Kevin Levin on John Stauffer and Black Confederates

Kevin Levin took a break from the Yankees-Red Sox series to make his way over to Harvard University, where he heard John Stauffer’s presentation on black Confederates.  You can read his observations here.

I have to say that I’m a little disappointed that Stauffer did not do a little more research on the examples he cited, for they have been discussed before, on the very blogs he cites.  Generally speaking, people actually read what they cite (and even quote) and glean what information they can from what’s already out there.  To leave the impression that one’s surveyed what’s out there (and I’d include the fine work of Andy Hall in Dead Confederates as of prime importance) and then fail to wrestle with it does not seem to me to be sound research practice.  Perhaps this is a case of the promotional material promising more than Stauffer was prepared to deliver … except guess who usually prepares the promotional material?

I’ll be interested to see whether more comes of this initial foray, or if a text or video of these remarks will appear anywhere.

15 thoughts on “Kevin Levin on John Stauffer and Black Confederates

  1. Michael Furlan August 31, 2011 / 5:52 pm

    Claim 3-10,000 Black Confederate Soldiers, but can’t name one?

    That is disrespectful of the audience, to put it mildly.

  2. Andy Hall August 31, 2011 / 6:02 pm

    Thanks for the mention. I recently rolled all my “black Confederate” postings into an index, here.

    Kevin’s description of Stauffer’s talk really sounds like something pulled together from a (very) casual perusal of odds and ends online, as you say without much attention to the specific of the cases he cites. It doesn’t sound like his presentation had any actual content you wouldn’t hear at a talk at random “meet, eat and retreat” gathering of a local SCV camp.

    So one has to ask, why this talk, from this academic professional, in this venue?

  3. Lyle Smith August 31, 2011 / 8:07 pm

    Who knew there was some virtue to anti-intellectualism. America, don’t always listen to the professors from Havard. 🙂

  4. John Foskett September 1, 2011 / 7:11 am

    Well, how could Stauffer name any if Lee/jackson/Davis/Forrest/et couldn’t? End the madness. I think I’d rather listen to the folks who insist that Armstrong never walked on the Moon. They’ve got more factual support.

  5. JS, Horsham, PA September 1, 2011 / 9:14 am

    Using Levin’s comments as my sole source, I’d say that it appears that Stauffer conflates presence on a battlefield with the status of soldier. By that standard, Lee’s horse deserves to be designated as a soldier. (Actually, the comparison between the status of horses and slaves on the battlefield might be a good jumping off point for further discussions on this subject.) Objectively, the criteria I would use to classify someone as a soldier would include access to/provision of personal weapons (Was the person armed?), subjugation to military justice (Was the person subject to the orders of colonels, captains and corporals – as opposed to being subject to the orders of an owner?) and presence on official rolls/records (Is the person’s presence on the field of battle, death or wounding reflected in official records?).

    • Michael Lynch September 2, 2011 / 8:56 am

      Well, they did give Lee’s horse a grave marker, so the comparison isn’t too far off.


      • Andy Hall September 2, 2011 / 9:30 am

        A lock of Traveller’s mane formerly held pride-of-place in a local display of Civil War history. (Now, fortunately, replaced by artifacts with more relevance to the local historical narrative.)

  6. Mike Furlan September 1, 2011 / 3:50 pm

    Let me try to explain it this way:

    Same-sex marriage in the U.S. state of New York became legal on July 24, 2011. Before that time no Lesbian or Gay couple could get or be married in the state of New York. Didn’t matter that a couple demonstrated through words and deeds that they loved each other or how long they stayed in a monogomous relationship, they were not married before July 24, 2011 at the earliest in New York state.

    Nor does the existence of many loving commited same sex couples in say,1950s America prove that the Federal, State and Local governments did not persecute sexual minorities legally and above and beyond the law. What same sex couples thought and how they lived had no effect on their legal status.

    Back the the Black Confederate Myth. Even if there were Black Southern men straining for the chance to strike down the Yankee invader, and even if some actually discharged a weapon at the Northern foe, they were not soldiers.

  7. Brooks D. Simpson September 1, 2011 / 10:07 pm

    To me the most enlightening aspect of the exchanges that followed Kevin’s post was Matt Gallman’s discussion of what he found in The Liberator. It seems that’s worth closer examination.

    • Carl Schenker September 2, 2011 / 8:32 am

      I assume Brooks is referring in particular to this sentence in a comment post by Mark Gallman on Kevin Love’s page. MG reports substantial reading in “The Liberator” and says: “There are MANY references to blacks fighting for the Confederacy, and many other discussions of the possibility that they will fight for the Union and/or the observation that it was not 100% obvious to all which side offered the best opportunities for the future.” (Just post this for convenience of others.)

  8. Carl Schenker September 2, 2011 / 12:08 pm

    In the FWIW category on black Confederates:

    In “Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War,” Larry Daniel describes some of the “ethnic outfits” that joined the Confederate forces at Corinth before the battle of Shiloh. One of these was the “Avengo Zouaves — six companies of the 13th Louisiana from New Orleans. One soldier thought them to be ‘a hard-looking set composed of Irish, Dutch, Negroes, Spaniards, Mexicans and Italians with few or no Americans.'” (Page 94; the quoted soldier may be John McGrath, “In a Louisiana Regiment,” pp. 103-4, 113, 116.)

  9. Carl Schenker September 3, 2011 / 11:08 am

    The link below is from detailed 1865 NYT coverage of the CSA deliberations about arming blacks. Two points of possible interest: (1) There is no suggestion in the correspondence reported that blacks had already proved their worth by fighting on the Confederate side (so that the practice should be expanded). (2) One report states that (white) Confederate soldiers supported the proposal. confederate soldiers&st=p&pagewanted=1

    The second link is to a 1900 NYT article about a “Negro Confederate Veteran.”

    Hope these links function appropriately. Anyway, the searchable NYT archives might be another vehicle for interested persons to pursue leads.

    • Andy Hall September 3, 2011 / 4:02 pm

      I’ve seen the reference to Henson Williams before — this news item is mentioned on numerous BCS websits. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find any other record either of Henson or this incident.

      There are a number of cases of African American men who were accepted into UDC camps or veterans’ organizations, but (as in Henson’s example) it’s always made clear that these were exceptional cases. There was often a genuine sense of camaraderie between these old men, but it’s also clear when you read more detailed accounts of reunions, and (voluminous) write-ups in publications like Confederate Veteran magazine that these men were presented and paraded as loyal servants — “old time Negro” was a common term used in this context — rather than as fellow soldiers, co-equal with the white veterans. Former General John B Gordon, first commander of the UDC, depicted this situation very clearly in his memoir, in which he praised Southern African Americans for their loyalty during the war, which has “never been equaled in any servile race,” described cases like Henson’s thus:

      Indeed, many of them who were with the army as body-servants repeatedly risked their lives in following their young masters and bringing them off the battlefield when wounded or dead. These faithful servants at that time boasted of being Confederates, and many of them meet now with the veterans in their reunions, and, pointing to their Confederate badges, relate with great satisfaction and pride their experiences and services during the war. One of them, who attends nearly all the reunions, can, after a lapse of nearly forty years, repeat from memory the roll call of the company to which his master belonged.

      This is a complicated business — there’s both praise and (perhaps) even very subtle mockery going on here, and there’s no suggestion of equivalency between what Gordon refers to as “these faithful servants” and “the veterans.”

      • Carl Schenker September 4, 2011 / 8:09 am

        (1) Thank you for an interesting post. (It was only after I posted the “Henson Williams” link that I noticed via Google that there already was info floating around about him. For your possible interest, here is a link that reveals other June 1900 reports of his death. I notice that one reported his name as “Henry Williams,” rather than “Henson.” I have not look at all the relevant items, but it appears that the Texas newspapers in the digitized universe did not report this.
        (2) I am curious whether you have looked into the “Avengo Zouaves” business.
        (3) Let me make clear, in case anyone wonders, I am by no means trying to suggest that there were appreciable numbers of black Confederate soldiers, if there were any at all.
        Carl Schenker

        • Andy Hall September 4, 2011 / 2:40 pm

          1. Carl, thanks for those other mentions. The Henson (or Williams?) case has been intriguing to me because I think of it as “local” to me — I lived in Brazos County as a kid, a few miles up the road from Millican, as it’s spelled now.

          2. Haven’t looked into the “Avengo Zouaves” — yet.

          3. I wasn’t going off on you about the veterans reunions at all — it’s just a particular interest of mine, one that’s frequently misrepresented in this discussion.

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