Another Research Exercise: Confederates on Black Slaves as Confederate Combat Troops

And now it’s time for another research exercise …

There’s been a rather lively discussion over the past several years over the presence of enslaved blacks in the ranks of the Confederate army, what role they played, whether they were combat troops, and so on.  Let’s set aside for the moment the question of the significance of all this.  All I’m interested in now is a simple thing:

Can anyone offer evidence of a Confederate soldier writing about enslaved blacks serving as Confederate combat troops?

I know I’m not the only person to rise this point, and it’s not the first time I’ve raised it.  In fact, it’s been raised with increasing frequency.  But there’s no harm in asking, right?

Please share your findings in the comments section.  Thanks.


8 thoughts on “Another Research Exercise: Confederates on Black Slaves as Confederate Combat Troops

  1. Kevin January 29, 2011 / 2:33 pm

    I’ve asked this question time and time again and no one has yet stepped forward. I know we sometimes use the language of historical debate and disagreement, but there is something misleading about applying those terms to this debate. That black Confederate advocates are content with pushing accounts that are primarily from northerners suggests that they don’t know the first thing about how to approach a historical question as well as the available evidence.

    I know I’ve talked quite a bit about writing a book about this subject, but of late I’ve wondered whether it’s necessary at all. This is nothing more than an Internet phenomenon, which is where the fight needs to take place. My recent screencast of the Petersburg Express site seems much more relevant.

    I’ve read literally hundreds of accounts by Confederate soldiers from the summer of 1864. Even after facing a division of USCTs not one soldier mentions their own loyal black comrades.

    • Brooks D. Simpson January 29, 2011 / 4:35 pm

      Two things. First, there’s a reason I used the word “discussion.” “Debate” would actually involve back and forth, and that doesn’t happen. Advocates of the notion that there were a significant number of black Confederates tend to draw both their evidence and their approach from the same playbook. After they present their statement, they slink away. They tend not to answer questions. We’re seeing that right now on a discussion group, where a fellow named Michael T. Griffith has shown up on various groups, posted a simple statement using the Virginia textbook controversy as his point of departure, and then mixes defiance, ridicule, and an absolute refusal to answer simple and direct questions.

      This discussion may take place primarily on the internet, but more and more that’s where people are going to get their information. I continue to think that most mainstream professional historians are missing the point by neglecting the importance of the internet as a source of information and a place where they need to make their presence felt in substantial ways. The recent movement toward blogs at the New York Times and the Washington Post is a start, but just a start.

  2. Robert Moore January 30, 2011 / 6:40 am

    “I continue to think that most mainstream professional historians are missing the point by neglecting the importance of the internet as a source of information and a place where they need to make their presence felt in substantial ways.”

    Part of my argument in my last thesis.

  3. Andy Hall January 30, 2011 / 12:02 pm

    I followed your link to Michael T. Griffith’s site and, after drilling down past the sections on Kennedy assassination conspiracy, creationism and so on, I found a typical examplie of what Kevin calls “cut-and-paste black Confederates“:

    Robert (Uncle Bob) Wilson, Negro veteran of the Confederate army who observed his 112th birthday last January 13, died early yesterday morning in the veterans’ hospital at the Elgin State hospital. . . . He enlisted as a private in Company H of the 16th regiment of Virginia Infantry on Oct. 9, 1862 and discharged May 31, 1863. (Elgin Daily Courier-News, Monday, April 12, 1948)

    What Griffiths and others don’t understand is that a citation like this isn’t the end of research; it’s the beginning. It’s a lead, a hint, a starting point. Who was Robert Wilson? Where are his military service records? What else confirms this claim? What other veterans cite his alleged service?

    Tossing out unsubstantiated and unverifiable claims of this sort really do a disservice to those who are trying make their point; how are the rest of us supposed to recognize the needle when you keep throwing fistfuls of hay at us?

      • Mark Wagner July 30, 2011 / 11:20 pm

        Mr. Simpson:

        I am an archaeologist excavating at a site in southern Illinois where Robert Wilson claimed to have been a slave. I have been researching his life and (claimed) military records as part of this. It turns out that the Civil War record claimed to have been his was that of a soldier in the 16th WEST virginia Infantry of the same name. The error was made by an official at the Elgin State (Mental) Hospital where Wilson was a patient in the 1940s who wished to confirm that Wilson had been a Civil War soldier. In actuality, Wilson (who appears to have been suffering from possible dementia) claimed to have been associated with the 9th Virginia Volunteers where the son of his master (also named Robert Wilson) was an officer who subsequently was killed in the war. I have not yet been able to find whether or not there actually was an officer named Robert Wilson in the 9th Virginia who may have been his master’s son. I doubt that any of this is true, as Wilson (again who may have been delusional) also claimed to have been Abraham Lincolns body servant.


        Mark Wagner

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