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.


7 thoughts on “Notes from the Black Confederate Front

  1. lenastorheim September 18, 2013 / 9:07 am

    Why are they so concerned about determining his race? Yes – we can probably make an educated guess on that one.

  2. Thelibertylamp September 18, 2013 / 10:39 am

    Mulatto? What is this? 1950? I think I heard my nana use that term.

  3. Jimmy Dick September 18, 2013 / 11:27 am

    What is interesting is that another man points out to Bearden that Gibson was not black. Right off the bat we see Bearden isn’t interested in context because it is known that Gibson was perceived as white in his time. Gideon Gibson as in the man listed by Bearden was the great grandfather of this R.L. Gibson was a mulatto. This means he had white parentage but we don’t know how much. That right there is a big question mark plus he married a white woman. The family obviously moved over time so it would be no surprise for this Civil War era Gibson to be seen as completely white.

    Again, Bearden’s documentation does absolutely nothing to support any of his claims. Instead, it reinforces what historians have been saying, yet he doesn’t get it. That’s because he fails to take into consideration the context. Why? Because context involves actual historical research and thinking. All Bearden does is bring up the same stuff over and over again. The Lost Causers are bringing up nothing new to support their claims. Instead they just recycle the stuff that has been thoroughly examined and found lacking.

    The funny thing about this whole deal? The fact that Gideon Gibson was so successful as his family seems to have been proves all the racist garbage about blacks being an inferior race dead wrong. So what Bearden is really doing is drawing attention to this fact and thus proving all those people who fought for the Confederacy wrong.

    • Andy Hall September 18, 2013 / 12:17 pm

      Nah, Jimmy, the funny thing is that they’ve dusted off the old “one drop rule” as a determinant of being a black Confederate.

      • John Foskett September 19, 2013 / 6:53 am

        And just how do we think the General would react to this genius’s proclamation?

  4. John Foskett September 18, 2013 / 11:44 am

    The McBride biography actually states only that it was rumored/believed that his great-grandfather Gideon was a ‘mulatto”.That term frequently had a pretty loose definition at the time and we don’t know (1) if in fact Gideon was a “mulatto” or (2) if so, what percentage of black blood he had. All of this was further diluted by the time it worked down to the General. There’s a reason that most Native American tribes cut off the right to identify at a “blood quantum” of 1/8, 1.4, or even 1/2. So the Facebook proclamation here looks to be another piece of uninformed faux history.

  5. Michael Confoy September 18, 2013 / 7:40 pm

    How much does it bother them that we are out of Africa?

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