John Stauffer and Black Confederates Redux

They say if you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Apparently John Stauffer thinks so, because today on The Root he offered a slightly different (and somewhat better developed) essay sharing his perspective on Black Confederates.

Among those things that haven’t changed from the last time we went on this merry-go-round based in Cambridge is his misrepresentation of my position in general and this post in particular.

I have responded.

Stauffer’s strained effort to construct a strawman of scholarly controversy in order to frame his contribution would be understandable if it came from someone of lesser talent, but I think we are entitled to expect more from him. Indeed, when it comes to the “facts” he offers there is little to argue with. If you add up the creoles in the Deep South (such as the well-known regiment from Louisiana and lesser-known volunteers from Alabama) with people who sought to pass as white and the handful of blacks who voluntarily joined, you can get to 3,000 men easily. The story of their actual service (which Stauffer glosses over) is just as revealing. Nor has anyone argued with the notion that a significant number of blacks worked in the Confederate armies (simply in non-combat roles) or that blacks went to work in industries and other enterprises that facilitated the Confederate war effort. Indeed, we know that the slaves who escaped to Ben Butler’s lines in 1861 had been working building Confederate fortifications.

In short, there’s nothing new here.

One might offer objection to Stauffer’s claim in terms of how he characterized such activity by blacks who performed tasks the Confederacy found essential:

Another 100,000 or so blacks, mostly slaves, supported the Confederacy as laborers, servants and teamsters. They built roads, batteries and fortifications; manned munitions factories—essentially did the Confederacy’s dirty work.

It would be more correct to say that it was the labor of these people that was used by the Confederacy in its quest for independence. “Supported” suggests something more … a desire to see the Confederacy win. Even John Parker, cited by Stauffer in his essay, knew better.

Stauffer offers some interesting speculations that are worth further discussion, but for now let’s just leave this where it is.

UPDATE: Kevin Levin highlights Stauffer’s confusion over the meaning of words. Andy Hall highlights Stauffer’s confusion over chronology.

12 thoughts on “John Stauffer and Black Confederates Redux

  1. The Lamp January 20, 2015 / 10:53 am

    Reblogged this on The Lamp and commented:
    Oh look…the confederacy isn’t racist … all those slaves forced to do manual labor during the war were “supporting” the south…yeah…ok then….

  2. leo January 20, 2015 / 1:09 pm

    Were the Jewish prisoners laboring in German factories Nazis?

  3. Bob Conner January 20, 2015 / 2:14 pm

    Re Grant’s valet in later life, Harrison Terrell, about whom I commented on a previous post, and you responded (I think) that he was brought to the Confederate lines as a slave. I don’t think that is right, though, as I’m pretty sure he had been freed before the war,

  4. Bob Conner January 20, 2015 / 4:47 pm

    Thanks for the clarification.

  5. John Foskett January 20, 2015 / 5:15 pm

    Stauffer’s trying too hard. So a small number may have fought “freely” or “willingly” for the Confederacy. It proves nothing more than the margin of error rule – hence the Wehrmacht’s small population of soldiers who could be “racially classified” as Jews. It’s the meaningful numbers – the ones who provided non-soldiering unarmed “labor” – where the silly game begins and on which you correctly call him out. As an aside, I had to laugh at the comment by somebody who lionizes Fredrick Douglass to the point that she can’t possibly fathom his playing with facts to further what he saw as a worthwhile objective. Welcome to the real world.

  6. Pingback: Died of a theory

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