how ninja shaped modern Japanese history” or “the exciting true story of how the Chinese started the Renaissance,” I don’t have to read the book to know that it’s wrong.
That’s exactly my point. Regardless of the other virtues that the book may possess, I must assume that the publicity materials are telling the truth. My post was in response to how the book is being marketed and based on additional information such as their website I am betting that it is an accurate description.
People can comment on the publicity blurb, and they can raise questions about the DeWitt narrative. But what Kevin produced doesn’t tell me much more than the bare bones outline of the story, and I can’t readily discern what the message of the book may be, regardless of my suspicions and prejudices. “Can” people comment? They do. I choose not to pass sweeping judgment on something I have not read, and that’s my choice–not yours. If you read what I said, I said I choose not to comment. I have not blamed anyone else for commenting. You’ll have to tell me exactly what in the blurb struck you as “wrong.” Not what you suppose might be wrong, not what you suppose the message might be, but what’s there on the page itself.
Generally people “review” books only after they have read them. I think that’s sound practice. If you disagree, fine. Moreover, until there’s an actual “book” out there, I’m not going to pass judgment on a manuscript I have not seen or a book that has not even appeared. I can speculate, I can wonder, and, if the publicity material offers a wrongheaded claim, why, I can take issue with that. But I choose to reserve judgment on the book itself until I have read it, and that’s my choice. If you have a problem with that, that’s your problem.
I know your response was in reply to Jonathan, but I tend to agree with you that it is better to comment on books only after having read it. I wouldn’t want to describe this post as a review in any formal sense, but as a reaction to how this book is being marketed. Since the book is supposed to be a work of fiction it is impossible for me to argue against a specific claim about a black man’s status in the Confederate Army, but I can express serious doubt given the research that is claimed to support it. Evidence of this “research” can be seen on the website by Meeks and DeWitt. I would be more than happy to retract everything I’ve said once the book is released, but based on everything I know, I suspect that this will not be necessary. Finally, I don’t “suppose” the blurb might be wrong, I know it’s wrong based on the relevant background information.
Kevin–the blurb doesn’t tell us what the message of the book is. It might well be that Isaac Green joined the Confederate army as a way to escape slavery, only to find that that was what the Confederates were fighting for in the first place. It might well be that Isaac Green becomes a spy for Braxton Bragg, and that upon his information Bragg sends James Longstreet to Knoxville, thus paving the way for Grant’s victory at Chattanooga. It might be that Isaac Green becomes disillusioned with the failure of his own government to recognize his service when the Confederate Congress debates enlisting blacks to the extent that he writes Robert E. Lee a letter say “Why am I invisible to you?” Of course, I doubt it, but …
Again, I have my suspicions.
To say “it’s just fiction” is not enough. Most people, young or old, have a hard time discerning what is real and what isn’t where historical fiction is concerned. I remember reading a story by a licensed battlefield guide at Gettysburg who said the question he was asked most often was “where is the grave of Buster Kilrain”, who, of course, is a fictional character from The Killer Angels.
Rob, I think there’s a fantastic (though slightly fraudulent) entrepreneurial opportunity in that story.
LOL. A person could even point out that Kilrain was shot and killed by a black Confederate, making it a two-for-one deal.
Rob, I agree that some people can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction, but that is true regardless of the topic. The funny thing is, many of the people who visited Gettysburg and were able to learn firsthand the real history would never have gone without having read the Killer Angels or seen the movie. That expands the number of people who are able to be reached.
I understand why Kevin doesn’t like this, but he goes full tilt whenever anyone talks about black confederates. What Kevin fails to recognize is that even if this story is false (and it probably is) if the book sells and gets kids interested in the Civil War, they’ll go out and seek out more information about the topic and can learn the truth.
One of the things I like about history is that it is open to all of us, not just teachers and historians. If it takes a fictional book with a fantastic story to get a kid interested in learning the real history, so be it. That can only be a good thing. Isn’t this part of what we call the “teachable moment.”
You said: “What Kevin fails to recognize is that even if this story is false (and it probably is) if the book sells and gets kids interested in the Civil War, they’ll go out and seek out more information about the topic and can learn the truth.”
And where will you find scholarly/reliable studies on this subject? They are few and far between. There are more childrens books pushing this nonsense than there are legitimate secondary. What you call “full tilt” I call focusing on an important aspect of Civil War memory, which is, after all, what this blog is about.
I’m sorry but I can’t agree that even a bad fiction book, if it brings people into studying the subject, is a good thing. As a bookseller, I can count on one hand the number of people who have come to me and said “I read such and such book and want to learn more. What can you recommend?” I’m not saying it never happened, but it’s rare. In my experience, if a person likes a particular book, they usually accept it as the last word and move on.
As for Kevin’s interest in black Confederates, I admire his willingness to call out things like this, regardless of how his critics attack him (and attack is the proper word here). He’s doing the same thing I was trained to do when I studied history in college. If I could believe that most people, once they read a book, would go to the sources and try to learn things for themselves, I wouldn’t be as concerned. I know the reality to be far different. While I agree with you that for history to be successful it must be democratic, that doesn’t mean I accept that most people should be left to their own devices and will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. That takes someone dedicated to historical truth, which Kevin is.
When most people can’t even name their own congressman or senator or three of the nine justices on the Supreme Court, yet can tell you who is in the finals of American Idol, historical consciousness is in far too short supply. They need a guide, and in my opinion, on this topic, Kevin is a good one.
I appreciate the kind words. The primary sources are indeed indispensable to doing good history, but the problem here is that people are going to the sources without any basic understanding of the historical context. So, we end up with cases where claims are made about the number of black Confederate soldiers present in the army even though the Confederate government forbid it and most white southerners were against such a policy.
The black Confederate story reflects the misuse of the internet, the democratizing of history, and the continued influence of the Lost Cause and its obsession with images and narratives of faithful slaves.
Sorry this is a late post. I started reading your blog about 6 months ago and love it. This is only my second comment ever, but felt I could add my 1 cent. I read travelogue a few years ago that mentioned “Mellugeons.” The author is normally pretty reliable, but I was interested in finding out more about this mysterious group. Anyways, the author’s research was extremely outdated and basically false. Until I got around to actually researching Melugeons myself I took his word for it. So I agree with Kevin that books like Entangled in Freedom are dangerous. Especially since it’s aimed at Children. Anyways, love the blog and keep up the good work.
Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading.
I can only speak from my own experience. I am not a Civil War expert, merely an enthusiast. But I am an amateur expert on one particularly area of history, the Jack the Ripper murders, and have been involved within that community of scholarship for a while. What got me into that? Reading a book about criminal profiling that lead me to the internet which lead me to a website that lead me to books and to all of the primary materials. History is a journey, and for the most part, it takes you where you want to go if you desire to learn more. Then again, I’m not the usual suspect, nor do I doubt any of us are. So for the average person, anything that gets them reading or thinking about history is fine by me, even a story that is based in “bad” or whatever history.
Kevin, you’re a stickler for primary sources and I appreciate that, but one of the things I have learned in my study of the Ripper murders is that you have to take all of the primary sources with a grain of salt. They’re written by people, most of whom have an agenda, not all of whom have all the facts, and the things that are omitted are almost as important as the things that are left in. For example, we have multiple conflicting eyewitness accounts, police reports and medical reports, and we have many, many bad historical books written by individuals with agendas and those who have had their hearts in the right place but have relied on unreliable primary sources like newspapers.
I know you’re on a quest to prove that there were no black Confederate soldiers in the war and you’ve been keen to demonstrate that there are very, very few, if any primary sources that confirm the story. That’s fine, but it’s not dispositive of your thesis. That’s why I get uncomfortable when you say things in such a definitive way like “They did not serve as soldiers. End of story.” The truth is likely impossible to know, and saying it that was is just as bad as saying “They definitely did serve as soldiers. End of story.” Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It simply means we don’t know.
I think you would lose many of your critics, me included, if you would recognize that there are just some questions that are not going to be answered. This may be one of them.
Of course I understand that one must be very careful in working with primary sources. I don’t know a historian with even a minimal amount of training who would disagree with you.
I want to be very clear that my goal is not to prove that there were no black Confederate soldiers. That would be a poorly framed research agenda. Rather, my goal is to better understand how the war challenged the master-slave relationship within the Confederacy. What I’ve found in the course of my research is a great deal of misinformation and very poor history. First, I’ve never said that there were no black Confederate soldiers. What I have said is that if they existed they were an exception to a very clear stance on the part of the Confederate government as well as white southerners generally. Historians who have spent entire careers sorting through muster rolls and other documents have never found a legitimate example and every case that I have come across has been shown to be mistaken. What we know is that the Confederate government and individual states impressed thousands of slaves and many traveled with their owners as body servants. There are also cases of free blacks who volunteered to assist local and state governments on occasion for various reasons. I am more than happy to point you to books that can help you to begin to think more critically about this subject.
Of course they wouldn’t, because it’s fundamental.
I’m honestly not that interested in the subject, because it’s not part of the war I’m interested in. I’m a politician. I like politics. I’m more interested in how you seem to approach it, because there have been multiple posts on the topic and in all of them you seem to be trying to demonstrate that all of the research done to prove the existence of black confederates is wrong. That’s fine, but it sure looks from an outsiders perspective as if you’re trying to prove they don’t exist. You’re smart enough to know how difficult it is to prove a negative and you’re smart enough to be careful how you characterize things, which is why I’ve been critical when you’ve said things that I don’t think bear up to scrutiny.
I just explained to you the question that guides my interest in this subject. I am more than happy to discuss the subject of the role that African Americans played in Confederate armies and how they were used on the home front. Please understand that I am not interested in discussing politics. If I was I would have started a politics blog. You are free to infer what you will about my personal background, including my politics, but that is not something that I am going to discuss. Here is a very thoughtful essay on this subject that has proven to be very helpful to me. Part of my problem with this whole debate is that everything is too easily reduced to a question of whether someone was a soldier. That is a fundamentally flawed approach given what we know about Confederate policy and the history of slavery and race relations in the antebellum South: http://cwmemory.com/2009/04/17/revisiting-peter-carmichael-on-confederate-slaves/
Kevin, I meant the politics of the time period. For example, I was rereading the Congressional Globe of the debates over the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution last night. That’s what I prefer to discuss about the war. Should have been more clear.
Thanks for the clarification. There is indeed some great stuff in the Congressional Globe. I have a number of classroom debate simulations that utilize these sources.
Take a deep breath. It’s fiction.
One of my favorite books when I was a kid was about a cat that used to slide down fire poles and road with firemen to their fires, even rescuing other cats from trees.
It didn’t warp my worldview on cats.
There is a difference between a work of historical fiction that makes some attempt to paint an accurate picture of the past and fantasy. This is the latter. Your point about cats makes no sense. We can entertain kids with stories about the past without distorting it to such an extent.
Kevin, it is still fiction. There are plenty of works of good historical fiction and plenty that are bad. In the end, they’re all just fiction. No one is claiming that this kid’s book is true.
My point about cats makes perfect sense – children’s books routinely create fantastic, completely implausible and ridiculous stories to entertain children, even ones that are based loosely on history. That doesn’t mean that kids grow up thinking that cats can be firemen, animals talk, monsters exist, large red dogs can be larger than houses, etc. It’s just a kid’s book. Lighten up.
What do you read to your children? Shelby Foote?
The authors of this story are also responsible for a website that pushes this distorted view of the war. The problem, as I see it, is that what you are reducing to fiction is a view that many pass as historically accurate. It’s part of a much larger problem. I am not asking you to care about this issue, but it is a concern of mine as a historian and teacher.
“No one is claiming that this kid’s book is true.”
Actually, the promotional material makes it very clear that the story is based upon actual documents and a particular narrative that claims it is historically authentic. Let’s be honest here: it’s not fiction, but historical fiction for young people. It makes a claim to being historically authentic if not technically accurate. Otherwise, there would be no need to say what the promotional material says.
As a parent, if I bought a book advertised as “derived from 19th century official government records as well as real life family narratives of co-author, Ann DeWitt,” I’d do so believing that the plot and premise of the story were realistic, even if the specific characters were fictional.
That’s exactly the point. This story is being marketed as based on “official government records” which implies some notion of truthfulness.
Kevin’s right about the distinction between fantasy and bad history, especially with children. Cognitive science is becoming quite clear on the importance of getting good information first: once an idea becomes fixed in the mind, counter-evidence is naturally discounted, and it’s extremely difficult to actually drive bad information out once it becomes part of someone’s world-view.
Like most historians, I used to ignore historical fiction, especially fiction directed at children. But I’ve been taking it much more seriously lately because I can see the effects in my classrooms.
In my view, a young adult novel about a “Black Confederate” is Orwellian propaganda. In Notes on Nationalism, George Orwell wrote that “the primary aim of propaganda is, of course, to influence contemporary opinion.” Weeks and Dewitt are attempting to rewrite history to influence young readers about the “noble service” and “loyalty” of “Black Confederates” to the Old South, which is sad and unfortunate. They completely disregard the enormous amount of evidence and proof that shows that “Black Confederates” are a myth. Yet, they continued to promote what is essentially Neo-Confederate propaganda. In propagandizing this myth, they proved what Orwell wrote that “much of the propagandist writing of our time amounts to plain forgery. Material facts are suppressed, dates altered, quotations removed from their context and doctored so as to change their meaning.”
Although Orwell wrote these words almost seventy years ago, this novel and the propaganda it represent shows how relevant and important Orwell’s words are in showing the dangers of promoting this myth.
OK, but there is no evidence that the two authors are intentionally deceiving kids for nefarious reasons. Like so many others, they simply do not understand the basic history of the Confederate government and their policies regarding how slaves could be used for military purposes. We know that large numbers of slaves were impressed by the federal government; we know that slaves accompanied officers as personal body servants; and we know that free blacks volunteered to aid the Confederacy in various ways and for different reasons. They did not serve as soldiers. End of story.