On Al Arnold, Turner Hall, Jr., and “Black Confederates.”

There’s been some discussion here and elsewhere about Al Arnold’s tale about the tales of his ancestor, Turner Hall, Jr., and what exactly this all means for historians interested in the role played by enslaved blacks in the Confederate war effort. Andy Hall went to the trouble of reading the entire book, and he offered his reactions here. It’s a discerning response that looks carefully at the paucity of actual evidence to support Hall’s stories, which Arnold accepts at face value. Note that Arnold’s interpretation of Turner Hall’s story relies on a tremendous amount of speculation and inference that finds scant support in the historical record. As usual, plaudits to Andy for his usual skillful treatment of matters of evidence.

I also point readers to the very thoughtful post over at Alan Skerrett, Jr.’s Jubilo! The Emancipation Century. It’s a model of discerning reflection that balances respect and skepticism in a careful consideration of the evidence. Alan’s brought his usual high standards to this piece, and it shows.

Stories about African Americans’ willingness to serve the Confederate war effort serve many modern agendas. Arnold’s story, it turns out, is really about how Al Arnold dealt with a family story that he spent very little effort to verify. What we do know is that Turner Hall, Jr., told these stories about his past, and that white southerners embraced him for the telling, much as Confederate heritage advocates have embraced H. K. Edgerton, Karen Cooper, Anthony Hervey, Arlene Barnum, and now, it appears, Al Arnold, who seems more and more interested in telling the story of black support for the Confederacy. It’s interesting (and revealing) to research the life stories of Edgerton, Cooper, Hervey, and Barnum, all of who seems to have grown bitterly dissatisfied by black leaders and organizations such as the NAACP before veering right … and right into the arms of Confederate heritage advocates who welcome the chance to disassociate the Confederate cause slavery, racism, and white supremacy. Arnold’s personal quest seems to be just that: a personal quest. In the process, he’s become quite a popular speaker among certain people, as this list of events on his Facebook page suggests. He’s also become involved in the debate over the current Mississippi state flag, suggesting that this is no longer simply a matter of family history.

Truly, Al Arnold is following in the footsteps of Turner Hall, Jr.

Or course, Arnold’s rendering of Turner Hall’s life will be treated as fact in some reports by the uncritical, the unqualified, the unwary, and others who just like a good story. People who question it will be dismissed as haters. Arnold himself struggles with criticism, as a recent Twitter exchange with Kevin Levin revealed. Kevin, pointing to the story behind the banner that adorns Arnold’s Twitter account, asked him if he knew the truth behind the tampered image:

LevinArnold OneSimply put, to interpret Union soldiers as servants is a slam against the military service of American soldiers: an unkind critic would say that such a remark shows just how little respect Arnold has for some African Americans. At best, it’s a display of gross ignorance.

The exchange continued:

LevinArnold 2

Somehow I don’t think that citing the Lord in support of my methods is going to satisfy any critics of my work. Indeed, I know some very religious historians who would not dare to make such a claim.

LevinArnold 3

Given the tenor of this exchange, I doubt Mr. Arnold’s willing to engage in the sort of discussions that historians have when discussing evidence. Then again, this was never really about evidence, was it?

For some time the discussion about the service of enslaved and free African Americans in the Confederate armed forces has been one about historical fact and the consequences of those findings for larger interpretations of the war. That tends to be what historians do. However, students of Civil War memory might be better advised to turn to the modern day advocates of a story that places such service at the center of their narratives, and ask why that is. We may better understand Turner Hall, Jr., if we seek to understand Al Arnold.

18 thoughts on “On Al Arnold, Turner Hall, Jr., and “Black Confederates.”

  1. bob carey March 19, 2016 / 1:11 pm

    One thing I noticed in Mr. Arnolds’ schedule of events is that most of his events are sponsored by himself. He either books a venue or rents a table at a book fair. I suspect that he is not asked to speak very often.

  2. John Foskett March 20, 2016 / 8:11 am

    Skerrit’s blog article is very well done and raises legitimate areas of inquiry. There remains a fundamental problem in this realm of “black Confederates”, however. What does the term even mean? We know what it means for the crowd which uses it most often and stridently. It means – by direct statement or unmistakable inference – that significant numbers of blacks in the South freely chose to enlist in the Confederate armies and took up arms to defend the CSA and its “institution”. It means that they were allowed – indeed, encouraged – to do this by CSA leaders. And we know why this “viewpoint” is pushed. It helps a lot of folks today to justify their emotional ties to a cause which few in 21st century America can directly defend with a straight face. But 150 years on nobody has found anything remotely based on objective facts which supports that “viewpoint”. We know to a moral and historical certainty that it’s a fiction. And cases like Arnold’s illustrate nothing more than just how much tap dancing somebody has to do in order to distort the reality into the fiction. If this were a civil lawsuit summary judgment would have entered long ago, even construing all reasonable inferences in favor of the Arnolds of the planet.

  3. National Archives and Records Administration doesn’t lie, by the fact that original Confederate muster roles annotate “Black” on those documents, copies of which are in my possession. I also have muster role copies of my four Confederate Grandpas, all of which are authentic. And, as this article casts doubt on Anthony Hervey’s Black Confederate heritage, there is no doubt that his Confederate Grandpa’s muster role was annotated “Black” – and as well – there is also no doubt he was murdered for his beliefs (as was documented by an eye witness.) His killers go free to this day.

    Union nay-sayers cannot let go of their old playbook: Union = good anti-slavery heroes and Confederate = bad race mongering slave owners. To these narrow-minded liberals you’d think the whole world was made up of Southern Plantation Owners and Massachuetts Abolitionists, but it’s just not so. It’s pure make-believe, boys and girls. But, never fear, true historians are at work today piecing together what really happened in American history between the years 1860 and 1865.

    We’re learning our past all over again and it’s MUCH better than the Yankee reconstructionist lies.

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 20, 2016 / 12:25 pm

      We await seeing your work and the evidence behind it. Why do you think the Confederate high command lied about the presence of black Confederate soldiers in their ranks? Was Lee ignorant? Stupid? A liar? As you are a “true historian,” perhaps you’ll tell us.

      • John Foskett March 22, 2016 / 7:20 am

        Actually, he’s a “storyteller”. Unfortunately, he seems to think that’s the same thing.

      • Brooks D. Simpson March 20, 2016 / 1:28 pm

        Oops, Mr. Scott. Are you now also going to claim that you blog here? Are we to take such representations as evidence of your integrity and your ability to deal with evidence truthfully and fairly?

        My, my. Guess you are just the sort of person who will write about black Confederates to set the record straight.

        • Andy Hall March 20, 2016 / 1:30 pm

          I don’t see any record of him ever commenting on my blog, at least under that name.

      • I heard that Andy Hall was accused of stealing Confederate flags, and that Mr. Brooks D. Simpson was so fraudulent as to spray paint Confederate statues. This is a good example of, – ‘When your argument has no validity, then as a last resort, launch personal attacks.’ And, NO, Mr. Simpson and Mr. Hall did NOT commit these things. Again, they are NOT guilty of these things. Yet, it’s written to exemplify this schoolyard practice, (which holds merit with some who are ignorant and unprofessional,) so that the reader understands this gimmickry.

        Andy’s accusation that I’m a Blog thief, and from that, Brooks fabricates, “evidence of your integrity and your ability to deal with…,” are attacks on my personal integrity, which is the same schoolyard tactic. Those historic William F Buckley debates with Gore Vidal are examples of honorable men with integrity who thoughtfully shared their minds having never, never, attacked each other personally.

        Now, if we can keep the conversation on topic, Andy, I’d like to look and find records where I corresponded on your Blog on several occasions. I enjoyed yours particularly with honest answers from several people. However, I’m connected to dozens of Blogs and can never remember them all, so I put a convenient link on my website. Sorry, I didn’t know that required your permission. And, Brooks, if you would like, I will offer copies of the muster rolls you wanted. Andy, how is a photo shared on your Blog? Is a link embedded in the code or directly uploaded?

        Bottom line: – I’m searching for the truth about my four Confederate Grandpas as to why they fought in the American Civil War. I have first hand accounts of their answers from my grandparents who spoke to them personally. And, in turn, my grandparents spoke verbatim, to me, those same day-for-day accounts in their service to the Confederacy. These accounts match exactly with archived troop movements, battlefield records, and officer’s correspondence.

        I’m also in possession of my Grandpas’ hand-written letters that tells us exactly why they fought. I have their muster roles. I have letters of their fellow soldiers in the same Company and Regiment and not one wrote home asking their wives about their slaves (because they had none.) They were NOT dependent on a slave trade or a cotton industry, (like my 4 Grandpas and 800,000 Confederate soldiers,) these were pioneers scratching out an existence in the wilderness and went to war to protect their families from Union invasion forces. “Neither the Union or the Confederate soldier gave a damn about slaves,” – Shelby Foote, which dove-tails exactly with what my Grandpas told us and in the letters they wrote home.

        I’m 61 years old and for the past 50 years I’ve read hundreds of books people offer as their interpretation or opinion, and I refuse to read another ‘agenda-driven’ opinion. I’m looking for the facts that only come from source documents: Letters from soldiers, officer’s correspondence, 1860s newspaper articles, Lincoln-Douglass debates, US Archive records, Jefferson Davis’s cabinet letters/records, Slave-ship manifests, Abe Lincoln’s cabinet letters/records, etc…

        Character assassination is easy. Anybody can do it. As such, defamation of the Confederacy is more easily perpetrated when the soldiers are deceased and can no longer defend themselves. However, as my Grandpas lie buried in our family cemetery, they will NOT be falsely accused, they will NOT be ponds of someone’s (not you personally) twisted agenda, and it is my purpose to fulfill my family’s wish that our Confederate Grandpas will be honored for their service and sacrifice.

        I don’t care if you attack me personally. If it makes you feel better, continue to do so. I can’t be hurt. And, at the end of the day, it accomplishes nothing. All that I’m asking for is your help. Don’t offer opinions or someone’s book of dreams. I’m looking for the (source-document) hard evidence “truthfully and fairly” how it so recently came to be that my Grandpas fought for slavery.

        • Brooks D. Simpson March 22, 2016 / 10:56 am

          Somehow you never did answer Andy’s question. Nor, apparently did you watch Buckley and Vidal, because those arguments did get personal and nasty. Why overlook that or pretend it didn’t happen?

        • Jimmy Dick March 22, 2016 / 11:03 am

          What individual men fought for and what started the Civil War can be two different things. Regardless of why individuals fought in that conflict, those that fought for the CSA were fighting to preserve slavery and they knew it. Anyone who wrote anything about “way of life” was writing about white supremacy which absolutely had to have slavery as its foundation. Your ancestors did what they did based on their interests.

          When did the United States invade Texas in 1861? I believe Texans made it clear why they seceded in a particular document. They wrote down that slavery was the cause of their secession. Ignoring that fact is a strong indicator of someone with an agenda driven opinion.

        • Andy Hall March 22, 2016 / 11:28 am

          “Andy, I’d like to look and find records where I corresponded on your Blog on several occasions.”

          As I said, I have no record of anyone commenting on my blog under the name Randall Scott. Regardless, posting comments is not the same as blogging, which is actually writing the blog itself. Your claim that you blog at Dead Confederates is simply and objectively not true, as mine would be if I claimed to blog at Crossroads.

          If you want to thump and holler and obfuscate, that’s fine, but I think you’d do better to acknowledge the error, correct it and move on. Think on it some.

        • John Foskett March 22, 2016 / 2:51 pm

          I think we have a starting point here:

          ” I’m looking for the facts that only come from source documents: Letters from soldiers, officer’s correspondence, …, US Archive records, Jefferson Davis’s cabinet letters/records, ….” Let’s add photographs, unit histories, journals, official records, orders, after action reports, etc.

          Now point me to that evidence which shows that significant numbers of blacks freely took up arms for the CSA and were allowed to do by their state and federal governments.

          • BorderRuffian March 23, 2016 / 5:52 am

            What amount counts as “significant?”

    • Rblee22468 March 20, 2016 / 5:21 pm

      There’s no evidence that Anthony Hervey was murdered. As a matter of fact, a witness that was not in the vehicle with Hervey could not corroborate the story that there was a second vehicle at all. You know, the vehicle Barnum forgot to mention to the police…

      http://restoringthehonor.blogspot.com/2015/07/bombshell-friend-of-deceased-black.html

      There is more evidence that there were black Confederate soldiers than there was that Anthony Hervey was murdered.

  4. Laqueesha March 21, 2016 / 3:15 am

    “There is more evidence that there were black Confederate soldiers than there was that Anthony Hervey was murdered.”

    In other words, not much more at all.

    • Rblee22468 March 21, 2016 / 1:47 pm

      Exactly.

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