Barry Isenhour’s Black Confederates

Today I am headed to North Carolina for three talks. Later this afternoon I will stop at North Carolina State University. Tomorrow it’s the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and on Wednesday evening I will be at FlyLeaf Books in Chapel Hill. I hope some of you can make it.

This video is as confused an interpretation of the black Confederate narrative as you will find. Barry Isenhour does his best not to mention me by name, but he eventually breaks down midway through. He is absolutely correct in noting that Confederate armies could not function without the support of African Americans.

Of course, what he fails to note is that the overwhelming majority of these men were enslaved. They were either impressed slaves or body servants – what I call camp slaves in my book. I argue in the first two chapters of my book that enslaved labor was the “cornerstone” of the Confederate military effort, which can be seen clearly in the many roles they assumed in the army itself.

Instead we get a confused discussion about so-called “body guards” and “colored Confederates.” None of it would have resonated with real Confederates between 1861 and 1865.

But the reason I am posting this video is that Isenhour offers one of the best explanations of why the black Confederate narrative is so strongly embraced by heritage advocates and organizations like the Flaggers and Sons of Confederate Veterans. Toward the end Isenhour suggests that the black Confederate narrative highlights the long history of peaceful race relations in the South. It’s liberals and other activists from outside the South that are responsible for instigating recent racial unrest.

In providing this explanation, Isenhour reminds us that this narrative has very little to do with the critical study of the past and everything to do with manipulating history to further a political agenda.

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13 comments… add one
  • London John Oct 29, 2019 @ 0:52

    Is this still what “Redshirts” means in the US, rather than Garibaldi’s followers?

    • Andy Hall Oct 29, 2019 @ 11:43

      In the context of Reconstruction and Jim Crow in the South, yes.

  • Msb Oct 28, 2019 @ 23:26

    “ It’s liberals and other activists from outside the South that are responsible for instigating recent racial unrest.”
    Oh, Lordy, the “outside agitators” excuse is the lie that never dies. Must be directly descended from slaveholders’ belief that their slaves would never run away on their own: “Yankee agents enticed” them.

    • Andy Hall Oct 29, 2019 @ 11:44

      Yep. It’s exactly the same argument.

      • Joshism Nov 1, 2019 @ 18:16

        I’d call it delusional, but that seems like an understatement.

  • Meg Groeling Oct 28, 2019 @ 10:08

    To me, the “Red Shirts” will always be the 11th New York Fire Zouaves. Remember Ellsworth!

  • cagraham Oct 28, 2019 @ 5:00

    Ummmm…. Red Shirts? I don’t follow the folks so I don’t know if they mean something else, but I see it and think of the terrorists in 1898 North Carolina that supported an explicitly white supremacist political campaign.

    • Andy Hall Oct 28, 2019 @ 8:14

      IIRC they were referring to Wade Hampton’s Red Shirts from some years before, but it doesn’t make a dime’s worth of difference. Same ideology and tactics. All the Flaggers know or care is that the Red Shirts were somehow “pro South” and opposed to Reconstruction, and that’s enough for them. Their understanding of history is extremely superficial.

    • Ken Noe Oct 28, 2019 @ 10:49

      In 1876, Red Shirt leader Martin Gary bluntly advocated bribing, intimidating, or murdering blacks and whites who refused to vote for Wade Hampton for South Carolina governor. In the “Edgefield Plan,” he wrote, “Never threaten a man individually who deserves to be threatened, the necessities of the times require that he should die. A dead Radical is very harmless.” So much for “the long history of peaceful race relations in the South.”

  • eclecticdog Oct 28, 2019 @ 4:50

    How do you keep people out in the field for four years? The threat of violence, and actual violence. When they are there involuntarily or have tired or lost belief in the cause.

    • Alex Raines Oct 28, 2019 @ 19:37

      How does that relate to this topic?

  • Ken Noe Oct 28, 2019 @ 4:29

    And then I remembered that time on social media when the founder of his group made a point of celebrating the Red Shirts.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 28, 2019 @ 8:06


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