Discussion Are "Civil War Military Historians Freaking Out"?

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DanF

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To further demonstrate their patriotism, they refused all pay, universally fought to the death rather than get captured, then rejected any suggestion that they should muster out at the war's close and wouldn't even consider taking oaths of loyalty or later applying for pensions
Oh jeez, you're missing the obvious solution. Unlike their white counterparts the black confederates never surrenderd!

:D
 
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DRW

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Oh jeez, you're missing the obvious solution. Unlike their white counterparts the black confederates never surrenderd!

:D
lest we forget....they foraged for their own food and supplied their own uniforms, weapons and ammo. After all, who wants to bother with a quartermaster and all that paperwork?
 

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Here is the centerpiece of Jim Downs's post:

The problem of Levin's criticism lies in its formulation. He is asking Stauffer to retrieve archival evidence from the 19th century that fits a 21st century definition of soldiers. He is asking Stauffer to practice historical research that privileges white, Confederate record-keeping over the ways that black people observed, wrote, and remembered the war. He is asking Stauffer to play according to the rules in which traditional historiography, often the purveyors of epistemic violence, define evidence and engage in archival collecting.

In short, Levin's criticism fails to even acknowledge that the very construction of the archive, the collection of sources, and the writing of history reflect the same racist dynamics and oppression of black people that caused the war in the first place. The archive is not like the Wizard of OZ; historians are not Dorothy who get to ask an omnipotent force a question and get the answer. The archive is a political construction, the result of a power dynamic, which has historically failed to capture the experience of black people.
It's hard for me to buy into the above argument. Downs is exactly right that the history of African Americans suffers from a lack of archival information.

But that is not true for the history of the Confederate military. The Confederate military kept records, including records of men who enlisted, reports from officers, discussions between officers, etc.

If there were regiments of black Confederate soldiers, then there should be a record of them. It just doesn't work to say that out of racial privilege or some other motivation, the Confederacy did not keep records of black enlistees, or of others aspects of their experience. The fact is, the military needed such records: information was vital to the management of military resources. The army could not afford to not keep records on certain soldiers because of their race.

And even if the army itself would not keep such records, then the foot soldiers would have their say. I haven't seen letters from rebels filled with stories of their fellow black Confederate soldiers. I have seen a number referring to Confederate servants, however. That is what ultimately soured me on the idea of large numbers of black Confederates. If white Confederate soldiers didn't see them or talk about them, then where exactly were they?

I recall an Internet argument that I had with a guy concerning black Confederates. I asked time and time again, where is the evidence from Confederate records of all the black Confederates that he claimed existed? He finally seemed to get frustrated and said, "the Yankees burned all the records at the courthouse." When in doubt, blame the Yankees.

- Alan
 
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Pat Young

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There are obvious reasons to explain why you can't find records for the black Confederate thousands. You forget that Southern blacks were so enthusiastic in their support for the Confederacy that they couldn't be bothered with such trivial details as enlistment or mustering in as their self-organized regiments rushed to the front lines. To further demonstrate their patriotism, they refused all pay, universally fought to the death rather than get captured, then rejected any suggestion that they should muster out at the war's close and wouldn't even consider taking oaths of loyalty or later applying for pensions (except those darn cooks and musicians). You just don't recognize devotion to the cause when it stares you in the face! :smile:
Well there you go.
 

Pat Young

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It's hard for me to buy into the above argument. Downs is exactly right that the history of African Americans suffers from a lack of archival information.

But that is not true for the history of the Confederate military. The Confederate military kept records, including records of men who enlisted, reports from officers, discussions between officers, etc.

If there were regiments of black Confederate soldiers, then there should be a record of them. It just doesn't work to say that out of racial privilege or some other motivation, the Confederacy did not keep records of black enlistees, or of others aspects of their experience. The fact is, the military needed such records: information was vital to the management of military resources. The army could not afford to not keep records on certain soldiers because of their race.

- Alan
That is the problem. Large units of black men would leave a paper trail. They would appear on in military orders. Quarter Master records would reference them.
 
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Pat Young

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Correct me if I am wrong but as far as I know there is no known documentation on the union side referencing black confederates is there? You would think something like that would be mentioned either in official reports or soldiers diaries.

And since Union practice was to take in blacks coming to their lines does anyone think it odd that if there were black confederates there wouldn't be some documentation/ warnings that some "escaping blacks" could in fact be confederatea seeking to infiltrate union linea?
In Glenn David Brasher's recent book The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom he quotes several Union sources that sighted individual blacks on the battle line. For example, in one case some blacks were helping to load artillery. These were not black soldiers however, but slaves or contract laborers either pressed into service in an emergency or taking a pot shot.
 

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I strongly suggest that folks go to Simpson's blog to read his entire post. I will highlight a few points he makes.

Simpson takes both Stauffer and the "cultural historians" who wrote contra Levin et al. Here is a bit of it:

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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DanF

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I have no problem believing that individuals blacks fought. Particularly in the chaos of the battle field with soldiers dropping all around you, bullets whizzing past your head it is very likely that even a slave would grab a fallen mans rifle and fight. Considering that to be their best chance for survival.

But regiments of hundreds or thousands of well trained blacks? The confederates would have have to be insane to train and equip hundreds or thousands of the slave population.

I mean seriously, the fear and paranoia of insurrections was rampant in the south. They are going to train and arm slaves?

They accused abolitionists of trying to murder them and inspire insurrections for simply sending litature. And then they are going to give their slaves arms and military training?

These "new and exciting methodologies" appear to be entirely depedant on the abadonment of both actual evidence and common sense.
 
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Pat Young

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But regiments of hundreds or thousands of well trained blacks? The confederates would have have to be insane to train and equip hundreds or thousands of the slave population.
And if they did, there would have been supply and pay records, as well as letters from Confederate soldiers about the black regiments.
 

DanF

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And if they did, there would have been supply and pay records, as well as letters from Confederate soldiers about the black regiments.
Well to be fair we do have documentation from confederates of slaves charging federal lines.

Of course it wasn't to fight, it was to get away from their happy contented existence in the confedracy.

:giggle:
 
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Pat Young

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In Simpson's new article he not only criticizes Stauffer, he also takes some cultural historians to task for targeting Stauffer critic Kevin Levin:

To date Stauffer has remained silent when it comes to defending his findings, following the pattern he established in 2011 (and in marked contrast to his willingness to attack other people’s work, as we see here and here). But other people have debated the merits of his new essay, or at least some have: others have engaged in a discussion that targets one of Stauffer’s critics, Kevin Levin, and that shows scholarly debate running off the rails on blogs and social media, including Facebook (which at times threatens to become the new usenet). Why are some Civil War cultural historians freaking out?
 

DanF

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Reading some of the absurd positions by those promoting "new methodologies" like presenting illustrations in Harpers weekly as "evidence". one has to wonder if this particular form of insanity is not a symptom of "publish or perish".

Making up" new sources" strikes me as a way to grab attention and ignite controversy. Both can be valuable to those seeking to appear relevant.
 
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DRW

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When the BCM comes up, I like to dig out this item I found in the course of my Florida Reconstruction research. Rev. L. M. Hobbs toured much of Florida in 1864 and 1865 and became associated with the Freedmen's Bureau's education efforts. Sometime in late 1865, he spoke to some African American young men at a school in the Tallahassee area. The discussion eventually turned to service in the Confederate army, or maybe Florida's militia. Hobbs told his Congressional interviewers the following:

“I asked the boys what they understood freedom to mean. They said that to be free was to be their own; that is, that they were not under the control of another person to be bought and sold. I asked them if they could do as they pleased now that they were free. They said they could not break the law – could not do wrong without being punished. I asked them how they knew they had been made free. They said that when the Union soldiers came and hoisted the United States flag over the capitol, that meant freedom; they knew they were free then. Just before the surrender the rebels were organizing colored troops for their service, and on two or three occasions a large number had been taken to Tallahassee to be drilled. I have frequently asked the negroes what was their opinion of that. They said they were all going into the rebel army. I asked them if they would have fought against the United States government. They said, “Not a man of us; we had our plans all laid; we knew all about it; we would never have fired a gun at the Union soldiers, but on the very first opportunity we would have turned our fire upon the rebels, or we would have gone over to the Union side.” I asked them if they had always believed that that Union cause would prove successful. They said that at times they would feel discouraged, from hearing the rebels always say that they were whipping the Yankees, but that they had always hoped and believed that the Union cause would be successful.” [emphasis added]. Rep. of Joint Committee on Reconstruction, 39th Cong. 1st Session, Part IV, p. 10.
 
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Pat Young

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Reading some of the absurd positions by those promoting "new methodologies" like presenting illustrations in Harpers weekly as "evidence". one has to wonder if this particular form of insanity is not a symptom of "publish or perish".

Making up" new sources" strikes me as a way to grab attention and ignite controversy. Both can be valuable to those seeking to appear relevant.
There can be new sources that go beyond written archives, however, in this case the illustrations, etc. are fairly weak evidence.
 

DanF

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There can be new sources that go beyond written archives, however, in this case the illustrations, etc. are fairly weak evidence.
Agreed, "family memory“ is equally weak. That doesn't mean useless, as it can at the very least point you to areas that could benefit from investigation.

But to try as some of these folks do to put it on an equal footing with first hand, verifiable sources is absurd.
 
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Pat Young

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When the BCM comes up, I like to dig out this item I found in the course of my Florida Reconstruction research. Rev. L. M. Hobbs toured much of Florida in 1864 and 1865 and became associated with the Freedmen's Bureau's education efforts. Sometime in late 1865, he spoke to some African American young men at a school in the Tallahassee area. The discussion eventually turned to service in the Confederate army, or maybe Florida's militia. Hobbs told his Congressional interviewers the following:

“I asked the boys what they understood freedom to mean. They said that to be free was to be their own; that is, that they were not under the control of another person to be bought and sold. I asked them if they could do as they pleased now that they were free. They said they could not break the law – could not do wrong without being punished. I asked them how they knew they had been made free. They said that when the Union soldiers came and hoisted the United States flag over the capitol, that meant freedom; they knew they were free then. Just before the surrender the rebels were organizing colored troops for their service, and on two or three occasions a large number had been taken to Tallahassee to be drilled. I have frequently asked the negroes what was their opinion of that. They said they were all going into the rebel army. I asked them if they would have fought against the United States government. They said, “Not a man of us; we had our plans all laid; we knew all about it; we would never have fired a gun at the Union soldiers, but on the very first opportunity we would have turned our fire upon the rebels, or we would have gone over to the Union side.” I asked them if they had always believed that that Union cause would prove successful. They said that at times they would feel discouraged, from hearing the rebels always say that they were whipping the Yankees, but that they had always hoped and believed that the Union cause would be successful.” [emphasis added]. Rep. of Joint Committee on Reconstruction, 39th Cong. 1st Session, Part IV, p. 10.
Always a problem with slave armies
 
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Pat Young

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Brooks Simpson left a comment on Kevin Levin's blog that seeks a motive for Jim Downs coming to Stauffer's defense on the Black Confederate Myth:

If Jim Downs wants to make this about Harvard arrogance, he’s welcome to it. After all, three people involved in this have Harvard ties. As for what they teach there, I hope what we’ve seen is not representative of the research skills imparted. The people I know well from Harvard know better.
 

18thVirginia

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I deleted a comment that I'd written yesterday before posting--that most of us here didn't spend quite so much money as on a Harvard degree, but the threads posted here generally have more documentation on Black Confederates--from both sides--than in Stauffer's article.

I'm neither a historian or a Civil War expert, but I've researched the family legends about selling goods to the Confederacy--and believe them to be true. But that's because I found actual invoices online at Fold3. Seems like one would expect at least that from a Harvard historian writing about the era.
 
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