Professional Historians and the Black Confederate Myth: Part One

Over the last several months I’ve noticed a rather peculiar twist to the discussion of blacks who accompanied Confederate military forces during the American Civil War.  Historians have long known that enslaved blacks did in fact accompany Confederate forces and were impressed into service for the Confederacy, not as soldiers, but to dig trenches, work as teamsters, and perform other tasks in support of Confederate military operations.  After all, the refugee blacks who entered Benjamin F. Butler’s lines in May 1861 had escaped from performing some of those tasks.  Some historians were also familiar with the story of the Louisiana Native Guards, Patrick Cleburne’s proposal to enlist blacks, and the debate over enlisting slaves in the Confederacy in the winter of 1864-65, including Robert E. Lee’s support of that measure.  We may now know more about those issues, but most historians were always aware of them.

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