Searching For Black Confederate Soldiers: A Book Proposal

Former Camp Slaves Attend Confederate Veterans Reunion in Tampa

Former Camp Slaves Attend Confederate Veterans Reunion in Tampa

In the next few weeks I am hoping to announce a book deal for my black Confederates project. In the meantime I decided to post the proposal to give you a better sense of the scope of the book. One of the things that I have tried to do is be as transparent as possible, in part to give you a sense of how the process works, but also to give you the opportunity to share your own thoughts. I benefited from your feedback while writing my Crater book and I have no doubt that it will be helpful here as well.

The proposal was completed this past spring and has already evolved. At first I was hoping to devote the first chapter to the war itself, but it became too long and ended up moving all of the material on the battlefield and the slave enlistment debate to another chapter. On the other hand, chapters 3 and 4 have been combined, though it is likely that the material on memory of camp slaves at the turn of the twentieth century will comprise two chapters. Chapters 5 and 6 have also been combined, but certain pieces are still up in the air. You get the picture.

I included a number of links and images that will allow you to explore certain topics in more detail. My hope is that this page will serve as a helpful introduction to the subject and give the reader a clear sense of my own thinking on various issues.

Unfortunately, I can’t say anything more about the publisher other than it is one of the more popular university presses that publishes Civil War history. We are waiting on one more outside report on the proposal and we should be good to go. Hang in there a little bit longer. 🙂

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22 comments… add one
  • Julian Sep 22, 2016 @ 4:38

    don’t forget that a number of Winslow Homer’s paintings and newspaper illustrations done at the time of the war show “happy” slaves as expected presences on the CSA frontline, playing the banjo with a wide grin as the Yankee bullets flew (surely itself a racist stereotype) it was widespread knowledge at the time that there were slaves acting in support roles in the CSA army, even Margaret Mitchell’s lost cause Bible Gone With the Wind has ever loyal Big Jim going out to dig trenches around Atlanta …

    so perhaps you can address
    a) when and how amnesia set in about the presence of slaves in support roles for the CSA
    b) when did this historically known fact get forgotten and the camp slaves become “black washed” as black confederate soldiers, a concept that makes no sense historically

    also partly this myth has been constructed by the rituals and practices of how history and race are increasingly debated and performed in the US – the very tendentious claiming of a position with much self righteous and the admittance of no compromise. the SCV and BLM – for example – are both highly declamatory and focussed upon their message, although one may be more effective/media savvy than the other in communicating their position, and indeed have more baseline justification. The Black Confederate myth is a naive response – although ill-thought through – to how race and history are performed and discussed in public in the USA and the processes of history and education have contributed to begetting this guff as much as white supremacists panicked by a changing world

    what about also examining about why modern popular history has produced tenacious myths around the Civil War and the culture of slavery … the totally fictitious story of quilts being used as sign posts on the underground railway is the polar opposite of the Black Confederate myth in some ways as it has burgeoned amongst African Americans not Confederate apologists but also its parallel to the Black Confederates in its totally fictitious nature, its emotionally feel good fantasy mood and its response to modern practices in history writing.

    as too the equally fictitious story of “follow the drinking gourd’ as a verbal instruction for the underground railroad

    these two myths make interesting cross references to the myth of the black confederates

    again is Roots to blame? – given that it brought to the civil rights debate a sense of popularist and cinematic drama and simple story telling yet much of its narrative both in Africa and the US is not corroborated by what sources exist – (the recent miniseries corrected some of the inaccuracies about Juffure however) Perhaps the dramatic fiction is now seen as more real than the facts – and it is in a culture where effect and message is prized over documentation that the black confederate myth flourishes

    … and is this not just the same process as begot the Lost Cause – albeit for a different end

    why do people construct myths around the civil war when the actual recorded events are so compelling

  • Josh Liller Sep 8, 2016 @ 16:16

    Great to hear. I look forward to reading this when it comes out.

    I was also inspired by you to write the draft of a book proposal for my first work which is in progress (non-Civil War).

    • Kevin Levin Sep 8, 2016 @ 16:19

      Thanks, Josh. If you are working on a non-fiction project I found Thinking Like Your Editor by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato to be very helpful. Good luck.

  • David Doggett Sep 7, 2016 @ 13:58

    I am looking forward to your important contribution to debunking the myth of the black Confederate soldier. It is very important to counter-pose that myth to the well documented facts of black participation in the Union effort; and I am glad to see you have a chapter on that. Even at its best, the myth can only conjure up a handful of questionable black Confederate soldiers; whereas, there were thousands of blacks joining the Union effort. Equally important were the hundreds, if not thousands, of local blacks risking their lives as spies, scouts, and local terrain advisers for the Union troops during their excursions and battles throughout the South. I hope you can capture some of that history as well.

  • James F. Epperson Sep 5, 2016 @ 18:30

    A couple of thoughts:

    There is an article by the late Art Bergeron in Civil War History, included in the Rich Rollins book on black Confederates, which documents a number of men in Louisiana regiments, mostly cooks and such, who *may* have been actually enlisted. Also, I believe there is solid documentation that Charles Luz (Lutz?) in the 8th Louisiana in Hays’ brigade in Lee’s army was black. Finally, there are accounts of men in a North Carolina battery who enlisted but were eventually “discharged by reason of being black.” (Quote from memory.)

    • Kevin Levin Sep 6, 2016 @ 2:02

      Thanks, James. That article is well worth reading. I have no reason to disagree and will try to frame these few cases as a function of a very local environment as opposed to a top-down policy from Richmond. As you know, many of these men were able to pass as white, which is reflected in the quote.

  • Rob Baker Sep 5, 2016 @ 17:58

    Great stuff! I’m looking forward to reading this in the hopefully not too distant future.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 6, 2016 @ 2:02

      Thanks, Rob. Still a ways away from completing this project, but I’ll get there.

  • TF Smith Sep 5, 2016 @ 15:49

    Looks very complete; there is obviously a need for a work on this topic, and you have the experience and research base to do a solid social history.

    Minor point: I’d have to check what Chicago standard is for various organizations and elements of the Civil War era, but I find that “rebels” and either “loyal states” and/or ‘U.S.” does a lot more to make the relationships between the combatants much more clear than “Confederate” and “Union,” which have always struck me as a element of the reconciliation narrative. The rebels were, at the time, quite content to refer to the conflict as “the rebellion;” likewise, the officers and men of the US forces, regulars and volunteers, routinely referred to themselves as just that – “the U.S. Army” or the “U.S. forces” …

    Looking forward to it.


  • bob carey Sep 5, 2016 @ 12:09

    It seems that a lot of hard work is about to payoff. You are to be congratulated!!!
    One question, when the camp slaves escaped or when their owners were captured is there a reliable estimate as to how many ended up joining the USCT’s ?

    • Kevin Levin Sep 5, 2016 @ 12:11

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for the kind words. Great question, but unfortunately I have no idea.

  • David T. Dixon Sep 5, 2016 @ 8:00

    This is certainly a story that needs to be told. Your arguments will be backed by solid scholarship, which will be refreshing in this instance. You say you are targeting a popular audience. With your presence in popular media, why not publish with a trade press versus a university press? The only feedback I have on the proposal would be to avoid repetition in the first three chapter titles. I think you can make the camp servant point in the first chapter and use more creative titles for chapters two and three.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 5, 2016 @ 8:03

      With your presence in popular media, why not publish with a trade press versus a university press?

      I will explain that in an upcoming post.The chapter titles are all tentative and will no doubt change as the project progresses. Thanks for the feedback, David.

  • John Hausman Sep 5, 2016 @ 4:25

    This sounds like a good project, and a needed one. I’ve read quite a bit of the popular Civil War lit by academic historians and knew about the 1864-65 CSA debate over recruiting slaves, and the crucial roles of African-American Union soldiers and of self-liberating and resisting slaves – but I was only dimly aware of the post-Roots “black Confederate soldiers” nonsense. Guess I always assumed they were talking about March-April 1865. That Virginia textbook cite is appalling. Best of luck with your book proposal.

  • London John Sep 5, 2016 @ 3:08

    A minor quibble: you refer only to Confederate officers taking their slaves with them. Is it not true that the young sons of slaveowners sometimes served in the ranks, and their fathers would send a slave along to look after them and perform their military chores for them? If true, the significance of this would be that the chores performed by the slave would presumably include carrying the young master’s musket on the march, so that an observer seeing a Confederate unit passing might assume that these slaves were soldiers.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 5, 2016 @ 3:11

      You are absolutely right. In fact, Andrew Chandler entered military service as a private. This point is reflected in the manuscript. Thanks.

  • Douglas Egerton Sep 4, 2016 @ 17:25

    I am so utterly weary of the myth of the black Confederate. Your will be a most important book, and I look forward to reading it. And to hearing that it’s a done deal.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 5, 2016 @ 2:13

      It certainly won’t convince the diehards. Than again, nothing will. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  • Shoshana Bee Sep 4, 2016 @ 15:35

    I read through all of the material and found it to be quite impressive. I can offer to you the perspective of a very new CW student (8mos) who quite accidentally wandered into both this blog and the topic of Black Confederate Soldiers. I would guess that like myself, most folks who step into this topic have a basic CW knowledge, so that entering into the study of the Black Confederate Soldier becomes the “next layer”. The burning questions that I needed answered on the topic go from obvious to analytical (not sure if this is of any value whatsoever)

    1. What IS a Black Confederate Soldier?(BCS) 2. What constitutes proof of a BCS? 3. When & Where did this topic of BCS come from? (never heard of it til recent) 4. Would a slave want to fight to defend slavery? 5. What is there to be gained by purporting the existence of the BCS?

    I look forward to the release of the book, as I am sure that it will thoroughly address my queries, most of which you and others have already generously spent time answering.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 5, 2016 @ 2:13

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read through the proposal.

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