… this is an opportune time to discuss the views of your family or guardians as it relates to the American Civil War. Find out how the events between 1861 and 1865 shaped the lives of your family and/or community. Have an open and honest discussion on your views about slavery and why the United States of America and the Confederate States of America went to war. Do you and others agree or disagree that African-Americans served in the Confederate States Army during the War Between the States? Read Entangled In Freedom as a conversation starter.
The book certainly became a conversation starter on one blog.
Now comes news that Mr. Weeks might be developing a greater interest in the subjects of enslaved blacks serving in Confederate ranks. His coauthor, Ann DeWitt, has several recent posts on the subject. We hear again of the story of the 1st Louisiana Native Guards. You can learn more about Chaplain Louis Napoleon Nelson, who led Tennessee Confederate cavalrymen in prayer. There’s the tale of John Noland, who served as a scout for William Quantrill. As expected, you can find the story of Silas Chandler. One post explores the life of Burrell, a slave who accompanied his master into the Confederate army. Another is devoted to Jeff Shields, a slave who served as a cook in the Stonewall Brigade. And that’s just for starters, or so we are told.
I’m not quite sure what to make of these stories. Some of the individual accounts are quite interesting, but the larger point escapes me. So does a theme running through many of these accounts … a suggestion that, basically, slaves had much more choice and freedom than we assume, and that they forged close bonds with whites. Indeed, a particularly curious mind might well ask whether, if this was true, then what was so bad about slavery after all? Why didn’t more blacks seek to be enslaved? Why would any of them seek to escape from that lifestyle? Was slavery really a denial of self-determination, choice, or even freedom, if these accounts are to be believed? And what happened to these loyal servants during Reconstruction? Did they join the KKK to preserve the order under which they thrived? Such questions, ridiculous (or even offensive) as they might seem, flow naturally from these narratives.
Most studies of slavery suggest that enslaved blacks sought autonomy by carving their own space out of the sight of whites. These accounts suggest just the opposite. Now, one can offer reasons why enslaved blacks might have been willing to go to the front, especially if in so doing they did not abandon family matters. After all, the chances for freedom increased as one moved closer to the battlefront. And we need not discount that in certain cases, bonds of friendship and affection formed between masters and slaves. The question remains: do these stories really change our understanding of the American Civil War? Do they challenge the paramount role that slavery played in southern society? Do they even address the debate over secession? Do they come close to counterbalancing the stories of enslaved blacks seeking freedom and serving the Union cause? Are they attempts to paint the conditions of enslavement in such a way as to whitewash the evils of the peculiar institution?
In other words, Ms. DeWitt, why do Mr. Weeks and you tell these stories, which, as you know, have been told before?