“Negroes Fighting In the Ranks of the Rebels”

Here is another example of a newspaper clipping on the subject of black Confederates with the compliments of Vicki Betts.  [See here and here ] This is just the kind of evidence that certain parties love to tout as indisputable proof of the existence of black Confederate soldiers.  I have to say that if I came at this issue with no prior background knowledge of Confederate policy on this issue and lacked the ability to ask careful questions of my sources I might be drawn in as well.

NASHVILLE DAILY UNION, February 19, 1863, p. 4, c. 1

Negroes Fighting in the Ranks of
the Rebels.

The following letter containing facts of much interest to the public, is printed by the author’s permission in the Washington Republican of yesterday:”Washington, D. C. Feb. 2, 1863.

“Hon. William Whiting, Solicitor of the War Department”
“Dear Sir:  While at Yorktown, soon after its evacuation by the rebels, I was informed that during the siege the guns in those fortifications were manned and served by negroes, who were recognized as soldiers in the rebel army.

“A few days subsequently at West Point, the day after the fight at that place, I was informed by some of our officers and men engaged in that fight that during the engagement our forces encountered a full company of negroes, armed and equipped, serving in the rebel army; that said negro soldiers drove a portion of our forces into a swamp and deliberately cut the throats of our officers and men, and that our troops caught one of these negroes with a commission in his pocket for a lieutenancy in the rebel army signed by Jeff. Davis.

“At Mechanicsville a full regiment of blacks was seen under drill, in full view of our lines, for several days.

“The above facts are well known and often spoken of.  All this, if true, shows conclusively that there does not seem to be any nice question with Davis as to the equality of blacks, such at least as is now raised in Congress by his friends on the same question.

“Yours truly,
“Thos. W. Beardslee.”

We have evidence also that negroes are enlisted in the rebel army, and paid as white soldiers are, and the man who gives this evidence is a captain in the rebel army.  Read the following advertisement from the Georgia Constitutionalist:

$30 Reward.

Deserted from Company A, 29th Georgia Regiment, stationed at Dawton Battery, on Savannah River, John Rose, 22 years of age, about 5 feet 7 inches in height, complexion a brown black.  He is a free negro and an excellent drummer.  Was enlisted October 16th, 1861, and deserted November 13th, 1862.  He is at present concealed in Savannah.

W. H. Billapp,
Captain Commanding Dawton Battery.


  • Who is Thomas W. Beardslee and why is he writing to Whiting?
  • Is there any evidence in the Davis papers that he signed a commission for a black individual?
  • Is there any way to identify the “company of negroes” in the Confederate army identified as having taken part in battle?  How about evidence of the brutal killing of Union officers and enlisted men by black men?
  • Has anyone located payment vouchers to black soldiers that would confirm the claim about equal pay?

There is also the question of why a clipping from a Washington newspaper is being reprinted in Nashville.  Keep in mind that the D.C. paper has a Republican Party affiliation (not sure of the Nashville paper) and its inclusion of this curious notice came at the beginning of the recruitment of black Union soldiers following the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation.  It seems to me that its inclusion in Nashville is part of an attempt to recruit black men for military service.  The letter itself was written to a Republican.  Whiting was appointed to the position of Solicitor of the War Department by Lincoln in 1862 and came from an abolitionist family:

Mr. Whiting was never so absorbed in his profession as to lose his inherited interest in public questions. His father was one of the early and uncompromising abolitionists of New-England. When the great crisis of the nation was approaching, Mr. Whiting was especially interested in the legal and constitutional questions which the monstrous pretensions of that system forced into prominence. In private communications and public addresses, just before and after the beginning of the war, he showed how earnestly he had grappled with, and how thoroughly he had explored the great crucial questions of the hour. He was among the first, almost the first among lawyers, to claim that the United States had, under the constitution, full belligerent rights against those who inhabited the states in rebellion, — among which were the rights to emancipate their slaves, to capture and sequestrate their property, and to exercise all the powers of war against a public enemy.

Given his abolitionist roots it is likely that Whiting supported the recruitment of black troops and it is possible that Beardslee understood that the solicitor would be receptive and pass on information that might expedite the process.

An interesting little piece of evidence.

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!

111 comments… add one
  • Historyhound Mar 7, 2011 @ 15:55

    Andy, with all due respect you missed the point by a mile. I have done extensive research, writing and speaking on the matter. However it is not my intention to toot my own horn. That is not the issue. The real issue is that people in this thread have brought up solid documentation of the fact that blacks did serve. The author has every right to believe blacks didn’t serve. However the excuses he has for why every piece is invalid is laughable. I can see having a problem with a single document or so but to assert that dozens of unrelated documents are all bogus is preposterous. Many from officers who were on the field with them. What makes it doubly preposterous is that his whole entire argument is based on please believe my opinion. No documentation. I have seen him copy and paste the exact same opinion sources over and over. Links to other pages of his opinion and reference to a book by a Levin-Levine? A pen name of his I assume. Studying American history has been my job for the last 28 years and I have never heard of him. This is his blog but he doesn’t back up anything he says. When questioned he does the (you’ll like this) ‘Ol Texas Two Step and turns the table demanding proof from the opposing opinion when he gives none of his own.

    He will likely delete this reply but if he were to respond, it would only be to ask for me to prove something to divert from the fact that he can’t. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so perturbed but history is my life, if someone is going to rock the boat, they dang well better be able to back it up. Unfounded opinion belongs on Craigslist, not a serious history discussion.

    The testimony of Civil War officers, many in The Library of Congress or Levin-Levine? Enough said I believe.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 7, 2011 @ 15:57

      Hi Dale Snyder,

      As far as we can tell you haven’t done anything close to serious research on this topic. In fact, other than complaining about what I’ve written you haven’t made a single argument one way or the other about anything related to this subject.

    • Andy Hall Mar 7, 2011 @ 16:24

      “I have done extensive research, writing and speaking on the matter.”

      I’d like to read some of it.

    • Ken Noe Mar 7, 2011 @ 16:36

      Bruce Levine is the Civil War historian at the University of Illinois, a position previously held by the eminent scholars Robert Johannsen and J. G. Randall.

      • Kevin Levin Mar 7, 2011 @ 16:37

        Hi Ken,

        I think if this guy was doing anything close to serious research on the subject he would already have been familiar with Bruce Levine.

        • Ken Noe Mar 7, 2011 @ 16:40

          Come to think of it, I’ve never seen the two of you together.

          • Andy Hall Mar 7, 2011 @ 16:48

            I was thinking exactly the same thing about Kevin and Earl Ijames.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 7, 2011 @ 16:49

              Whatever happened to Earl?

              • Arleigh Birchler Mar 7, 2011 @ 17:49

                Earl Ijames is doing well. He is the Curator of African American and Community History at the North Carolina History Museum, and is involved with many project concerning African American History in North Carolina. I exchanged messages with him a few weeks ago. He has done a lot of work on USCT recruited from North Carolina.

    • Jonathan Dresner Mar 7, 2011 @ 18:07

      The real issue is that people in this thread have brought up solid documentation of the fact that blacks did serve.

      I tell my students: no single piece of evidence, in isolation, is proof of anything. What people in this thread – and many others – have brought up is evidence which in context is easily refutable on the point of Black Confederates. There are times when we have to accept uncertainty in the evidence, but this isn’t one of them: there’s an immense amount of high-quality documentation from the Civil War era that, taken as a whole, paints a very consistent picture of slaves and free blacks serving in support capacities, but nothing more. Moreover, you’re asking for “official documentation” as if there wasn’t an extensive journalistic and legislative record from the Confederacy demonstrating that blacks weren’t even considered for use as soldiers until the desparate end of the war. Which means that it’s not Kevin and other skeptics who need to provide positive evidence: it’s you.

      I can see having a problem with a single document or so but to assert that dozens of unrelated documents are all bogus is preposterous.

      As I tell my students: Sources lie, but they’re all we have. It’s history. Each one is bogus in it’s own unique way, too. Unless you can provide a reason to believe a source which suggests an incredible fact, it’s just an assertion, possibly an error.

  • Historyhound Mar 7, 2011 @ 9:34

    What is obvious in reading this thread is that the author has a very non historical bias on the subject of black Confederates and the Civil War in general. He asks for proof to the Nth degree for talking points that are inconvenient to him. He then demands readers just trust him on his. All the while not citing any sources that are not based on modern opinion. You run across people like the author in the history circles from time to time. What you need to remember is that he can’t help it. He has to deny the existence of black Confederate soldiers. His philosophy hinges on it. Some people form opinions based on history like The Civil War based on their social opinions alone. If the author were to acknowledge that black soldiers fought for The Confederacy, that would blow a hole in the propaganda that The Civil War was fought over slavery. How could a man be fighting to keep themselves in slavery? There is very little recorded history on the subject. A person could thoroughly study the subject in a couple of day’s time. Some accounts say there were as many as 100,000 black Confederate soldiers. My studies say there were less than a quarter of that. Mainly in TN, VA and LA. To deny that there were any or hardly any is ridiculous. I have studied Civil War history passionately for 40 years and I have never met any respected historian of that opinion. In fact I don’t believe I have ever met anyone that believes that at all.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 7, 2011 @ 9:37

      You said: “My studies say there were less than a quarter of that. Mainly in TN, VA and LA. To deny that there were any or hardly any is ridiculous. I have studied Civil War history passionately for 40 years and I have never met any respected historian of that opinion.”

      Please point me in the direction of your published work on the subject and I will give it a thorough read. Thanks for the comment.

    • Historyhound Mar 7, 2011 @ 13:36

      Here’s a better idea.

      This is your blog n’est-ce pas?
      You wrote this opinion column then demand 9 levels of documentation from anyone that disagrees. You seem to be on a mission to dispel the fact that black men served as soldiers in The Civil War. Between the subject of the blog and what many people have submitted, much of the historical data dereferencing the subject has already been posted here. Your MO seem to be answering questions by asking three more. You even have some conspiracy theory for Documentation by Union officers stored in The Library of Congress… Rather than going down that same road again, how about you produce something for a pleasant change? Let’s see what you have for official documents. Let’s say from the end of the war to 10 years following. A government document that states Black men never served? Not to belittle your opinion in the least, I just prefer the opinions of people who were involved in the war far more than kids writing blogs 150 years after the fact. What says you? What official documents are you working from that states black men were never Confederate soldiers? If you can do that for me I’ll be glad to share my work with you.

      • Kevin Levin Mar 7, 2011 @ 13:40

        You seem to forget that the Confederate government and military took steps to prevent free and enslaved blacks from serving as soldiers until the very end of the war. I have never denied that there may have been a few exceptions to this rule, but the burden of proof is on those people to demonstrate that blacks served as soldiers. I suggest that you first read Bruce Levine’s book “Confederate Emancipation” which does an excellent job of laying out the vigorous debate that took place in the Confederacy over this issue. As for not providing evidence I suggest that you spend some time in this blog’s archives: http://cwmemory.com/tag/black-confederates/ or check out this page which brings together much of what I’ve written: http://cwmemory.com/black-confederate-resources/

        You have yet to make an argument or point out shortcomings with anything specific that I’ve written. Go ahead and make your case. I am sorry that you are not pleased with what I have written.

      • Andy Hall Mar 7, 2011 @ 14:35

        If you can do that for me I’ll be glad to share my work with you.

        Kevin’s being too nice by half. Historyhound, if you had research that you genuinely believed was solid, you’d share it publicly: here, or on a blog, or a magazine article, or some other venue. That you’re unwilling to suggests to me that you are, as we say in Texas, “all hat, no cattle.”

        Of course, you’re welcome to prove me wrong.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 7, 2011 @ 14:36

          I cant’ wait to see the standard cut and paste presentation. 🙂

          • Historyhound Mar 7, 2011 @ 15:24

            Kevin, a simple “I can’t” would have been much more dignified.

            I stated ” Let’s see what you have for official documents. Let’s say from the end of the war to 10 years following. A government document that states Black men never served”

            I thought I made it clear I was not looking for opinion but rather documentation. Can you not hold yourself to even half the standard you expect from everyone else?

            I have made an argument and pointed out shortcomings with what you have written- It’s all one man’s simple opinion. Nothing to document a darn thing you wrote. This wouldn’t be so bad except you crap on piece after piece after piece of documentaion to the contrary. People should ignore written accounts from highly respected men who served in the war to believe the opinion of a kid writing a blog 150 years later. Can we please get a reality check here…

            • Kevin Levin Mar 7, 2011 @ 15:31

              Hello Dale Snyder (Why are you now hiding behind an anonymity? I think that says it all.)

              You would like me to find the following: “A government document that states Black men never served”

              Your request indicates to me that you really do not understand this issue nor do you understand how research is done. I think it is unlikely that such a document exists and I say that based on the documents that demonstrate that free and enslaved blacks would not be allowed to serve as soldiers.

              What about your “research”? Where is it? You are doing little more than wasting our time. Like I said, feel free to respond to a specific claim that I’ve made on this subject.

            • Jeffry Burden Mar 7, 2011 @ 16:15


              Your request to Kevin may be the silliest single thing I’ve read on this blog. Kudos to you.

              • Kevin Levin Mar 7, 2011 @ 16:18

                Dale isn’t so much a Historyhound as much as he is a Historytroll. Well, he is good for a few laughs.

  • Richard Byrd Mar 3, 2011 @ 10:50

    Steiner’s report is available at http://openlibrary.org/books/OL7176782M/Report_of_Lewis_H._Steiner_inspector_of_the_Sanitary_Commission.
    It consists mainly of a diary kept by Steiner, who was in Frederick when the Confederate army marrched through. On page 19 is the entry:

    “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 r. M., occupying sixteen hours. The most liberal
    calculations could not give them more than 6i,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 bv 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 Con
    federacy Army.”

    This certainly reads like a first hand account. This is how I would
    expect black soldiers to look like in a seriously underequipped army.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 11:02

      You may want to look at Kent Masterson Brown’s excellent study, _Retreat From Gettysburg_. Brown speculates that there were thousands of blacks with Lee performing various support functions. There is nothing necessarily unusual about Steiner’s account.

    • Billy Bearden Mar 4, 2011 @ 16:10

      Well all Confederates black and white, at the conclusion of hostilities, regardless of service related capacities – were all Confederate Veterans

      • Kevin Levin Mar 4, 2011 @ 16:33

        Those black Confederate veterans must have really appreciated Jim Crow laws in exchange for that loyal service. Give me a break.

  • Richard Byrd Mar 3, 2011 @ 9:20

    Certainly precision in language is important as Kevin and Andy say, and how there presence as soldiers was umderstood at the time is the right criterion. The published letter of Beardslee appears to bbe referring to these folks as soldiers based on their observed activities, not their paperwork.
    Presumably this functional definition of soldiers is the one being appealed to in his readers.
    If these fighters were at all effective, their immediate superiors would have viewed them as soldiers also. Of course to the the higher level of the Confederate government they were probably something of an embarrassment.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 9:25


      Now we are back to my earlier challenge to Dale. I have never seen a letter by an enlisted man or officer that acknowledged the presence of black soldiers in the ranks. Like I said to Dale, if you can find one you’ve got yourself a free book. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Richard Byrd Mar 3, 2011 @ 9:54

        I do find the lack of reports on the part of Confederates to be puzzling. Perhaps the existence of black confederate soldiers was generally an awkward topic. It is had to imagine that all these northern reports are based on nothing. I am afraid I am not experienced in that sort of research,
        so I will not try for your offer.

        Regarding Jordan’s reference to the Lewis Steiner report. If you read Steiner’s comment of page 19 of his report, it appears to be based on first hand observation. He reports “over 3000 Negroes”, most of them armed. One would think that a member of a sanitation commission would be capable of making accurate quantitative observations.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 10:03

          As far as I understand Steiner did not witness the scenes he described.

          I don’t believe that Union observations are based on “nothing.” I don’t doubt that some of these men viewed black men doing various things. My problem is that too many people use these accounts to draw any number of conclusions. They are observations (many of them second hand) that need to be followed up, which is what a good historian does. Finally, I don’t find the lack of reports among Confederates to be puzzling at all given the strict regulations that the army followed regarding the presence of black men.

        • Andy Hall Mar 3, 2011 @ 10:27

          As evidence of BCS, Steiner’s account is dubious. He doesn’t quite say that the black men he saw were soldiers in the ranks, but that they were “man­i­festly an inte­gral por­tion of the South­ern Con­fed­er­ate Army.” No one disputes that African Americans, in non-combatant, service and laboring roles — were integral to the Confederate army in the field. The mish-mash of weaponry he describes them carrying further casts doubt on them being soldiers in the ranks who, would have presumably shown much more consistency.

          But, as history blogger Aporetic points out, Steiner’s observation is included in a larger work that mocks the Confederates generally, is full of obvious exaggerations and caricatures, and is clearly written — like Frederick Douglass’ well-known evocation of Black Confederates “with bullets in their pockets” — to rally support in the North to the Union cause. It is propaganda. Most important, Steiner’s account of Black Confederates under arms is entirely unsupported by other eyewitnesses to this event, North or South. Aporetic goes on to point out the apparent incongruity of Steiner’s description of this horde being led by none other than Howell Cobb:

          A drunken, bloated blackguard on horseback, for instance, with the badge of a Major General on his collar, understood to be one Howell Cobb, formerly Secretary of the United States Treasury, on passing the house of a prominent sympathizer with the rebellion, removed his hat in answer to the waving of handkerchiefs, and reining his horse up, called on “his boys” to give three cheers. “Three more, my boys!” and “three more!” Then, looking at the silent crowd of Union men on the pavement, he shook his fist at them, saying, “Oh, you d—d long-faced Yankees! Ladies, take down their names and I will attend to them personally when I return.” In view of the fact that this was addressed to a crowd of unarmed citizens, in the presence of a large body of armed soldiery flushed with success, the prudence — to say nothing of the bravery — of these remarks, may be judged of by any man of common sense.

          Howell Cobb’s Confederate bona fides are unimpeachable, and throughout the war he was irrevocably tied in to both political and military affairs. In his career he was, in turn, a five-term U.S. Representative from Gerogia, Speaker of the U.S. House Representatives, Governor of Georgia, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Speaker of the Provisional Confederate Congress, and Major General in the Confederate Army. He was a leader of the secession movement, and was elected president of the Montgomery convention that drafted a constitution for the new Confederacy. For a brief period in 1861, between the establishment of the Confederate States and the election of Jefferson Davis as its president, Speaker Cobb served as the new nation’s effective head of state. In his military career, Cobb held commands in the Army of Northern Virginia and the District of Georgia and Florida. He scouted and recommended a site for a prisoner-of-war camp that eventually became known as Andersonville; his Georgia Reserve Corps fought against Sherman in his infamous “March to the Sea.” Cobb commanded Confederate forces in a doomed defense of Columbus, Georgia in the last major land battle of the war, on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865, the day after Abraham Lincoln died in Washington, D.C. Perhaps more than any other man, Howell Cobb’s career followed the fortunes of Confederacy — civil, political and military — from beginning to end.

          The Howell Cobb who Steiner describes as accompanying black Confederate soldiers into Frederick is not reconcilable with the Howell Cobb who later wrote:

          The moment you resort to negro [sic.] soldiers your white soldiers will be lost to you; and one secret of the favor With which the proposition is received in portions of the Army is the hope that when negroes go into the Army they will be permitted to retire. It is simply a proposition to fight the balance of the war with negro troops. You can’t keep white and black troops together, and you can’t trust negroes by themselves. It is difficult to get negroes enough for the purpose indicated in the President’s message, much less enough for an Army. 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. . . . For Heaven’s sake, try [stepped-up efforts to recruit whites] before you fill with gloom and despondency the hearts of many of our truest and most devoted men, by resort to the suicidal policy of arming our slaves.

          How is it, one wonders, that the same Howell Cobb who supposedly led thousands of black Confederate soldiers into Frederick in 1862 found the very notion of enlisting African Americans into the Confederate military a “most pernicious idea” just twenty-seven months later? How is it that the general who called on his black troops to give three cheers, then “three more, my boys!” came to believe that “the day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution?” How is it that the commander of successful black soldiers felt that “as a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier?”

          Again, Steiner’s account stops just short of fully asserting that these black men were recognized by the Confederacy as soldiers. Even so, it still might be taken as evidence if it were directly supported by other sources, and didn’t have its own inconsistencies. I can’t take Steiner seriously as a reliable source.

          • Andy Hall Mar 3, 2011 @ 10:39

            Should’ve also noted the end of that same paragraph by Steiner:

            [African Americans] 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.

            To paraphrase, why aren’t the Confederates using these men as soldiers, when they’re already “promiscuously mixed up with all the rebel horde?”

            Good question.

    • Arleigh Birchler Mar 3, 2011 @ 10:48

      I am very often naive, or just plain wrong, but I choose to take statements from folks in the Southern Heritage movement that African American men fought for the Confederacy as an admission that the Confederate government was wrong in its assessment, and that the races are in fact, equal. To me, that is a major step forward. I realize that many of you do not see it that way, but as an attack on long held views of The War and its “meaning”.

      • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 11:00

        I don’t consider it attack on “long held views of the War and its meaning; rather, I consider it an attack on common sense and the available historical record.

  • Ken Noe Mar 2, 2011 @ 16:15

    Kevin: I realize that this thread has long left the station, if not the rails, but to your original question I would point out that Judge Judy would never admit Thomas Beardslee’s testimony. Like so many of these “eyewitness reports” it’s hearsay–note that he hasn’t seen any of those “black Confederates” with his own eyes, he’s just repeating reports and rumors he’s heard from others. Same as Douglass in the September editorial, same as Robert Schenck during the “Vienna Affair,” and for that matter the same as John Phelps at Newport News.

  • Richard Byrd Mar 2, 2011 @ 15:59

    I have been following this discussion for a while, and I would appreciate it if you would clarify a point for me. Ervin Jordan’s “Black Confederates …”, contains numerous reports of African-Americans functioning as soldiers. Isn’t this pretty strong evidence that there were blacks who in effect were soldiers fighting with the Confederate Army? Or do you consider all these reports to be probably erroneous or otherwise false?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 17:48

      Thanks for the comment, Richard. I actually don’t believe that most of the people who cite Jordan have actually read it. He actually talks very little about black southerners serving as soldiers. The first part of the book is about slavery and contraband slaves. He then moves to servants, who were present in the army as well as the broader debate over black enlistment. There are actually very few references to black men serving as soldiers. Those who are are clearly exceptions even for Jordan. He references a few who passed as whites. It’s definitely a book worth reading. There are parts that I find to be very interesting and other sections that I have trouble with.

      • Arleigh Birchler Mar 2, 2011 @ 18:28

        Ervin Jordan’s book was one of the few decent books that I have read on the subject of Afro-Yankees and Black Confederates. He did not seem to have any obvious prejudice about ths subject. My memory is very faulty, and I read it long ago, but I seem to recall that in the last part of the book there is some discussion of Black Union soldiers in Virginia at the end of the war. He relates some anecdotes that reflect favorably on them and others that present them if a very bad light. I believe that he does say that that some of the men who were involved in the bad incidents where likely to be wearing Union uniforms that where not there own.

        The thing that impressed me about his work was that he presented people as individuals, and did not try to make them all fit into one mold.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 18:30

          Yes, Jordan talks quite a bit about Virginia slaves that became Union soldiers and he even draws conclusions about them as a group even though he works to draw important distinctions. It turns out that with the right balance you can do both. That’s what good historians do.

      • Richard Byrd Mar 2, 2011 @ 22:18

        Yes, Jordan’s book seems to try to give a total picture of African Americana in Civil War Virginia. However Chapter 10 focuses on Blacks fighting in Confederate units (before the last ditch official effort in 1865). He describes several first hand reports, mainly from Union observers. He even states that Union soldiers claimed two black Confederate regiments fought at the battle of Seven Pines; no reference is given for this though. It would be hard to produce a numerical estimate from such data, but one gets the impression black participation
        as fighters happened a fair bit.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 1:54

          Yes, I know that chapter well and I remember that specific reference. That’s part of the problem I have with that chapter. I have no doubt that blacks found themselves on the battlefield given their numbers and presence in the army, but as you understand that doesn’t get us to the point where we can claim they were functioning as enlisted soldiers. In fact, we don’t know anything about how they felt about having to pick up a weapon and fire at Union soldiers, yet some people have no problem whatsoever in claiming their fidelity to the cause.

          • Richard Byrd Mar 3, 2011 @ 7:48

            I would say these people were almost certainly not enlisted, given Confederate laws at that time. However, they shot at the enemy, were shot at, and were presumably under command. To me that makes them soldiers. How they felt about their actions is pretty much impossible to say, and probably varied a good bit. (Jordan does mention some prisoner of war episodes that give evidence of loyalty to the Confederacy.)

            • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 7:56

              Whether you want to refer to them as soldiers is, of course, entirely up to you. I am not really interested in how people today choose to evaluate their participation. What I am interested in as a historian is how their presence was understood at the time. That some free and enslaved blacks saw combat did not change their status in the army. In other words, they were not viewed as soldiers by the men in the ranks and in the government. In fact, Jordan provides a few examples that clearly make just this point. The bigger problem is that we are left with next to nothing about how African Americans viewed their time with the army.

            • Andy Hall Mar 3, 2011 @ 8:27

              Jordan does mention some prisoner of war episodes that give evidence of loyalty to the Confederacy.

              The prisoner-of-war episodes are often mentioned, but (in most cases) precious little information is given about the black men involved. I think it’s very much a mistake to assume, absent direct evidence from them, themselves, that their loyalty was to the Confederacy, as opposed to loyalty to their masters who were also also prisoners. There are innumerable anecdotes of black men enduring all sorts of danger and hardship, that they likely could have avoided, to remain at the sides of their master. But that’s a very complex, personal sort of loyalty and commitment, and sense of responsibility, and should not be necessarily conflated with patriotic loyalty to the Confederacy as a government, or grand political principles reflected in speeches and editorials of the day.

              I’m sure you’re familiar with the African American men who, in their later years, attended various Confederate reunions. In every case I’ve seen where specific details about the men are known, they went to war as personal servants to their masters or their masters’ sons. I have yet to see a case of a black man attending a reunion whose “service” consisted of digging trenches as part of a conscripted work gang, for example, even though there almost surely were more men of that sort. This suggests to me that for those black men who later took an active pride in their wartime association with the Confederate Army (Bill Yopp, Richard Quarls, Napoleon Winbush, Crock Davis, R. A. Gwynne, William Slaughter, and so on), it was far more a sort of personal loyalty than a purely patriotic one.

              Finally, I will only add that settling on a definition of “soldier” that satisfies oneself is not what historians do; what’s relevant to the historian is to delineate the definition that applied at the time, and to tell these mens’ stories as accurately as possible, without ascribing to them a specific status that didn’t apply at the time. It may seem like nit-picking, but precision of language and thought is important here — otherwise we’re just makin’ up stuff that sounds cool.

              • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 8:38

                That’s an incredibly important point to make re: Confederate Veterans reunions. You are right that the men we usually hear about were camp servants and not impressed slaves. It also leaves room for a discussion of continued communal ties during the postwar period. In other words, these reunions that include black men may tell us much more about race relations at the time than they do about the war.

              • Arleigh Birchler Mar 3, 2011 @ 8:46

                I totally agree, Andy. Precision of language and thought is extremely important. That is what I have been trying to say, without the skill needed to make myself clear. I feel that what you say about “black” body servants (who served out of loyalty to person and not for the patriotic cause as expressed by some fire-eater in some oration) applies equally to the majority of “white” duly enlisted Confederate soldiers. That seems to be a sticking point for many people. Having served in an Army, I know it applies to me, and I believe it applied to most of those with whom I served.

                • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 8:51


                  You said: “That seems to be a sticking point for many people. Having served in an Army, I know it applies to me, and I believe it applied to most of those with whom I served.”

                  Isn’t this claim reflective of just the kind of analysis that you continually caution others to be weary of? LOL

                  • Arleigh Birchler Mar 3, 2011 @ 10:42


                    I am not sure if you have noticed it in yourself, but I long ago realized that if someones behavior bothers or upsets me, that was a sure sign that they were doing something that I know I do all of the time, and wish I did not.

          • Arleigh Birchler Mar 3, 2011 @ 8:59

            Richard and Kevin,

            It has been many years since I read Ervin Jordan’s book, and I no longer have a copy readily available. Could one of you copy what he said about Union soldiers who said that two “Black Confederate regiments” fought at Seven Pines? I am interested in knowing his exact words. Thank you.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 9:04

              Here you go:

              “After the battle of Seven Pines in June 1862, Union soldiers claimed two black Confederate regiments not only had fought but had showed no mercy to the Yankee dead or wounded whom they mutilated, murdered, and robbed.”

              He goes on to a claim about Antietam that is based on Lewis Steiner’s second hand account as well as a New York Herald article about the capture of “seven blacks in Confederate uniforms fully armed as soldiers” at Gettysburg. Jordan makes no attempt to follow up on these accounts.

              You can easily check to see if there were two black regiments at Seven Pines.

              • Arleigh Birchler Mar 3, 2011 @ 10:39

                Jordan makes it clear that he is not reporting that there were two black Confederate regiments at the Battle of Seven Pines, but that some Union soldiers clained that there were. I realize that many on both sides will twist that statement to support their own views, but it is clear to me what he was in fact saying.

                To me, both this and the reports in northern newspapers of African American Men under arms in Confederate ranks represents a very real fear. I am not sure if it was in “The Other South” or in “The South vs the South” (or perhaps some totally different source) but I do remember reading one author who ended his book or article with the statement that the fact that the slaves did not rise up in revolt was the reason that the north ultimately won. I believe that I have also read reports that McClelland, while he was in charge of the Army of the Potomac, said that if there was to be a slave revolt, he would offer his army to the Confederate government to put the revolt down.

                I suspect one of you know a lot more then I about these ideas, and might have the correct information available.

                • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 10:42

                  It’s not clear what Jordan means to get at in reference to that specific report about Seven Pines and that is exactly the problem. As far as I can tell, given the focus of the chapter, he is assuming the report is true.

                  • Arleigh Birchler Mar 3, 2011 @ 11:13

                    I do not make that assumption about any assuming that Jordan may have done. After I read the book I exchanged a few messages with him. He did express some consternation as to the interpretations people seemed to be making of his work. Have you written to him and asked him about the parts that bother you?

                    • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 11:14

                      No I didn’t, Arleigh. I don’t make it a point to email authors with questions about how to interpret their research. It’s their job to articulate it clearly to their readers. LOL

                • Marc Ferguson Mar 3, 2011 @ 12:24

                  Arleigh, you write: “I realize that many on both sides will twist that statement to support their own views.” I’m not sure what you mean by “both sides,” but the only two sides I see are those who want to use accepted methods of interpreting historical documents to understand what the accounts can tell us, and those who want to uncritically use these accounts to make claims that out of loyalty to the South enslaved blacks fought as soldiers for the Confederacy. The only “twisting”going on, whether intentionally or out of misunderstanding, is by those who claim these accounts are proof of black Confederate soldiers.

                  • Arleigh Birchler Mar 3, 2011 @ 13:15

                    Hi, Cousin Marc. I was wondering why you were not posting.

                    In fact, I was mostly thinking about some of the “Black Confederate” books that tend to take things out of context, and misrepresent them as something they are not. But I am also aware that some who “fight” against the writers of the black confederate books also take what they said, and use it out of context. One person who I had corresponded with a lot was often quoted as saying that tens of thousands of African Americans were officially enlisted in the Confederate Army and fought against Yankees. In fact, he had said nothing of the kind. What he had said is that tens of thousands of African Americans were used in support of the Confederate Army. If someone says that the Confederate War effort was aided by the work of slaves at home, that opens up an argument about the motivation of the slaves. Note that I said argument, not discussion. The difference is in the intent of those speaking. A consistent attack on anything that might possible be construed as suggesting that not all African-Americans hated the South tends to indicate, to me at least, an agenda that goes far beyond the search for historical proof.

            • David Rhoads Mar 3, 2011 @ 12:33

              Wasn’t there also supposedly a report by Union soldiers after 1st Bull Run/Manassas of two black Confederate regiments that fought and then behaved badly by stealing from wounded and dead Union soldiers? Clearly, these must be the same two black Confederate regiments that then distinguished themselves similarly after Seven Pines. Or maybe these reports are the Civil War equivalents of today’s “urban legends”.

              • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 12:35

                I think I remember this accounts. These two regiments were specially trained for these operations. 🙂

              • David Rhoads Mar 3, 2011 @ 12:41

                I guess it’s what you’d call Civil War Black Ops.

                • Kevin Levin Mar 3, 2011 @ 12:48

                  Oooh…that’s good. 🙂

  • Dale Snyder Mar 2, 2011 @ 12:54

    Excuse me, Nelson Winbush has ahas a huge lot of documentation from his black Confederate Grandfather.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 12:56

      Nelson Winbush was not enlisted as a soldier. If you can show otherwise than please provide his enlistment papers or some wartime record that he served as a soldier. It’s as easy as that. You could be close to your free book.

      • Dale Snyder Mar 2, 2011 @ 15:46

        Alright, I said I was through but you baited me back into one more.

        1. I never said Nelson Winbush was enlisted as a soldier. I said his grandfather was.

        2. My second referencing of Nelson Winbush was to correct where I had mistyped in the previous post. Not as an answer to your question. Evidently you were already typing your reply at the same time I started typing my correction. I already stated there is likely no enlistment papers on Louis Nelson (his Grandfather) being a Negro, as there aren’t even enlistment papers for a great portion of white soldiers. However there is more than enough documentation of his service for someone who wants to look at history truthfully and not ideologically. Most historians accept this but they aren’t special like you.

        3. You stated “If you truly want to be taken seriously here you are going to have to do better than that” Why would you have the opinion I want to be taken seriously on your laughable blog? We have gone back and forth and I have consistently used historical reference. You have not. Your rationales and excuses are comical even if you knew nothing of The Civil War.

        4. You ask for “how about finding just one example”, “an individual who reference a fellow black soldier”, “The source must be from the war itself”

        August 1861- Colonel John W. Phelps (1st Vermont Infantry)
        “They had twenty pieces of artillery, among which was the Richmond Howitzer Battery, manned by negroes.”

        May 1862-Colonel Benjamin C. Christ (50th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers)
        “There were six companies of mounted riflemen, besides infantry, among which were a considerable number of colored men.”

        Sept. 1862-Major Frederick Frye (9th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
        “Pickets were thrown out that night, and Captain Hennessy, Company E, of the Ninth Connecticut, having been sent out with his company, captured a colored rebel scout, well mounted, who had been sent out to watch our movements.”

        Lets save us a little time, you can keep your book. I have a good idea of the type of reading you do.

        I have no doubt you can find some reason that you are smarter than the Union officers. Perhaps copied and pasted from Cornell’s library isn’t good enough. I should have gotten original copies from The Library of Congress. Perhaps those officers were lying in their official reports? It’s all a big conspiracy, no one understands but you?
        Feel free to make a feeble attempt to insult me or suggest I just don’t understand. However I cannot stand to see you when this evolves to the point of you having to fall back on ‘I know you are but what am I?’ and falling into the fetus position. So this truly is my final post. I wish you were more willing to debate history instead of denying history so I am deleting this link. Have fun 🙂

        • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 15:49

          You actually believe that you are presenting evidence that I’ve not seen. These accounts do not prove the existence of soldiers. At most they point to black men performing various roles within the army. I asked you to find one Confederate account and you failed. Why is that? Given all of these Union accounts (including Douglass) and not one Confederate account from the very men who were supposedly serving alongside them. Can you explain that?

        • Andy Hall Mar 2, 2011 @ 16:07

          Dale, we’ve seen those accounts (and several others) from the OR. There are, as I recall, a dozen of fourteen of them usually cited. This seems like a lot when they’re strung together, but not as much when one considers they’re drawn from 128 volumes of 500-600 pages each.

          More important, I’m sure you realize that those are mostly second- and third hand accounts that cannot be corroborated, and more significant, they’re all from the Union side. One would think that, given the hundreds or thousands of African Americans who supposedly served as Confederate soldiers, there would be at least a few similar accounts from Confederate officers, who would inevitably know more about the men in question. Or newspaper accounts, or letters, or diaries, or other material that seems, in fact, to be almost entirely lacking.

          • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 17:49

            I don’t think that Dale draws any distinction between first and second hand accounts. In fact, he shows no ability to interpret primary sources at all.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 18:18

          Of course the historical record is not complete for the Confederate army, but why is it that it’s incomplete when it comes to black Confederate soldiers? Doesn’t that sound strange to you. There are no enlistment papers for Winsbush’s grandfather because he didn’t serve as a soldier. Just find me one account by a Confederate soldier who references his black comrades in arms and you’ve got yourself a free book.

          • Allen Mar 25, 2011 @ 14:06

            Sorry, just spotted this one… No, Winbush’s grandfather (whose name was Louis Napoleon Winbush, by the way) won’t be found on any roster, wasn’t a man with any rank, and he could have likely skipped out at any time. So he wasn’t a real “soldier”. But he was. His service is better documented than probably 90% of “real” soldiers. So I’d say that as a practical matter until the day comes in which you dodge artillery fire or drag a mangled compatriot’s body out of harm’s way you’d be well served by not casually dismissing someone who has as “not a soldier”. Louis Napoleon Winbush saw the Elephant, and stared it straight in the face. And he did so as an integral part of a Confederate army.

            If your sole point is that the CS government did not officially allow blacks to enlist in the ranks, and by that standard Dale Snyder did not pass the test, then so be it. Otherwise, a little more leeway is to be preferred.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2011 @ 14:16


              I have never denied that free and enslaved blacks never found themselves in harms way and I have never suggested that we should ignore this aspect of the experience. In fact, I think it is absolutely crucial that we document as much of their experiences as possible. What I have pointed out, however, is that these experiences did not change their status in the army. Can you find me one wartime letter or diary from a white Confederate soldier that acknowledges these men as soldiers/comrades?

  • Arleigh Birchler Mar 2, 2011 @ 10:46


    I have a lot of respect for you, and I think what you are trying to do is admirable. We reach the point, as with Cousin Marc, where we agree on all the concepts, but take offense at the words the other chooses to use. I suspect that has to do with a belief that we know what the other really means, and do not want to be drawn into a trap.

    Slavery is bad. I have my own reasons for believing that. Racism is terrible. I have a whole lot of reasons for believing that. Secession was stupid. Asking the slave states that had not seceded to provide troops to fight those that had was stupid. Every single thing that both sides did with respect to Ft Sumter was stupid. The resulting war was a great American tragedy.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 10:50

      As I stated before, I can’t do anything more to present my position in the clearest possible terms. I have no idea how your commentary on slavery, racism and secession is relevant to the question of the status of blacks in the Confederate army.

      • Dale Snyder Mar 2, 2011 @ 12:46

        Arleigh, thank you for the kind words. I wholeheartedly enjoy historical debate but I’m afraid Mr. Levin has an unhistorical, politically motivated view on this subject (Please prove me wrong, this is not an insult but a common sense observation) and does not share my enthusiasm for historical debate. He has a political opinion on the subject and that’s where the buck stops. He does not wish to debate or present facts. I wouldn’t either if my ideology was crafted by a delicate string of opionions and narrow minded, tunnel vision view. There are literally thousands of accounts of black confederate soldiers but for some reason he views them all as lies or misrepresentations as is evident in his response to the acclaimed historians I sourced. Seems if he can rationalize a question of any kind, that source somehow is invalid.

        My Great Great Grandfather was a Civil War soldier. He was killed and is buried in Richmond. We have many family accounts, letters from him throughout the war and his Wife received a Confederate pension. I have seen the original pension application in the Terrebonne Parish courthouse in Houma, Louisiana and visited his marked grave. Yet he is not a soldier according to Mr. Levin because there are no enlistment papers for him.

        Ervin Jordan is a premier historian of The Civil War and UVA’s records manager and special collections research archivist. With a specialty of black Confederates. He has the privilege of caring for one of the largest caches of Confederate documents. Yet his life’s work is all wrong and some Albemarle County High School teacher is correct?

        Frederick Douglass was by far the most prominent and educated black man in The US during The Civil War. Somehow his account of Black Confederates was a lie or he just wasn’t knowledgeable on the subject. Yet some Albemarle County High School teacher knows better.

        Erwin Jordan has a huge lot of documentation from his black Confederate Grandfather but they somehow don’t exist because some Albemarle County High School teacher says so. No enlistment papers equals never being a soldier. Even though I’d estimate enlistment papers exist for only about 60% of WHITE Confderate soldiers.

        The Sons of Confederate Veterans, established immediately after the Civil War and holders of Confederate veteran’s history is all wrong because some Albemarle County High School teacher says so.

        Throughout his blog, Mr. Levin somehow manages to dismiss most of the true Civil War historians accounts to substitute them for the conjecture of a handful of pundits that laughably call themselves Civil War historians(See blog for list) Mr. Levin’s fight here is purely political, not historical. There are countless period accounts of black Confederate soldiers. COUNTLESS. At some point in time you have to call bullsh** and let the king of denial revel in his crown.

        Gentlemen, my best

        • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 12:52

          I find it absolutely hilarious that you accuse me of holding to a “unhistorical, politically motivated view on this subject.” Not once have you responded to a specific claim made on this blog and you have failed to make one positive argument beyond referencing two names. If you truly want to be taken seriously here you are going to have to better than that. I have been as clear as I can be as to my position on this blog over the past few years. It’s up to you to counter it with your own argument.

          Here is a challenge for you, Dale. I’ve been reading Confederate soldier letters and diaries for ten years and not once have I come across an individual who reference a fellow black soldier. Since you don’t seem to know where to start how about finding just one example. In fact, I will even make it worth your while. Since I am gutting my library I will mail a book to you if you succeed in this challenge. The source must be from the war itself. Surely there is one source that references the existence of these brave men in uniform.

          • Allen Mar 25, 2011 @ 11:45

            Never read an account? Interesting. Because I have, and I wasn’t even looking for it. Somewhere in the mounds of paper, books, and back-up discs in this place is a photostat of a letter home from a soldier in a Tennessee regiment, early war date. He references a skirmish with yankees near the Kentucky border during which (paraphrased here) “a couple of our men were wounded, but we killed three or four of the federals. A colored man in our company, XXX XXX, killed the first one…”.

            Now, presuming I can find it, I suppose I’ll have to go plowing around the archives looking for the service record of that “colored man”. Which I may not find. But even if I did, there would be probably be no indication of race. A lot of Confederate records provide for a physical description of some sort (height, weight, hair and eye color) but most of the time that information is not present if the form even provided for recording it. So even were I to find such a record to go along with the first person, war-dated account, it will most probably offer no proof that the soldier was really “colored”. Even if it does, what exactly does “colored” mean? Was the letter writer just mistaken in thinking that a dark complected white man was “colored”? There are just so many possible ways of blowing it all off. Even if the record were absolutely convincing, it’s just one guy after all, isn’t it? And maybe just a guy out there trying to secure his freedom from slavery in return for a little service in the ranks? He probably wasn’t there of his own free will, of course. So he doesn’t count. And so forth….

            Personally, I don’t adhere to the notion of multitudes of “Black Confederates”. There were a few. Here and there. And those like Nelson Winbush’s grandfather (referenced above) who went to the army as a servant for his master’s son (they were the same age, and lifelong companions) but ended up becoming the company’s chief forager and scout, and a person who dodged just as many bullets and just as much shellfire and pulled just as many a wounded man to safety as anyone else, and yes, more than once picked up a musket and fell in with the white boys (which he did at Missionary Ridge). In other words, he lived the same life, faced the same dangers, and endured the same privations as his white mates. Later in life, he was a full member of the UCV camp in his home town, welcome wherever any of the other veterans happened to be. But his name never appears on a muster roll. He was not regularly enlisted or subject to military discipline. Therefore he was “not a soldier”.

            OK…. So there was no Sable Arm of the Confederacy. Whatever. The recent wave of interest in the “Black Confederate” is, in my opinion, just an attempt to counter the current and prevailing pernicious political atmosphere where everything Confederate is deemed to be evil and racist at heart. The Confederacy was not an experiment in multi-culturalism, but even so some of the terminology I see tossed around this site and elsewhere — “Confederate Taliban”, “terrorists”, “Nazis” — is absurd and ignorant. Slander at best, emanating from people who don’t know and/or don’t care about the difference between Robert E. Lee and Bull Connor.

            Finally, I must agree with Dale Snyder. You do seem to exhibit a dismissive and condescending attitude toward the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And also some sort of obsessive/compulsive fascination with their activities. There’s really no other conclusion to be reached when you consider how many of your postings are related to them. Perhaps it would soothe your anxieties somewhat if you were to keep in mind that the SCV is a partisan organization. They do not deal so much with history as they do the more amorphous topic of “heritage”, so nailing them to a cross every time one or some of them indulge in what you likely view as Lost Cause nonsense is counter-productive. They don’t care what you think.

            Back to lurking. Have a good day.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2011 @ 11:52

              Thanks for the comment, Allen.

              You said: “Finally, I must agree with Dale Snyder. You do seem to exhibit a dismissive and condescending attitude toward the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And also some sort of obsessive/compulsive fascination with their activities. There’s really no other conclusion to be reached when you consider how many of your postings are related to them. Perhaps it would soothe your anxieties somewhat if you were to keep in mind that the SCV is a partisan organization. They do not deal so much with history as they do the more amorphous topic of “heritage”, so nailing them to a cross every time one or some of them indulge in what you likely view as Lost Cause nonsense is counter-productive. They don’t care what you think.”

              Yes, I do spend a great deal of time on the SCV. In my view, they have gone far to distort the past that they claim to care so much about. I make no apologies for it. What you can’t say is that I am both dismissive and obsessed with them. I would like to think that what I’ve written about the SCV is worth reading, though you may disagree with some of my conclusions.

              • Allen Mar 25, 2011 @ 13:31

                You state:

                “Yes, I do spend a great deal of time on the SCV. In my view, they have gone far to distort the past that they claim to care so much about. I make no apologies for it. What you can’t say is that I am both dismissive and obsessed with them. I would like to think that what I’ve written about the SCV is worth reading, though you may disagree with some of my conclusions.”

                I can’t say you’re both obsessed and dismissive? Seems to me that I already have. And I’ll stand by my observation. I invite anyone who spends time in these parts to count your entries regarding the SCV, which almost invariably (but not always) end with the conclusion that what they may be up to or are quoted as saying is basically “piffle…”. To which the Hallelujah Chorus responds with a long string of “amens”. It’s as predictable as Ex-Lax.
                Nonetheless, I do find posts and comments here occasionally which are thought provoking and appear to be essentially correct.

                At its core, history is simply the stuff which happened in the past which we choose to remember, or what the people alive then thought we should remember. The vast majority of “history” wasn’t noted or recorded at the time it actually happened, and probably much of what was has been misplaced or forgotten since. Further, any attorney will tell you that the most unreliable witness is the eyewitness. Even as individuals, much less as a society, what happened as recently as yesterday is already being forgotten or selectively shaped in our in our individual and collective memories. That’s just a round-about way of saying that what most of us routinely accept as “fact” may be wrong. It is certainly incomplete, just as is your memory of your own wedding day, for example. Did it really happen the way you recall?

                Now, even when we blow away the fuzz and say with as much certainty as possible that something is a “fact”, the weight one gives said fact is subjective. A lot or a little. Your own personal “base line” and prejudices come into play. “Historians” are trained in a methodology which supposedly allows them to apply the proper weight and perspective to the facts, and to discover new ones. Which tends to make them a little uppity. I know people who have never sat behind a desk at any level of school beyond high school who know more history, at least on one or few finely focused topics, than anyone who posts on this board. Including you, Kevin. Some of them are SCV members. You may not care for or approve of the collective “party line” of the SCV. You may not care for their interpretation of “facts”, or even dispute that some of those are, in fact, facts. Such is entirely your right, of course. But I suggest that you do not paint with too broad a brush.

                Finally, the “Civil War” is a huge topic. Surely there is more to discuss than some heritage group with a predilection for erecting huge flag poles and which likes to claim most any black man who ever turned a spade full of dirt for the benefit of the Confederacy was a “soldier”. I mean, really? How about just one more discussion on whether or not Longstreet should have gone around to the right? Or about how the National Park Service has veered off course and is in the process of converting our battlefields and military parks into exercises in sociological presentism?

                • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2011 @ 13:38


                  Sorry to disappoint you. If you go back through the archives you will notice a high frequency of posts on subjects related to the Crater. That’s because I use this site to share what I am reading and writing about. I recently completed a book on the subject. As I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, I am currently collecting material or a book-length study of how slaves and free blacks were utilized by the Confederate army and how these stories evolved into stories of loyal black Confederate soldiers. If that doesn’t interest you than I suggest that you find another Civil War blog to read. There are plenty to choose from. To be honest, these kinds of critiques are getting old.

                  You said:

                  “I know people who have never sat behind a desk at any level of school beyond high school who know more history, at least on one or few finely focused topics, than anyone who posts on this board. Including you, Kevin. Some of them are SCV members. You may not care for or approve of the collective “party line” of the SCV. You may not care for their interpretation of “facts”, or even dispute that some of those are, in fact, facts. Such is entirely your right, of course. But I suggest that you do not paint with too broad a brush.”

                  I know plenty of people who fit this description as well.

                  • Allen Mar 25, 2011 @ 14:23

                    Well then, good luck with your book. I hope you find writing it to be rewarding. But I still don’t understand what that has to do with the SCV, or their apparent collective opinion of “loyal black Confederates”. An opinion I do not happen to share, by the way. According to what you appear to have determined, they are dead wrong. So why even bother discussing it? I’d suggest that if you tire of “these kinds of critiques” you might want to reconsider lobbing all those softballs right over the middle of the plate, ’cause that’s all you’ll get in return. Line drives right back through the pitcher’s box.

                    Otherwise, if this were a court room I would move to strike your reply from the record as non-responsive and irrelevant.

                    Thanks for the opportunity to post….

                    • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2011 @ 18:05

                      It was recently discovered that a 4th grade Virginia history textbook included a reference to thousands of black Confederates serving under Stonewall Jackson’s command. It was eventually discovered that the author gathered this information online after consulting websites created by SCV chapters. Their websites received a great deal of traffic and they are often interviewed as experts on the subject.

                      The nice thing about blogging is that I get to decide the content. Like I said, if you are bored by the content you should go elsewhere. Your critiques of my focus and interests is pretty much irrelevant.

                    • Allen Mar 25, 2011 @ 19:36

                      (top posted because there was no “reply” link below your response quoted here…)

                      You stated:

                      “It was recently discovered that a 4th grade Virginia history textbook included a reference to thousands of black Confederates serving under Stonewall Jackson’s command. It was eventually discovered that the author gathered this information online after consulting websites created by SCV chapters. Their websites received a great deal of traffic and they are often interviewed as experts on the subject.”

                      Heard about that. And your problem is with whom? The SCV camps? The author who didn’t fact-check her sources, or settled for (likely) unattributed information from the internet of all places? Or the school board who purchased history books which had not been properly vetted by you and your fellow “historians”? Just curious. But this response of yours is just a diversion anyway. Isn’t it?

                      You also state:

                      “The nice thing about blogging is that I get to decide the content. Like I said, if you are bored by the content you should go elsewhere. Your critiques of my focus and interests is pretty much irrelevant.”

                      Of course they are. It’s your blog, you decide what it relevant, or interesting. I’ll note for the record, however, that you have avoided a direct response to most of my observations. Which leads me to believe they are correct. I’ve found this to be the case, in general, with “historians” over the years. They don’t like their thought processes or conclusions questioned. If someone pokes a tiny hole in their balloon they just take their bat and ball and go home.

                      Thanks for the conversation. I won’t bother you on this topic again.

                    • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2011 @ 23:51

                      My problem is with all of the above. You would see just that if you bothered to read the posts.

                      With all of the comments that come in I am forced to comment on what is worth a response. Much of what you accuse me of sounds a lot like this: “They don’t like their thought processes or conclusions questioned. If someone pokes a tiny hole in their balloon they just take their bat and ball and go home” – not really worth a response.

        • Andy Hall Mar 2, 2011 @ 15:50

          Frederick Douglass was by far the most prominent and educated black man in The US during The Civil War.

          I see that handful of words from Douglass quoted and endorsed frequently by the SCV and similar groups, but virtually none of the hundreds of thousands of other words he wrote regarding the war, its causes and objectives, its progress, and the Confederacy. Should Douglass be considered a reliable — indeed, unimpeachable — source on those as well?

          I doubt you’ll take this question seriously, but it’s being posed in all earnesty. Historians don’t just look up and copy down quotes that fit their thesis; they look at each bit of evidence on its own and in context with what is already known and understood about its context. Among other things, historians ask, “how did this person know this? What was his intent in writing it? Is it corroborated, in detail, by other sources?” In short, how reliable is it? And it’s not necessarily matter of the source intentionally trying to mislead or falsify, sometimes people are simple, honestly misinformed and assert things they’re just wrong about.

          Douglass’ quote on black Confederate troops is certainly interesting, but I’ve never yet seen anyone who accepts it at face value explain how, exactly, he could have known this, or where he got his information. It’s a fair question, that as far as I can see his advocates who quote him have never directly addressed.

          Are you willing to?

  • Arleigh Birchler Mar 2, 2011 @ 10:16

    I am sorry, Kevin and Dale. You are both being very polite and considerate of each other, and I think that is commendable. I tend to have a statistical view of reality. I suppose that make me a Descartesian, with all the bad things that implies, but so be it. I also apply this to language. Just as every data point has a range of probable true values, and as electrons can be thought of as a cloud of probability points around the nucleus, so words (for me) have a wide range of probable meanings. I believe that those who study language call this what a word denotes and what it connotes.

    I think this is the point in this discussion where we start to quibble over “what the meaning of is is.” The alternative is that the two of you, as a pair of committed people with a dedication of historical truth, take the time to find a common language. From my undoubtedly warped perspective, you are both saying exactly the same thing, but do not agree on what words to use. You need to decide what “is” is.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 10:20


      Thanks for the lesson is semantics, but I can’t be any clearer about where I stand on this issue. I’ve written as extensively on this issue as I can given the limits of the blogging format. Readers are welcome to wade through the archives, but I have no patience in taking every person that comes along through the same basic issues of history and interpretation. Honestly, I am not even interested if readers agree or disagree with where I am on this issue. They are free to draw their own conclusions and come up with their own definitions of key concepts.

  • Dale Snyder Mar 2, 2011 @ 9:32

    I apologize, I thought having studied the issue of black confederate soldiers, you would have immediately know what I was referencing.

    Nelson Winbush is a prominent and well known speaker, historian and black member of The Sons of Confederate Veterans. His Grandfather served as a soldier in the 7th Tennessee Cavalry and then later a chaplain to the other black confederate soldiers. He has many family records of his Grandfather and other black Confederate soldiers that are extremely good reading.

    I hope and assume you know who Frederick Douglass is. I figured you would have immediately known I was referencing his famous speech where he said “There are at the present moment many Colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but real soldiers, having musket on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal troops and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government and build up that of the rebels.”

    Thank you for the recommended reading, I will definitely check it out. If you haven’t already read it, an amazing book is “Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia” it is one of several great books documenting the thousands of Black Confederate soldiers who served in Virginia during the war. It was written by UVA professor Ervin Jordan who is probably the premier historian of black Confederates in the world. He is UVA’s records manager and special collections research archivist. He manages what is probably the largest collection of Civil War records outside of The Son’s of Confederate Veterans in the world.

    Erwin Jordan also addresses the PC conspiracy to deny blacks their rightful place in history. He calls it a “shameless cover-up” which started back in 1865 and has continued since. He writes, All the time in my research, I come across instances where Black soldiers were irate over having served and where ‘soldier’ is crossed out and ‘body servant’ or ‘teamster’ inserted on pension applications.

    Best to you!

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 9:50

      Yes, I am familiar with the Winbush account: http://cwmemory.com/2007/10/07/floridas-black-confederates/ He was not a soldier unless you have his enlistment papers that indicate he was a soldier. I also am familiar with Jordan’s book. It is a pretty good study, but if you have read it you would know that he does not argue that there were thousands of black Confederate soldiers. I don’t know what makes him the premiere historian of anything, but the book is well worth reading. The quote that you are referring to has been taken completely out of context on various SCV sites. I asked him about this the last time we talked.

      The Douglass quote that you cite is not a firsthand account and it dates to a point when he was actively pushing Lincoln to recruit black men into the U.S. Army. Again, I suggest that you read further into the archives on this subject. I suspect that anything you could possibly bring up on this subject has been addressed: http://cwmemory.com/tag/black-confederates/

  • Emmanuel Dabney Mar 2, 2011 @ 7:50

    Also forgot to add that the information about Ross I looked at on Footnote.com, not CivilWarData.com.

  • Arleigh Birchler Mar 2, 2011 @ 7:32

    Interesting bit of detective work. I dread that where this will lead is to a heated debate about “what is is.” Did the word “enlisted” really mean enlisted, or was it just a verbal shortcut? Can a musician really be considered a soldier? What I would like to see is a simple resentation of the facts and be allowed to draw my own conclusions.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 7:36

      Go right ahead, Arleigh. You just need to collect all of the relevant primary source data and then you can draw a conclusion.

      • Arleigh Birchler Mar 2, 2011 @ 11:52


        I have no doubt what-so-ever that what you say is true. I also have no doubt that Jefferson Davis strongly opposed the use of African Americans in the Confederate Army, and that until a few weeks before Lee’s surrender, Confederate Law would not allow it.

        I also have do doubt that there was never a unified consensus of opinion on this, or any other subject, among all the people of the Confederacy (free, slave, or turnip). There was a wide range of opinion.

        What I do think is that the debate is pointless. There is no agreement on common language. People make idiotic claims that there were X thousand black confederates wearing uniforms and carrying muskets, or that every slave wanted to escape and hated the South.

        The converstaion is meaningless. It gets no one any closer to any real understanding of human beings and the human condition.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 11:56

          But the point is that white Southerners were fairly consistent in how they perceived the black race. Yes, there was a vigorous debate about whether they should be soldiers in 1864-65, but they operated around the same set of assumptions. The disagreement today is simply a function of not looking closely enough into the historical record. Statements that go beyond the documentation are often necessary, but they ought to be closely based on careful research.

        • Arleigh Birchler Mar 2, 2011 @ 12:11

          That is precisely where you and I disagree, and I doubt that either of us will change the other’s mind: ascribing a set of beliefs and actions to any ethnic or class group. I believe that broad generalizations about any group of people lead to terrible conclusions, and to conflict. What a society or a group of people do as a whole does not imply that there was a fairly consistent view in how they perceived anything. It means that at some point in time and place folks who believed one thing managed to have more power than those who believed something else and felt about things totally different. The people of Mississippi did not lynch or murder anyone. Some very specific criminals committed these atrocious acts, and the majority worked to stop them. Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were neither tyrants nor saviors. They were both a little bit of both, just like everyone else, including us.

          • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 12:19

            I completely agree that we should not see culture as deterministic, but following your reasoning means that the study of history is little more than the study of individual lives. Historians and social scientists can go further with the humility that comes with your observation.

          • Arleigh Birchler Mar 2, 2011 @ 13:06

            Danke. We can, and must, study history. We must also, however, avoid ascribing any thoughts, feelings, or beliefs to any people as a group. I am sure that my ancestors and their cousins in the Union Army would have been very insulted to be called Yankees. My Confederate ancestors would have been equally upset of anyone who told them what they “really” believed.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 13:10

              So, it sounds like we should just close up shop and stop studying the past. Historians have slavery have provided us with a very sophisticated understanding of the slaveholding class, but you seem to suggest that this scholarship is meaningless because they ascribe to historical agents what they “really” believed. I don’t understand this at all. Historians work with available evidence and arrive at conclusions. Others arrive at different conclusions. I have yet to see what the epistemological problem is here.

              • Mike Musick Mar 2, 2011 @ 15:17

                Let me venture to add my mite to this discussion. My impression is that those whites loyal to the embattled Confederacy found themselves on the horns of a dilemma. With a large African American population, primarily slave, but including some who were free, they wanted – needed – to believe that that population was a source of strength. At the same time, they not unreasonably feared the possibility of an insurrection that would draw large numbers of troops from the front and spell defeat. This led to a degree of ambiguity, with many blacks employed in the war effort in a remarkable array of capacities, including as musicians, but not regularly issued arms and ammunition – one thinks of Thomas Jefferson’s incisive “wolf by the ears” reflection. Thus we find the muster roll of the field and staff of the 1st (McCreary’s) SC Infantry for Jan.-Feb. 1862 with a statement that “The Band is composed entirely of Negroes – free men of color. They are born upon the muster rolls of several of the companies of the regiment.” Here, as pointed out by Andy Hall, the precise status of these men is crucial: serving with the army, but not as soldiers under arms.

                • Arleigh Birchler Mar 2, 2011 @ 16:15

                  Thank you Mr Musick. That is a very clear statement.

        • Andy Hall Mar 2, 2011 @ 15:23

          I think you misunderstand my intent, or perhaps that I was not clear. My citing of the regs was not to say, “this therefore never happened,” but only to point out that official policy was very clear — there was no ambiguity there. We know that there were at least a few exceptions, for example among mixed-race men in Louisiana, but reiterating the official policy is important because it underscores how very fundamental were the obstacles facing any black man actually desiring to enlist in 1861-65, or for those claiming today that they did so in large numbers.

          I suspect we closely agree about the conversation. The sloppiness of the language used, then and now, obscures distinctions between men and their roles that were important at the time, and therefore are important to historians today. Whether intentional or not, loosely tossing about words like “enlisted” and “soldier” and “served” tends to muddle things hopelessly, when the proper goal of everyone involved should be to make things more clear.

          • Mike Musick Mar 2, 2011 @ 16:50

            Andy, I think we are in complete agreement on this subject. And allow me to add a note of admiration for the skill and open-mindedness you display in your research on specific individuals alleged to have “served” with the CSA. The frank and broad understanding of the main contours of Southern history that you bring to bear in your posts and comments is invaluable.

    • Andy Hall Mar 2, 2011 @ 11:14

      Arleigh, I do think that “enlisted” is often a shorthand applied to everyone who jo\ined, and covers a variety of legal arrangements. Two additional points:

      1. Confederate army regulations were consistent in designating non-commissioned officers, privates and musicians as separate groups. While there is also an instruction that musicians should also be included with privates in drilling, so as to perform in that role (i.e., combatant) if called upon, they are clearly and explicitly a separate animal under the CS regs.

      2. These same regs, from the 1861 issue forward, explicitly authorize the recruitment of “any free white male person above the age of eighteen and under thirty-five year.” (There is no mention I can find of authorization of formally enlisting men of color in any official capacity.) These regulations go one to give general qualifications for men to be enlisted as privates, but waives both the height and age requirements for musicians — further underscoring that those men were held to a lower, looser standard of qualification than the privates and non-coms in the ranks.

      In sum, musicians were an official part of the army, but they were not considered “soldiers” in the way that privates, corporals and sergeants were.

      The use of slaves belonging to officers as musicians (e.g., Bill Yopp, Henry Brown) further complicates things, as it’s not what formal process, if any, they went through to “enlist” in that role, or whether (seems likely) they served entirely at the pleasure of their masters — which further differentiates them from the private, who’s legally obligated to a full term of service in the army.

      • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 11:37

        Thanks again, Andy. I wish I had your patience. This is not an abstract philosophical question, but one that must be rooted in the historical sources. Confederate military and civic leaders could not have been clearer as to the status of black men in the army.

  • Emmanuel Dabney Mar 2, 2011 @ 6:59

    I have searched Footnote.com for evidence of a John Rose in the 29th Georgia. I found nothing. I broadened my search to all Georgia regiments and found people in the 39th and 22nd Georgia Infantry regiments. John W. Rose of the 22nd GA did not enlist until February 16, 1862. John Rose of the 39th GA did not enlist until March 3, 1862.

    I ran a search also on the subscription based CivilWarData.com and also found no evidence of a musician in the 29th Georgia named John Rose.

    However, in keeping with an era of frequent misspellings/mishearings, I ran a search and came up with John Ross, Company A, 29th Georgia listed as being a musician. It was written that he enlisted in Savannah on September 10, 1861 by Lt. Colonel Rockwell for the war. The November & December 1861 muster roll says he was present. The November and the December 1862 muster rolls say he was absent without leave. There are no further muster rolls for Ross after December 1862.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 7:07

      I actually looked on Footnote.com as well. Thanks for pointing me to CivilWarData.com.

  • Dale Snyder Mar 1, 2011 @ 19:28

    I assume you feel people like Nelson Winbush and Frederick Douglass were(are) liars or conspirators?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 1:49

      I have no idea what you are asking of me. If you disagree with a specific point I’ve made than you need to present it. Anything else is a waste of time.

  • Dale Snyder Mar 1, 2011 @ 16:10

    I don’t understand the focus of this post. The tone is very conflicting. Are you indeed pleased with this document? (An interesting little piece of evidence.)
    You surely are not trying to dispute that blacks fought for The Confederacy are you? (This is just the kind of evidence that certain parties love to tout as indisputable proof of the existence of black Confederate soldiers.)

    Unfortunately confederate payroll records, pension records and troop records are sketchy even for white soldiers, much thanks to Sheridan and Sherman for that. The south considered blacks second class citizens, almost as much as the the north did. They were never going to receive pensions, have long term military careers or were even considered full soldiers. Questions about pay and organized divisions are likely lost forever. Many slaves fought for their own freedom like those under General Forest. Others simply felt they were fighting for their homes same as white Confederates. Extremely interesting subject but your tone simply seems disparaging. Why is that?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 1, 2011 @ 16:32

      Why not just ask me a straightforward question. I am happy to respond in any way I can. Start here if you are interested in where I stand on this issue: http://cwmemory.com/black-confederate-resources/ I also recently published an editorial in the New York Times on this subject: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/teaching-civil-war-history-2-0/

      • Dale Snyder Mar 1, 2011 @ 18:21

        I don’t understand much of where you are coming from. To begin, I didn’t think my questions were anything but straightforward and your two links kind of answered one of them.

        Seems you have a ‘me against the world’ attitude on the subject. I would like to better read your posts on the subject when I have time. Really truly, it is not my intention to offend, just be honest. It seems to me that you have an ends justify the means attitude on the subject. You have sifted through a lot of information and dismissed the historically correct in favor for the politically correct. Your gauge as to whether a Civil War account is reputable or not is based solely on whether it conforms to your prejudices. It’s really disturbing that you write off historical accounts for odd theories and speculation. I see you repeatedly demanding more proof and asking for answers to questions that there is very obviously no answer to. Much of Confederate Civil War history is contained in letters and family accounts. From my experience, they are typically extremely accurate. However, a letter in 1865 is just that. Sorry it wasn’t copyrighted, submitted for review, notarized, authorized by a letter board and stored on a hard drive. It was just mailed. With no reason for lies. It’s sad how you discount them. It’s also sad to see your apparent disrespect for The Sons of Confederate Veterans. They hold more Confederate data, records and historical accounts than any other source in the country.


        • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2011 @ 1:52

          You are free to read my posts on the subject and respond to specific points that you have a disagreement with. I have absolutely no interest in engaging in a discussion with you based what you have written here, which includes not one reference to a specific claim. If you are interested in the black Confederate issue I suggest that you start with Bruce Levine’s book, _Confederate Emcancipation_ (Oxford University Press). It’s relatively short and clearly lays out the issue.

  • Corey Meyer Mar 1, 2011 @ 15:14

    Could it be that the article is running in Nashville since Nashville had been in Union hands since Februray 25, 1862?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 1, 2011 @ 16:33

      Yes, I think that is absolutely the case.

  • Arleigh Birchler Mar 1, 2011 @ 14:56

    Yes, there seem to be a lot of stories like that in the Northern Press. As to the absence of evidence to verify these stories, quite a few Confederate records were lost. Doing genealogy of Southern families gets difficult for this reason.

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