Fumbling the Heritage … and Homer

At Dead Confederates Andy Hall recently highlighted another fumbling of Confederate heritage by its most impassioned advocates. This time the effort betrays an ignorance of American art as well as Civil War history.

Here’s the post, which appeared on the Facebook group “Defending the Heritage”:

DH Homer spoof

I’m sure this post came from the heart. And I’m sure many people actually understand the emotions that drives certain people’s passion for the Confederacy. And I’m sure that someone believes this is all somehow a deprivation of civil rights (Confederate heritage advocates are experts on the issue of depriving people of their civil rights).

But it’s just wrong.

This is not a painting of long-suffering Confederates by an unknown artist. Rather, it’s Winslow Homer’s 1871 painting of Union soldiers in camp, supposedly based on Homer’s observations in the spring of 1862 during the Yorktown campaign.

DH Homer MMA

The painting itself betrays a refashioning of history: although the barrel in the foreground displays a corps badge, those badges were not introduced until later, first by Phil Kearny for his men, followed by a more widespread systematic employment starting in 1863. A closer look at the soldiers (as well as the row of horses in the background) betrays that they are cavalrymen. Moreover, the sketch upon which the painting is based would have to have been made in late April or early May 1862, for the 61st New York, the regiment supposedly related to the corps insignia in question, was transferred to the Peninsula at that time, just before the siege of Yorktown ended (Homer included the regiment and its former commander, Francis C. Barlow, in another well-known painting). While a sketch of the mule survives, one might venture that other efforts to date and place the scene portrayed by the painting are at best suggestive but problematic, and that the trifoil on the barrel is really what one nowadays calls an “Easter egg.”

Perhaps the MMA will have a Civil War art expert examine the painting more carefully.

Homer knew how to paint haggard and hungry Confederates, but he did not do so here. But we must remember that it’s not the only time Confederate heritage advocates have mishandled images in service of their cause, and frankly this is not nearly the most serious case.

After all, it’s heritage, not history.

Confederate Heritage Advocates Duped Again

Much has been made in recent weeks of protests on university campuses concerning the reputation of various prominent Americans. Even as the University of Maryland unveiled a statue of Frederick Douglass

563fea4746a4d-image

not without protest … students at Princeton University questioned that university’s commemoration of Woodrow Wilson, who was once president of that institution.

It was left to a certain Confederate heritage blog to post this Facebook image as a warning about the logical consequences of the so-called war against Confederate heritage:

LincolnFoxRacist

That report was immediately picked up by a loyal follower of said blog, who declared:

Will Mackey Report This???

Not shy about taking up this challenge, fellow blogger Al Mackey did just that, as this post demonstrates.

The problem, of course, is that the original blogger had been duped by a fake website mocking Fox News into believing it was indeed the Fox News website, So had three of her followers: the second blogger and one Eddie Inman, who fights the good fight for Confederate [><] heritage across cyberspace, and one David Tatum, another infrequent blogger.

The original blogger, who had previously responded to comments as if they were related to an actual news report, subsequently used her own knowledge of how photoshopping images distorts reality to claim that she knew it was satire all along. Yeah, right.

Remember how this …

VF Heros in the Sky

… became this?

VF Smith photoshop typo

Of course you do.

Funny how people who complain about erasing history (1) have problems when it comes to verifying facts (2) have no problem “revising” what they’ve said in an effort to erase their own history of being fooled.

The Virginia Flaggers, their webmaster, and their supporters remain an endless source of amusement … together they are the gift that keeps on giving.

The View From the Sidelines: Scholarship and Activism

Some bloggers like to blog. Other bloggers often blog about their fellow bloggers. This begets a process whereby still other bloggers have to decide whether they want to blog about bloggers blogging about bloggers.

It’s an occupational hazard. I don’t particularly care for it, but there are times I believe there’s something worthwhile to say. I’m not sure whether that’s the case in the following instance, but we all make mistakes. Had it not been for a fellow blogger, indeed, the posts that provoked my curiosity would have passed by unnoticed by me altogether.

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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.

Almost Never Wrong

Although Keith Harris’s Cosmic America blog is now a part of blogging past, Keith is still with us, and blogging once more at the clearly-labelled Keith Harris History.

I am told he is almost never wrong.

I know this may not be news for most of you, but it will be welcome news for others. Keith is to eyewear what Peter Carmichael is to scarves, or so I am told.

In almost related news, has anyone seen Dimitri Rotov?

Kevin Levin’s Missed Opportunity

Kevin Levin decided to forego staying at Gettysburg for this week’s events. Instead, he headed to Montreal, presumably to brush up on his sadly lacking hockey acumen, although anyone could have told him that Montreal is the last place a Boston Bruins fan (and I use this term very, very loosely) is welcome.

In choosing as he did, Kevin missed an excellent chance to enrich his study of Civil War memory, and, given his interests, he may have cause to regret nothing quite so much as the heaven-sent opportunity contained in today’s The Evening Sun, “serving the Greater Hanover and Gettysburg areas.”

Black re-enactor with Rebels says that ‘image needs to be portrayed’

By ASHLEY MAY

Behind Confederate lines stands a man with blue pants, a white shirt and a black face.

Shane Williams, from Canton, Ohio is a Confederate re-enactor with 1st Tennessee Company H. He’s set up camp on the Redding Farm during the battle re-enactment recognizing the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Richard Adams, a private of the same company, said there aren’t enough black re-enactors in the Confederate ranks. And he believes there should be more to represent black people who served as slaves and, he said, might have fought.

“The way I see it, whether slaves were forced to fight or they were volunteers, it’s an image that needs to be portrayed,” Williams said.

Rachel Edgar, a Union re-enactor who passes bread to the troops, said she hasn’t heard of any black Confederate soldiers, but under rare circumstances, it could have been possible.

There are no historical accounts of black men under arms fighting for the Confederacy, but there are accounts of slaves staying in Confederate camps with their masters.

“Most slaves had never been off of their Southern plantations,” Williams said. “They didn’t know anything else. They came with their masters.”

Williams said many black men wanted to fight for what they knew was theirs — the land that belonged to their master.

“I’m going to fight for what I know is mine,” he said.

Historians say there were slaves whose primary loyalty was to their master or plantation, but the Confederate government refused to arm slaves.

Runaway slaves, or those liberated by Union soldiers, were far more likely to enlist in Northern regiments when the government accepted their service in 1863. By the end of the war, about 180,000 black men served in the Union army.

Williams’ role as a black Confederate soldier is met with some controversy among his friends. Williams also belongs to the 5th U.S. Colored Troops, Company G, an Ohio re-enactment group.

“Because most blacks in the South were slaves, they feel that it’s disrespectful to my heritage,” Williams said.

But, he said he wants to teach the public about U.S. history. He’s been a part of re-enactments for 10 years, and has portrayed a Confederate soldier for four years.

Many high-ranking officers had slaves with them in Gettysburg, working as servants and cooks.

Adam Bell, of the 33rd Virginia, Company E, said some slaves came simply because they liked their master and wanted to care for them, but it wasn’t incredibly common.

Mitch Riggs, a Confederate re-enactor with the 33rd Virginia Volunteer Infantry Company E, plays the part of a German soldier in a small Irish unit. He said too often people believe slavery was the only reason behind the Civil War, but many soldiers didn’t have a solid opinion on the matter.

“Not a lot of people know their history,” said Riggs,of Pulaski, Pa.

Few in the ranks of the Confederate army owned slaves themselves, and were poor farmers “one step above slaves,” Riggs said.

“A lot of them couldn’t write their names,” Daniel Hall said.

Hall, also in the 33rd Virginia Volunteer Infantry, said the original 60 men in the company previously were railroad workers.

“In railroad work, they wouldn’t want to lose a slave, because that would cost money,” he said. “If they lost an Irishmen, they wouldn’t have to pay anything.”

In the Union army, opinions on slavery weren’t all that different. Most Northern soldiers enlisted to save the Union, and some resented the increased attention on freeing the slaves later in the conflict. At the same time, a significant number of Union soldiers were committed abolitionists who saw the war as a struggle for freedom from the beginning.

There are not a lot of details on black men in the Confederate Army, and Williams doesn’t claim to represent a particular person within a specific unit. But, he plans to further develop his role.

“I’m not a slave,” Williams said. “I’m still researching.”

My, oh my. Here was your chance, Kevin.

Finally, for those of you wanting to have more fun at home, I direct you here.

A Primer in Basic Research

Over the last several weeks there’s been a rather heated exchange between several contributors to this Facebook group, which celebrates “southern heritage” (although it seems more like “Confederate heritage” to me) and a number of bloggers who have become known for their research disproving or qualifying claims about various supposed “black Confederates” (as in supposed soldiers).  There’s something to be said for the observation that this is an online debate and little more … except, of course, that so many students do so much of their research online these days that they are bound to come across this stuff, including claims about black Confederate soldiers.

Here’s an example.

Ann DeWitt, who is responsible for a leading website devoted to documenting the widespread existence of black Confederates in military service, shared her most recent research with her fellow Facebook compatriots (posting under the name “Royal Diadem”).  As she declares:

Captain P.P. Brotherson’s Confederate Officers record states eleven (11) blacks served with the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery in the “Negro Cooks Regiment.” This annotation can be viewed on footnote.com. See the third line on the left. Also, the record is cataloged in the National Archives Catalog ID 586957 and microfilm number M331 under “Confederate General and Staff Officers, and Nonregimental Enlisted Men.”

Could this be one of the types of regiments many Confederate historians have documented as part of Confederate History?

Well, could it?

Apparently not, according to Andy Hall, who began by taking a careful look at the document Ms. DeWitt shared with her friends.  Let’s look at it ourselves:

Hmm.  As Andy points out, somehow eleven black cooks for a heavy artillery unit stationed at Galveston, Texas, commanded by one Colonel Joseph Jarvis Cook, have been transformed into a “Negro Cooks Regiment.”

Read Andy’s post for the rest of the story.

As Gary Adams, the president of the Southern Heritage Preservation Group, says, in regard to a topic discussed here,

Everyone does realize one of the quotes here is a myth posted to demostrate why research from reputable sites is important.

Precisely.  Indeed, according to Mr. Adams, the discovery that Ulysses S. Grant did not actually say comments attributed to him moved him to create his group.  He should be applauded for that.

Now we’ll see what to make of his commitment to historical accuracy in this case … one celebrated on the Facebook page of the very group he founded to ensure a commitment to historical accuracy.

Update: Judging from this post, at least some of the members of the SHPG are aware of this misadventure in research.  We’ll see whether they have a commitment to real scholarship.