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.

Skip Gates Skips Scholarship When It Comes to Black Confederates

Start at the 7:00 mark for the highlight.

Oh my. Kevin Levin offers a detailed response.

I see no reason to waste my time answering someone who simply hasn’t done the work required to enter into this discussion responsibly. I’ve already written about Stauffer’s piece and the discussion it sparked (and the failure of people to deal with these issues) here, here, here, and here.

It’s time to peddle this claptrap elsewhere.

 

The Sounds of Silence

It’s been nine days since Harvard historian John Stauffer raised a ruckus with his commentary about black Confederate soldiers on The Root, and six days since Jim Downs used his platform on Huffington Post to add his two cents (adjusted for inflation). Other than Downs, the only people who have commended Stauffer’s article are select Confederate heritage advocates, which proves that sometimes poor scholarship makes for strange bedfellows. Neither historian has chosen to respond to the specific criticism leveled at their contributions to the discussion … and I no longer expect that either one will. This suggests that neither historian was interested in engaging in serious discussion, but perhaps just wanted to offer something sensationalistic to make a splash. In this they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. Whether their arguments left a favorable impression on readers outside a small circle of friends (none of whom have countered criticism of these pieces) remains to be seen, but at present count a number of people have called into question their arguments and use of evidence (where evidence is used, which is not always the case).

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Historians Freak Out About Freaking Out … Really …

Oh my goodness. But you knew it had to happen.

Discussions about “black Confederates” follow a pattern of assertion, response, and then commentary, and this time has proven to be no exception. Over at Civil War Emancipation, Donald Shaffer expresses his irritation with the most recent discussion. Kevin Levin objected to the objection.

I hope Don expresses his displeasure directly to John Stauffer and Jim Downs. It seems to me a bit bizarre to criticize people who were the targets of these essays, especially Kevin Levin, especially when the real target should be the poor example of historical scholarship offered by Stauffer. Downs’s piece is also worth engaging, and that would do a lot more to foster an informed debate than a call to put an end to it. After all, I don’t tell other people what to research, and nowadays I simply dismiss out of hand attempts to tell me what to do.

More useful is Matt Gallman’s response in Don’s blog. I think that is a topic worth pursuing. And I think Don’s correct in saying that there are other ways to explore this issue, but I’d prefer to hear what we can and should do rather than what we shouldn’t do.

This is all part of blogging. Posts beget posts. I’m sure that’s far from over. I find irritating such expressions of irritation, but, while I’d wish they would stop, I don’t tell people to stop it. After a while, however, I will just ignore them. I have hopes that Don’s post may provoke more thought than that.

Some Civil War Historians Are Freaking Out About Black Confederates

It’s one thing to examine the evidence and the intellectual framework behind a piece of historical scholarship. It’s quite another to follow the course of an argument that raises a lot of questions about the practice of Civil War scholarship. The response to John Stauffer’s essay on black Confederates is a case in point.

As one might assume, I was not the only historian who objected rather quickly to Stauffer’s article. So did Kevin Levin in a pair of posts, the second of which ignited more controversy. For it was there that Levin decided to make reference to another ongoing discussion about the place of military history within Civil War studies, one that aggrieved some people’s sensibilities and aroused objections. Most of that discussion involved an article by Gary Gallagher and Kathryn┬áMeier that appeared in the December 2014 issue of the Journal of the Civil War Era, although Earl Hess in the December 2014 issue of Civil War History offered some different observations about the place of military history in Civil War studies. Levin simply observed that Stauffer’s essay could have benefitted from a better understanding of military history, a point Gallagher and Meier made in their essay.

The eruption that followed was as loud as it was unexpected. Continue reading

Just The Facts, Please: A Note on Recent Discussions About Black Confederates … or … Civil War Cultural Historians Are Freaking Out

My, isn’t that a long title.:)

A few days ago a friend of mine pointed me to John Stauffer’s essay on black Confederates, which, as noted, was a slightly updated rehash of a presentation he made in 2011.

The essay was problematic, to be kind, in two respects.

First, Stauffer clearly and deliberately mischaracterized the perspective of several people, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kevin Levin, and yours truly, on black Confederates. That’s simply scholarly malpractice, and I’m surprised that in ensuing discussions that some scholars who declare that they are all about various research approaches to history did not call him out on that. None of the people Stauffer targeted have ever argued that there were no black Confederates. Nor have they denied that there were not substantial numbers of enslaved blacks who accompanied Confederate armies in the field. All have acknowledged that some free blacks, many of them along the Gulf Coast (New Orleans stands out as the best example) volunteered their services as soldiers to the Confederacy in 1861. There are other instances of people defined as black in southern society who fit the definition of “soldier” held by the Confederates at the time (these scholars resist retrofitting 21st century definitions on 19th century service, as they should). And, of course, they note the debate over enlisting enslaved blacks in the Confederate army in 1864-65, as well as the Confederate policy of impressing enslaved blacks into military service as well as the presence of slaves accompanying their masters in Confederate ranks.

To say otherwise is to misunderstand, mischaracterize, misrepresent, or simply lie, or to demonstrate sheer scholarly incompetence. Why any reputable scholar would tolerate such behavior or seek to excuse it puzzles me.

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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. Continue reading