News and Notes: August 16, 2012

Today we revisit some old themes brought back to light.

  • Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory notes the reappearance of Ann DeWitt at the gift that keeps on giving.  Now posting under the name “Little Rebel,” Ms. DeWitt’s still on the track of black Confederate soldiers.  Among her best known discoveries was the uncovering of a regiment of black cooks.
  • Speaking of the gift that keeps on giving, here’s an example of fine minds at work.  In a discussion sparked by an admission that the widely-circulated photograph purporting to be of the Louisiana Native Guards is in fact a doctored fake, we find out why some people think it’s important to uncover what we can about African Americans in Confederate military service:Setting aside Mr. Roden’s homophobic fears, the fact remains that if you aren’t enlisted in the armed services, you can’t claim to be a veteran.  To claim otherwise is to mock and demean the sacrifices made by actual veterans who served.  Nor has anyone claimed that the American Civil War was all about slavery, although it’s rather clear that Confederate apologists like to pretend it wasn’t about slavery at all, or slavery was okay, or that slavery had its good aspects … and that the supposed voluntary service of enslaved blacks in Confederate ranks (although not as soldiers … just “veterans”) supports those assertions.  I understand that some people who don’t understand history in the first place need to construct strawmen in an effort to make themselves feel better.  Here’s the problem, folks: the presence or absence of enslaved African Americans  with Confederate forces has nothing to do with why there was secession or war.   If this is the best that proponents of Confederate heritage can do, no wonder they are afraid that they aren’t getting anywhere.  They don’t deserve it.  They discredit themselves.
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16 thoughts on “News and Notes: August 16, 2012

  1. Yawn. Here I go again – can somebody please produce just one bloody photograph, one combat artist’s rendering, one piece of correspondence, one order – anything which remotely meets the definition of “proof”- showing these armed black defenders of the Confederacy. Not servants, not impressed cooks, not impressed laborers. Soldiers. Just one.. That’s all. Let’s start there. I’ve never encountered a war in which so many troops were literally invisible and unrecognized.

    • Well, the fact is that there is one rendering often circulated, but it’s easily challenged … in part because it’s a northern artist offering a rendering based upon a description. To me the important issue is that there’s not much in the way of Confederate sources on this issue. As for texts, we’ve discussed what Dr. Lewis Steiner saw and what to make of it, and we’ve talked about some other descriptions and weighed their usefulness … but again, these are northern observers.

      I’m sure one can find a handful of cases in which men defined as free blacks fought for the Confederacy. Indeed, the vast majority of the people who are often cited as black Confederates are free blacks (the Louisiana Native Guard is a case in point). When it comes to enslaved blacks, that’s a different issue through early 1865, since by the very nature of the beast, enslaved people could not enlist and were not subject to conscription as soldiers (as opposed to impressment as laborers).

      The other problem is the illogical leap we see between individual circumstance and generalizations about overall motivation. We hear that Grant owned a slave, so the war could not have been about slavery (or that Lee didn’t own a slave, so it wasn’t about slavery). We hear folks say that great-great-great grandpappy (a) did not own slaves or (b) owned them but treated them very well, so it couldn’t have been about slavery. We’d reject this sort of specious reasoning in other cases, but in this case, folks who are in denial about slavery (for whatever reason) often choose to argue this way. You never hear, for example, that my g-g-g-grandfather who fought in the Iron Brigade did not own a slave (a reasonable assumption), so it was/was not about slavery. Nor do we see someone who argues that it was all about Lincoln, tyrannical power, the rise of big business, and corporate greed have to confront a critic employing that same logic to say that g-g-g-grandfather was a Democratic storekeeper and farmer, so it couldn’t be about those things … because we know that sounds ridiculous.

      Let’s put it this way … even if there were ten thousand African Americans who voluntarily served as soldiers in the Confederate military, that would have no bearing on why white southerners who advocated secession advocated it and why they went to war. The H. K. Edgertons of that world were not present at the secession conventions and did not vote for delegates. You would be on better ground to ask these folks to identify a black secessionist.

      • I should have been much more precise. By “rendering” I mean a Waud-style product based on personal observation. And I have no doubt that one can find a few blacks scattered amongst the thousands upon thousands who served in the CSA’s armed forces. After all, one can find Jews and Slavs scattered amongst the various units of the Wehrmacht. The point is that if we had the sort of proof I’m looking for, it would be a product of significant organized enrollment of blacks in the Confederate armies. We don’t because there wasn’t. Your point at the end is well-taken. But we know that (in part due to the very thing you point to) there weren’t 10,000 blacks who volunteered for service as Confederate soldiers. There couldn’t be. The (ultimately unsuccessful) proposal for freeing blacks for enlistment and the ensuing vehement response proves the point. That would have been “winning the battle and losing the war” for the secessionsts’ cause.

  2. Black secessionists? Do you mean the blacks that “succeeded” from slavery and the “South” to join one of the free states or her Majesty’s Dominion of Canada? I think the odds are pretty good you could historically document those black secessionists,

  3. Comments like the one made by Carl W. Roden are the ones that disturb me. He actually says that no matter whether they were soldiers or not, they should still be “honored” for their “service.” Really??? Wouldn’t that be like honoring Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Soviet POWs and others who worked in Nazi concentration camps for their “service” to Germany??? I personally doubt they would want to be remembered as having “served” in any way other than as unwilling slaves, but that is just my opinion. Opinions like the one Carl expressed above are truly twisted and disturbing to me.

  4. The funny thing is that John Stones basically admits the real reason behind all of this: to make the CIVIL WAR (sorry couldn’t resist) seem like it was not about slavery…

  5. Apparently Connie Chastain admits that she holds Ann DeWitt in no higher esteem than the bloggers she despises.

    She proclaims: “This derisive component of your criticism shows your true motivation and takes you off the high road, brings you down to the level of those you’re ridiculing.” In other words, DOWN to DeWitt’s level.

    Of course, since Chastain herself isn’t above being derisive of those with whom she disagrees, she must hate herself as well … and she certainly doesn’t respect herself. She brings herself DOWN to that level, too.

    This explains a great deal. Chastain’s outbursts are a sign of her low self-esteem and self-loathing. That must also be the case with her fans who hang on her every word. Otherwise they’d call her on it.

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