Research Question: Here We Go Again …

I had good reason to suspect that as soon as I used the phrase “Black Confederate Myth” or “myth of black Confederates” that someone would offer the usual snippets from the official records, undigested, usually from Union sources, to claim that there were blacks in Confederate military service.  I was not disappointed.  Rather than bury this essay in the comments section, I think it deserves its own post, so that everyone can discuss what’s been presented.  Here it is:

The War of the Rebellion:
A Compilation of the Official Records
of Union and Confederate Armies
Sept. 1862 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.

August 1861 Series I, Volume IV
Colonel John W. Phelps (1st Vermont Infantry) They—the enemy—talked of having 9,000 men. They had twenty pieces of artillery, among which was the Richmond Howitzer Battery, manned by negroes.

May 1862 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.”

July 1862 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.

July 1862 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.

Sept. 1862 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.”

Oct. 1862 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.

Jan. 1863 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.

June 1863 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.

September 1863 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.

Aug. 1864 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

Nov. 1864 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.

April 1865 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.

I leave it to you to weigh the worth of these snippets as evidence.  Have at it … and no, the poster did not want to identify himself.  I wonder why.  Most people who live in Richardson, Texas, are not quite so shy, but Mr. Brown evidently is.

19 thoughts on “Research Question: Here We Go Again …

  1. Charles Lovejoy June 17, 2011 / 6:24 pm

    By contently addressing the ” Black Confederate Myth” by those that propagate it , you give those who propagate the myth a degree of credibility. If there is no credible thesis of black Confederates then how can there be a credible anti-thesis to be presented ?

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 17, 2011 / 6:47 pm

      You’re a bit late to that discussion, Charles. I’m simply offering the evidence cited by a commenter: would you prefer that I censor it? I simply don’t share your perspective on this issue: best, I think, to look at the evidence cited … and that’s all we have here: there’s no “argument” presented by the person who provided this material, let alone an answer to my everpresent question, “So what?” What’s the harm in asking readers to take a look at what’s presented and to comment on what it does–and does not–mean?

      I confess that I don’t understand your last sentence.

      • Charles Lovejoy June 18, 2011 / 6:05 am

        My last sentence in a longer meaning is, other than the very few blacks mustered in at the very last part of the war in Richmond there were no legal black Confederate solders. That being a credible fact, any other discussion of black confederate solders is just speculation from a hand full of writings. Phrases like “3 colored men ” and “one negro” , I’m not seeing a larger number of armed black confederates? I think a better phrase with black servitude in the confederate army would be “Blacks that supported the Confederate war effort”, not “black confederate solders” . At this point it would be impossible to come up with an accurate count of how many blacks actually fired a gun or carried a gun in service with the confederate ranks, 5 to 20 or even a few hundred spread out through the confederate army. That is the opinion I have came up with after seeing much of the evidence of those that support the idea/myth of black confederate solders. Sorry if I sounded abrasive , its I get irritated with the black confederate solder debate sometimes 🙂

        • Brooks D. Simpson June 18, 2011 / 9:36 am

          Well, first, I could easily be convinced that there were some people, classified as black, who looked to pass as white to enter Confederate service. I don’t think we are talking about a large number of people here, and I would argue that their motivation was individual, seeking to maximize their own freedom, and not “patriotic,” that is, fighting for the Confederacy and upholding its ideals. Indeed, given the precarious position of free blacks in the South in 1860-61, it was incumbent on them to allay suspicion as to their loyalty by looking as loyal as possible.

          I can also see that slaves may have not had a problem going to the front, because the closer one came to being in contact with the Union army, the better were one’s chances for freedom. That whites may have believed otherwise is simple testimony to the notion of putting on Old Massa.

          The hole in the BCM is the notion of motivation. Enslaved blacks and free blacks well knew that they had to appear loyal to the regime and to master: it was a matter of life or death for them. In addition, doubtless some enslaved blacks felt a bond of loyalty to their masters. However, we must assess this behavior against the wider context of how southern blacks behaved during the war. The notion that African Americans would embrace a regime that was pledged to continue their own enslavement is ludicrous. So is the notion that the presence of any number of African Americans with Confederate armed forces in any capacity refutes notions that the cornerstone of the Confederate experiment was the protection of the peculiar institution.

          Where historians have failed the general public, I believe, in educating people on this issue is by failing to draw upon the growing literature about slavery and free blacks in the Confederacy as well as an already substantial literature about enslaved blacks and free blacks in the antebellum South to discuss the relationship between blacks and the Confederate war effort. They also ignore what the history of blacks during emancipation and reconstruction tells us about black motivation (and it pays to point out that white supremacist terrorists showed no concern about whether their victims had ever supported the CSA). In short, professional historians could smash this story rather easily, but at least some of them seem more interested in just having the whole debate go away so that they can tell us what they believe is really important and not be distracted. They thus spend the energy that could be spent dealing with the larger issue on attacking bloggers, as we’ve seen several times, telling them to shut up and how to be historians (this is especially interesting when it’s graduate students doing the lecturing, by the way). That this discussion is happening at precisely the time when scholars are all abuzz about “Civil War memory” and how popular perceptions serve political agendas is rich with irony, because that’s exactly what the BCM is all about.

          • Ray O'Hara June 18, 2011 / 10:45 am

            Have you ever crossed paths with Melissa Harris-Perry {the former Harris-Lacewell} a professor of Black Studies at Princeton?
            When she brought up the subject of thousands of Blacks fighting for the Confederacy on the uber-Liberal Rachel Maddow Show I was disheartened.
            I had thought he a rational scholar previously and she is clearly no Lost Cause loon.
            Clearly the BCM is gaining traction among those who should know better and who have an agenda that has nothing to do with the Civil War and who clearly accept that the ACW was about slavery.

            It also made me wonder what the always contentious Cornel West thinks on the issue.

            What Mr Gallman doesn’t seem to get is that an oft repeated lie becomes the accepted “truth” if not countered vehemently.

          • Brooks D. Simpson June 18, 2011 / 11:33 am

            What I’ve learned, Ray, is that talk TV hosts (Maddow’s somewhere between talk TV and news) have their favorite scholars, most of whom are all too eager to appear on television and cater to the whims of their hosts in what becomes something of an embarrassment. Sometimes, as in the recent case of Doug Brinkley going rabid on Donald Trump and the Obama birth certificate discussion, the scholars transcend their boundaries to become celebrities and commentators. Harris-Perry’s done the same thing, as her website suggests. No, I haven’t encountered her, but clearly she values her celebrity.

  2. Matt Gallman June 17, 2011 / 7:22 pm

    My comment is that I was thrilled to see your post yesterday, suggesting that perhaps it would be interesting to discuss those black men who actually fought for the Union rather than the southern slaves who didn’t. There is so much to be done to examine these guys

    Yes, there is an interesting footnote to history re: the Confederate discussion about arming blacks.. McCurry, I think, does a nice job on this.

    But, Brooks, I thought you were right yesterday when you seemed to be suggesting that this obsession on “Black Confederates” was neither interesting nor significant

    As far as I know, there is no serious historian who is spending much energy on that “black Confed” thing.

    The question of arming blacks is a footnote to the history of the Confederacy, and not one of the 50 most interesting aspects of the History of the Confederacy

    Meanwhile, the black men who fought for the Union, and the impact of their actions is really really interesting and important and still, I think, underexamined

    Why not use your considerable blog-power to keep the focus on the interesting story rather than encouraging the faux story that has such a tenuous relationship to the issues that historians think about?

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 17, 2011 / 7:48 pm

      Well, Matt, I guess you now are saying that I’m not a serious historian, although I think you overestimate the energy involved in clip and paste operations on a blog.

      To my mind, serious historians bring out evidence into the light of day, and one way to discredit these weak arguments is to lay out the rather flimsy foundation on which so much is erected. In this case, I don’t see that the commenter offered an argument … he just dumped a bunch of stuff here, and I think it’s worth looking at, if for no other reason than to suggest the nature of the “evidence” used by certain people.

      One thing I don’t do as a serious historian is to tell other serious historians what they should or should not explore. I respect them too much to do that. All I see here from you is exactly the sort of comment that people who claim that professional historians want to suppress the evidence of black service in the Confederate military will seize upon to show that some of them go so far as to try to silence someone who simply wants to bring out the evidence in the light of day. Talk about giving aid and comfort to the enemy … this is just the sort of thing someone looking for efforts to suppress this discussion will cite as evidence of that claim.

      Finally, the blogosphere’s an open place. You’re welcome to enter it if you believe that it’s important to highlight various issues. I think it’s rather poor form to tell other people what to do and not to do, especially when it is well within your power to do it yourself.

      As for all this business about “encouraging the faux story,” I’m not going there again. I think that’s a ridiculous argument, and I have no interest in reenacting it. If people don’t like what I blog about, then don’t read the blog. But don’t take it upon yourself to tell me how to go about doing my job again.

  3. Ray O'Hara June 17, 2011 / 7:32 pm

    Those accounts which mention “a negro” only mention the one. They do not mention any units worth of men.

    That an office’rs personal servant might do some fighting is normal enough. it’s easily explained by the Stockholm Syndrome. the rest are no more than hearsay.

    But none of it rises to the level of “Black Confederates” and none of it changes the fact of “. We of the South contend that slavery is right”.
    That is what the BCMers are trying to hide.

    and Charles, to not dispute something because you know it is ridiculous will leave the field to the ridiculous and look at all the ridiculous things many Americans believe these days.
    People can be quite credulous.

  4. Andy Hall June 17, 2011 / 7:46 pm

    Assorted musings:

    1. I want to see the orders, dispatches, reports and memoranda from the Confederate side in the OR that refer to BCS. [insert crickets sound FX here]

    2. I suspect some people who quote cite these assume that the word “official” in Official Records is synonymous with verified, confirmed, endorsed as factually reliable.

    3. Should we assume that everything in the OR is similarly reliable, and if not, how do we know which is which?

    4. I’ve typically seen a dozen or so of these citations offered, that’s not just an overwhelming amount coming from 128 volumes of 500-600 pages each.

  5. Intellectual honesty June 17, 2011 / 7:47 pm

    I appreciate your not censoring. If you are a seeker of the truth, then let the facts be presented and people can decide. Otherwise it is just a propaganda effort. You are to be commended for being intellectually honest.

  6. Matt Gallman June 17, 2011 / 8:47 pm

    Now Brooks …

    I will gladly take ownership of what I said and what I think. To keep it simple

    (1) I think that the issue you raised just 24 hours ago on black Union soldiers is interesting and of historic importance. I chimed in because I am interested in the topic. (And, truth be told, I am writing an article on the topic right now so my interests are particularly strong.) One of the things about this blog-world that I find interesting but not my cup of tea is that you raise a topic today, and then the next day you change topics. That is of course just the way things are done I guess, but I can’t follow how that produces good discussion.

    (2) I said that I don’t know of any serious historians who spend their time worrying about this whole “black Confederate” issue. That is certainly true, It is purely a “blog” issue (for God knows what reason). Brooks, I think that you are a serious historian and I think that you are a blogger. I am not confused about those two roles. But my comment surely wasn’t intended to insult you. You just posted something on a blog about “black Confederates,” I didn’t think that that was a time consuming endeavor. My question was really this: why use your energies to direct the conversation towards this faux issue? On this particular blog you help to direct your reader towards interesting questions. I was wondering why you drifted away from that interesting question after 24 hours and shifted to this topic. But that was just a question, no more. If you want to talk about it, that is your decision.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 17, 2011 / 10:14 pm

      I’m content with how I address this particular issue, and I’ve already spent ample time discussing my approach to blogging, history, and so on.

      I see no reason to go there again. Ironic, given this entry’s title.

      … which wins out over …

  7. John Foskett June 18, 2011 / 7:35 am

    To follow up on one of Andy’s comments, all of these snippets are from the Union side – as are those I’ve seen cited previously (most of which are on this list). Now that’s a statistical oddity for the record books. Not one order, piece of correspondence, journal, memoir, dispatch, photograph, or other record from the side which apparently was “enlisting” these folks as soldiers. Remarkable. I say it proves that there may have been slaves dragooned into service here and there, and, of course given the large numbers of troops involved, an isolated rogue who actually did volunteer. There were Slavs fighting with the Werhrmacht on the Eastern Front, after all. And it’s entirely plausible that some of these snippets just got it wrong or made it up. But there were no “Black Confederates” in anything remotely approaching a number which would have any significant social or other meaning. Bank it. By the way, I have no problem with Brooks raising this here. It forces people to think. There’s nothing wrong with that – ever.

  8. Bob Huddleston June 18, 2011 / 9:44 am

    To add to what John and Andy posted: I would like the original poster tom come up with even one posting from a Confedrate on the presence of BCs. Surely at least one of the Rebels must have noticed what all those Yankees were seeing!

  9. TF Smith June 18, 2011 / 3:40 pm

    Given that the advocate for the BCM who posted this group of extracts thought it was worth doing, I think Brooks has done the discussion a service by bringing it “out front” so to sepak and asking what – in terms of the historical method – remains unsaid…

    Again, as others have said, there are warehouses of official CSA documents dealing with the conduct of the war from the rebels’ side, including the very clear prohibition on enlistment of AAs, etc. When the “best” an advocate can come up with are snippets from the US side, all of which are – to put it mildly – open to deconstruction and/or interpretation – it actually says quite a lot.

    And the other point is that the use of an enslaved or otherwise oppressed group as slave labor or “auxiliaries” in wartime is nothing new, and in fact has existed – and, arguably, continues to exist, in modern times; it also does not mean that such people were “soldiers” by any stretch of the imagination, much less had any agency in serving as such.

    Not to get all Godwiny, but the comments above regarding various eastern Europeans fighting and/or serving with the Wehrmacht in WW II is a very good point; the Germans, because of their manpower shortage, quite consciously enlisted/conscripted/enslaved large number of “hiwis” or auxiliaries, in many cases at the point of a gun, to perform what would today be defined as service or support roles, often down to the battalion or company level, in what were otherwise “German” army units (not even counting the SS).

    Another obvious example is the South African forces, both in the union and republic; because of the relatively small size of the “white” population in South Africa, mixed-race and “black” personnel were routinely taken into the army for service as auxiliaries in various roles. During WW II, the TO&E for a South African infantry battalion, which otherwise was a “white” unit, included 737 “Europeans” and 165 “non-Europeans” as part of official policy (the Dilution Policy) to A) maximize the number of “white” units in the field and B) minimize the number of “non-white” personnel receiving effective training and preventing the creation of “non-white” combat units, to – among other reasons – to prevent any future claim by “non-white” South Africans that they deserved the vote.

    Ultimately, these policies were as self-defeating to the Allied war effort in WW IIas those of the CSA; as an example, because of the Union government’s policy decisions, although the British goverment recruited, trained, equipped, and put into action no less than three infantry divisions made up primarily of native Africans (the 11th, 81st, and 82nd divisions) which saw action (in East Africa against the Italians and/or in Southeast Asia against the Japanese), the 122,000 “blacks” recruited into the South African defense force by 1943 were never combat troops, as such.

    Source for the above is KW Grundy’s Soldiers Without Politics, published in 1983 by UC. The second chapter, which discusses “non-whites” soldering in southern Africa prior to the Anglo-Boer wars, is interesting because it speaks to experiences of a white settler society that was (at least in its own eyes) somewhat “divorced” from its government and built atop a hierarchy over mixed-race and “native” African populations in the 19th Century; interesting parallels with the Southern US in roughly the same period.


  10. BorderRuffian June 29, 2011 / 8:34 am

    John Foskett:
    “Not one order, piece of correspondence, journal, memoir, dispatch, photograph, or other record from the side which apparently was “enlisting” these folks as soldiers….there were no “Black Confederates” in anything remotely approaching a number which would have any significant social or other meaning. Bank it.”

    Yes, yes…bank it!

    You need to stake your entire professional reputations on these undeniable truths.

    It’s a win-win situation.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 29, 2011 / 8:39 am

      I always like our friend from Alabama who’s afraid to post under his own name telling people what to do with their reputations.

      Clearly we see from his posting under a fake name how he values his own, and how he dares not associate his real name with his positions lest it hurt business.

      Is business a little slow today?

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