Black Confederates
August 7, 2008 4:44 PM   Subscribe

Black Confederates are becoming the subject of a growing argument on what will be the legitimate history of black men in the confederate states.

"Their bones rest in unhonored glory in Southern soil, shrouded by falsehoods, indifference and historians' censorship." Ervin L. Jordan, Jr.

There are many questions this subject brings up in our concept of Civil War history.

Were southern black men forced to fight ?

Were images of black confederates contrived or genuine ?

In some areas of the south, you can still find relatives of these soldiers who know their relative's stories.

Scholars have avoided the difficult task of linking any blacks to the Southern war effort. One of the main reasons they choose not to attempt this is because they are afraid of confronting the great paradox that exists. Why would any slaves or free blacks work towards a Southern victory when this war was seen as one to sustain blacks' enslavement and degradation?

"Records show that New York officers on patrol reported they were attacked near New Market, Virginia, by Confederate cavalry and a group of 700-armed blacks on December 22, 1861. The Northerners killed six of the blacks before retreating; officers later swore out affidavits that they were attacked by blacks and later complained: "If they fight with Negroes, why should we not fight with them too?" "
posted by unpoppy (63 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's always going to be someone fighting against their own best interests. Look at all the poor people who vote republican.
posted by nyxxxx at 5:02 PM on August 7, 2008 [9 favorites]


Scholars have avoided the difficult task of linking any blacks to the Southern war effort.

Traditionally, scholars have followed the old narrative, that Lincoln freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation ie. slaves had no say in the matter, it was those good northerners. This is what we were all tought in school. However in recent years it has become academically stylish (and more politically correct) to demonstrate that slaves in large measure brought about their own freedom through a gradual process. A process which included waves of slaves escaping into Union lines as the war moved south, often forming shanty towns of "contrabands" (as the Union called escaped slaves, they were initially classified by the north as property). Eventually something had to be done about the"contraband" and Lincoln signed some limited laws that gave them freedom, which eventually morphed into the Emancipation Proclamation. But it was the slaves desire for freedom, willing to risk life by escaping, that forced the issue of Emancipation. Further, many of these freed slaves then took up arms and joined the Union army. It is estimated over 700,000 of the nearly 4 million slaves found freedom through this "process", the remaining 3.3 million achieving freedom with the 13th Amendment.

There has been a wave of republished slave narratives recently about slaves who escaped during the war to the Union lines as part of the effort by scholars to give back to black history not only their freedom, but responsibility for their freedom ie. honor.
posted by stbalbach at 5:04 PM on August 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oops I just realized my comment has nothing to do with this FPP, sorry, misunderstood on first read.
posted by stbalbach at 5:05 PM on August 7, 2008


Of related interest
posted by IndigoJones at 5:07 PM on August 7, 2008


Why would any slaves or free blacks work towards a Southern victory when this war was seen as one to sustain blacks' enslavement and degradation?

Why do women vote against reproductive rights? Why do the religious vote against religious freedom and helping people? Why do the poor vote against populist economic policies?

Because you can fool some of the people all of the time.
posted by DU at 5:11 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is a complex question. The vast, vast majority of blacks were slaves and hoped for and contributed to the union victory. Note that some blacks owned slaves, with some owning hundreds.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:16 PM on August 7, 2008


@
I wonder if this is connected to people having to fight for democracy, not having it pushed on them? I would make sence if it was.
posted by The Power Nap at 5:21 PM on August 7, 2008


HK Edgerton
posted by nola at 5:27 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I fail to see why it's so weird to think that there were blacks fighting for the South. There were thousands upon thousands of men under arms, and they probably all had their own reasons, and those reasons probably ranged from utterly stupid to well considered, with a fair bit of random circumstance thrown in too.

I'd think it far odder if someone posited that none of the thousands and thousands fighting for the CSA were black - simply because I don't believe history would be that cut-and-dried.
posted by pompomtom at 5:28 PM on August 7, 2008


Scholars have avoided the difficult task of linking any blacks to the Southern war effort. One of the main reasons they choose not to attempt this is because they are afraid of confronting the great paradox that exists. Why would any slaves or free blacks work towards a Southern victory when this war was seen as one to sustain blacks' enslavement and degradation?

It's not a paradox - more like a completely predictable diversity of motives, aspirations, and interests - and it's scarcely an area that modern historians, ambitious as they are to discover novelty, would scurry from in fear. That your "Ervin L. Jordan, Jr." link goes to freerepublic and your "There are many questions..." link lists, as reasons that the very idea of black Confederates would provoke this "fear," such ideological chestnuts as "It weakens support for the claim that the War was About Slavery," "It is inconsistent with the culture of Victimhood," "It brings up the annoying question: Why did blacks fight?," and "We Want to Believe the War Was About Slavery" strongly suggest that this ginned-up historiographical controversy is yet another salvo in the nasty little campaign to muddy the waters about what the South was fighting for.
posted by dyoneo at 5:31 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


IMO, they would have largely been levies, basically forced to fight, driven by a greater fear of their masters than of the enemy. There's nothing new in that.

Some would have looked to desert at the earliest opportunity (a possibility the officers were very much aware of, punishing deserters very harshly), most would have put in the least effort they could get away with, and some would have thrown themselves into it, whether from hopelessness and desire for death, the opportunity to kill white men, personal pride, loyalty to their masters, drilled-in lifelong obedience, and/or the simple human characteristic behavior of fulfilling the expectations of authority figures.

I doubt any seriously thought through the political implications of the conflict, and I doubt any were given enough information to do so even if they were so inclined.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:39 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's always going to be someone fighting against their own best interests. Look at all the poor people who vote republican.

Why do women vote against reproductive rights? Why do the religious vote against religious freedom and helping people? Why do the poor vote against populist economic policies?

Is it for the same reason that rich white people like me vote for Democrats? We think there might be something more important than our direct self interest?

Just asking, because I used to say these things too until I realized just how nominally "stupid" they would suggest I am to vote for any candidate who won't eliminate the estate tax, and the capital gains tax, and let me invest my own retirement, and pay for only my own kids' educations, and who will "waste" my money on a bunch of problems I don't have.

But I do vote for Democrats, because I think that there are higher moral goals than my own immediate reward. And so does a woman who votes pro-life, a Christian who votes for theocrats, and a poor person who votes for plutocrats. I think they're misguided in their morality, but not necessarily that they're all suckers.
posted by nicwolff at 5:40 PM on August 7, 2008 [9 favorites]


I think this excerpt, from one of the linked sites, sums things up pretty neatly:

When you consider the following facts about the very different world from ours that they lived in, it is not hard to believe that in 1861 some Blacks might offer to serve in the Confederate Army.

- A few Blacks were free, and some them owned slaves.
- Slavery was practiced in their ancestral homeland.
- In his first inaugural address Abraham Lincoln both said he would not and could not abolish slavery.
- Free Blacks had a social status significantly above that of other Blacks, particularly if part White.
- Cooperating with those who control the society you live in can pay off.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:48 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


..who will "waste" my money on a bunch of problems I don't have.

I don't think this is really the case, though. Even if your kids are educated in private school, for instance, it still benefits you if everyone else is well-educated in public schools.

Likewise, your kids may do marginally worse if you aren't allowed to pass on 100% of your wealth to them, but the comparison is a false one. It isn't "do I pass on my money" it's "do we all pass on our money". Collectively, we are all worse off in the second universe. The fact that your kids would do better if you personally could pass on the wealth but everyone else couldn't is immaterial--that's an illegal option in any universe. Alternatively put, you can't eliminate just the estate tax and say "look how great things would be". You have to eliminate all the benefits, direct and indirect, that the estate tax provides.

That example got a little involved, but the point remains: I don't think a rich person voting to raise taxes is really voting against their own self-interest, as long as you take an inclusive, multi-dimensional view of "self-interest". Whereas a poor person who votes for a plutocrat is.
posted by DU at 6:16 PM on August 7, 2008


nola beat me to it: H. K. Edgerton, who lives here in Asheville and who is, if a bit uh, bizarre (he hangs out on the Brevard Road overpass in full battle gray, waving his large Confederate flag at the traffic) a very nice guy. When his mother died a couple years ago the whole local Civil War reenactors group turned out to give her a big funeral. That was odd, yes, but sweet in its own peculiar way. Before this post, I always thought he was pretty much the only black Confederate, though. Huh. There's more than one.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:44 PM on August 7, 2008


On one hand, at least one of the popular neoconfederate photos, the so-called Louisiana Guard, is pretty clearly a fake: see The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph.

On the other, when the war started, Lincoln was still saying he wasn't going to free slaves, and he didn't free the slaves within the rebel states until 1863. Until then, it was just a fight about the right to secede. And it's sure true that slave-owning blacks had no financial incentive to fight against the Confederacy.

A few points of interest: Robert E Lee freed his slaves before Ulysses Grant did. The last Confederate general to surrender was a slave-owning Cherokee. There was at least one Chinese Confederate. Judah P. Benjamin was the Confederate secretary of state long before any Jew held a comparable office in the Union. The Confederacy was truly multicultural in its 19th century way.
posted by shetterly at 6:45 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Confederacy was truly multicultural in its 19th century way.

I'm not a Civil War scholar, but I'm pretty sure that quoting 3 or 4 token minorities does not a multiculture make. After all, one could prove that conservatives love minority women by noting the existence of loud-mouth nutjob Michelle Malkin.
posted by DU at 7:00 PM on August 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


...cue ironic quote from Morgan Freeman in "Shawshank Redemption"...
posted by i less than three nsima at 7:07 PM on August 7, 2008


Until then, it was just a fight about the right to secede.

The southern states thought otherwise: for them, as seen in their secession resolutions, it was about protecting the institution of slavery.
posted by deanc at 7:16 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The southern states thought otherwise: for them, as seen in their secession resolutions, it was about protecting the institution of slavery.

One of many examples:
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
posted by dyoneo at 7:42 PM on August 7, 2008


Every morning Aunt Jemima made pancakes for the Confederate Army and every night Uncle Ben served them rice. Every Friday they went to Sambo's.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:11 PM on August 7, 2008


i never actually read the confederacy's constitution before. man.

IN YOUR FACE, MISSOURI COMPROMISE!!!

(regarding new states) In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.

also, No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:31 PM on August 7, 2008


No no no no no.

This is a myth promoted by neoconfederates and their ilk. There were no black confederates.

There are no enlistment records for black confederates. No muster rolls. No reliable eyewitness accounts--and we have hundreds of thousands of pages of primary accounts for the Civil War, surely someone would hand noticed? No contemporary military records at all.

This is not to say that there were not slaves in the Confederate lines. Slaves were used to dig fortifications, carry freight, and do other manual labor. Some rebel officers brought their personal slaves with them as they would have on any other excursion. But it is one hell of a stretch to pretend that these enslaved men were soldiers who supported the southern cause.

Where did the myth begin? The short version is that during the dark days of Jim Crow, some former slaves recalled digging those fortifications and tried to use that memory to slightly improve their positions with the white community. That is where those photographs, usually of elderly blacks wearing a confederate uniform many years after the war, come from. It was all a part of the rising mythology of the Lost Cause.

The best source for sifting the myths of black confederates is Kevin Levin's fantastic blog, Civil War Memory. See in particular historian Peter Carmichael's essay on blacks in Confederate ranks written for the blog.

I may come back to write more tomorrow--gotta get my kid to bed.
posted by LarryC at 8:45 PM on August 7, 2008 [9 favorites]


Every morning Aunt Jemima made pancakes for the Confederate Army and every night Uncle Ben served them rice. Every Friday they went to Sambo's.

But in their fastidious observation of kashrut, the Confederate soldiers never ate shellfish. And let's not forget Robert E. Lee's famous quote: "I'll give up my slaves and take up buck dancing before I'll eat meat not slaughtered in strict accordance with shechita!"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:55 PM on August 7, 2008


I came across HK Edgerton a month ago while YouTube trawling and even after tracking down various articles about him, I still would like to know more of his motivation and history beyond the potted text he runs through when asked. My suspicions are that he had a major falling out with the chapter of the NAACP he was involved in, that there's some weird Christian thing going on for him (always carefully referring to the Confederate battle flag as "the Christian cross of St Andrew", and indeed it is a St Andrew's Cross, but he's very insistent on that) and that he enjoys the attention and notoriety. Perhaps he is also, like many people who identify and are identified as Black, of mixed race ancestry, and this is a weird way of personally working it all out. Or the more generic claims of mental illness and/or money could also be true.

Whatever it is, I'd like to read a New Yorker-style profile on him, even if it unfortunately brought further publicity to White supremacist neo-confederates and their token Black supporter.
posted by Gnatcho at 9:54 PM on August 7, 2008


On St. Simons Island in Georgia, that a slave was commemorated --the story goes-- for his service to the Confederacy when the Island and Georgia was being overrun by the Union.

(This monument is a barely noticeable plaque next to the Whale sculpture, by the remains of the public pool--it would be interesting to know how old the plaque is).

But another version of the story goes that he was a spy, working both sides and transferring information to the Union army, which included a black regiment from Massachusetts.
posted by eustatic at 10:52 PM on August 7, 2008


sorry for the grammatical errors.
posted by eustatic at 11:02 PM on August 7, 2008


Given that it is well documented that the Confederate troops executed captured black Union troops and their white officers (and in fact made a policy of doing so), that they refused to participate in prisoner exchange where blacks were concerned (to the point of leading to the breakdown of the entire prisoner exchange practice), and that there exist a multitude of quotes about the abominable, disgusting, and unthinkable northern practice of arming blacks, where's the proof that we should take this as anything more truthful than at most an incredibly small handful of incidents inflated? It just dovetails way too neatly with the Lost Causer's "states' rights" retcon, which is already so pervasive in the south and surrounding areas that I grew up believing it without even the need for explicit indoctrination.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 11:02 PM on August 7, 2008


This is a wholly fascinating thread, if more credit due to disputants than the initiator. flapjax, LarryC, bring it! I have popcorn.
posted by mwhybark at 12:00 AM on August 8, 2008


DU, Stand Watie was hardly the only rich Cherokee in the Confederacy, and Judah P. Banjamin was hardly the only important Jew. I would love to know the numbers of rich blacks in the North and South in 1860. We know there were many black slaveowners--the earliest recorded one in US history is in 1790.

Mind you, I'm not leaving race out of the equation. The modern concept of race was the reason slavery was limited to Africans in the 18th century. But if you think it's just about race, you miss a lot of the narrative.
posted by shetterly at 12:17 AM on August 8, 2008


True 'dat. HK Edgerton is both fascinating and horrific.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:23 AM on August 8, 2008


There were not ''many'' black slaveholders in the south. And if you dig into the individual cases, most are free blacks who bought family members, but were legally prohibited from manumitting them.
posted by LarryC at 6:27 AM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]




This is a fascinating discussion. I await the resolution of this historical dispute with bated breath. (Come back, Larry C!) In the meantime, that was a great comic, marxchivist.
posted by languagehat at 8:36 AM on August 8, 2008


I'm back, but not sure what else there is to be said.

The current "black Confederate" craze is being pushed in part by neoconfederate and southern "heritage" groups and also by some well-meaning but credulous amateurs who just think it is neat. It is very much part of the push back to retain the confederate flag and other symbols of white rule. If it could be argued that substantial numbers of southern blacks, even slaves, fought willingly under the confederate banner than that banner is not racist. And from there you get quickly to the spurious "states rights" interpretation of the war and the whole Lost Cause mythology--a sadly successful effort by southern whites to reinterpret the Civil War. (The Wikipedia page on the Lost Cause isn't too bad.)

And maybe I should emphasize that there is no historical debate about this, any more than there is a scientific debate over Intelligent Design. Look at the websites in the original post that support the myth of black confederates--all southern heritage sites and right wing blogs. The websites and books that support this stuff are full of third- and fourth-hand quotations, photographs taken many decades after the war, and other doubtful evidence.

Finally, I am not saying that no black person ever carried a gun willingly in the southern cause. But there are a handful of such individuals at most. Compare that to the 600,000 or so blacks who fought for the Union and you see that the traditional black and white narrative of the war is correct.
posted by LarryC at 10:11 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


LarryC, you might be interested in Larry Koger's Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860. The bits I've seen quoted seem to be objective. He has an article here that notes, "The benevolent thesis was not the dominant pattern in South Carolina. From the colonial period, the commercial aspect of the free black slaveowners was quite apparent."
posted by shetterly at 10:59 AM on August 8, 2008


P.S. Just to be clear here: I'm not a neoconfederate by any means. Ultimately, I agree with Marx, who saw the issue clearly in 1861: "The whole movement was and is based, as one sees, on the slave question. Not in the sense of whether the slaves within the existing slave states should be emancipated outright or not, but whether the twenty million free men of the North should submit any longer to an oligarchy of three hundred thousand slaveholders; whether the vast Territories of the republic should be nurseries for free states or for slavery; finally, whether the national policy of the Union should take armed spreading of slavery in Mexico, Central and South America as its device. "
posted by shetterly at 11:11 AM on August 8, 2008


Seconding enjoying that comic, Marxchivist.
posted by Gnatcho at 12:31 PM on August 8, 2008


LarryC, beyond citing the Civil War Memories site that I initially sited in the original post, I think that you're statement of "maybe I should emphasize that there is no historical debate about this" is ridiculous as in this is a matter of debate, discussion, and research. There is a historical debate and if you're attempting to STOP IT for the sake of suppressing any discussion, I take offense to that. I'm interested in finding out the reality of this, not what version of history makes you happier.

I offered this subject for discussion and I appreciate the interest and contributions to actual points, not subjective demands for what everyone SHOULD believe. Thanks.
posted by unpoppy at 1:02 PM on August 8, 2008


My point is that there is no debate among professionally trained historians. My point comparing the myth of black Confederates to the myth of Intelligent design stands. People certainly do debate Intelligent Design, but it is not a debate between biologists. They are all on one side.
posted by LarryC at 1:21 PM on August 8, 2008


fought willingly under the confederate banner than that banner is not racist

What I would also like to mention is the about meme in Civil War discussion. Using the idea of the Confederacy as a "racist" movement completely ignores any other purpose for the succession from the Union and the Civil War. One HUGE part of this are taxes and the property that the Union sought to take from the South. From some reason, as with all war propaganda, this and many other details for the succession are totally disregarded with a large stamp of RACISM and SLAVERY.....much like the "WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION" meme for the Iraq War.

I hope that more of the readers here will contribute to a investigative analysis of this instead of ignorant race baiting.
posted by unpoppy at 1:25 PM on August 8, 2008


My point is that there is no debate among professionally trained historians

The problem, it seems, is that on your side of the argument, you are the only person that can decide who is a "professionally trained historian" is. I would like to find the facts here, not just rhetoric.
posted by unpoppy at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2008


also.....apologies for my poor grammar......I'm doing to many other things at once.
posted by unpoppy at 1:35 PM on August 8, 2008


too !
posted by unpoppy at 1:35 PM on August 8, 2008


Using the idea of the Confederacy as a "racist" movement completely ignores any other purpose for the succession from the Union and the Civil War. One HUGE part of this are taxes and the property that the Union sought to take from the South. From some reason, as with all war propaganda, this and many other details for the succession are totally disregarded with a large stamp of RACISM and SLAVERY.....much like the "WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION" meme for the Iraq War.

Oh dear. Until you went off on this rant I was almost willing to take you seriously.
posted by languagehat at 1:41 PM on August 8, 2008


Thanks languagehat. The point still stands, regardless, as it needs to be a part of the discussion. I don't want to debate whether the Confederacy was "racist" or not. I want to discuss the topic clearly.
posted by unpoppy at 1:46 PM on August 8, 2008


One HUGE part of this are taxes and the property that the Union sought to take from the South.

and a HUGE part of the property they were worried about was in the form of negro slaves. and the right to that property *in perpetuity* was explicitly included the confederate constitution.

"No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed."
posted by rmd1023 at 2:05 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


LarryC, I've done a little googling on Larry Koger. Maybe the criticism of his approach is buried deep in the rankings, but he seems legit. If you have a link to show he's not a "professionally trained historian," I'd be happy to see it. His publisher simply says he has an M.A. in history from Howard University.

In case you don't know Howard, Wikipedia says, "Howard University is the number-one producer of African American Ph.D.s in the United States."
posted by shetterly at 2:10 PM on August 8, 2008


"No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed."

My point, in case you missed it, are that there are OTHER motives for the war, for which (if there were black confederates) would be a reason for them fighting for their homeland.

Get it?
posted by unpoppy at 2:14 PM on August 8, 2008


languagehat, I'm not following your comment to unpoppy. You don't think people simplify the reasons they go to war? People always say they're fighting for the noblest reason..oh, and the other side's land, gold, slaves, or oil? Well, getting the spoils of war is just God's way of saying thanks for having such great motives.
posted by shetterly at 2:20 PM on August 8, 2008


Please don't tell me you're unaware of the whole "it wasn't about slavery" meme. This is not some personal quirk of unpoppy's, it's a revisionist approach to the Civil War, and not a healthy one.
posted by languagehat at 3:32 PM on August 8, 2008


See my comment here for a good quote on the subject, and much of that thread is relevant.
posted by languagehat at 3:37 PM on August 8, 2008


I would like to add to what unpoppy is saying, in that "neo-confederates" or whatever you want to call them aren't entirely motivated by racism. Some of them may not be motivated by that at all; I can't make that kind of generalization. But I can say that there heritage does have genuine meaning (despite the word appearing in scare quotes earlier in the thread) for these people, and there is a contemporary resentment of the imposition of culture and values that originate in northern commercial centers. Yes, this is political, e.g. pro-choice, but it's deeper than that too. Furthermore, they realize that they are regarded as backwards and idiotic by the rest of the country; meanwhile, they see themselves (and their ancestors in the Civil War) simplified and misunderstood by the people who consider themselves enlightened. Basically, there is a lack of understanding/connection on both sides.

If you remove the issue of slavery, and talk about secession/states' rights more in the abstract, you can see how this kind of debate is not being held in the mainstream at all today, and also how federalism (the mainstream view) can be interpreted as assimilationist. Some neo-confederates may not be far from Ron Paul at all, but you don't see him being written off as a racist.

I'm not defending slavery or racism, and I'm "blue in a red state." I don't think the North understands the South or vice versa, even today.
posted by manguero at 3:39 PM on August 8, 2008


Did thousands of slaves or free blacks serve in the Confederate Army? There's no evidence of that. Did some of the slaves that accompanied their masters to war grab a gun and take a shot at the Yankees? That's a little more likely. Did some light-skinned blacks try and "pass" and join up. Yes, and when they were found out they were kicked out of the Army.

Records show that New York officers on patrol reported they were attacked near New Market, Virginia, by Confederate cavalry and a group of 700-armed blacks on December 22, 1861. The Northerners killed six of the blacks before retreating; officers later swore out affidavits that they were attacked by blacks and later complained: "If they fight with Negroes, why should we not fight with them too?"

I think the last line of that quote says more about the agenda of the northerners making that report than the reality of the battlefield. Strange that as early as 1861 we have 700 armed blacks, what happened to them later? The Confederate Congress debated recruiting blacks and authorized that recruitment, in the closing days of the war. Southern Emancipation by Bruce Levine is a thoughtful and well-researched book on this whole issue.

Most of the evidence (pension records, second or fourth-hand narratives, postwar reminiscences), folks trot out to prove blacks served in the Confederate Army are secondary, after the fact sources.

I believe the main reason the South seceded was to protect slavery. Did all the men in the Confederate Army fight for slavery, in their minds? Probably not, they joined the army for many reasons that people have been joining the army for centuries.

I'm not going to try to guess the motives of the folks trying to prove there were scores of Black Confederates. I prefer the term "Confederate Slaves" myself.
posted by marxchivist at 3:46 PM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


My point, in case you missed it, are that there are OTHER motives for the war

and my point, which you seem to have missed, is that the root basis for these other motives was slavery. in particular, the economic engine of the south, which was based on the slave economy. tie that in with the missouri 'compromise', which suddenly put the delicate balance of slave vs non-slave states, and the looming industrial revolution powering the economy of the north, and, well, things don't look too good for the south.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:49 PM on August 8, 2008


LarryC, I've done a little googling on Larry Koger. Maybe the criticism of his approach is buried deep in the rankings, but he seems legit. If you have a link to show he's not a "professionally trained historian," I'd be happy to see it. His publisher simply says he has an M.A. in history from Howard University.

Is Kroger saying that there were large number of black confederates? I think he is writing about black slave holders, which is not necessarily the same thing. His work looks solid and I need to check it out. Thank you for bringing him to my attention.

My point remains that there is not a debate among academic historians about whether or not there were large numbers of black Confederates.
posted by LarryC at 4:05 PM on August 8, 2008


manguero, I'm aware of that (and I'm certainly not impugning unpoppy's motives). In fact, I used to argue the Southron side in these discussions out of a combination of cussedness, Southern heritage, and resentment at the North's contempt for everything Southern. But the more I read about it, the more I realized that that very mix of feelings was exploited by those pushing the openly racist neo-Confederate agenda, and it was time to get serious and separate defense of Southerners and their culture and dialects (which I will continue to do) from defense of the indefensible, namely secession. All that states-rights crap was and is a figleaf for slavery and racism. That doesn't mean that everyone who espouses it is a racist, just that they're serving an unworthy cause.
posted by languagehat at 4:10 PM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


languagehat, fair enough. I had not really thought about what you say here:

that very mix of feelings was exploited by those pushing the openly racist neo-Confederate agenda. . . .

Sounds like we're in the same boat. (To further complicate things, I'm from South Louisiana, which is in turn very different from the rest of the South--moreso historically.)
posted by manguero at 4:27 PM on August 8, 2008


languagehat, I'm pretty close to manguero's and marxchivist's positions: if you reduce the Civil War to racists versus emancipators, you'll end up with a flawed picture.

LarryC, apologies. I think we're just using "Confederates" differently. To you, a Confederate is a soldier. To me, A Confederate is someone who supported the Confederacy, so that includes white women, black slaveowners, etc.

Another of my favorite weirdnesses of the Civil War, from Stephen Fox’s Wolf of the Deep, a good biograpy of Raphael Semmes, captain of the Confederate raider, the Alabama: The Alabama, manned from Liverpool, had no slaves in her initial crew. Two months into her cruise, however, the captured Tonawanda yielded among its booty a black youth from the slave state of Delaware. David Henry White, about seventeen years old, was taken despite protests and assigned to duty as a waiter in the wardroom officer’s mess. The New York Herald ran the story under an outraged headline: “The Pirate Steals a Colored Boy from the Tonawanda.” … White remained with the ship and received the wages of his station. Snatched as a slave yet paid as a freedman, he did not try to escape despite many later chances in foreign ports.
posted by shetterly at 4:30 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not directing this at anyone in this thread but making a general statement, anyone that uses an oppressed people as a kind of lapel pin for their own agenda is a real shit, be that person Lincoln or SCV. Don't like it never will.
posted by nola at 6:43 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


languagehat: i recall an anthropologist friend of mine telling me, years ago, that the american south has a kind of deep cultural identity more like older countries than like the rest of the US. and the more i know folks from the southern US and get exposure to southern culture, the more i see what she meant.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:37 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


That is very true, rmd1023, and most northerners don't have the faintest idea of it, which is why southerners tend to be defensive and prickly. I think by now a lot of the rebellion (heh) against the conventional view of the Civil War (like insisting on calling it the War Between the States and yammering about states' rights) isn't about black people at all, it's just poking the North with a sharp stick. That's why "Sweet Home Alabama" is such a crowd-pleaser—even if you like Neil Young's music, anyone with any Southern heritage takes pleasure in bellowing
"Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man dont need him around anyhow."
Take your smug, ignorant prejudices and stick 'em where the sun don't shine, Yankee!
posted by languagehat at 6:19 AM on August 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


languagehat you are one perceptive fellow.
posted by nola at 8:17 PM on August 9, 2008


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