Black Confederates in Cartoons

There’s been some chatter about black Confederates lately, although in retrospect new efforts by certain scholars to revisit the issue have proved less than persuasive even those scholars’ rather flawed handling of evidence. Indeed, in some quarters their efforts were subject to ridicule.

The same can be said of what some people thought of black Confederates at the time. Take the image above, from Harper’s Weekly. It raises the question of what would happen if black Confederate infantry regiments took the field. Could they be relied upon to hold their positions or to launch attacks? After all, it’s one thing for a single black man to wield a weapon under duress; but what would happen if several hundred of them, grouped together, were armed so that they could protect themselves? Who would be more at risk: the Yankees or their fellow white Rebs?

CSA Black Enlistment Cartoon 1

London’s Punch reminded readers that both sides were compelled to recruiting blacks in part because of the faltering spirit of whites. With volunteering down, both sides resorted to conscription; when that proved unsatisfactory, where else were they to go?

CSA black enlistment cartoon 2

Indeed, Punch looked at the issue in 1863, before either Patrick Cleburne or the Confederate Congress considered enlisting blacks. The cartoon flipped the concept of “brother versus brother,” so often used to refer to whites, to suggest that blacks really had no interest in fighting each other. Punch speculated that black soldiers on both sides might not prove reliable combat soldiers, although the record of blacks who donned Union blue proved that wrong.

CSA black enlistment 3

And then, of course, there is more recent commentary.

CSA black enlistment cartoon 3

Happy birthday, Peter Carmichael.

25 thoughts on “Black Confederates in Cartoons

  1. Stefan Jovanovich February 23, 2015 / 7:02 am

    I hope Professors Simpson and Carmichael (and others) will not give up the fight, even if, like most efforts to write and teach actual history, it is doomed to be a Lost Cause. People now want to believe in a kinder, gentler past for the same reason the conventional histories of WW I in Britain now characterize that slaughter as a fight for democracy, even though, as Richard Evans points out, more German adult males were allowed to vote in 1914 than Britons. The latest telling of this literal whitewash of the Confederate past is Jonathan Horn’s The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War and His Decision That Changed American History. In his book tour lecture to the good citizens of Louisville, broadcast this weekend on C-SPAN, Horn solemnly announced that “Robert E. Lee hated slavery”. La di da.

  2. Peter S. Carmichael February 23, 2015 / 9:50 am

    This is the best birthday gift. These cartoons are perfect for my current research on Confederate humor (or lack of) And how long have I been telling you that blogs can advance scholarship? Thank God that bloggers exist!

  3. John Foskett February 23, 2015 / 11:34 am

    That second cartoon is worth 50 or so detailed posts containing academic analysis of this issue. Those who continue to assert that thousands of blacks voluntarily “soldiered” for the CSA call to mind Justice Holmes’ dispositive sentence in Buck v. Bell, 274 US 200, 207 (1927).

  4. Peter S. Carmichael February 23, 2015 / 12:08 pm

    You are still using the term black Confederates. Why not Confederate slaves? I am being a pedant and it comes so naturally.

    • Greg Eatroff February 24, 2015 / 9:56 am

      There were free blacks in the south — roughly 125,000 in the rebel states. About 1,400 of them served in the Louisiana Native Guard, a pro-Confederate state militia unit, early in the war. They were disbanded in 1862 when the Louisiana legislature changed state law to limit militia service to whites.

      When the Confederacy finally authorized black soldiers in 1865, it allowed for the enlistment of both slaves (with their owner’s consent) and free blacks. I’ve never seen statistics for how many of each category joined the Confederate army. I’ve only seen contemporary references to two undertrength companies in RIchmond in March 1865, and that made no mention of how many of the men were slave and how many free.

      • E.A. Mayer February 26, 2015 / 12:21 am

        The probable result in 1865 was about only 100 men who were not trusted by the Confederates, and whose main motivation was it seemed to just get closer to the Union army in order to be able to go over to freedom. And indeed at least one managed to run off, and some it would seem wanted only to get guns so as to shoot their rebel officers. It is also very doubtful that the hospital orderlies that are mentioned below were actual volunteers as the confederates claimed as they were just inducted en-mass into the unit, and the miserably low turnout for the other unit shows that there was really no support among the black population who knew by then that, at the very least, all they had to do was wait for the advancing Union army to be free. Most likely they were slaves as the CSA regularly used slaves, either hired or just those displaced by the war, as hospital orderlies and then they were lied to or just conscripted.

        “Only two units were ever created, both in Richmond. The first enrolled approximately sixty orderlies and nurses from Winder and Jackson Hospitals; the second, created at a formal recruiting center, never numbered more than ten recruits.
        The first company was hastily put into the trenches outside Richmond for a day in mid-March, but the unit canceled a parade scheduled for the end of the month due to the fact that the men lacked uniforms and rifles. Based on this, it is unclear how much fighting they could have done. The second unit was housed in a former prison and carefully watched by military police, suggesting that white Confederate officers did not trust these new black soldiers.”
        Jaime Amanda Martinez, University of North Carolina Pembroke

        I would recommend “Confederate Emancipation” by Bruce Levine and “The Louisiana Native Guards” by James G. Hollandsworth for a fuller examination of the topic.

  5. John Foskett February 25, 2015 / 3:00 pm

    The notion that any meaningful number of freed blacks signed up in 1865 strikes me as ridiculous. The word “Titanic” barely connotes the status of the Confederacy in early 1865 as its territory (and white troops) melted away daily, inflation ran wild, food ran short and it spiraled into a crater. In other words, the deck chairs had already been rearranged, If I’d had opportunities to enlist for something, it wouldn’t be that debacle.

  6. Allison February 26, 2015 / 12:47 pm

    The idea that thousands of Confederate blacks would enthusiastically volunteer to wage war against the Union armies is perfectly logical. It is commonly known that Confederate blacks suffered sadistic cruelties at the hands of the Union soldiers, and enlisting would give them a chance to gain a measure of revenge. For example, Mcpherson, in “Battle Cry of Freedom”, provides a stomach-turning account of a small slave child who was ruthlessly tortured and violently gang-raped by a squad of Union soldiers. I suspect that if her father was still alive in 1865, he would be only to happy to enlist.

    The instinct for revenge is a powerful motivator, and there were thousands and thousands of victims sadistically abused by Union soldiers who needed to be avenged. It is therefore very, very easy indeed to imagine a great many blacks volunteering to join the fight.

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 26, 2015 / 1:09 pm

      It’s easy to imagine many things. Unfortunately, historians deal with evidence. So … do you have any evidence to support your imagination?

  7. Allison February 26, 2015 / 1:23 pm

    Are you suggesting that James Mcpherson made fraudulent claims in “Battle Cry of freedom”?

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 26, 2015 / 2:00 pm

      What would lead you to believe that, oh poster of many fake screen names from Springfield, Virginia?

      Apparently you have no evidence to support your contention about motivation. We thus move on … and you can join your other identities. 🙂

      You think you would do a better job of varying your approach. At least you’re switching genders again.

  8. Kristoffer February 26, 2015 / 5:50 pm

    Of course, McPherson never said any such thing in Battle Cry of Freedom. I should know, I own it.

    • Brooks D. Simpson February 26, 2015 / 8:15 pm

      The truth has never deterred the master of multiple identities who lacks proof for his/her assertions. We’ll await the next fake profile.

    • Jimmy Dick February 27, 2015 / 8:43 am

      Isn’t it interesting how a made up piece of information meant to lend legitimacy to the incorrect myth of the conflict gets used? That piece of trash has been floating around for a long time. The fact that it gets repeated so often by a certain group indicates to me that they have never read Battle Cry of Freedom. No wonder they do not know much about the Civil War. They refuse to learn.

      • Brooks D. Simpson February 27, 2015 / 10:52 am

        Well, it was offered from our old friend from Springfield who has posted under so many names (and genders) that it’s become too funny. That person lacks the guts to post under their real name to defend their foolishness … which is why someone down in Pensacola adores him/her/it. Peas in a pod.

    • E.A. Mayer February 27, 2015 / 7:06 pm

      I believe he’s talking about a passage in Chapter 16, “We Must Free the Slaves or Be Ourselves Subdued.” on page 497 of my paperback edition. The twist he tries to put on it though is all his own, not McPherson’s. And if we’re going to just make suppositions as ‘Allison et al’ does, then we would perhaps be safer to assume that her father had long been sold down river and already had an ingrained instinct for revenge against those that kept him in chains, or that perhaps that her father was her white master.

      • John Foskett February 28, 2015 / 9:12 am

        Good point about what would be the safer eager on the father’s motivations. As for the post itself, I keep referring back to Justice Holmes’ crucial sentence in the opinion in Buck v. Bell. Wendell had it pegged.

    • E.g. Schwetje February 27, 2015 / 7:46 pm

      He did. Chapter 16, section II, a few pages in.

      • Brooks D. Simpson February 27, 2015 / 9:15 pm

        I think some folks are confusing a few things. Did McPherson include a report that a black girl was raped in November 1861? Yes. Page 497, to be exact. Did McPherson say anything about blacks enlisting in the Confederate armed forces as a result of that (or any other such actions)? No. That was a statement crafted from the original poster’s vivid imagination.

  9. E.g. Schwetje February 28, 2015 / 3:56 am

    Just pointing out that it had been written. That seemed to be questioned above in a post or two.

    • Jimmy Dick February 28, 2015 / 9:12 am

      Let’s look at why McPherson used the account. He was trying to show the racism in the North at that time, particularly among some Union soldiers. Did this represent the entire North? No. McPherson does not make that claim. Instead, as any historian would do, he uses primary source information to reflect incidents of some soldiers, not all.

      Now, let’s look at what happened in that period. A division over the future of the nation was in progress. Was the nation to be a slave nation or a free nation? Would slavery expand or not? The arguments over that division led to the Civil War. When people look back at the period they see it in several ways, but when seen as a whole, people can see how change over time occurred. In going through Battle Cry of Freedom, we can see change over time regarding slavery. McPherson shows that change vividly which is a major reason why that book won a Pulitzer Prize and is still regarded as one of the best one volume books on the conflict today.

      Our poster of multiple names and genders used the account like many in the heritage movement do. He saw it as an event showing the whole body of people and as an unchanging event. For him, that account is frozen in time. He does not place it within the whole to reflect change over time, but that no change is possible. This is one of the fundamental flaws of the heritage types. They do not grasp the change over time concept. For them the past is frozen and unchanging. They even bring that to the present and fail to understand how change over time works in their own lifetimes.

      For the heritage types, the past must be locked down. They reject that reality of the past where the people desired change and worked to make it happen while some resisted it. They have to develop a rationale for why things happened. In the case of the Civil War, the fact that people grew to dislike and desire an end to slavery confuses them. McPherson’s book shows that change. It was not the government that created it, but the people themselves. Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial of Abraham Lincoln reflects that as well. Government can only do what the people are willing to let it do. It also has to do what the people want it to do. That was true in 1860-65 just like it is today. The government did not end slavery. The people of this country did.

      When an account is taken out of context like this one has for years it begins to get passed around as fact. That is the problem with the earlier post. He tried to connect the account to something the account cannot be connected to. It is completely out of context. He also uses accounts individually as if the accounts are definitive and mean something they don’t. He cannot put them together in a coherent narrative. This is why the lost cause continually fails. It is predicated on individual accounts and when put together does not have any cohesion in reality. It always relied upon white supremacy and racism for its support. Thankfully as those pillars were removed, the entire myth collapsed.

      • John Foskett February 28, 2015 / 11:10 am

        Anybody who actually believes that thousands of freed blacks enlisted or even wanted to enlist in early 1865 needs a guardian. Of course, we all know that the poster doesn’t believe that – he/she/he/she is simply spewing the same thing you find on the ground in a dog park. ,

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