On the Death of Anthony Hervey and the Myth of Black Confederates

I am very pleased to to share my debut article for The Daily Beast, which went live earlier this morning. For most of you the topic offers very little that is new. It touches on the subject of my current book project on the history of camp servants and the myth of the black Confederate soldier, but it does so by examining why the Sons of Confederate Veterans went into mourning over the death of Anthony Hervey.

The original title for the article was, “The Black Man Who Died To Keep the Confederate Flag Flying,” but the editors decided to go with what I suspect is a less controversial title. Thanks to historian Marc Wortman for making the introductions as well as to Malcolm Jones at The Daily Beast for his timely response and enthusiasm.

[photograph of funeral procession for Anthony Hervey taken by Jonathan Lee Krohn]

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!

27 comments… add one
  • Frank Aug 10, 2015 @ 5:01

    Kevin Levine at it again, I continue to run across your biased version of history, the war was over slavery…. Why did Lincoln not make it about slavery from the very beginning? Why did Lincoln try the Corwin Amendment? Why did the Emaciation Proclamation only pertain to Southern areas, why were all the slaves not set free? And then you will reply about the articles of secession… And what is sad is if you join his forum and do not agree with his opinions he boots you off, whats the point of having a forum if everyone agrees, but that is what he thinks, one sided political correctness….
    My ancestors diary specifically states on one page he was not fighting for slavery…. Kevin likes putting words in dead soldiers mouths…. And yes I am a college grad…

    • Kevin Levin Aug 10, 2015 @ 5:03

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks for the feedback.

    • Phil R Aug 10, 2015 @ 20:54

      That’s’ a good question there, why the Emaciation Proclamation applied only to the south. I guess we’d have to ask Henry Wirz.

    • Jerry McKenzie Aug 11, 2015 @ 9:15

      The Corwin Amendment began during the Buchanan administration. Lincoln’s endorsement was rather weak: “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service….holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.” Only two or three states ratified it: Ohio, Maryland, Illinois (maybe). The Emancipation Proclamation applied to areas controlled by the Confederacy. The 13th Amendment applied to all of the USA. Your ancestor fought for nothing in the end because all there was to protect was enslavement and subjugation.

      • Ken Noe Aug 11, 2015 @ 12:20

        As James Oakes recently pointed out so effectively, Republicans could support the Corwin Amendment because they had always been willing to admit that constitutionally they couldn’t get directly at slavery anyway in states where it already legally existed. It was a “superfluous” gesture that would have changed absolutely nothing, except maybe slow down secession by giving some cover to southern Unionists. What they could do, and had planned to do for years, was block slavery’s geographic expansion, outlaw it in Washington, undermine the Fugitive Slave Law, work with Europe to effectively stop the illegal transatlantic slave trade, and ultimately isolate the slave south until the institution imploded–what Lincoln called “the path of ultimate extinction.” As Alexander Stephens pointed out in December 1860, only secession and war would give the Republicans a constitutional method of directly ending slavery in the seceding states, through wartime emancipation. The international laws of war had always allowed any nation to free the slaves of enemies, which of course is why the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slave owners in rebellion, not all of them.

  • Ryun_d Aug 9, 2015 @ 9:01

    Kevin – This claim in the article is highly problematic on two counts:

    “Other than a small number that briefly trained in Richmond, Virginia, no black men served openly and there is no evidence that the Richmond recruits saw the battlefield in the final weeks of the war.”

    1. As has been noted many times in comments on this blog and elsewhere, the Louisiana Native Guard – organized under state authority and thus not subject to the national ban on black soldiers – absolutely served openly. It is true that they saw no action beyond public drilling and a number of them converted to the Union side after the fall of New Orleans. A smaller number of them did attach to other Confederate units in the trans-mississippi and continued to serve. Arthur Bergeron documented their full history in several scholarly outlets. You do a disservice to history by continuing to ignore his work while claiming to be an expert on the subject of black confederates.

    2. There is some evidence that soldiers from one of the black Richmond units saw action at Amelia Courthouse during an attack on a Confederate wagon train during Lee’s westward retreat in the final days of the war. An eyewitness Confederate soldier described the “novel sight” of seeing black Confederate troops in action, strongly suggesting he was aware of the new policy and thought it distinctive enough to record. The skirmish was still sparsely documented, but that is a far cry from the “no evidence” you claim.

    I point this out as a simple matter of precision that seems to be lacking from your claims. If you’re going to bludgeon the “black confederate” crowd of the SCV for their inaccuracy and historically unsupported claims, you need to take greater care to make sure your own work is not vulnerable to the same criticism. Otherwise you’re on no firmer grounds than they are.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 9, 2015 @ 13:05

      Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for the comments. I am well aware of the history of Louisiana Native Guard as well as the scholarship by James Hollandsworth and Arthur Bergeron. The problem I have with calling these men black Confederate soldiers is that it is not clear that they were considered as such by the command structure given the racial profile of the region. As you know these were free men of color and occupied a unique place within their respective communities, especially in the area in and around New Orleans. There is no disservice committed here.

      The situation at Amelia Court House is even much more unclear. In his book, _Retreat From Appomattox_ William Marvel has this to say about ACH. “This specific mention [reference to OR] of the capture of black teamsters may have inspired the dubious claim of a Norfolk man, half a century after the even, that he watched black Confederate soldiers captured by Union cavalry while defending the wagon train; it defies belief that the capture of armed Confederate black troops could have failed to excite widespread comment among Union officers.” (n. 11, p. 253)

      I have also consulted with NPS historians at Appomattox.

      The larger point is that I have yet to come across one single reference to mulatto soldiers from Louisiana during the debate over the enlistment of blacks as soldiers. Not one person, in or out of the army and on one side of the issue or the other, bothered to mention that black soldiers were already serving in Confederate regiments. I find this utterly bizarre and I wonder how you might explain it.

      Thanks again for the comment.

  • Annette Jackson Aug 9, 2015 @ 6:35

    I was part of a discussion on a Facebook Civil War site where the entire thread was eliminated because of disagreement over the Lost Cause. Mainstream history is viewed as “political correctness,” as though it just popped up yesterday with the Obama administration…”proof” that slavery had nothing to do with the war is because none of them had ancestors who owned slaves..ergo, it was all about tariffs…I am having to take a break from the sites because I am tired of posting the same answers over and over..

    • Jimmy Dick Aug 9, 2015 @ 9:39

      It gets tiring trying to explain to people who refuse to use facts what happened in the past. By now you’ve noted how facts are viewed by the learning challenged group. Anything that conflicts with their belief structure gets rejected. This is a symptom of anti-intellectualism which unfortunately exists on far too large a scale.
      I have noted that this tends to be stronger in older Americans. Normally it would not be that big a deal, but due to the Baby Boom generation that mentality is larger than it should be. Nature will be taking care of this issue over time as the herd is culled by natural causes. The younger generations, while having their fair share of intellectually challenged individuals, seem less inclined to accept the lies that make up the lost cause.

      • Annette Jackson Aug 9, 2015 @ 10:16

        Jimmy, if it were just people in my age group supporting these views the way too many are supporting a certain presidential “candidate” I would be hopeful that the culling of the herd would eventually eliminate this way of thinking. But it is not just confined to the elderly and southern…I see many Lost Causers who are in what I would call early middle age (say, 35ish) and even younger. But most are not university graduates, although one woman who could barely write a coherent sentence suddenly “remembered” a MA from an eastern college in the middle of an exchange with me. But what they all seem to have in common is that they embrace conservative politics to one degree or another. And in the Richmond area where I live it is really apparent. ..I don’t think this is going away soon.

        • Andy Hall Aug 9, 2015 @ 10:58

          But what they all seem to have in common is that they embrace conservative politics to one degree or another.


          What passes for “Confederate Heritage” is mostly a proxy for present-day cultural/political/religious ideology. They’re projecting their own beliefs only long-dead butternuts, then pointing to them as validation of positions they hold in 2015.

          I know a number of folks who call out the Lost Cause nonsense regularly, who also are politically conservative. The reverse is almost never the case.

        • Jimmy Dick Aug 9, 2015 @ 11:27

          I am pretty blunt in my dealings with these people. I ask them to show me their proof. I start ticking off documents and point out their locations so people can see them. I then talk about how historians develop their interpretation and ask these folks to explain their facts. They don’t have any. I then state my open challenge available on my blog and ask them to take part. So far none have. Usually by this point they’ve shifted their claims to modern political ideology and I point this out to them.

          Andy Hall keeps telling me the fascination with the lost cause lie is really about affirming people’s political ideology and beliefs in the face of facts that reject those beliefs. He is right.

          I see the age brackets and I see far more people laughing at the idiots waving their rags than I do waving them. So much of this is tied up in modern politics that I find it interesting to look at the demographics involved. When I do, I see the end of the lost cause approaching.

  • Marian Latimer Aug 8, 2015 @ 18:26

    Excellent article! Well done!

  • Tim Aug 8, 2015 @ 16:19

    I have been reading your blog for awhile and to be frank I sometimes find myself wondering why you trouble yourself with people who are unhinged like some of the flaggers strike me as being. However today I finished a podcast series by Eric Blight at Yale on the Civil War and Reconstruction and the last two lectures dealing with the rise of the Lost Cause filled me with so much sadness. The extent to which we are willing and even eager to leave behind and disregard our history and instead believe in this national narrative of “goodnes”, the “dream” Coates writes about, seems to know no bounds. I suppose one must face the unhinged every now and then because left unchecked they may wind up editing our textbooks one day.

  • jfepperson Aug 8, 2015 @ 14:38

    I also thought it was a good column.

  • Trane Aug 8, 2015 @ 9:16

    Good job on on trying to boost PR for your new book. So you can make some sales. Thumbs up!

    • Kevin Levin Aug 8, 2015 @ 9:23

      I hope it is also informative.

      • Annette Jackson Aug 8, 2015 @ 13:30

        I forgot to add congratulations on being featured on The Daily Beast..one of my favourites.

  • Annette Jackson Aug 8, 2015 @ 5:09

    Great article! I shared it on Facebook.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Aug 8, 2015 @ 4:02

    First off, my condolences to Anthony Hervey’s family and friends for their loss. I certainly don’t agree with the the man’s interpretation of history or the current political or social views he held but he did not deserve to be violently harrassed by others, if that is in fact what happened.

    But one thing keeps coming back to me about these modern Black Confederates: have they achieved a racial harmony with other White people? I mean, isn’t racial harmony what we want? Do the neo-Confederates they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with actually love and embrace them, or would we rather believe they call them “niggers” behind their backs? After all, look at all who took time out of their lives to attend Hervey’s funeral. Believe me, Hervey’s or H.K. Edgerton’s or Karen Cooper’s methods are not the way I would ever want to achieve the respect of White people but, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, if these people are at the “table of brotherhood” together, where is the problem?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 8, 2015 @ 6:12

      I mean, isn’t racial harmony what we want?

      Sure. Are you satisfied with the conditions with which this harmony was achieved?

      • Bryan Cheeseboro Aug 10, 2015 @ 5:26

        “Are you satisfied with the conditions with which this harmony was achieved?”

        No, I’m not. As I said, I’m not going to compromise what I know to be true to get people to be my friends. I don’t defend the relationship that they have achieved. But my point is, we can’t control the relationship between White neo-Confederates and Blacks who embrace their cause. So is it more harmful to us or to them?

        • Kevin Levin Aug 10, 2015 @ 5:30

          Hi Bryan. Thanks for the follow up.

          So is it more harmful to us or to them?

          I don’t really want to respond to that beyond looking at it within a historical context.

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