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?
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?
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.
And then, of course, there is more recent commentary.
Happy birthday, Peter Carmichael.