Notes from the Black Confederate Front

Over at Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory there’s been a very interesting discussion about the racial identity of several men who enlisted in a Tennessee infantry unit in 1861 to fight for the Confederacy.

Then, of course, there’s this blast on a Facebook group:

Bearden Gibson

Bearden’s declaration is made without offering any context or understanding of what he’s talking about (which is typical for the “heritage, not history” crowd. A far more thoughtful and complete discussion was offered on Kevin’s blog over two years ago (and, as Bearden “monitors” that blog, to use Flaggerspeak, he can’t very well say he’s not aware of it).

Far more typical of the “heritage, not history” crowd’s response to the discussion about the individuals in the Tennessee unit is Michael C. Lucas, a veteran Confederate heritage advocate, who’s analysis of the discussion was most succinctly expressed in two words: “Eat Crow!!!!”

Makes you wonder about the quality of historical research at this place. And Lucas’s keyboard keys are always sticky when it comes to exclamations. I wonder why.

These examples demonstrate the difference between doing research to learn more and simply citing something out of context in order to score heritage points under the assumption that there are “sides,” and that it’s most important to say “we win/you lose” as if there’s a “we” and that winning and losing (whatever that means) is the goal of historical inquiry. The discussions on Kevin’s blog about Gibson and the Tennessee soldiers are thoughtful, place the topic in context, and seek additional information through research in order to find out what happened. On the other hand, the two Confederate “heritage” cheerleaders somehow see this as a great triumph, although it’s far from clear what they are celebrating.

The expression “Everyman his own historian” comes from Carl Becker’s 1909 presidential address to the American Historical Association. The essay bears reading. One rendering of his argument is that every man (and woman) is his/her own historian, or that we are all historians. Lucas and Bearden remind us of the fact that that does not mean that everyone is good at it.