The Black Confederate Myth Controversy: Update and Observations

As the debate over Silas Chandler subsides, along comes Harvard’s version of John Stauffer’s comments about Black Confederates this past August at a luncheon at Harvard.  A review of the article reveals very little that is new, helpful, or different.  Indeed, I was a little amused to see that the talk as represented followed a rather standard format: characterize the existing argument in such a way as to maximize the significance of your own insight.  At times, unfortunately, that may involve a rather strained characterization of the current debate.  So it seems to be in this case.  Stauffer posits a debate between “neo-Confederates” (his term), who attempt to prove that blacks served as Confederate soldiers in an effort to whitewash the Confederacy of its connections to slavery and racism, and scholars who seem to dismiss altogether the role of blacks in the Confederate armed forces, “including one scholar who called it ‘a fiction, a myth, utter nonsense.’” (Note: I have been unable to date to identify this unnamed scholar: a Google search did not turn up this quote except as coming from this article, but it could always be on a video presentation Update: long-time commenter “Border Ruffian” offers a reasonable suggestion in the comments … thanks!)  Having characterized the debate to his best advantage, Stauffer (who is unapologetically identified in the article as a historian) offers his own take: that between 3,000 and 10,000 blacks served as soldiers in the Confederate army, while between 20,000 and 50,000 blacks served in support functions (teamsters, cooks, servants and the like).  There’s no hint in the article how Stauffer arrived at these numbers. Among the specific sources he cites are Frederick Douglass’s remarks in 1861 and the story of John Parker at First Manassas.

Stauffer complains that when he advanced this notion at a conference several months ago in Washington, D. C., he was “beaten up,” which I assume he meant figuratively (although not all people are so sure).  He also argues that one should not take the involvement of blacks in the Confederate army as an endorsement of the aims of the Confederacy, but rather as a result of blacks’ assessment of their own interests (as if slaves had a choice in all cases).

John Stauffer ought to name names and address specific arguments.  His complaint about feeling beaten up struck me as amusing, because, as many of us know, he has no problem defending himself and in fact is not shy about taking the offensive, including assailing the character of his targets.  Stauffer also claimed that he “rarely reads blogs,” but the announcement of his talk had no problem quoting a statement I offered on Crossroads about the use of evidence by advocates of the Black Confederate Myth (note he never directly challenged me by name, and perhaps he should have read my other posts on this topic before pretending to characterize what scholars say … perhaps someone else came up with this quote).

The problem with John Stauffer’s argument is that he doesn’t offer a lot of support for his position.  How did he come up with the estimates he presented?  Does his argument rest in the end on the Louisiana Native Guards and Frederick Douglass’s comments?  Nor does he offer much in the way of support about his characterization of what scholars have said about the presence and role of free and enslaved African Americans in Confederate service.  I don’t know of any scholars who do not agree that blacks were present with Confederate armies as teamsters, cooks, servants, and other roles.  The real debate is about the question of service as soldiers, and here Stauffer sheds no new light on the discussion (the Parker story is well known, and Parker represents himself not as a soldier, but someone who was forced to fight lest he receive a worse fate … not exactly part of the Black Confederate Myth).  In short, Stauffer is as careless in his use of evidence as are many of the proponents of the Black Confederate Myth, and for much the same reason: because he subordinates the careful handling of historical evidence to find out what happened in favor of advancing an argument. Or perhaps his home institution has misrepresented him.

Discussions of Stauffer’s claims, first reported on Kevin Levin’s blog, soon appeared elsewhere, but it’s good to read a friendly account of his remarks.  It would be even better to read the remarks themselves.

What I find most amusing about this is that John Stauffer and I have met, and he’s heard me discuss this issue over lunch earlier this year at ASU.  I didn’t hear him offer a different perspective at the time.  Clearly he knows how to access this blog, since a quote from it appeared on publicity for his lecture.  Yet he didn’t seem inclined to challenge me face-to-face or in the comments section.

Draw your own conclusions.

In other (and oddly related) news, Kevin Levin called attention to a very interesting article that uses the debate over the Black Confederate Myth in cyberspace as away to approach how non-professional historians participate in historical discussions.  Author Leslie Madsen-Brooks may now have to retract her claim that “no academic historians have subscribed to the narrative that there were thousands of black Confederate soldiers” in light of Stauffer’s assertions (please … if Harvard identifies John Stauffer as a historian, he’s a historian).  However, other participants in these discussions should read the article, if for no other reason than to learn how a historian evaluates these exchanges.

82 thoughts on “The Black Confederate Myth Controversy: Update and Observations

  1. Brooks D. Simpson October 16, 2011 / 7:50 pm

    I dare not leave without remarking on this example of Confederate heritage math:

    John Stauffer declares that perhaps one percent of Confederate soldiers were African-American. Hearing of this, Gary Adams of the SHPG was elated. “So if estimates are correct and we had 760,000 there were 76,000 considerable more than I had estimated and that of KL!”

    Ah, no, Gary. And who exactly is “we”?

  2. Corey Meyer October 16, 2011 / 7:58 pm

    Odd…that post has been removed…

    • Connie Chastain October 22, 2011 / 10:09 am

      It’s there. I just went to it. And, as usual, Brooks’ description (“elated”) is overblown and his feigned ignorance (“And who exactly is ‘we’?) disingenuous.

      • Brooks D. Simpson October 22, 2011 / 11:29 pm

        Yawn … Whatever. Funny to hear Connie hold forth on being disingenuous.

        Once again … “we”? Where’s your service record for the CSA? Sorry, folks, you aren’t Confederates. If you say you are, you can’t be United States citizens. Read a little history. Thanks.

  3. Kevin October 17, 2011 / 3:14 am

    I was hoping that the WEB DuBois Institute would post the recent talk by Stauffer, but that hasn’t happened. Here is a talk on the subject that he gave a few weeks before in D.C. It’s not entirely on the subject of black Confederates, but it does confirm Matt Gallman’s suggestion that Stauffer may have been more interested in perceptions within the black community.

    You can start it at the 18 minute mark. The difficulty that Stauffer runs into is his inability to maintain the distinction between perception and fact. He doesn’t seem to know what to say in response to questions about the veracity of the individual claims. Judge for yourself:

    • Alan Skerrett October 17, 2011 / 11:02 am

      In the video, around the 31 minute mark, Stauffer actually says “I don’t have the evidence to document” whether accounts of black Confederate soldiers (from a black soldier at Bull Run, or from Frederick Douglass) are accurate. And he implies that due to political motivations, the veracity of some accounts mentioning black Confederates soldiers may be questionable.

      But the key for Stauffer is that these accounts created the perception that there are many black Confederates; and that these perceptions might have led the Union to policy decisions for the emancipation of blacks and their use as soldiers. That is, he seems to be trying to establish a causal link between these reports and, for example, the Confiscation Acts and the Emancipation Proclamation. He’s not there yet, but I think that’s what he’s trying to get at.

      Interestingly enough, I attended a lecture on North Carolina Black Confederates by Earl Ijames earlier this year where he made something of the same point: one reason we need to recognize the existence of blacks who served the Confederacy, in whatever capacity, is because their actions incented the Union government to establish emancipation and black enlistment policies that would wrest the use of black labor and arms from the CSA.

      • Brooks D. Simpson October 17, 2011 / 11:10 am

        It’s a much more reasonable position to assert that proponents of the position that the US should (a) attack Confederate labor sources (b) use black labor sources offered accounts in support of their positions than that these blacks were actually in service. Note the absence of Confederate accounts doing the same thing (I’ve yet to see a speech from a prominent Confederate spokesperson on this point, calling attention to how enslaved and free blacks supported the CSA war effort as evidence that it was not about slavery). You would think that you would see that given the nature of the debate in 1861-early 1863 about USA and CSA war aims (including those for foreign consumption).

    • marcferguson October 17, 2011 / 11:08 am

      Kevin, I think you are exactly right. He wants to insert this into a discussion of Northern fears about black slaves as an effective Confederate resource, and the contemporary, ongoing debate over enlisting blacks in the North. In my opinion, that is his whole point, its about how to understand the claims for blacks assisting the Confederate armies, in whatever capacity. He would do well to be clear about this.


      • Brooks D. Simpson October 17, 2011 / 11:17 am

        This is something Matt Gallman has advanced as an explanation before. However, there seems to be a lot of unpacking and reassembly required to make sense of Stauffer’s point, if that is what it is.

  4. Corey Meyer October 17, 2011 / 7:13 am

    The one in your first comment where Gary at SHPG is elated…

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 17, 2011 / 7:17 am

      Works fine for me. Maybe someone there doesn’t like you. 🙂

  5. BorderRuffian October 17, 2011 / 7:21 am

    “Stauffer…offers his own take: that between 3,000 and 10,000 blacks served as soldiers in the Confederate army, while between 20,000 and 50,000 blacks served in support functions (teamsters, cooks, servants and the like).”


    The high end numbers are about right.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 17, 2011 / 7:42 am

      You present about as much documentation as Stauffer does. But it’s nice to see that he’s found friends and supporters.

      You would think that if there were 10,000 African American Confederate soldiers that they wouldn’t be so hard to find. But apparently Robert E. Lee and Patrick Cleburne didn’t come across them. So, were these men stupid or lying? That’s what you’re implying.

      That’s the headline I want to see: “Proponents of Black Confederate Myth Imply Robert E. Lee was Either Stupid or Lying.” Let’s see whether that’s a heritage violation.

        • Brooks D. Simpson October 17, 2011 / 8:41 am

          I’d love to know why proponents of the BCM mock Robert E. Lee’s intelligence and dismiss the importance of soldier status, this disrespecting the service of all those southern boys and men who did enlist in the armies of the Confederacy. That seems more like hate than heritage to me. Note the SCV does nothing to defend their own namesakes, suggesting that that organization is not really about honoring the service of the Confederate soldier if basically anyone can be a soldier. What a disgrace for Confederate heritage.

    • Alan Skerrett October 17, 2011 / 10:45 am

      The numbers are so all over the place, it’s hard to take any of them seriously.

      A big problem with all of this is, there is no uniformly recognized definition of the terms “Black Confederate” or “Black Confederate Soldier.” Consider this:

      (a) If the definition of “Black Confederate Soldier” is an African descent person who was enlisted in the Confederate army, then that number is small; Confederate enlistment policy limited duty as armed soldiers to free white men. However, if any slave who pointed a gun at Union soldiers is himself a soldier, then the count of black Confederate soldiers increases.

      (The article notes: “But unless readers think that black Confederates were truly enamored of the South’s cause, Stauffer related the case of John Parker, a slave forced to build Confederate barricades and later to join the crew of a cannon firing grapeshot at Union troops at the First Battle of Bull Run. All the while, recalled Parker, he worried about dying, prayed for a Union victory, and dreamed of escaping to the other side.”

      In this instance, it seems that Stauffer would describe Parker as a black Confederate. I would him a “Confederate slave.”)

      (b) In his book Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia, historian Ervin Jordan seems to use the term “Black Confederate” to describe blacks who were loyally fighting for the cause of the Confederacy.)

      If the definition of “Black Confederate” is an African descent person who was a Confederate loyalist, then the number is small. If it includes blacks who served the Confederacy as slaves in any capacity (such as slaves who were stewards, laborers, fortification builders, dithc diggers, etc), then the number is bigger.

      (c) This is my own pet peeve, which gets little traction but: I have a problem with the notion that any African descent person is “black.” It seems clear to me that the situation, circumstances, and behaviors of freemen were different from those of slaves; and I also think that the situation, circumstances, and behaviors of mixed decent (light skinned or mulatto coloreds) were different from those of black slaves or perhaps black freemen.

      Why is this important? Well, for example: in the OR, there is a case of a number of Mobile, AL, “creoles” (who were freemen of African and European descent) who want to join the Confederate army. Because they were of some African descent, they were refused service as soldiers (but they could be used as laborers). The actions of this small number of freeborn mixed race people in Alabama tells us very little about the black “experience” of, for example, the slaves in the Confederacy (it’s useful to note that 96% of the black Confederate population was enslaved). I’m sure that somebody is citing this instance as an example of “black Confederate” loyalism. But I think this particular group is unique enough that they shouldn’t be generalized with the rest of the African descent population, for purposes of a “Black Confederate” discussion.

      • Brooks D. Simpson October 17, 2011 / 11:14 am

        The most visible cases of people of color volunteering to support the CSA come from free creole populations. As you suggest, using these groups to make claims about enslaved and free blacks in the Confederacy is a bit bizarre and naive. Moreover, the free population of people of color, especially in urban areas, was under some pressure in the late 1850s and early 1860s to show some sort of loyalty to the regime.

        It’s always a question of context.

        • M.D. Blough January 20, 2015 / 8:37 pm

          A must-read on this issue is Ira Berlin’s “Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South”. There were distinctly different emancipation/manumission patterns in the Upper South and in the Deep South, particularly in the areas of the Deep South that had once been French and/or Spanish possessions. In the Upper South, particularly in the era immediately after the Revolution, manumission occurred quite often for reasons of principle under the Enlightenment ideals of that period, (George Washington’s will is a good example) and so could and often did involve slaves of totally African origin/ancestry. The commoner pattern in the French/Spanish colonies was for the freed slaves to be the offspring of relationships between white men and slave women with the fathers acknowledging the offspring and freeing them and, sometimes, the mothers. The so-called Creole class therefore had privileges unknown to blacks without white parents/ancestors. Those privileges were at the whim of the whites and could be easily taken away. Therefore, maintaining the favor of the white upper class was critical to the free creole class maintaining its privileges. It’s why, after the war, many of the Creole class of free blacks were appalled to be lumped together with former slaves freed by the war and the 13th Amendment.

          However, as the Louisiana Native Guard found out, when dealing with the Confederacy

          Also, the idea that a significant number of blacks served as soldiers in the Confederacy, especially in the first couple years of the war was clearly contraindicated by Howell Cobb’s vehement protest when Jefferson Davis introduced the notion in the dying months of the Confederacy. Not only was Cobb a leading political figure in the Confederacy but he and his brother T.R.R., also a leading Confederate political figure, raised Cobb’s Legion and T.R.R. was mortally wounded, as a Brigadier General in the Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Howell rose to the rank of major general.

      • Andy Hall October 17, 2011 / 11:45 am

        “If the definition of “Black Confederate” is an African descent person who was a Confederate loyalist, then the number is small.”

        Yup. But in the absence of first-person accounts from those men, those promoting the BCS meme simply infer that loyalty and commitment (along with a personal agency that was actually limited, at best) about all of them, and gloss it all over with vague bromides about “honoring” all who “served.” Basic questions that an historian correctly asks, like “how do you know this?”, or trying to dig down past the warm-and-fuzzy family stories into the actual historical record, as with Silas Chandler, are generally met with rancor and name-calling.

      • Mike Furlan October 17, 2011 / 4:30 pm

        Excellent points Alan.

        For a discussion of Free Black militias under French and Spanish rule in Louisiana.
        see p. 20-21

        Jackson had black troops in 1815. And there were several Free Black militia units in the State up until the time of the War.

        But in 1862 white supremacy ended a Black military tradition more than 100 years old.

        Free blacks would have fought for the South, but the CSA was too bigoted to allow it.

  6. Bob Huddleston October 17, 2011 / 8:35 am

    Bob Krick says that just over 1 million men wore gray. So Gary Adams gets even more” 100,000 BCs!

    • Andy Hall October 17, 2011 / 8:50 am

      Ed Smith called to say he agrees entirely.

  7. BorderRuffian October 17, 2011 / 9:27 am

    “You would think that if there were 10,000 African American Confederate soldiers that they wouldn’t be so hard to find. But apparently Robert E. Lee and Patrick Cleburne didn’t come across them. So, were these men stupid or lying? That’s what you’re implying.”


    Not at all.

    The 10,000 (approx. 1% of total) came in varied forms and places over the course of the war. Not so clearly evident to one person in one area. Of course, Lee and Cleburne were thinking of numbers greater than 10,000.

    I can search compiled service records, pensions, &c, with the aid of computer search engines. Items created and developed in the 20th and 21st centuries. Not available to L and C.

    “You present about as much documentation as Stauffer does.”

    Don’t take that as if I don’t have any.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 17, 2011 / 10:12 am

      You’re always free to share the evidence you have that forms the basis for your estimate.

      Ironically, one of the major charges leveled at critics of the black Confederate Myth is that they are somehow part of a coverup of evidence that would document the claims of the people who believe this story. Yet I never see that evidence. All I’ve seen is a mishandling of combined service records, muster rolls, and pension records. So who’s hiding the “truth”?

      Show me evidence of what Lee and Cleburne thought about the presence of black soldiers in their own commands from 1861-1864.

      Again, you present as much evidence as Stauffer does. Now you’re admitting to concealing evidence. That’s a welcome admission. Thanks.

    • Mike Furlan October 18, 2011 / 7:45 am

      Border Ruffian

      Name one “Black Confederate” with documentation please.

      • Al Mackey October 18, 2011 / 6:56 pm

        The late Art Bergeron documented fifteen:

        Charles F. Lutz
        Jean Baptiste Pierre-Auguste
        Lufroy Pierre-Auguste
        Evariste Guillory, Sr.
        Evariste Guillory, Jr.
        Jacques Esclavon
        Gabriel Grappe
        Margil Grappe
        Jesse Gardner
        William Gardner
        Joseph G. Perot
        Alphonse Perot
        Sylvester Perez
        Ambroise Lebrun
        John Adams
        See Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr., “Free Men of Color in Grey,” Civil War History, Vol XXXII, No. 3, Sept, 1986, pp. 247-255.

        • James F. Epperson October 19, 2011 / 4:42 am

          Of these, the one most definitely a soldier was Lutz, who was in one of the Louisiana regiments in Lee’s army, but I believe there is reason to believe he was “passing,” or attempting to.

          • Noma October 19, 2011 / 7:26 am

            Lots of French-sounding names in there. Are these men all from Louisiana? Are they Creoles? I wonder what units they were in.

          • Lyle Smith October 19, 2011 / 3:46 pm

            Lutz was in Harry Hays’ Louisiana “Tiger” Brigade. The 8th Louisiana was his regiment, I believe. He was from Opelousas, La. He was captured at the Second Battle of Fredericksburg (Chancellorsville), was paroled, and went right back to his regiment for the Gettysburg campaign where he was wounded in the charge up E. Cemetery Hill on July 2.

          • BorderRuffian October 19, 2011 / 9:09 am

            Lutz is listed in the 1850 and 1860 census as mulatto. 1870 and 1900 as white.
            His father was from France. His mother a creole from New Orleans.

          • Lyle October 19, 2011 / 3:03 pm

            Lutz’s father was German/Creole (white) and his mother mulatto, I think.

          • Michael Furlan October 19, 2011 / 7:43 pm

            So this is _your_ one “Black Confederate” that I requested? You want to “bet the farm” on this one?

          • BorderRuffian October 20, 2011 / 5:57 am

            “So this is _your_ one “Black Confederate” that I requested?”

            No. What I posted wasn’t in reply to you.

          • Michael Furlan October 20, 2011 / 5:01 pm

            Border Ruffian

            Please name your one “Black Confederate” and provide some documentation for the claim.

            Pick one of the men mentioned or provide your own.

          • Al Mackey October 19, 2011 / 6:14 pm

            And of course 15 is a far cry from 10,000. I’ve seen nothing to persuade me there were even 1,000 black confederates.

          • Bob Huddleston October 19, 2011 / 6:47 pm

            No matter what number the most enthusiastic neo-Confederate want to use, it is indisputable that there were the 186,000 United States’ Colored Troops, almost all of whom were residents of slave states, and, indeed, most were former slaves. Another 15-20,000 African-Americans served in the United States Navy during the Civil War. And there were something on the order of 100,000 white men, residents of the seceded states, who chose to wear Union Blue.

          • Carl Schenker October 21, 2011 / 5:28 am

            Yes, not exactly the unanimous opposition of “masters, slaves, and Indians” claimed by John Bell Hood. Has anyone ever looked at the question of how many slaveholders from Confederate states fought for the Union?

          • Al Mackey October 19, 2011 / 8:23 pm

            Lutz most probably was “passing” for white, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was a documented case of a “man of color” fighting for the confederacy. Jean Baptiste Pierre-Auguste wasa member of Company I, 29th Louisiana at Vicksburg, where he was wounded in the thigh and was paroled with the rest of the garrison. Lufroy Pierre-Auguste was a member of Company K, 16th Louisiana. While he was a member of that regiment, they fought at Shiloh, Farmington, and Perrysville. According to Bergeron, the other men in his unit knew he was a free black, but in December of 1862, Lufroy was discharged for being “a colored man.” Bergeron writes, “Apparently superior authorities had finally discovered that he was black and ordered his separation from the army.”
            It was still illegal for a black man to be in the confederate army at that time, but as we can see, there were rare cases where a few slipped in, some of them “passing” for white.

        • Mike Furlan October 19, 2011 / 9:16 am

          I’m sorry to hear that Art died.

          Here are his own words, from the above mentioned book:

          Lutz; “probably. . .passed for white.”
          Jean Baptiste Pierre-Auguste: “detailed as a cook”
          Lufroy Pierre-Auguste: “as ‘a colored man,’ Lufroy was excluded from
          the provision of the draft law. He went home. . .”
          Evariste Guillory, Sr and Jr.: Home Guard, “. . .they sometimes acted
          as drovers gathering cattle for the army in the field.”
          Jacques Esclavon: “teamster and company cook”
          Perot bros. and Grappe: “enrolled. . .under provisions of an order
          calling for conscription as laborers of free men of color.”
          Jesse and William Gardner, Sylvester Perez, Ambroise Lebrun:
          “If any of them remained in Captain Love’s company after the
          controversy of October 1864, none received a parole at the end of the

          I don’t remember a John Adams, I’ll have to go back and look.

          • BorderRuffian October 20, 2011 / 6:18 am

            M. Furlan:
            Lutz; “probably. . .passed for white.”

            He didn’t in the 1850 and 1860 census.

          • BorderRuffian October 21, 2011 / 9:42 am

            Mike Furlan:
            “Jean Baptiste Pierre-Auguste: ‘detailed as a cook’ ”

            I checked his record and he’s not listed as a cook at anytime.

            “Perot bros. and Grappe: ‘enrolled. . .under provisions of an order
            calling for conscription as laborers of free men of color.’ ”

            Don’t know about the Perot brothers but Gabriel Grappe enlisted as private in the 6th Louisiana Cavalry (never detailed as cook, teamster, etc.). It states on his enlistment paper (a very rare item in Confederate records): “enlisted this 6th day of April, 1862, as a Soldier in the Army of the Confederate States of America…”

            Did you get that? “Soldier.”

        • BorderRuffian October 19, 2011 / 9:20 am

          Lufroy Pierre-Auguste enlisted as private in the 16th LA Infantry, Sept. 1861.
          On the roll “FMC” (free man of color) is written beside his name. So he was not passing as white.

          • Michael Furlan October 19, 2011 / 8:03 pm

            Read further:

            He was discharged in December of 1862, because, “as “a colored man,” Lufroy was excluded from the provisions of the draft law.”

            I have no doubt that the CSA could have raised thousands of “Black” soldiers. Every government in the Western Hemisphere had been doing so for hundreds of years.

            But the CSA was devoted to white supremacy and they refused the service of men like Lufroy.

          • Ken Noe October 20, 2011 / 1:37 pm

            The irony is that earlier in 1862, Lt. John Ellis of the very same 16th Louisiana wrote with disgust about “Negroes” in the 13th Louisiana’s polyglot Avegno Zouave companies, recruited off the wharfs of New Orleans. Pierre-Auguste must have passed well enough to have escaped his notice. Art and I corresponded about this some years ago.

          • Michael Furlan October 21, 2011 / 7:04 am

            Invisible then, invisible now.

            Notice Border Ruffian refuses to name even one man he believes to be a “Black Confederate.”

            I suppose he is relying on the Palin Principle: “All of Them.”

          • BorderRuffian October 21, 2011 / 9:47 am

            See my post on Gabriel Grappe and JBP Auguste.

          • BorderRuffian October 21, 2011 / 10:03 am

            Where is he in the records? I don’t see any John Ellis in the 16th LA.

      • right October 13, 2014 / 7:28 pm

        Hey Mike, A man named Silas, a Black Confederate who fought in many battles including Chickamauga. Season 14, episode 3 on Antiques road show. Check it out. His picture is there as well. There’s your proof!! As a matter of fact his relatives meet occasionally. So much for that myth!!

        • Brooks D. Simpson October 14, 2014 / 12:35 am

          I don’t think you’ve been doing much reading on Silas Chandler. I’d suggest going to Kevin Levin’s Civil War memory for a thoughtful discussion.

  8. John Foskett October 17, 2011 / 10:56 am

    Given these alleged numbers, I can only conclude that the Confederacy had a few cockeyed laws which barred photographing/sketching/painting all of these folks, listing them on rosters and in dispatches, or mentioning them in post-war reminiscences. Must have been some sort of privacy protection statutes, because with 10,000 floating around (even in the “scattered” condition) they should have been “clearly evident to one person in one area” given that this was directly contrary to the central CSA government’s firm stance against enlisting and arming blacks. As for Brooks’s point, maybe they were all serving with Forrest.

    • BorderRuffian October 20, 2011 / 6:11 am

      Michael Furlan:
      “Read further:
      He was discharged in December of 1862, because, “as “a colored man,” Lufroy was excluded from the provisions of the draft law.”
      How did he manage to stay in the army over a year?
      He enlisted with “fmc” beside his name. Not passing as white. How did that happen?

      “I have no doubt that the CSA could have raised thousands of “Black” soldiers. Every government in the Western Hemisphere had been doing so for hundreds of years.
      But the CSA was devoted to white supremacy and they refused the service of men like Lufroy.”
      He wasn’t refused from September 1861 to December 1862. I believe the United States had the same “white supremacy” policy. If Lufroy had joined the US army in 1861 how long would he have remained?

  9. BorderRuffian October 17, 2011 / 3:44 pm

    ” ‘including one scholar who called it ‘a fiction, a myth, utter nonsense.’ (Note: I have been unable to date to identify this unnamed scholar: a Google search did not turn up this quote except as coming from this article, but it could always be on a video presentation.)”

    I believe this is it, though not an exact quote-

    “This is a fiction,” Fergus M. Bordewich, renowned historian and author of five nonfiction books, told The Root about the latest rancorous debate about black Confederates that comes as the nation’s commemoration of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary continues.

    “It’s a myth,” continued Bordewich, author of Washington: The Making of the American Capital and Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America.

    “It is nonsense. I could be blunter than that, but you get the drift. It’s a meaningless term, ‘black Confederates.’….

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 17, 2011 / 5:38 pm

      That seems quite reasonable, and I’ve noted it in an update to the original post. Thanks much.

    • Bob Huddleston October 18, 2011 / 6:36 pm

      “It’s pure fantasy,” contends James McPherson, a Princeton historian and one of the nation’s leading Civil War scholars. Adds Edwin Bearss, historian emeritus at the National Park Service: “It’s b.s., wishful thinking.” Robert Krick, author of 10 books on the Confederacy, has studied the records of 150,000 Southern soldiers and found fewer than a dozen were black. “Of course, if I documented 12, someone would start adding zeros,” he says.
      —Wall Street Journal, May 8, 1997

  10. Carl Schenker October 18, 2011 / 12:00 pm

    Prior posts have mentioned the failure of Lee and Cleburne to notice any armed black Confederates. FWIW, I thought I could add John Bell Hood to that list, but . . . .

    In the post-Altanta correspondence between Sherman and Hood, Hood wrote: “[W]e will fight you to the death! Better die a thousand deaths than submit to live under you or your Government and your negro allies!” Sounds like Hood has no “negro allies.” That squared with my recollection of the letter and Sherman’s take away from it (basically, “Hood tasked us with using blacks to help subdue him”).

    However, I was very surprised to find the following passage in the same Hood letter; not sure what it means: “The truth is, we, by force of arms, drove out insolent intruders, and took possession of our own forts and arsenals to resist your claims to dominion over masters, slaves, and Indians, all of whom are to this day, with a unanimity unexampled in the history of the world, warring against your attempts to become their masters.” This seems to say Hood views “slaves” and “Indians” as an integral part of the CSA resistance (though not necessarily as armed soldiers).

    As I say, the latter quotation came as a surprise to me.

    Here’s a link to the letter.

    Sherman’s take-away

    Carl Schenker

  11. John Foskett October 19, 2011 / 2:07 pm

    I really wish these pseudo-historians would direct me to some photos or sketches by war artists. “Picture’s worth a 1,0000 words” and all that. Or maybe all of these black troops and their officers were wearing “white face” so as not to scare the home front too much.

    • Noma October 20, 2011 / 7:38 am

      From the sounds of what we have seen here, it appears that most were passing for white. The fact that they got kicked out as soon as higher authorities discovered that they had at least one African ancestor indicates how adamant the Confederacy was on what Alexander Stephens termed the “cornerstone” on which the Confederate Constitution what built, namely White Supremacy.

      In a society based on White Supremacy, if you don’t want to be part of the oppressed class, the best thing for you to do is to be white. And what more conclusive means of being white could there possibly be than to pass as a white Confederate soldier — at least until you were discovered and kicked out.

  12. Margaret Blough October 21, 2011 / 10:51 am

    In addition, in the case of anything coming out of Louisiana in terms of race, it is generally unique to Louisiana and is difficult if not impossible to extrapolate to the rest of the South.. Louisiana was formed by its experience as a French/Spanish colony. Unlike the English speaking areas, white men in the French/Spanish tradition tended to acknowledge their children by black women and make provision for them (generally other than marriage). In Ira Berlin’s “Slaves without Masters”, he says that the bulk of manumissions in Louisiana were of black paramours and/or their children with a slave owner. The result was an intermediate caste whose identification was with whites not blacks and whose privileges were at the whim. However, as other posters have noted, once the Civil War began, when Louisiana’s ways came up against the rest of the Confederacy’s, the rest of the Confederacy prevailed.

    As for some notion, that these “Black Confederates” were dispersed enough to evade notice of Confederate officials, the Confederate officials were not isolated in Richmond. While Robert E. Lee was, of course, with the ANV, Patrick Cleburne was with the other major rebel army, The Army of Tennessee, as was Braxton Bragg (unfortunately). Cleburne resided in Arkansas, a state so extreme in its support of the dogma of slavery as a positive good, that, shortly before the Civil War bean, it passed a lot giving the state’s small free black population three options that, by a set deadline, they find masters, be sold into slavery by the government, or leave the state. By the deadline, most free blacks, other than elderly ones, had left the state.

  13. renegadesouth October 21, 2011 / 11:21 am

    I would like to return to Alan Skerret’s point that it is problematic to consider any person of African descent “black,” and Brooks’s response to him that conflating free Creole groups with enslaved and free blacks “is a bit bizarre and naive.” I agree with both these points, and would also argue that historians might want consider banning the phrase “passing,” altogether, as it is harkens back to the “one drop rule” of race long adhered to by white supremacists and segregationists. It is certainly “bizarre and naive” to consider a person with a single or even a few African ancestors to be “black” no matter how “white” they were. Biologically and culturally, many people with African descendants identify themselves as white or creole, and have good reasons for doing so. To lump together all people with any amount of African American ancestry–people who often experienced race in very different ways–and then label them all “black Confederates,” is ahistorical to say the least.

    • Al Mackey October 21, 2011 / 6:36 pm

      I don’t disagree at all, though wasn’t the “one drop rule” the standard of the time? Can we consider Lutz to be hiding the fact that he had African-American ancestry? I know that Marc Ferguson has made the point that by and large it appears they may have self-identified with the white structure, so it would make sense to not consider them black, although at the time they would have been so considered.

      • renegadesouth October 22, 2011 / 5:02 am

        I absolutely agree, Al. I just wanted to point out how easy it is to slip into using the terminology of racial caste, and thus accepting, without meaning to, a racial system in which one’s “blood” has some sort of objective reality.

    • Andy Hall October 22, 2011 / 7:02 am

      I agree with both these points, and would also argue that historians might want consider banning the phrase “passing,” altogether, as it is harkens back to the “one drop rule” of race long adhered to by white supremacists and segregationists.

      I see your point, and I generally put that term in quotes because it is indeed a relic of another time and attitude. But it also refers to a specific practice or behavior, which is important to understand in the history of both individuals and communities. Given the need to be clear and direct in our language, what would a better alternative be? Or am I being really oblivious?

      • Noma October 22, 2011 / 12:34 pm

        It seems to me that the term “passing” is pretty much essential to the discussion. To see why, we can backtrack to the claim that neoConfederates are making:

        “The secession of the Confederate States was not about slavery or White supremacy. Instead it was about states rights. What proves it was not about White supremacy is that, look here — there are all of these Black Confederate soldiers. If the Confederates states were fighting for White supremacy — then how do you explain the presence of all these Black Confederate soldiers?”

        Well, FIRST, I explain it because there is such a flood of documentation to back up the position that the Confederates states were fighting to protect *African* slavery and White supremacy, such as Alexander Stephens’s “Cornerstone” speech

        and dozens of other documents:

        And, SECOND, I explain it because it appears that most of the so-called “black Confederate soldiers” that are presented are not really soldiers, they are slaves or impressed free blacks acting as cooks, teamsters, fortifications crews, etc. And, the very few that are named as carrying arms so often turn out to be men who “passed” as White. And, as soon as it was found out that they actually had a Black ancestor, they were quickly kicked out of the Confederate army.

        So, while they “passed” as White, they were accepted in the Confederate army.

        As soon as they were discovered to have any African ancestors at all, they were kicked out — precisely because their presence could not be reconciled with the fundamental White supremacist foundations of the Confederacy.

        But, now that we have arrived at 150 years later, once again they are Black and are honored as Confederate soldiers.

        Too much inconsistency and too much hypocrisy to prove that the principles of White supremacy were not essential core values for the Confederate states.

        So I feel that it is important to keep the term “pass” in the discussion because it accurately describes a value of the time, regardless of how irrational it was. The whole conception of White supremacy was irrational, but hundreds of thousands of people died in the conflict over its validity, so we don’t want to ban that term from the discussion. Neither should we have to ban the term “passing.” The whole social irrationality of the term is of central interest to the discussion.

        My husband, has an African American ancestor from the 1700’s. Because of that, he would have been disqualified from fighting for the Confederacy, but in the year 2011, who cares? I can’t say he is “passing” because no one actually cares about his ancestry. It would be a crazy idea. But in the South in the 1860s this crazy idea was of central importance.

        • renegadesouth October 23, 2011 / 6:27 am

          NOMA, I agree that historians should continue to discuss the issue of “passing” and its relevance to white supremacy and the construction of race that underlay its enforcement. My reference to “banning” its use was only meant in the sense of not using the term ourselves as white supremacists did: to suggest that a white person of African ancestry is somehow not really “white.” You speak of the “irrationality” of the term, and that is just my point. When we no longer accept the biological legitimacy of racial systems, we may perceive their power to oppress with even greater clarity.

  14. renegadesouth October 22, 2011 / 8:25 am

    Good point, Andy. It is important, as Al points out, to recognize that social systems encouraged people–indeed, often made it necessary–to hide their African ancestry whether they wanted to or not. So, how do we refer to this practice? I too have often used “passing” with quotes around it, but now I prefer phrases like “identified as” to avoid the still-popular presumption that a white person with any African ancestry is “really” black and trying to deny his or her “essential” self if they self-identify as white.

    • Al Mackey October 24, 2011 / 6:39 pm

      I think “identified as” or even perhaps “self-identified as” is a good course of action. And to reconnect to the main subject, let’s consider what that means for the so-called “black confederate” discussion. It certainly throws water on the claim that these soldiers, at least the soldiers who, like Lutz, had self-identified as white, showed the confederacy wasn’t fighting to preserve slavery. Again, this is something Marc Ferguson has pointed out on more than one occasion. Would a society-defined “black” man who actually self-identified as white and maybe was pro-slavery fight on the side that was fighting to preserve slavery? You bet. But how do we define Lutz today? He was defined as black by society at the time, but it appears he defined himself as white. If we accept him at his word, then we can impose a restriction that a so-called “black confederate” cannot be someone who self-identified as white.

      • renegadesouth October 24, 2011 / 7:45 pm

        “If we accept him at his word, then we can impose a restriction that a so-called “black confederate” cannot be someone who self-identified as white.”

        I totally agree, Al.

        Vikki Bynum

        • BorderRuffian October 25, 2011 / 6:38 am

          Al Mackey-
          “Lutz, had self-identified as white”

          When did he do that?


          A black confederate “cannot be someone who self-identified as white.”

          How will you determine that? How many left a record of how *they* identified themselves? One? Two? None?

          • Al Mackey October 25, 2011 / 7:48 pm

            “When did he do that?”

            The moment he enlisted and claimed he was white.

            “How will you determine that? How many left a record of how *they* identified themselves? One? Two? None?”
            Pretty easy. If they identified themselves as white when they enlisted, they were self-identifying as white.

          • BorderRuffian October 26, 2011 / 5:48 am

            Al Mackey-
            “The moment he enlisted and claimed he was white.”

            There’s nothing on the roll about race. There’s no claim of “I’m white.”

  15. Mike Furlan October 22, 2011 / 9:23 am

    Border Ruffian still cannot find a single man that he will claim as a “Black Confederate.”

    He comments on the topic, but he cannot plainly say that he, Border Ruffian believes that “state the name” was a “Black Confederate.”

  16. Lyle Smith October 22, 2011 / 10:16 am

    Andrew Jackson used slaves on loan from their owners and then returned them to their owners after the Battle of New Orleans. He also promised free blacks compensation for their efforts in land and money, and gave them nothing. Jackson even tried to have the British return emancipated slaves to their owners. White supremacy was never in doubt wherever Andrew Jackson stood.

    Free black militia existed in part to help maintain the master/slave, white supremacist social order. They existed to help put down slave rebellions, which had happened in the past in Louisiana.

    The Louisiana Native Guard were free black militia raised in support of the Confederacy. It’s my understanding that they were never disbanded by a Confederate authority, but were just not put to use or officially recognized by Richmond. Once Confederate authorities decided not to defend the city of New Orleans, the Native Guards simply evaporated into the Crescent City’s citizenry.

    Now, if there had been a land battle for New Orleans, who knows if they would have been used or not, in the push comes to shove environment of being attacked.

    Of course once New Orleans was again under the Stars and Stripes, free black military units were raised again and served in the Federal army (segregated from whites of course by white supremacy)… but unlike with Andrew Jackson, this time, slaves weren’t returned to their masters.

    • Lyle Smith October 22, 2011 / 10:18 am

      This is meant to be a reply to a post Michael Furlan made above about Andrew Jackson’s use of free blacks at the Battle of New Orleans.

  17. Carl Schenker October 22, 2011 / 10:34 am

    Here is a very interesting link relevant to this thread. I apologize if this item is already old news to this group. The item just came to my attn while looking at the website for the new magazine “Civil War Monitor.” CRS

  18. TF Smith October 22, 2011 / 12:10 pm

    Subaltern studies, anyone?

    What made the Anglophone US “south” different from the other Atlantic slave societies (the Iberophone and Francophone settlements on the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi Vallley, and Florida, for example) was the number of emigrants arriving; in locations where the amount of “European” immigrants (and, by extension, their decendents) were limited (in comparison to the English speakers in Georgia and the Carolinas, for example), more of a “mixed” society (mulatto, mestizo, metis, take your pick) developed, and one has the varying defintions of the caste system, from peninsulares to creole/criollo, etc.

    Although after the US took control in the first decades of the 19th Century, that changed, and the white supremacist interpretaion of the “one drop rule” came to become the societal norm. From that perspective, the actions of the Louisiana Native Guards and the like in 1861-62 (prior to the arrival of Farragut, Butler, & Company) can actually be seen as something of the last gasp of this sort of societal elite, not something that was the leading edge.

    Interestingly enough, there is the point that even in “American” societies of overwhelmingly “African” population (Haiti after the revolution, for example) there were periods where a color line was in place, and the mixed race population became the elite.

    Other 17th-19th century examples of mixed-race populations worth thinking about are the “Cape Coloured” population in South Africa and the Eurasian (i.e., “Anglo-Indian” or “Burgher” populations in India and Ceylon. The Americo-Liberians are another.

  19. Matt Gallman October 23, 2011 / 6:03 pm

    Just stumbled upon this discussion.

    Thought it perhaps worth pointing out that the linked article is in the “Harvard Gazette.” The author is a professional journalist with no obvious training in history (he is working on his MA in Creative Writing in Harvard’s Extension School) so not sure we can claim him as speaking for Harvard in any broader sense. His degree is from SUNY-Buffalo, not that there is anything wrong with that

    IIRC, Kevin Levin, who I believe has an MA in History? attended Stauffer’s lecture and came away with specific things that Stauffer said, but also with no clear understanding of what he felt Stauffer was trying to accomplish in this talk, or what his real arguments were.

    Perhaps Stauffer was a bit – or entirely – incoherent, or perhaps the assembled PhDs and doctoral students from Harvard’s American Civ, English, African American Studies, and History programs came away nodding sagely at the highly nuanced presentation.

    I have no idea, and have never met Stauffer. I have had my words garbled a bit by a few reporters here and there.

    Brooks, why not write to Stauffer and ask him to share his thoughts?

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 24, 2011 / 12:00 am

      I’m sure that if John feels that a writer for his home institution has misrepresented him that he’ll offer sufficient clarification. I’m also sure that if he believes he’s been misrepresented here he would offer a response, as he has in other instances where he’s had a disagreement with someone. He’s not unaware of the blog.

      I have no reason to believe that the writer misrepresented what John said. Do you? Do you think he misheard John say that between 3,000 and 10,000 blacks served as soldiers in the Confederate army? Don’t you think that John would have corrected the claim at first notice had he been misrepresented?

      I’m unaware that anyone took a survey of who attended the talk. How came you to know the composition of the audience?

      Finally, John never contacted me before misrepresenting my position. He had ample opportunity to ask me last spring what I believed. If you want to know what he said, and you don’t believe various sources, why don’t you ask him yourself?

  20. Mike Furlan October 24, 2011 / 4:55 pm

    It is very clear by now that Border Ruffian will never name one “Black Confederate.”

    Rather than play fair, he would rather engage in one or all of the following:

    Dr. Frankenstein’s History. The good Doctor created his monster from parts of formerly living men. The resulting creature bore no resemblance to any of those who donated organs and limbs. Border Ruffian constructs a single composite Black Confederate from fragments of the lives of Black Non-Confederates. And in his historical laboratory he has created a fictional being quite different from people who actually lived during the War.

    High Score Scrabble. Hunt though historical documents and look for words that score a lot of points, like “negro” and “regiment”, put them together and then claim that you have the top score in the game. Recent “winning” entries include “Negro Cooks Regiment.”

    Whack A Mole. If you never claim one “Black Confederate” but just offer up a series of names for consideration you are just playing a game. A contest that requires other folks to “Whack” one, and then you just pop up with another “well what about him.” With minimal effort on your behalf you can keep this nonsense going for years.

    The Burden of Goof. Proponents of “Black Confederates” often seem to be demanding that we must prove the absence of “Black Confederates” or else they win by default. And then they take it farther to argue that if there is no proof that there were no “Black Confederates” then there must have been thousands of them.

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