Skip to comments.The Myth of Black Confederates Persists (pls consider source)
Posted on 05/02/2011 5:37:11 AM PDT by flowerplough
"This is a fiction," Fergus M. Bordewich, renowned historian and author of five nonfiction books, told The Root about the latest rancorous debate about black Confederates that comes as the nation's commemoration of the Civil War's 150th anniversary continues.
"It's a myth," continued Bordewich, author of Washington: The Making of the American Capital and Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. "It is nonsense. I could be blunter than that, but you get the drift. It's a meaningless term, 'black Confederates.' There is no evidence whatsoever from any responsible source that there was more than the occasional slave who was forced to serve in the war."
Bordewich is not alone in his position. Top-ranking scholars have repeatedly torpedoed the myth, including Bruce Levine, the renowned professor of African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Edwin Bearss, historian emeritus at the National Park Service; and Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, editor-in-chief of The Root and chair of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. Yet it persists.
Gates weighed in on the issue in a quote that appeared in a column by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor and blogger at Atlantic Magazine, several weeks ago. " 'I would worry if anything I wrote lent credence to the notion that tens of thousands of black men served as soldiers in the Confederate Army,' " Gates said of the bloody four-year battle, fought from 1861 to 1865. "No black rebel units ever fought Union forces, although many slaves fought alongside their owners, and thousands more were compelled to labor for the Confederacy, rebuilding rail lines or construction fortifications."
(Excerpt) Read more at theroot.com ...
Of course there were black confederates! Even as a Northerner I’m perfectly fine to admit that! New Orleans had a number of them alone.
But yes, the typical loud-mouth lefty black professors are the obvious go-to nutters to try to declare it fake.
I await their well-researched book on the subject. *crickets*
True enough. And there is an ancient history of slave soldiers, particularly in the Islamic world.
But a slave, by definition, is no more a volunteer than a horse is.
This is, of course, why slavery is very nearly the ultimate evil of which humans are capable.
Back in the 90’s, the Charlotte newspaper did an article on the Taylorsville branch of the Sons Of the Confederacy.
To be a member of the Sons of the confederacy, one must have an ancestor who fought for the South.
The president of the Taylorsville chapter was a black man who had a ancestor—great grandfather—who served in the Civil War.
When the Newspaper asked him why he joined this organization, he replied that the organization was not some racist collection of men but were an historic organization that not only discussed battles but more importantly made sure Confederate cemeteries were maintained.
I met several black men in South Carolina who had ancestors in the Confederate army and were quite proud of this fact.
There were several hundred thousand white Southern Union soldiers but they get nowhere the attention as the dubious speculation over the existence of a handful of black Confederate soldiers. The Lost Cause myth of a united Solid South is as persistent as it is misleading.
I’ll bet there were no black slave owners either, eh “Professor Gates?”
Hell, the first LEGALLY RECOGNIZED slave owner in America (known at the time as the British Colonies) was a black man.
The way to create a “myth” is to set up a strawman, attribute it to your opponent, and then knock it down. Gates gives the game away when he says: “No black rebel units ever fought Union forces, although many slaves fought alongside their owners...” Perhaps someone has claimed that there were black companies, brigades, etc., BUT I have never seen such a claim. What I have seen are claims that blacks fought on the Confederate side. So even Gates is admitting that many slaves fought alongside their owners against the invading Yankees. Moreover, I suspect that it is likely many men considered “black” today, but who were of mixed race, fought in the ranks.
The only myth in the story is the suggestion that slavery was the only or main “cause” for the support of the war.
Please note that the same group of leftists also have to explain away the “slave narratives” that were compiled during the 1930’s.
No one should mourn the end of slavery, but slavery and the War Between the States are far more complicated and interesting than the typical Northern “triumphalist narrative” that passes for history in the minds of most.
The myths persist. Northerners claim to have been against slavery yet if you go into old cemeteries up there you’ll see the graves of slaves and their owners. Right in Harvard Square, a few blocks from Skippy Gates’ house, there are a number of slaves buried in that cemetery.
It is true that most of the black soldiers in the Confederacy were slaves who were fighting with their masters. However, there were many free blacks living in the South at the start of the Civil war, some of whom voluntarily enlisted in the Confederate armed forces. To deny that this well-documented, albeit minor, fact occured is historical revisionism and political correctness run amok.
See for example, Ervin L. Jordan, "Afro-Yankees and Black Confederates in Civil War Virginia," or the recent "Black Southerners in Gray" by Arthur Bergeron. These are not KKK tracts, but accepted, peer-reviewed scholarly books and articles.
Our family history shows that even a few indians, as well as blacks, did indeed fight in the Confederate army.
The pervading sense of the diaries (mostly of a Creek indian commander of an indian cavalry unit) is that the south was being invaded, and that everyone was needed to defend their farms and cities from the northern invaders.
Series I, Volume IV
Colonel John W. Phelps (1st Vermont Infantry)
Theythe enemytalked of having 9,000 men. They had twenty pieces of artillery, among which was the Richmond Howitzer Battery, manned by negroes.
Series I, Volume XIV
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.”
Series I, Volume XVI
Lieutenant Colonel John G. Parkhurst (9th Michigan Infantry)
There were also quite a number of negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.
Series III, Volume II
Richard Yates, Governor of Illinois
Excerpt from a Letter to President Abraham Lincoln:
They [CSA] arm negroes and merciless savages in their behalf. Mr. Lincoln, the crisis demands greater efforts and sterner measures.
Series I, Volume XV
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.”
Series I, Volume XIII
Major General Samuel R. Curtis (2nd Iowa Infantry)
We are not likely to use one negro where the rebels have used a thousand. When I left Arkansas they were still enrolling negroes to fortify the rebellion.
Series I, Volume XIX, Part I-Reports
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Wheeler Downey (3rd Maryland Infantry, Potomac Home Brigade)
Question by the Judge Advocate.: Do you know of any individual of the enemy having been killed or wounded during the siege of Harpers Ferry?
Answer. I have strong reasons to believe that there was a negro killed, who had wounded 2 or 3 of my men. I know that an officer took deliberate aim at him, and he fell over. He was one of the skirmishers of the enemy, and wounded 3 of my men. I know there must have been some of the enemy killed.
Question. How do you know the negro was killed?
Answer. The officer saw him fall.
Series I, Volume XVII
Brigadier General D. Stuart (U.S. Army 4th Brigade and Second Division)
It had to be prosecuted under the fire of the enemy’s sharpshooters, protected as well as the men might be by our skirmishers on the bank, who were ordered to keep up so vigorous a fire that the enemy should not dare to lift their heads above their rifle-pits; but the enemy, and especially their armed negroes, did dare to rise and fire, and did serious execution upon our men.
Series II, Volume VI
(Prisoners of War)
Lieutenant-Colonel William H Ludlow (Agent for Exchange of Prisoners / 73rd New York Volunteer Infantry)
And more recently the Confederate legislature of Tennessee have passed an act forcing into their military service (I quote literally) all male free persons of color between the ages of fifteen and fifty, or such number as may be necessary, who may be sound in body and capable of actual service; and they further enacted that in the event a sufficient number of free persons of color to meet the wants of the State shall not tender their services, then the Governor is empowered through the sheriff’s of different counties to impress such persons until the required number is obtained.
Series III, Volume III
Thomas H. Hicks (United States Senator, Maryland)
Excerpt from a Letter to President Abraham Lincoln:
I do and have believed that we ought to use the colored people, after the rebels commenced to use them against us.
Series I, Volume XXXV, Part I, Reports, Correspondence, etc.
Brigadier General Alexander Asboth (U.S. Army, District of West Florida)
We pursued them closely for 7 miles, and captured 4 privates of Goldsby’s company and 3 colored men, mounted and armed, with 7 horses and 5 mules with equipments, and 20 Austrian rifles
Series I, Volume XLI, Part IV, Correspondence, Etc.
Captain P. L. Powers (47th Missouri Infantry, Company H)
We have turned up eleven bushwhackers to dry and one rebel negro.
Series I, Volume XLIX, Part II
Major A. M. Jackson (10th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery)
The rebels are recruiting negro troops at Enterprise, Mississippi, and the negroes are all enrolled in the State.
FOr liberals, wouldn’t that be a good thing that blacks were not segregated into their own units, like they were in the north (under white leaders of course, because the north wasn’t exactly the bastion of equality).
On September 10, 1862, Lewis H. Steiner, Inspector of the Sanitary Commission stated, “At four o’clock this morning the rebel army began to move from our town, Jackson’s force taking the advance. . . . The most liberal calculations could not give them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 negroes must be included in this number. . . . 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 Confederacy Army. . .”1
I am perfectly happy to admit some (a few) free blacks probably enlisted and served.
They did so, of course, despite the official CSA policy banning them from doing so, which wasn’t changed till the last month or two of the war.
The official ban seems more relevant than the fact that some fought in defiance of that ban.
This whole argument comes down, as the article says, to the old straw man argument presented by both sides.
“The war was entirely about slavery” is one side.
“The war had nothing to do with slavery” is the other.
Both are so self-evidently false that one hardly knows where to begin in refuting them
The core issue in the rising friction between the states was slavery and its containment or expansion. This is just an indisputable fact. Anything else could be compromised.
So the issue of slavery led directly to secession, as most if not all of the seceding states said very plainly in their Ordinances of Secession.
At this point we have seceded states. It would have been theoretically possible for the states to have left without war, though given historical precedent not very likely.
Did Union loyalists resist secession primarily because of slavery? Of course not. They stated very clearly and repeatedly they fought to preserve the Union.
Did most southerners fight primarily to protect slavery? Equally of course not. They fought to protect their homes, property and families. Duuuhhh.
So the “Did slavery cause the war” issue comes down to semantics.
Slavery caused secession.
Had nobody resisted secession there would have been no war, and the resistance did not (especially at first) have much of anything to do with slavery.
And most southerners did not so much fight intentionally or conciously to protect slavery as to protect their states and homes.
Slavery caused secession. Secession caused the war. But few of those who fought were doing so for or against slavery, as such. Wars and human motivation for fighting them are complex.
I’ve been going over this for some time and there are accounts of officers writing home saying the saw black confederates attacking their position or they captured black confederates
seems the facts are getting out and the left as usual have to quash them before too many find out
There was at least one, where you’d hardly expect a black to be serving the Confederacy. One of Quantrill’s guerillas was black. He scouted Lawrence, KS, before the Massacre.
Gates is an idiot.
remember Jacksons men and the union officers accounts of seeing them attack him plus Bedford forrest.
There is nothing published by the two men you cited, either Ervin L Jordan Jr. or the late Arthur W. Bergeron, that suggests there were 100,000 black confederates, much less 10,000 armed fighters.
If you were familiar with either men's written work you'd know that.
Let them rave on that men shall know them mad....
This would actually be a decent argument if the newly elected government had actually performed some action that egregiously violated state equality, and this action had then caused secession.
In actual fact, of course, secession happened many months before the new government took office, much less took unfair action against some states, and was in response to the mere election of a president the seceding states did not like.
Nobody has ever claimed otherwise, AFAIK.
Indian regiments played a key role in the Confederate defeat at Pea Ridge, for instance.
The last Confederate general to surrender, Stand Watie, was a Cherokee.
On what actions or words of Lincoln's (in 1860 or before) do you base this extraordinary claim? What had he said or done that would have led southerners to believe this?
there you go pal incase you have not seen this
NY Herald July 19 1863
After the battle of Gettysburg several blacks in confederate uniform fully armed as soldiers.
Gone for a soldier p56
a white union soldier of the 5th NJ reported in his memoirs that he saw two black confederate snipers members of the Berdans sharpshooters
New bern weekly Aug 13th 1861
The war has dispelled any delusion of the abolitionists . The negroes regard them as the enemy They have jeered and insulted our troops and have enlisted in the rebel army , and on Sunday at Mannassas shot down our men
Dr Lewis steiner chief inspector of the US sanitary commission while observing Jacksons men occupy fredrick MD 1862
At 4.00 about 3,00 negroes must be included in the number , many had arms rifles, ammo, sabres and bowie knives.
fed official war records Lt Parkhurst report 9th MI
The forces attacking my camp were the 8th TX cavalry Terry TX rangers There were many negroes attached who were armed and equipped and who took part in the days engagements.
I could go on but that is enough typing for me,.
I have it on disk so if you can tell me how t copy and paste I will do that or send you a copy
much of it is from the congressional war records, newspapers and union officer accounts
I suppose the records of free Blacks actually OWNING slaves are all part of a vast right-wing conspiracy to rewrite history too?
And lest we forget the history of slavery in America - and where those slaves came from - many of which were captured and sold into slavery by their own people...
Actually, I have the book on my shelf at school, having cited “Afro-Yankees” many times and he most certainly does refer to 100,000 black soldiers, most of them drivers/teamsters/diggers, but estimated that 10,000 bore arms.
There was a federal effort to rewrite history about blacks working for the South going way back. Some background.
Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War, made the assumption that after the war, there was going to be a ridiculous amount of litigation. Everyone was going to sue everyone else in court for damages.
So Stanton made an extraordinary directive, that official records be kept of everything, and that those records be very carefully stored. And also, that when the war was over, assuming the Union won, every available Confederate record would be added to the collection.
Though the lawsuits never came about to any great degree, this order has made Stanton the patron saint of Civil War historians and genealogists.
But it also preserved some truth that some agendas prefer was not preserved.
The first official effort to rewrite history came before the turn of the 20th Century, when the bulk of Civil War veterans on both sides began to apply for their pensions. But the rewriting of records was not carried out particularly well.
But the Confederate States varied considerably in their practices and records. In several of the States, blacks were specifically excluded from service, even if they were several generations manumitted freemen. Others were unspecific about race.
However, the State of Mississippi, for its own reasons, both kept detailed records, and carefully preserved them after the war. So it is the best State archive to divine the truth.
No one is ignoring them. But we do regard the reasons stated, solely and in their entirety, buy the weight or protest. And the chief protest among the southern states was slavery.
Go back and reread your own sources.
Which they did. Unfortunately for your case, the causes they declared were primarily associated with the protection of slavery.
I believe only one or two states (could be more, haven't counted recently) listed the tariff as a primary cause, the favorite argument of those who proclaim slavery had "nothing" to do with secession.
Why seceding and precipitating a war over a still very low level of taxation is morally superior to seceding over the protection of slavery is quite beyond me. But that's a common argument.
(Lincoln0: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”
Palestinian Authority: “My way or the highway (or horse-and-buggy-way, or whatever it was back then) - quite diplomatic.”
You have a disturbing habit of imputing values, often without warrant, to people with whom you disagree. There are discussion sites on the ‘net wherein this tactic is employed, but typically not so much at conservative sites.
Yes, quite diplomatic, and no, not “My way or the highway” in any sense. He stated a truism that is indisputable but he did not impose a unilateral solution - like the southron fire-eaters chose to unilaterally impose just a few short years later. It would appear that “My way or the highway” is the southron way.
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
That in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.
I love the echoing of the form of the Declaration of Independence while utterly rejecting its content.
Since you posted the link, do you seriously stand behind the notion that the above reasons justify secession and war?
I might also note that "all Christian nations" did NOT recognize African slavery as mutually beneficial to both bond and free. Quite the opposite. By the time this was written, almost all Christian nations recognized the exact opposite.
Okay, we seem to be having trouble communicating.
Your claim was that “states” were treated differently.
The Republican party platform said nothing about treating states differently, but rather about whether slavery would be allowed to expand into the territories, where the federal government, not the states, had authority.
Slavery had previously been outlawed, with minimal complaint, in some of the territories for decades until repealed at southern assistance. Yet the reinstitution (and possibly expansion) of this previous policy in your mind was somehow an example of treating states differently that justified secession and war?
Lincoln’s remarks about a house divided being unable to stand is actually a quote from the Bible. As he said at the time, if you wanted to argue the principle, you needed to take it up with a higher authority than him.
“They did so, of course, despite the official CSA policy banning them from doing so, ...”
Yes, that was “official” CSA policy, but remember that the Confederacy was just that, not a monolithic union of seceeding states. For example, some Tennessee units actively recruited and armed black soldiers and integrated them into combat units as early as 1861. Many people in the South volunteered to serve their state first, and only secondarily the “cause” of the Confederacy.
Diggers, drivers, liveries, cooks, orderlies, musicans, etc. were not soldiers. Nor did the Confederate army recognize them as such.
Quite agree. And there were various Home Guard, militia and state troop units throughout the war, most of them viewed by CSA soldiers as havens for draft-dodgers more than anything else.
My point is that banning blacks from serving as soldiers was explicit CSA policy, and any blacks that served did so in violation of this policy.
The Union itself, while more centralized in administration than the Confederacy, was not the monolithic system we have developed since. If most of the northern states had refused to support the Lincoln administration, there is little he could have done to coerce them, particularly during the early part of the war.
There were entire communities in the South that remained loyal to the North and, similarly, there were entire communities in the North (especially in Pennsylvania but even as far north as Vermont) that were loyal to the South. This is all well-known to historians, and interested non-historians like myself.
I don't recall any claims of a "cover up." Evidence? Pages?
You or I have no say whether a state secedes or not unless we live in that particular state(s). It's called a republic, learn it, live it , love it.
Looks like you're not above creating myths and strawmen of your own. Look around the Internet and you'll find claims of thousands, tens of thousands of Black Confederates. You'll find a few such claims on this very thread and on other FR Civil War threads. If you said that those supposed Black Confederates were slaves forced to dig ditches and build bridges or slaves and servants who occasionally picked up a gun to defend their masters, the posters who make those claims of thousands of Black Confederates would argue that you were wrong.
So what are they implying? That thousands of African-Americans volunteered or wanted to volunteer to serve in the Confederate forces? That they fought in their own Black units or in integrated ones? That seems to be where those who make the exaggerated claims of thousands of Black Confederates are headed. Again, take a look at some of the posts on this very thread.
Now that it's clear that the evidence for these claims is very skimpy, you may see people backing down. But you have to give Gates his due: people who talk about thousands of Black Confederates are talking about more than an occasional manservant or driver or porter who participated in a battle. Sometimes they say that there were many Black or integrated units. Some times they just let people assume it. But there most certainly were claims that "Black Confederates" involved more than a few slaves firing guns in a few battles.
The only myth in the story is the suggestion that slavery was the only or main cause for the support of the war.
Now that is a straw man. A main cause or root cause isn't necessarily the "only" cause. The two are very different. It's crystal clear that without slavery we wouldn't have gotten that war at that time with those sides. That doesn't mean that everybody was fighting for or against slavery or that nobody else had any other reason for picking up a gun. It just means that you can't talk about the American Civil War without talking about slavery. Believe me, some people have tried -- some people are still trying -- and they just aren't telling the whole truth.
Stand Watie is a legendary hero in the Eastern Indian community.
My great, great, great uncle commanded a Creek confederate unit. They didn’t see a lot of action. But he left voluminous diaries of every day life in an Indian confederate unit. After the war there was no authority to discharge him and his men, so he wrote his own discharge papers.
I don’t “look around the internet” for lunatic assertions, and I don’t know of any significant historian or historical group that claims that there were brigade, division, or corps level black units. But you seem to ignore that even Gates is admitting that “many” black slaves “fought” alongside their masters -note that the words are “many” and “fought.” In fact, given the numbers of men involved in the war and the timespan Gates’ use of “many” could well be a concession that there were several thousand, although, if there were, I am sure that they were scattered among hundreds or thousands of units.
You mention people “backing down” on their claims on this subject. When I first noticed people claiming that some blacks fought on the Confederate side they were met with categorical denials and derision from people like Gates. The point I was making is that Gates is doing a “climb down” from that position and tries to save face by attacking a claim about Confederate units I don’t believe that even the League of the South has made.
It is simply no longer possible to maintain the comic book view of the sides on the conflict found in many textbooks. Both the relationships between the races in the South and the North and the forces that lead to disunion were complex.
“It’s crystal clear that without slavery we wouldn’t have gotten that war at that time with those sides.”
This is pointless. We could as well say that “without the tariff disputes”, or “without the internal improvement disputes”, or “without the disputes over the meaning of federalism”, or “without the Northern invasion of the South”, or “without the disputes over territorial expansion”, etc. you wouldn’t have gotten that war at that time with those sides.
In the beginning, Lincoln and his supporters were willing to throw the slaves to the dogs with the Corwin Amendment, which, had slavery been the main or only issue for the South, would have eliminated any fear any Southerner had about the federal abolition of slavery. Later, Lincoln decided to use a largely meaningless Emancipation Proclamation to frame the war in terms of slavery to keep the French and British from recognizing the Confederacy. By now, I think most people who read in this subject at all know that while Lincoln didn’t like slavery, he also didn’t like blacks. This was also the overwhelming majority view in the North before and after the war.
The “Jaffaite” narrative of Lincoln and the War as a noble fight to free the slaves and vindicate the Declaration is as ahistorical and the Pollard narrative of the stainless “Lost Cause.” For Gates and other race pimps there is a clear political and social pay-off to controlling the War narrative. That some people on FR insist on manichean interpretations, however, strikes me as odd.
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