Black Confederates on Countdown

I want to say up front that I am not a fan of Keith Olbermann’s Countdown show. I find him to be utterly uninteresting and, in the end, a great example of what is wrong with mainstream media.  Like most other “news” shows it’s a place to go to affirm and feel good about what you already believe.  That said, Olbermann handled this story responsibly by sticking to the central issue at hand, which is the veracity of the claim about the role of southern blacks in the Confederate army.  I anticipated an interview with a Roland Martin-type, but Olbermann managed to get William and Mary History Professor, Carol Sheriff, who broke this story and who herself is the author of an excellent Civil War study.  Sheriff also managed to highlight the other big problem with all of this and that is that most people do not know how to navigate the Internet.

This narrative is now on the public’s radar screen.  There will be the inevitable responses from certain quarters that a way of life is being attacked or that revisionist historians and Political Correctness have run amok, but this is nothing more than a sign of desperation and a reflection of intellectual bankruptcy.

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!

60 comments… add one
  • Phil Smoley Nov 23, 2010 @ 9:04

    Andy, there are people who deny that black Confederates existed. You take issue with the label: “Black Confederate deniers.” To stay on topic, I am willing to label them the way you prefer, which is?

    Kevin, whose understanding of what happened 150 years ago do you trust? People who were alive 150 years ago, or a modern day graduate that may have a political filter? I prefer my history right from the source. The sources you cite are interesting opinions and spins, but each of them realizes that any attempt at scholarly study on black Confederates is not good for career advancement. The academic elite know to how to treat the topic of black Confederates to maintain their status, and the rest fall into line. No one wants to called a “kook” by their politically sensitive peers. Courage is not an attribtute to be found in this crowd.

    Several attempts have been made to piece together the evidence, and they make a compelling argument for black Confederates, at least worthy of honest debate. But rather than debating the evidence, the (people who don’t believe there were black Confederates) tend to make personal attacks on the researcher: “They have limited educaton” , “It was not peer reviewed,” “Simple rehash of neo-Confederate propaganda,” etc. None actually refute the evidence presented. It is all arrogantly dismissed as drivel not worthy of professional analysis.

    Consider the eye witness reporting of Longstreet and Freemantle. These accounts are spun to mean something that the simple reading does not suggest. Phrases are parsed to not mean what they say, unless of course they can be spun to indicate that the black man was not a soldier, and then that part of the quote is used as evidence of the silliness of thinking the man was a soldier. But I have used these passages as an experiment as to how severe the politically correct filter and racial politics has skewed peoples thinking. I simply exchanged the race of the prisoner with that of the black man, where the guard becomes white, and the prisoner becomes a black Union soldier. I then read the two passages to others not familiar with the passages, and then ask the question: “In the context of these passages, would you say the guard is: A: A civilian B: Army support personel C: A member of the Confederate Army D: Something else.
    I have yet to have anyone choose anything but “C”, and you will realize the same result if you do the same test fairly; it is obvious that the man is a soldier. Yet, change the races back to the original description, and all of a sudden, the obvious is no longer obvious to many people. It’s like reverse institutional racism. Most peculiar, momma!

    The most obvious conclusion is that the black man had exchanged his butternut uniform for the tight fitting Union uniform, and he knew that he could exchange the Union uniform, presumably for a better Confederate uniform. Longstreet paraphrased the black man as saying that it “was his proudest capture during the march” indicating it was not his only capture. The fact that the black man was armed is not what was surprising to either Longstreet or Freemante, but that the gun was “at the cock-notch.” Someone reminded the black man that it “was unsoldier like” to carry the gun that way, implying the man was a soldier; he didn’t say it was “un-slave like.” The implication by both witnesses was that the man was allowed to keep his gun.

    Some think that Lonstreet’s description of the two as being “grotesque” is somehow evidence of the unique nature of the scene (black man with captured Union soldier). But in the prior 4 days, Longstreet had seen plenty of grotesque scenes and none of them were unique to him. The spin on the word “grotesque” is exactly what I am referring to; the attempts to make the passages say something they don’t can reach absurb levels, but is quite common in the disscussions regarding black Confederates.

    Every evidence of black Confederates is treated the same way, by either attacking the person presenting the evidence, or twisting or ignoring the evidence in a manner to easily dismiss it. Even in this blog, look at how people are reacting to the video of black men waving Confederate flags at the 1917 Veterans Reunion. The obvious conclusion of the video is ignored, twisted, and maligned. No attempt is made to analyze because to do so would make people uncomfortable; there is only one reasonable conclusion, and a lot folks don’t want to go there. The video evidence made a lot of people uncomfortable as it challenged a dearly held belief.

    This is not personal. It is an attempt to get folks who have made up their mind to step out of their box for a moment and acknowledge the obvious conclusion that any piece of evidence points to, rather than through the “let’s dismiss this any way we can so we can continue to live in our comfortable world” approach.

    Recently Senator Harry Reid said that he could not believe that any Hispanic could be a Republican. This was said in spite of Hispanics heavily supporting Mark Rubio, a Hispanic, for Florida Senate. Reid’s filter was so skewed he could not admit the obvious fact that there are a lot of Hispanics that are conservative and vote Republican.
    It’s the same mental conditioning that we see in discussion of Black Confederates. Every bit of evidence is dismissed as meaninless, and then the request of “where is the evidence?” makes them think they are being truly investigative.

    For me, the key issue is not whether blacks were formally mustered into the Confederate army. The issue for me is how did blacks in general, free or slave, feel about the war. Did they generally think it was a war to liberate them to a better existence, thus they were supportive of the Union? Or did they see it as an attack on their homeland, a destruction of their way of life, and supported their fellow southerners? I think there were plenty of blacks in both groups, and the evidence points to this. But once people conclude something is impossible, no amount of evidence will matter. It’s like a religious fanaticism.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 23, 2010 @ 9:13


      You really have no clue what you are talking about when discussing recent scholarship and my guess is that you haven’t read much of it. Most attempts, including yours, to piece together accounts to collectively demonstrate the existence of black Confederates has been – to say the least – wanting. You can make of that what you will, but continuing to make accusations is not going to get you anywhere. Andy Hall already responded to your claims about Freemantle and Longstreet and yet you seem to have no response apart from more accusations.

      I don’t even see any black men in the video, but even if they are there it tells us nothing about why they are present. Again, you seem to think that research is simply about throwing a bunch of quotes and images out and drawing a conclusion. It takes careful analysis and time. I am perfectly willing to accept the existence of a few black Confederate soldiers. I’ve never doubted that they exist, but based on my own extensive research into accounts of Confederate soldiers I have yet to find a single reference.

      As to your last point there is an extensive body of scholarship on slaves and emancipation. I highly recommend that you start with Leon Litwack’s _Been in the Storm So Long_. You can assume all you want about what motivates me as well as others who have contributed to this site, but you are doing nothing more than barking at the moon.

      Finally, if you are so convinced that we are on the wrong track why do you continue to read? Why not spend your time on sites that fall in line with your preferred historical method?

      • Phil Smoley Nov 23, 2010 @ 10:21


        You may have confused my post with someone else. I did respond to Andy’s comments on Longstreet/Freemantle’s eyewitness account of a a black Confederate. Go back and review paragraphs 4-7 in my last entry. I did not include any “accusations” in these paragraphs, or at least none that I could see.
        Take another look.

        I am sorry you don’t see any black men in the video. Try this: at the one minute mark, there is a cut in the film and the first of 4 trucks is in the foreground. The fourth truck is the one you want to take a good look at. Use the pause button. Better still, pay the $4 and download the video so you can pause it better in a better video player. What you will see is about 13-15 black men waving Confederate flags (2nd and 3rd National), all evidently smiling and demonstrating a sense of pride. Take a few minutes to look at each frame, and then let me know what the most obvious conclusion one could take from this. Yes it’s just one video but every individual piece of evidence of anything is just one piece; that of iself is no reason to demean the evidence.

        You refer to the evidence as a “bunch of quotes and images” implying they don’t mean much. But without quotes and images, what do you have left? If we can’t quote from the written record nor appeal to visual evidence, then how can we prove anything? Or is this the standard you apply only to those attempting to prove the existence of black Confederates?

        I sense that there are open minded people on the site willing to challenge conventional wisdom. Whenever I get convinced otherwise is when I move on.

        Thank you for the suggestion of Litwack’s book. I will look into it. : )

        • Kevin Levin Nov 23, 2010 @ 10:26

          As I’ve already stated, even if there are black men in the truck what does it show? Who are they? Why are they there? What additional evidence are you going to provide to make your case. Again, I am sorry if I don’t jump to your preferred interpretation, but that’s not how history works. Evidence must be collected and analyzed. You’ve done nothing along these lines. I apply this standard to everything that I’ve researched, written, and published. I don’t know how else to go about trying to be a serious historian. Like I said, I am willing to go wherever you wish to take me, but you must do the work to get me there and this involves doing serious research. Throwing up a bunch of quotes in response to a blog post is not how you do it.

          Spend time with the relevant primary and secondary sources and write something up that includes some serious analysis. Better yet, get it published somewhere that includes a peer-review process.

      • Phil Smoley Nov 23, 2010 @ 10:33

        More specifically in the video, the truck in question comes into view between the 1:10 and the 1:21 mark.
        These men are not Irish, nor are they of the yankee persuasion. Just what are the likely possibilities?

        I freely admit that this is not conclusive that black Confederates existed. But can we at least admit that this evidence supports the notion?

        • Kevin Levin Nov 23, 2010 @ 10:40

          No, we can’t. We need to know more about this parade and who these men were and why they were included. With all due respect, that you even need to ask this question suggests that you have very little understanding of the process involved in doing serious history. How about starting with some local histories of Vicksburg at the turn of the century. Take a look at newspapers that covered the event as well as primary sources that focus on the organizers of the event. What do you know about the organization, individuals who put this parade together? You need to ask additional questions and do more research before you can even think about drawing specific conclusions. Get back to us when you complete this assignment.

    • Andy Hall Nov 23, 2010 @ 10:16

      Phil, for someone who expresses a disdain for parsing phrases and looking at the past through a modern-day “political filter,” you do a fair amount of both in your comment. Harry Reid and Marco Rubio, really?

      I stand by my original analysis (linked above) of Fremantle’s account — not parsing phrases or words, but the entire thing, taken as a whole. Fremantle never used the word “solider’ to describe the man (as your earlier comment seemed to directly quote him as saying), and explicitly identified him as a slave. Fremantle is very clear that the black man’s custody of the prisoner came about because the two Confederate soldier actually assigned to guard him had gotten drunk. Longstreet’s account — which was written decades after the war and possibly with Fremantle’s book as a reference — adds details but he doesn’t clearly consider the man a soldier, either, despite chiding the black man for handling his weapon in an “unsoldierly” manner. That either Fremantle or Longstreet mentioned this incident at all speaks to how odd it seemed to them at the time. Both men saw the notion of a black slave escorting a union prisoner to be

      Kevin has objected in the past to the very term “black Confederate,” because it conflates a whole variety of things. He’s right in that, and I fear that much of that conflation is intentional, muddying the waters sufficiently that the term can be applied to any African American associated with the Confederacy in any way. If that’s going to be the case, then the term doesn’t have any real meaning at all.

      For the record, I do believe that there were a handful of black men — dozens, not hundreds — who, through extraordinary personal skill or the personal patronage of a senior officer, achieved something close to acceptance as soldiers in the field. (Holt Collier may be an example of the former; “Forrest’s Escort” of the latter.) But these men had no official recognition, and are exceptional specifically because they were exceedingly rare. Wartime Confederate primary sources — newspapers, dispatches, letters, diaries, etc. — are almost completely silent on the notion of African Americans serving in the ranks as soldiers, and the notion of arming slaves to fight for the Confederacy, when it came under formal consideration in the last months of the war, was bitterly opposed by men who, if blacks had been serving as soldiers all along, would surely know better. Among these was General Howell Cobb who, according to the oft-quoted account of Dr. Steiner, actually commanded thousands of black Confederate troops at Frederick. Yet he dismissed the idea of black soldiers as a “suicidal policy,” saying that “You cannot make soldiers of slaves, nor slaves of soldiers. The moment you resort to negro [sic.] soldiers your white soldiers will be lost to you. . . . You can’t keep white and black troops together, and you can’t trust negroes by themselves. . . . Use all the negroes you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don’t arm them. The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong — but they won’t make soldiers. As a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier.”

      Unfortunately, I think those advocating for the notion that there were large numbers of African American men in the ranks, recognized as soldiers at the time, have done themselves a huge disservice by trying to make their case with “evidence” that’s either misunderstood, misquoted, or outright fraudulent. It’s hurling anything and everything up against the wall to see what sticks, when most of it is of dubious historical value. I suspect there are a few needles actually in that haystack, but hurling fistfuls of hay at those who remain unconvinced, while at the same time accusing them of having a political agenda (or worse) isn’t the way to get it done.

      • Andy Hall Nov 23, 2010 @ 10:19

        I hit the “post Comment” button too soon. The last sentence, second paragraph, should read, “Both men saw the notion of a black slave escorting a union prisoner to be a spectacle, and a humorous one at that.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 23, 2010 @ 10:19


        We can respond all day long to this guy, but in the end it looks like he just wants to vent without having done any serious study of the relevant primary and secondary sources. While I often refer to black Confederates you are correct in pointing out that I prefer to call the Confederate slaves (a reference coined by historian, Peter Carmichael) since it more properly reflects their place in the army.

      • Phil Smoley Nov 23, 2010 @ 10:52

        Again I think we are getting hung up on the definition of “soldier.” While thousands of blacks supported the CSA in any way they could, few were allowed combat roles. In my opinion, the prejudice and ignorance of those in power that resisted black combat troops may have cost the south the war. Frederick Douglas alluded to this theory.

        I am not trying to prove that blacks were active in combat for the south, for the record is clear on that; it happened infrequently, rarely, and was generally not a state sponsored activity.

        My point is that in spite of their being kept from being formal combat soldiers, thousands of loyal southern blacks worked hard for the southern cause; their hearts were with the Confederacy. I realize their status as slaves makes this difficult to grasp in no different way than it is difficult to understand why Japanese Americans who had their property stolen then were shipped to concentration camps (or internment resorts that many FDR lovers now prefer to call them) still volunteered to serve the very government that was so unfair to them. The fact it makes no sense in no way changes what happened. In the CW, most blacks that had the option stayed home and were loyal to their people. Many willingly supported the war effort in any way they could or were allowed. When the CSA Congress finally gave the approval for formal black units, the ranks were swollen with volunteers eager to protect the southland. Richmond even gave a parade to the all black units that had formed, but it was too late in the game to have any effect (stupid Rebs.)

        As far as good vs evil, the south had slaves, the north had just gotten ridden of their slaves and was built largely on the slave trade, and later by brutal immigrant and child labor. Why does everyone give the north a pass, and put all evilness on the wicked south? When a slave broke down, he was cared for into old age. When an Irish immigrant broke down in a New York sweatshop, he was thrown out on the street to die and replaced with a child that would suffer the same fate. Slavery was wrong, but no less wrong than what the so-called liberators were doing in their own neck of the woods. This is what southerns call “yankee hypocrisy.”

        • Kevin Levin Nov 23, 2010 @ 11:01

          You can’t even properly analyze a video so how do you expect to demonstrate that “thousands of loyal southern blacks worked hard for the southern cause” and that “their hearts were with the Confederacy.”

          I’ve given you plenty of opportunity to make your point, but this has gone on far too long. I am ending this thread.

  • Phil Smoley Nov 22, 2010 @ 23:49

    The Confederate = Nazi analogy does not warrant serious consideration, but it is a common argument used against the idea of black Confederates: “CSA was to blacks as the 3rd Reich was to Jews” is the heavy gun rolled out by the black Confederate deniers. But it is a silly comparison. Nazis were out to exterminate the Jews and had no qualms about working them to a literal death. They starved, tortured, robbed, and ultimately killed them simply for being Jewish.

    American slavery was a different animal all together. No rational slave owner ever intentionally worked a slave to death. An average slave in today’s dollars would be an investment of over $100,000. It was this investment that kept the slaves well fed and otherwise well cared for. When I see pictures of ante bellum plantations, you don’t see too many skinny slaves. While their freedom of movement was greatly limited, American slaves lived free from hunger and want, unlike most free people of the world at the time. They were cared for “cradle to grave.” While their actual treatment may not have been what was portrayed in “Gone With the Wind,” that was closer to reality than “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
    By the time of the war, many slaves were the 3rd and 4th generation on the same plantation. That was their world. It wasn’t up to our standards of today, but it was a heck of a lot better than what most people in the world at the time endured, whether they be slave or free.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 23, 2010 @ 1:48


      No, the Nazi analogy is not a common argument used to argue against the existence of black Confederates. The fact that there are very few wartime records is sufficient to make that claim.

      Your depiction of slavery would have resonated with an audience 100 years ago, but fails to track anything significant in the scholarly literature of the last few decades. I would suggest picking up something by Ira Berlin, David Brion Davis, Eugene Genovese, Herbert Gutman, or Leon Litwack to name just a few.

    • Andy Hall Nov 23, 2010 @ 4:53

      Phil, by labeling those who disagree with you “black Confederate deniers,” you flatter yourself, as though there’s some awful conspiracy at work to deny true Southron Heritage. There’s not, just the same rigorous critique that’s applied to anyone making a claim that doesn’t square with long-established historical record. Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence. Stop playing victim.

  • Mark Douglas Nov 22, 2010 @ 17:56

    By the way , a video from 1915 or whatever proves nothing.

    No one said blacks were not THERE — what did you think, blacks all went to a different planet until the war was over?

    Lee used 100,000 slaves just in Richmond and Petersburg ALONE. But not one of those 100,000 were in the CSA.

    Slaves were the ones doing all the work that the South could find. Digging the pyramid scale earthworks in RIchmond for one. Its ironic that if you count the slaves the South had working for them, the South had more men than the North. But that’s another topic.

    Sure slaves were all around — Lee had three personal slaves with him, Bill, Perry, and Lawrence. No one bothered to keep statistics of which officers had which slaves with them.

    If the South had any black soldiers, they sure forgot to tell Davis and Lee. Go read Davis rant about black soldiers — read what Davis said, and if you still think the South h ad blacks in their army (more than would fit in my car) I can’t help you.

    Were there ANY blacks? Well probably. But not IN the CSA. Someone might have given them uniforms, but that’s because otherwise, they would probably be naked. And who knows what their situation was? Why would they do that? What were they told?

    We know the genesis of the attempts to get blacks in the CSA= as slaves. And that attempt fell apart as the war ended.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 22, 2010 @ 18:00


      I would love to know your reference to Lee using 100,000 slaves in the Richmond-Petersburg area. No one is seriously arguing that no slaves fought as legitimate soldiers, but that if they did they are surely the exception to the rule. From a certain perspective this makes their stories quite interesting. In some cases slaves themselves were able to purchase their own uniforms as a result of their willingness to provide various services to officers and soldiers during free time.

  • Larry Cebula Nov 22, 2010 @ 11:59

    Andy and Leonard: I see your point, I reached for the first use of slave labor in a war effort that came to mine and accidentally invoked Godwin. I am open to alternative examples to make the same point, that it is preposterous to point to the labor of slaves as evidence that those slaves support the goal of that labor.

    • Andy Hall Nov 22, 2010 @ 12:04

      Agreed. When you find an alternative example to make the same point, let me know, ’cause I need one, too.;-)

  • Andy Hall Nov 22, 2010 @ 10:50

    I really try to avoid Confederate-Nazi analogies. Not because there aren’t comparisons to be made in some closely-limited circumstances, but because it gives others an opportunity to be outraged — outraged — that someone would supposedly suggest that their great-granddaddy was somehow like a Nazi. Righteous indignation of that sort is never far beneath the surface with some folks, and making a Nazi analogy really seems (to me) to inject far more heat than light into any discussion of this sort.

    • Leonard Lanier Nov 22, 2010 @ 11:10

      Just ask Stanley Elkins. I really believe that “Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life” shines a powerful intellectual light on the “peculiar institution,” but once he started comparing slaves to concentration camp survivors, Elkins lost his audience.

    • Marc Ferguson Nov 22, 2010 @ 12:29

      I agree in principle with this, but if someone is not going to understand that it is a comparison of relationships and not an equivalency, then they aren’t going to get, for whatever reason, the point regardless of how it’s presented. Sometimes I think the outrage, and I’ve also seen it, is a feint to avoid dealing with the point.

    • Mark Douglas Nov 22, 2010 @ 17:42

      In all respect, why arent the comparisons to Nazis appropriate?

      No they were not equal. But there are very solid comparisons. There were many very good Southern people, and still are, I mean no disrespect, but lets tell the truth now. Its been 150 years. We can handle the truth now.

      So let’s handle it.

      If you knew the real history of the South, I don’t think the comparisons are off.

      For one thing, the South went to war to spread slavery, according to their own ultimatums. It was very much a war of land conquest, something we have white washed out of our history books. But check out the Southern Ultimatums, issued by the Southern leaders in March of 1861, at the same time, by the same people, who wrote the Southern Constitution. Their war ultimatums were to SPREAD slavery, against the will of the people in the territories.

      Go read the South’s own official documents, and see the Southern newspapers headlines about it, calling it “THE TRUE ISSUE”

      For another thing, what do you think the South was like from 1820-1860? Do you know anything about the violent, systematic, and governmental oppression of free speech, free press, and freedom of religion? I doubt you do.

      Do you know pastors (anyone) could be arrested and tortured, for simply owning the wrong book? And the book could be surprisingly mild — just questioning slavery.

      DId you know before 1820, there were some 130 anti slavery publications in the South? Only 25 in the North. The South had more anti slavery publications than the North.

      They were all shut down, violently or by force, after the passage of very Nazi like “anti – incendiary laws”

      Did you know that? Yes or no? I doubt most people know this.

      This is the most important aspect of Southern life, from 1820 on, and if you know nothing about it, you know nothing about what caused the Civil War. The North was able to end slavery, state by state, precisely because they had free speech, free press, and open discussions, and votes.

      When the founding fathers wrote the constitution, they put something in that would kill slavery. And that was free speech. And real elections. Slavery was not popular, slavery was NOT the choice of most whites. Put to a real vote, slavery was doomed.

      IN the South, the slave owners took over virtually total control from 1820 on. They realized having slavery debated, having groups and publications and sermons against slavery, was simply not compatible with slavery.

      Either slavery had to go, or free speech had to go. Guess which one went?

      Southerns were not motivated by some horrible thing — they were scared. Afraid for their lives.

      They blamed the slave unrest on these publications. They claimed their lives were in danger because of it.
      In fact, Southern Congressmen called on the floor of the House for the arrest and surrender of anyone in the North who wrote or published books against slavery.

      I bet you didn’t know that. They wanted those publishers to be hung in the South. People speaking out about the evils of slavery just drove the South nuts.

      The Congressmen were not raving lunatics — they said, and with some justification — that rebelling slaves was a matter of life and death, not just to slave owners, but to anyone.

      So the Southern government put the whammy on Uncle Sammy’s freedom of speech.

      That is why ending slavery was impossible in the SOuth. Freedom of speech and real elections and open discussion were the anti -slavery tonic. Can’t have that. And they were right, they could not have that.

      Jeff Davis said the African Slave was ‘the most contented laborer on earth” until the “evil serpent whispered the lie of freedom” into the slaves ear. SLaves had “natural affection” for their master, unless the abolitionist interfered.

      The South, therefore, put fantastic energy in to forbidding and punishing any speech or writing that they said was incendiary — that MIGHT “dissatisfy a slave”. You can’t upset the slaves. You cant write or say or read anything that might upset the slaves. If you do, you will be tortured. And then jailed. They were not messing round.

      Ships were searched routinely, mail was searched, men were searched, homes were searched. No one knew for sure what was banned – you could not know until you were arrested. Men were tortured and jailed.

      This stopped all legal anti slavery activity in the South. As DeBow bragged in 1845, “God Almighty has silenced the opposition to Slavery by His Holy Word!”

      Not God — try the anti-incendiary laws, where violent and barbaric punishment was in store for those who dared to cross the line.

      SO there were no real elections, elections were essentially a farce. Which pro slavery candidate do you want?

      More, no one spoke out. You could not. SO a generation of men grew up never once hearing a legal and open discussion against slavery.

      Learn this basic aspect of Southern Life. It was why and how the nation slid into the Civil War.

      ANd the violent government control, and punishment, of what people could say, read, write, is very Nazi like.

      Plus there are other comparisons.

      Nazis had slaves — so did Confederates.

      Nazis were at war their whole existence. So were the Confederates.

      Nazis intended to spread “white superiority” to the rest of the globe. So did the Confederates.

      Nazis lost every war they ever fought. So did the Confederates.

      But as horrible as Nazis were, even they did not rape their slaves, then sell the children that came from those rapes, into slavery, for profit.

      But the Confederates did.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 22, 2010 @ 17:45

        I am going to exercise some editorial control here. This post is about the debate concerning black Confederates and a 4th grade textbook. Let’s stick to the topic or find a more appropriate post. Thanks everyone.

      • Lee Nov 22, 2010 @ 20:23


        You said: “But as horrible as Nazis were, even they did not rape their slaves, then sell the children that came from those rapes, into slavery, for profit.

        But the Confederates did.”

        By the same token, there were no gas chambers in the Confederacy, and no attempt was made to exterminate an entire group of people. As much as I abhor slavery, I find it ridiculous to argue or even imply that the Confederacy was worse than Nazi Germany. I agree that making a comparison between the two is likely to only make it more difficult to have constructive dialogue about the Civil War. After all, a huge number of nations throughout history practiced slavery–the Roman Empire is but one famous example. If one is going to compare the Confederacy to some other movement or nation of the past, why does it have to be Nazi Germany?

        • Kevin Levin Nov 23, 2010 @ 2:15

          Thank you, Lee. Let’s keep the Nazis out of it even if we are trying to make a simple point. Ultimately, it steers us away from the relevant issues.



      • Phil Smoley Nov 22, 2010 @ 23:48

        So, Mark: Do you believe there were black Confederates or not?

  • Margaret D. Blough Nov 22, 2010 @ 10:40

    Larry-Excellent point. The use of slave labor by Jews and others the Nazis considerd untermenschen on the part of the Germans in WW II was massive. It also rebutted the claims of 19th century US slavery advocates that large scale slavery could only exist in an agragrian economy focused on large scale production of cash crops. Quite a bit of German slave labor was used in factory labor (as in “Schindler’s List”-Schindler’s rescue effort could not have had a chance of success unless the use of slave labor in industrial (particularly armaments) work was considered routine). Whether used for industrial or agricultural/manual labor, slavery enabled a society with a limited number of “suitable” candidates for combat duty to achieve an extraordinarily high percentage of mobilization since their labor was not needed to support the war effort on the home front or in non-combat support functions since the slave labor was filling that role. It was that realization that gradually engendered more support for the EP; It became clear that, if Union troops got close enough to provide protection, slaves fled in massive numbers to that refuge. The EP, including the decision to allow the enlistment of black combat soldiers in the Union armies, was the clearest possible symbol that, if slaves did flee to Union ranks, they would never be returned to the slaveowner.

  • Larry Cebula Nov 22, 2010 @ 10:08

    Phil, would you describe the Jews who worked in German slave labor camps in WW2 as Nazi soldiers?

  • Andy Hall Nov 22, 2010 @ 9:43

    The evidence is overwhelming that thousands of black southerners supported the Confederacy in a variety of manners, including in rare cases, combat.

    Few here disagree with that, so long as you acknowledge that, at the time, very few of those men had any actual choice in the matter, as they were slaves. “Supported” is a loaded word, and it’s important not to confuse the fact that their mostly-involuntary labor supported the Confederate war effort, with an assumption that those servants and laborers supported the Confederacy with their hearts and minds, as well, or that their labor was offered willingly and enthusiastically.

    The fact that few were ever formally mustered in officially is irrelevant to the primary point.

    But that’s exactly the claim that’s widely made, that thousands or tens of thousands of these men were considered soldiers at the time.

    Military personnel can be in medical, commissary, police, staff support, logistics, and a whole host of other vital duties. Do they not qualify as soldiers?

    They do if they are formally enlisted, with rank and are recognized by the military authorities as soldiers. That generally doesn’t apply to the African American men who worked as laborers, launderers, teamsters and body servants attached to the Confederate army. The only definition of soldiers that matters in this discussion is that used by the Confederate military and government between 1861 and 1865, and by that definition, those men were not. What you or I or anyone else thinks qualifies as a “soldier” today is completely irrelevant.

    I recently read Col Freemante’s account of traveling the south in 1863, and his account of the black “soldier” leading a pair of Union prisoners back to the Confederate lines

    If you’ve read Fremantle’s account — as opposed to the way it’s been falsely characterized elsewhere — you know that Fremantle didn’t describe the men he saw as soldiers and, in the case of the slave leading a single (not “pair”) Union prisoner, Fremantle commented on the event explicitly because it was unusual. It was for that reason, too, that General Longstreet, a corps commander and Lee’s second-in-command, bothered to personally intervene and demand to know “what it meant.” He would not have done that if it had been routine, as you seem to suggest it was.

  • Phil Smoley Nov 22, 2010 @ 9:08

    You are correct that the video is not conclusive of anything except:

    1. It is a Civil War Veterans Reunion.
    2. The 4th truck after the one minute mark is full of black men.
    3. They are waving Confederate flags.
    4. The appear to be smiling, happy, even proud.

    Say what you will, but this does not fit the “blacks did not support the Confederacy” lithurgy.
    The arguments attempting to marginalize this video include:
    – They are white men in black face.
    – They ran out of Union flags.
    – They were blacks running for office in Vicksburg so they pretended to be Confederate.
    – Blacks attending Confederate reunions were really Union League spies bent on sabotage.

    Whatever the attempt to refute what is plainly seen, it seems to be based on the premise that the idea of black Confederates is so preposterous that it is simply not possible. With so many “historians” stuck on that premise, it’s difficult to get beyond the anecdotol evidence.

    It is also interesting how the “it didn’t happen crowd” refuses to consider support soldiers as soldiers, apparently only willing to give soldier status to front line combat troops. But this is an absurd definition. In any military organization, large percentages of members never see combat, nor are they supposed to. Military personnel can be in medical, commissary, police, staff support, logistics, and a whole host of other vital duties. Do they not qualify as soldiers?

    I think there is too much emphasis on the formality of military attachment in this case. The evidence is overwhelming that thousands of black southerners supported the Confederacy in a variety of manners, including in rare cases, combat. The fact that few were ever formally mustered in officially is irrelevant to the primary point. Why not accept this obvious conclusion and deal with it? Otherwise you spend your whole life spinning away the obvious. It does not make you a racist to accept that large numbers of blacks were southern to the bone and were willing to do whatever they could to stop the yankees from destroying their homeland. Conversely, it is ok to accept that large numbers of blacks in the Union army were not willing volunteers. In many cases, they were coerced.

    On a related note, I recently read Col Freemante’s account of traveling the south in 1863, and his account of the black “soldier” leading a pair of Union prisoners back to the Confederate lines matches Longstreets account of the same episode in his memoir (this occuring in PA during the retreat from Gettysburg.) True, just another anecdotal example, but there are hundreds of these to be found. But whenever someone pieces them together, the knee jerk reaction by the “historian” class is to ridicule and attack.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 22, 2010 @ 9:21


      The video doesn’t prove anything without further analysis. You talk quite a bit about why historians have not accepted your preferred interpretation, but you provide absolutely no support for it yourself. Very strange indeed. You may want to head on over to Andy Hall’s Dead Confederate website, which includes a wonderful post on Freemantle. You can rack up thousands of anecdotes, but they will get you nowhere unless you provide additional analysis. That is how serious historians work.

    • Andy Hall Nov 22, 2010 @ 9:57

      I didn’t recall the reference in Longstreet’s memoir, but it’s there, p. 427:

      As we approached Hagerstown, two grotesque figures stepped into the road about a hundred yards in front of us,—one a negro of six feet and a hundred and eighty pounds, the other a white man of about five feet seven. The negro was dressed in full uniform of the Union infantry, the white man in travel-stained butternut dry-goods. The negro had a musket on his shoulder. Riding up to them, it was observed that the musket was at the cock-notch. The negro was reminded that it was unsoldier-like to have the gun at a cock, but said that he wanted to be ready to save and deliver his prisoner to the guard; it was his proudest capture during the march, and he wanted credit for it. The man was a recruit lately from abroad, and did not seem to care whether or not he was with his comrades. However, there were doubts if he understood a word that was said. The uniform was a tight fit, and the shoes were evidently painful, but the black man said that he could exchange them. He was probably the only man of the army who had a proud story to take home.

      No indication here that Longstreet actually viewed the black man as a fellow soldier — although the latter clearly clearly saw himself in that role. Longstreet’s account differs in details with Fremantle’s (which he likely had a copy of when compiling his own), but it’s entirely consistent with the Englishman’s and clearly Old Pete considered it an odd and memorable event as well. I dare say he wouldn’t have described the men as “grotesque” if the scene had been anything like routine or expected.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 22, 2010 @ 9:59

        Thanks for the link, Andy.

  • Phil Smoley Nov 21, 2010 @ 23:21

    It is amazing how any evidence of blacks defending their homes from the yankee invader is met with scorn and Incredulity. I came across video evidence of black confederates, but even this is spun by skeptics in the most irrational ways. Check out the video and judge for yourself:

    The scene is a parade at the 1917 Veteran Reunion in Vicksburg, MS. At the 1:00 mark, the scene changes to the first of 4 pick-up trucks with veterans in the beds. Note how many veterans are waving flags of the side they fought for. Note as the 4th truck appears in the scene; these men are the most enthusiastic of the participants. As they come near the camera, it becomes apparent that all of the men seated in the bed of the truck (about 15) are black. No doubt Union soldiers, right? Wrong. Analyze the flags they are waving; Confederate, every one. Look at the men’s faces and note the sense of pride they show.

    Now sit back and watch the spin begin to attempt to keep black Confederates a “myth.”

    • Kevin Levin Nov 22, 2010 @ 2:16


      Thanks for passing along the video. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any black men, but even if I did I fail to see how that would demonstrate a black Confederate soldier. We know that camp servants were often in attendance at Confederate veterans reunions and many even wore the uniforms that were provided to them by their masters. What you call “spin” I call analysis. That’s what responsible historians do, Phil. Thanks for the comment.

    • Andy Hall Nov 22, 2010 @ 6:01

      Phil, plenty of African American men attended Confederate reunions. But their presence there does not establish that they were recognized as soldiers during the war. You’re making assumptions about these men based solely on their presence. I’ve documented a case of a black man who, while he attended numerous reunions of his old masters’ regiment, was neither considered a soldier during the war, nor a full veteran on a par with the old white troopers decades later. (It seems that at the reunion he was expected to use his former masters’ surname, rather than the one he’d been using on official documents for over forty years — not exactly a sign of respect from the white veterans.

      Furthermore, John B. Gordon, former corps commander under Robert E. Lee, U.S. Senator, Governor and Commander of the UDC from its creation until his death in 1904, described exactly that sort of scenario in his memoir, proud of their commitment to the Confederate cause, but gently mocking the black men’s pretensions to have been soldiers. Discussing the debate, near the end of the war, about enlisting blacks as soldiers, he wrote:

      Again, it was argued in favor of the proposition that the loyalty and proven devotion of the Southern negroes [sic.] to their owners would make them serviceable and reliable as fighters, while their inherited habits of obedience would make it easy to drill and discipline them. The fidelity of the race during the past years of the war, their refusal to strike for their freedom in any organized movement that would involve the peace and safety of the communities where they largely outnumbered the whites, and the innumerable instances of individual devotion to masters and their families, which have never been equaled in any servile race, were all considered as arguments for the enlistment of slaves as Confederate soldiers. Indeed, many of them who were with the army as body-servants repeatedly risked their lives in following their young masters and bringing them off the battlefield when wounded or dead. These faithful servants at that time boasted of being Confederates, and many of them meet now with the veterans in their reunions, and, pointing to their Confederate badges, relate with great satisfaction and pride their experiences and services during the war. One of them, who attends nearly all the reunions, can, after a lapse of nearly forty years, repeat from memory the roll call of the company to which his master belonged.

      He then goes on to repeat a humorous anecdote Lee liked to tell about a black cook during the war who liked to claim he was a soldier. It’s clear from telling that both Lee and Gordon found it humorous that the man believed he was a soldier, too; they found it funny because, to them, the idea was preposterous. It’s really clear John B. Gordon didn’t consider black men serving in support roles with the Confederate army to be soldiers, even though they later attended UDC reunions. It’s hard to imagine anyone better placed to speak to both their wartime status and presence at postwar reunions than John B. Gordon, who referred to them as “faithful servants” from a “servile race.”

      So the presence of black men at UDC reunions doesn’t really establish anything about their wartime status. Of course, if you have detailed records about exactly who those men were and how they were received (as in the example linked above), please share them. It will help make your case. Images of anonymous black men at a reunion don’t establish much of anything.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 22, 2010 @ 6:24

        As always, thanks Andy.

  • Mark Douglas Nov 2, 2010 @ 8:58

    If anyone thinks there were blacks fighting in the CSA during the civil war, I have a bridge to sell them.

    You only need to see Jefferson Davis’s fantastically passionate speech, from Jan 3 1863, about blacks in the military. Lincoln had just accepted blacks in the US Army, and this just about drove Jefferson Davis insane. Of all the passionate speeches this man gave, this is the most passionate.

    Davis was so upset that Lincoln would “degrade” the honor of white people by accepting black soldiers that he promised to invade the NORTH, and make slaves of all the blacks IN THE NORTH because of it.

    Let me repeat that — as punishment to the North, for their acceptance of black soldiers, Davis vowed to invade the North, and enslave all blacks there. He also declared that all blacks EVER freed in the SOUTH were “hereby placed on the slave status — and their issue — forever.” FOREVER. He also said he hoped to reunite the North and South, as a big slave nation.

    That speech also has other amazing things — like Davis boasting the slavery is the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy.

    It’s no wonder this Davis speech is so often “forgotten” by southern “scholars”. It destroys a number of Southern Myths, but perhaps none more thoroughly that the notion there were blacks in the CSA. I will put the speech below

    Oh, there were probably a million slaves working for the Confederates — 100,000 slaves were forced to help build the earthworks around RIchmond and Petersburg. But the were not IN the CSA, any more than the Confederates would enlist dogs into the CSA. Lee had three slaves with him during the Civil War — Bill, Perry, and Lawrence — but they were not in the CSA.

    There might have been some individual blacks dressed in CSA uniforms, who knows? But the were not in the CSA. There were blacks who held other slaves, while their masters whipped them. THere were blacks who helped their master pull the children from the slave women after birth.

    Citizens of the non-slave-holding States of America, swayed by peaceable motives, I have used all my influence, often thereby endangering my position as the President of the Southern Confederacy, to have the unhappy conflict now existing between my people and yourselves, governed by those well established international rules, which heretofore have softened the asperities which necessarily are the concomitants of a state of belligerency, but all my efforts in the premises have heretofore been unavailing. Now, therefore, I am compelled e necessitati rei to employ a measure, which most willingly I would have omitted to do, regarding, as I always must, State Rights, as the very organism of politically associated society.
    For nearly two years my people have been defending their inherent rights–their political, social and religious rights against the speculators of New England and their allies in the States heretofore regarded as conservative. The people of the Southern Confederacy have–making sacrifices such as the modern world has never witnessed–patiently, but determinedly, stood between their home interests and the well paid, well fed and well clad mercenaries of the Abolitionists, and I need not say that they have nobly vindicated the good name of American citizens. Heretofore, the warfare has been conducted by white men–peers, scions of the same stock; but the programme has been changed, and your rulers despairing of a triumph by the employment of white men, have degraded you and themselves, by inviting the co-operation of the black race. Thus, while they deprecate the intervention of white men–the French and the English–in behalf of the Southern Confederacy, they, these Abolitionists, do not hesitate to invoke the intervention of the African race in favor of the North.
    The time has, therefore, come when a becoming respect for the good opinion of the civilized world impels me to set forth the following facts:–
    First. Abraham Lincoln, the President of the Non-Slaveholding States, has issued his proclamation, declaring the slaves within the limits of the Southern Confederacy to be free.
    Second. Abraham Lincoln has declared that the slaves so emancipated may be used in the Army and Navy now under his control, by which he means to employ, against the Free People of the South, insurrectionary measures, the inevitable tendency of which will be to inaugurate a Servile War, and thereby prove destructive, in a great measure, to slave property.

    Now, therefore, as a compensatory measure, I do hereby issue the following Address to the People of the Non-Slaveholding States:–

    On and after February 22, 1863, all free negroes within the limits of the Southern Confederacy shall be placed on the slave status, and be deemed to be chattels, they and their issue forever.

    All negroes who shall be taken in any of the States in which slavery does not now exist, in the progress of our arms, shall be adjudged, immediately after such capture, to occupy the slave status, and in all States which shall be vanquished by our arms, all free negroes shall, ipso facto, be reduced to the condition of helotism, (absolute perpetual slavery) so that the respective normal conditions of the white and black races may be ultimately placed on a permanent basis, so as to prevent the public peace from being thereafter endangered.

    Therefore, while I would not ignore the conservative policy of the Slave States, namely, that a Federal Government cannot without violating the fundamental principles of a Constitution, interfere with the internal policy of several States; since however, Abraham Lincoln has seen fit to ignore the Constitution he has solemnly sworn to support, it ought not to be considered polemically or politically improper in me to vindicate the position which has been, at an early day of this Southern republic assumed by the Confederacy, namely, that slavery is the corner-stone of a Western Republic.

    It is not necessary for me to elaborate this proposition. I may merely refer, in passing, to the prominent fact, that the South is emphatically’s producing section of North America; this is equally true of the West and Northwest, the people of which have been mainly dependent on the South for the consumption of their products.

    The other States, in which slavery does not exist, have occupied a middle position, as to the South, West and Northwest. The States of New England, from which all complicated difficulties have arisen, owe their greatness and power to the free suffrages of all other sections of North America; and yet, as is now evident they have, from the adoption of the Federal Constitution, waged a persistent warfare against the interests of all the other States of the old Union. The great centre of their opposition has been Slavery, while the annual statistics of their respective State Governments abundantly prove that they entertain within all their boundaries fewer negroes than any single State which does not tolerate slavery.
    In view of these facts, and conscientiously believing that the proper condition of the negro is slavery or a complete subjection to the white man,–and entertaining the belief that the day is not distant when the old Union will be restored with slavery nationally declared to be the proper condition of all of African descent,–and in view of the future harmony and progress of all the States of America, I have been induced to issue this address, so that there may be no misunderstanding in the future.
    Jefferson Davis
    Richmond Enquirer

  • Leonard Lanier Oct 21, 2010 @ 8:45

    While Olbermann handled the Virginia textbook issue OK, he really needs to stick to the one thing that he does well–sports commentary. His over-sized personalty worked great on ESPN, not so well with REAL news.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2010 @ 8:46

      I couldn’t agree more.

  • Larry Cebula Oct 21, 2010 @ 6:56

    Sheriff was on my dissertation committee and I can testify that no BS gets by her! I am so glad she got involved. We academic historians have a responsibility to weigh in on matters of fact that enter the public debate.

    Also–did you know that an Olbermann-inspired newsman is a recurring villain on the cartoon Ben Ten Alien force? His name there is Will Harrangue. The imitation is dead-on. Bet you can find him on YouTube.

  • MississippiLawyer Oct 21, 2010 @ 5:40

    Pretty stunned that he didn’t blame “Mister Bush” for it. I’m actually quite the liberal but Keith’s mean spiritedness and hyperbole are more than I can bear, but only when he talks about politics. He did well in that segment and I REALLY love him when he does baseball.

    Do we know where on earth they got that “two battalions under Stonewall” thing from?

    • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2010 @ 5:42

      My guess is that she read it on one of the SCV websites.

    • David Rhoads Oct 21, 2010 @ 8:50

      Without actually embarking on the goose chase necessary to track down the source on the web (if any source is actually cited), I’d guess that the claim of two black battalions fighting under Stonewall Jackson almost certainly derives entirely and exclusively from a deliberate misreading of the following statement in the 1862 Report of Lewis H. Steiner, M.D., Inspector of the [U.S.] Sanitary Commission:

      “Wednesday, September 10.–At four o’clock this morning the rebel army began to move from our town, Jackson’s force taking the advance. The movement continued until eight o’clock p.m., occupying sixteen hours. The most liberal calculations could not give them more than 64,000 men.
      Over 3,000 negroes must be included in this number. These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only in cast-off or captured United States uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons, State buttons, etc. These were shabby, but not shabbier or seedier than those worn by white men in the rebel ranks. Most of the negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabres, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. They were supplied, in many instances, with knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, etc., and were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederacy Army. They were seen riding on horses and mules, driving wagons, riding on caissons, in ambulances, with the staff of Generals, and promiscuously mixed up with all the rebel horde. The fact was patent, and rather interesting when considered in connection with the horror rebels express at the suggestion of black soldiers being employed for the
      National defence.” (Steiner, Report, pp. 19, 20)

      This particular passage is a favorite of the Black Confederates crowd and it was discussed in detail some time ago here on Kevin’s blog. If this paragraph from a Federal report is not the basis for the “two battalions” claim, I don’t know what could be. There certainly is no official Confederate military source for the claim.

      • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2010 @ 8:57

        Hi David,

        You may be right. As you know the Steiner report is often thrown around as evidence of large numbers of black Confederate soldiers.

        • MississippiLawyer Oct 21, 2010 @ 11:54

          Kevin, you’ve probably discussed it before on here, but what is your take on that Steiner report. I’d never read that before. I’d imagine he is exaggerating a great deal.

          • Margaret D. Blough Oct 21, 2010 @ 18:40

            In the first place, numbers are notoriously hard to estimate and no one had ever seen anything close to the size of Civil War armies before. Also, the fact is that there were certainly a lot of slaves travelling with the Army of Northern Virginia. As for how they were dressed, I wouldn’t be surprised if, after a certain point, the slaves were dressed in worn out/cast off uniforms or even carrying weapons to spare white men the trouble (just because someone is carrying a gun doesn’t mean that they were carrying ammunition). It’s difficult to know WHAT Steiner saw; what is clear is that he jumped to some very major conclusions with very little if anything to support them.

            I find it interesting that advocates of large number of Black Confederates rely almost exclusively on such flimsy anectdotal evidence. The hard evidence from official records argues strongly against it on any significant scale: the official Confederate reaction to the US government accepting blacks into combat units of the U.S. armed forces, including the refusal to treat captured Union soldiers who were black as POWs, the reaction to Patrick Cleburne’s proposal, the debate in the Confederate Congress when Davis finally did propose accepting slaves in the army as a desperation move in the dying days of the Confederacy, the overwhelming fear of servile rebellion, etc.

    • Andy Hall Oct 21, 2010 @ 16:13

      Do we know where on earth they got that “two battalions under Stonewall” thing from?

      It may originate with this line, which I’ve seen cut-and-pasted across several SCV sites:

      1. The “Richmond Howitzers” were partially manned by black militiamen. They saw action at 1st Manassas (or 1st Battle of Bull Run) where they operated battery no. 2. In addition two black “regiments”, one free and one slave, participated in the battle on behalf of the South. “Many colored people were killed in the action”, recorded John Parker, a former slave.

      Yeah, this muddled mess from the self-appointed protectors of Southron Heritage™.

    • Andy Hall Oct 21, 2010 @ 19:06

      Another possibility is that the “two battalions under Stonewall” is a corruption of the companies that were raised from the black staff at the Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Richmond in early 1865.

    • Cynic Oct 22, 2010 @ 4:50

      As Andy Hall points out below – and as I blogged over at The Atlantic – the source of the claim is at least as interesting as the claim itself. From the references that Masoff provided when pressed to justify the passage, it appears she was looking at accounts of the Jackson Battalion. That battalion was raised at the Stonewall Jackson Hospital, and apparently included two black companies . Masoff seems to have taken “Jackson” and “Battalion” and “two,” and wound up with two battalions under Stonewall Jackson’s command.

      That’s one aspect of this mess that just hasn’t received enough attention. It’s not just that Masoff proved incapable of differentiating reputable sources from online propaganda. It’s that she was so careless, sloppy, or plain inept that she couldn’t even get her propaganda straight.

      And then there’s the real irony of this story. Masoff seems to have been drawn to these accounts because of the emphasis that the curricular guidelines place on relating the stories of the four groups they identify – free and enslaved blacks, whites, and indians – to each aspect of the war. The black confederate myth gave her a way to include both groups of blacks as central players in her confederate section, scoring more brownie points with the guidelines. Because, after all, there’s absolutely nothing in the review process that rewards textbooks for getting their accounts right.

      This morning, the WashPost follows up by explaining that the review committee comprised three elementary school classroom teachers, none of whom had a background in history. They each got a $200 stipend and a continuing education credit. I actually feel bad for them. They did the job they were assigned as well as could reasonably have been expected – comparing the checklists they were handed detailing the curricular standards with the textbooks that were submitted. That involved a fair amount of work for little reward. It’s the Department of Education that deserves to be raked over the coals here, for creating a dysfunctional process incapable of separating good texts from bad ones.

      • Kevin Levin Oct 22, 2010 @ 4:59


        Thanks for your posts at The Atlantic as well as for the links to my site. You are absolutely right to highlight the fact that the black Confederate myth serves the broader cultural agenda of multiculturalism, though it has almost no basis in the available primary sources. The bigger problem is that it provides an avenue to introduce African Americans as full agents in the broader conflict and in a way that ignores the horrors of slavery and the shame and humiliation that some African Americans feel when discussing it.

        You may or may not know that I’ve been following a story about a soon-to-be-released historical fiction about a black Confederate soldier written by two African Americans. Neither is a historian and they seem incapable of grasping my own posts, which point out the historical basis of the story. Rather, they view me as somehow standing in the way of racial reconciliation. There are many layers to this subject:

        • Margaret D. Blough Oct 22, 2010 @ 9:34

          Kevin-I remember saying about the Dawn Order canard against Longstreet at Gettysburg (a lie by Pendleton and Early that was so blatant that even Lee’s devoted aides and Lafayette McLaws, who was bitterly feuding with Longstreet at the time, disowned it): a position that finds it necessary to start with a lie has confessed its own internal fallacy from the outset. No matter how elaborate an edifice is built on it, the structure will ultimately fail because the foundation is non-existent.

          I believe in history, warts and all. It’s not, for the most part, monsters v. saints (there are exceptions: Adolph Hitler was a monster). It’s tough to understand why good people can do things that we, and even their contemporaries, recognize as bad and bad people can do good things, for a variety of motives (EPA was created under Nixon), but recognizing this is essential to understand how we got to where we are and what can influence our future course.

          There’s an old law school maxim that can be modified to fit any situation: “If you have the facts, argue the facts. If you have the law, argue the law. If you have neither, pound the table.”

  • Bob Oct 21, 2010 @ 3:22

    Kevin, I know you have a passion for this topic….but the last four posts in a row are all about this black Confederate issue? And the vast majority of your posts are about black Confederates. Maybe change the blog name to “Black Confederate Memory Blog? 😉 Lets try to go one week without black Confederates….I bet you can do it! lol

    • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2010 @ 3:26

      No one is forcing you to read this blog. 🙂 I blog about what is on my mind and that’s the end of it.

  • James F. Epperson Oct 21, 2010 @ 3:02

    I like Olbermann’s show, for all its flaws, and I agree he did a good job on this. As you say, it is in the mainstream now, and the usual voices will be heard. I am waiting for the interview w/ HK Edgerton.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2010 @ 3:13

      We will have to disagree re: Olbermann. I think he’s a blowhard, but we agree on this particular segment. Edgerton has nothing interesting to say about this subject because he is not a historian and as far as I know has never done serious research on it.

      • James F. Epperson Oct 21, 2010 @ 3:38

        Just because Edgerton has nothing of merit to say doesn’t mean someone won’t want to dress him up in his uniform and put him on TV… alas.

        • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2010 @ 4:28

          No doubt, but given this particular issue nothing he can say will matter apart from the folks who are already predisposed to believe this nonsense.

  • Margaret D. Blough Oct 21, 2010 @ 2:54

    I think Olberman did an excellent job on it. I also liked the written statement from Ken Burns (I think he and Olberman became friends over their mutual passionate love of baseball.)

    • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2010 @ 3:00

      Olbermann could have easily turned it into a political debate with the usual talking heads from both sides of the political spectrum and he stuck to what matters. I also am pleased that he didn’t invite a representative from the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This is not a question of advocacy; rather it’s about how we go about investigating the past.

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