Book Review "Blacks in Gray Uniforms" by Phillip Thomas Tucker

Andersonh1

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Blacks in Gray Uniforms
by Phillip Thomas Tucker

144 Pages, consisting of an introduction, four chapters, and an epilogue.
Endnotes: pages 130-139, bibliography pp 140-144, no index

The topic of Black Confederates interests me, as should be evident from a number of my posts, so it should be no surprise that I was curious to read this book. I have found it useful, but not as well-written as it should have been, for reasons I'll detail as I go through the review. This will be a one and done review for a relatively short book.

Author Phillip Tucker opens the introduction with the following statement:

"... if blacks had not fought for the Confederacy on the battlefield, it would have represented a striking aberration and anomaly in the overall mainstream of military history extending back to ancient times." (p 9)​

The introduction is longer than it perhaps needed to be, and it is repetitive in places, particularly when Tucker talks about his motivation versus other groups. Tucker wastes no time in establishing himself as squarely in the middle between "self-serving... historians with definite political agendas" and "neo-Confederates". The former group deny nearly all black Confederates, the latter seek to exaggerate the numbers. Tucker maintains that he is interested solely in historical fact. It won't be the last time Tucker castigates both groups. To Tucker, denial of black Confederates and calling them a myth is dishonest and "a form of racism" that seeks to bury a portion of the historical record for modern political reasons. He wears his historical politics on his sleeve, no doubt.

He offers as historical precedent examples of slaves and free black men who fought alongside whites in early conflicts with Indians, the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the war of 1812 and the war with Mexico. Tucker often names several examples from each war. Tucker claims between 3000-6000 black fighting men on the Confederate side over the course of the Civil War. He makes it clear that the vast majority of black men with the Confederate military were slaves in support roles, but not all. One of the more interesting is John Wilson Buckner, a "free man of color" defending Battery Wagner at the same time that the 54th Massachussets was attacking it.

I'm not going to list every name that Tucker brings up, but from my reading and discussions here I was familiar with many of them. Tucker establishes early on that the Confederate government did not allow armed black soldiers in the military until March 1865, but the states went their own way when judging their own military necessity, and commanders on the ground weren't always careful to obey regulations either, particularly as attrition wore down their commands and they needed men who were willing to fight. Many times black men would become involved with the conflict as slaves and end up fighting through a variety of different circumstances. The arming of black men was "inevitable" and "nothing new" in the history of warfare in America.

Tucker goes through various motivations for black men to fight. He notes family and cultural ties. Some free black men owned property they needed to protect, and had earned rights they weren't sure they would keep if the North won. The South was more racially mixed, both in terms of proximity and mixed race individuals, leading to more comfort with races working side by side. Some Confederates demonstrated affection for the slaves back home in their letters, indicating a level of friendship despite slavery. Some black men were light skinned enough to pass for white, and could remain in the ranks. Early in the war, black companies were formed around the South, caught up in the patriotic fervor and showing a willingness to fight if allowed to. Tucker notes one example of black Confederates summarily executing a former slave who had gone North, joined the Union army and was captured.

"... local, family and personal relationships often held sway over the broad national political motives that historians often use to frame every experience of the war, regardless of how well they fit." (p 61)

"... the crucial factors of the strength of local and state loyalties, and family, geography, kinship and blood ties ... were often stronger and more important to so many Black Confederates than abstract theoretical concepts, and even the issue of slavery." (p 62)​

There are multiple accounts of black men acting as sharpshooters, manning artillery or being captured with white prisoners of war. Union soldiers would write about what they saw, and some Confederates would as well, with Tucker including at least one example. Tucker notes that John Noland, freed before the war, rode with Quantrill alongside two white cousins. Numerous examples of slaves who killed Union soldiers and officers are cited.

The book is full of information, and found that I was familiar with a good many instances and people that the author cites, but others were new to me. The main drawback of this book, in my opinion, is that it's poorly organized. It often jumps around from topic to topic, and even from the Civil War back to some past conflict and then back to the Civil War. Even being familiar with the material and arguments being made, I got frustrated trying to keep up with the rapid changes of direction. There is some good information, but not every claim is sourced or elaborated on as well as it should have been. I'm in full agreement that a number of modern historians actively try to refute every claim about black Confederates they can, (Tucker calls the phrase "the myth of the black Confederate" a clever piece of propaganda to constantly reinforce the idea that these men didn't exist) so the author has my sympathy with what he's trying to do in writing this book, but if feels like a rough draft to me. It needed to be better organized, better supported, and hold more examples than we were given. Nevertheless, if like me you're interested in this historical topic, I would recommend reading this book, as you will learn a lot. It's short enough that I have read it twice, and I took notes the second time to commit some of the better information to memory and so I could research it more in depth.

The book has a section with end notes and a bibliography, but no index. Given how short it is, that's not as much of a problem as it might seem. Recommended, but keep in mind the shortcomings I've listed above. This book is not as good as it could and should have been, but it is useful.
 
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jgoodguy

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Blacks in Gray Uniforms
by Phillip Thomas Tucker

144 Pages, consisting of an introduction, four chapters, and an epilogue.
Endnotes: pages 130-139, bibliography pp 140-144, no index

The topic of Black Confederates interests me, as should be evident from a number of my posts, so it should be no surprise that I was curious to read this book. I have found it useful, but not as well-written as it should have been, for reasons I'll detail as I go through the review. This will be a one and done review for a relatively short book.

Author Phillip Tucker opens the introduction with the following statement:

"... if blacks had not fought for the Confederacy on the battlefield, it would have represented a striking aberration and anomaly in the overall mainstream of military history extending back to ancient times." (p 9)​

The introduction is longer than it perhaps needed to be, and it is repetitive in places, particularly when Tucker talks about his motivation versus other groups. Tucker wastes no time in establishing himself as squarely in the middle between "self-serving... historians with definite political agendas" and "neo-Confederates". The former group deny nearly all black Confederates, the latter seek to exaggerate the numbers. Tucker maintains that he is interested solely in historical fact. It won't be the last time Tucker castigates both groups. To Tucker, denial of black Confederates and calling them a myth is dishonest and "a form of racism" that seeks to bury a portion of the historical record for modern political reasons. He wears his historical politics on his sleeve, no doubt.

He offers as historical precedent examples of slaves and free black men who fought alongside whites in early conflicts with Indians, the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the war of 1812 and the war with Mexico. Tucker often names several examples from each war. Tucker claims between 3000-6000 black fighting men on the Confederate side over the course of the Civil War. He makes it clear that the vast majority of black men with the Confederate military were slaves in support roles, but not all. One of the more interesting is John Wilson Buckner, a "free man of color" defending Battery Wagner at the same time that the 54th Massachussets was attacking it.

I'm not going to list every name that Tucker brings up, but from my reading and discussions here I was familiar with many of them. Tucker establishes early on that the Confederate government did not allow armed black soldiers in the military until March 1865, but the states went their own way when judging their own military necessity, and commanders on the ground weren't always careful to obey regulations either, particularly as attrition wore down their commands and they needed men who were willing to fight. Many times black men would become involved with the conflict as slaves and end up fighting through a variety of different circumstances. The arming of black men was "inevitable" and "nothing new" in the history of warfare in America.

Tucker goes through various motivations for black men to fight. He notes family and cultural ties. Some free black men owned property they needed to protect, and had earned rights they weren't sure they would keep if the North won. The South was more racially mixed, both in terms of proximity and mixed race individuals, leading to more comfort with races working side by side. Some Confederates demonstrated affection for the slaves back home in their letters, indicating a level of friendship despite slavery. Some black men were light skinned enough to pass for white, and could remain in the ranks. Early in the war, black companies were formed around the South, caught up in the patriotic fervor and showing a willingness to fight if allowed to. Tucker notes one example of black Confederates summarily executing a former slave who had gone North, joined the Union army and was captured.

"... local, family and personal relationships often held sway over the broad national political motives that historians often use to frame every experience of the war, regardless of how well they fit." (p 61)

"... the crucial factors of the strength of local and state loyalties, and family, geography, kinship and blood ties ... were often stronger and more important to so many Black Confederates than abstract theoretical concepts, and even the issue of slavery." (p 62)​

There are multiple accounts of black men acting as sharpshooters, manning artillery or being captured with white prisoners of war. Union soldiers would write about what they saw, and some Confederates would as well, with Tucker including at least one example. Tucker notes that John Noland, freed before the war, rode with Quantrill alongside two white cousins. Numerous examples of slaves who killed Union soldiers and officers are cited.

The book is full of information, and found that I was familiar with a good many instances and people that the author cites, but others were new to me. The main drawback of this book, in my opinion, is that it's poorly organized. It often jumps around from topic to topic, and even from the Civil War back to some past conflict and then back to the Civil War. Even being familiar with the material and arguments being made, I got frustrated trying to keep up with the rapid changes of direction. There is some good information, but not every claim is sourced or elaborated on as well as it should have been. I'm in full agreement that a number of modern historians actively try to refute every claim about black Confederates they can, (Tucker calls the phrase "the myth of the black Confederate" a clever piece of propaganda to constantly reinforce the idea that these men didn't exist) so the author has my sympathy with what he's trying to do in writing this book, but if feels like a rough draft to me. It needed to be better organized, better supported, and hold more examples than we were given. Nevertheless, if like me you're interested in this historical topic, I would recommend reading this book, as you will learn a lot. It's short enough that I have read it twice, and I took notes the second time to commit some of the better information to memory and so I could research it more in depth.

The book has a section with end notes and a bibliography, but no index. Given how short it is, that's not as much of a problem as it might seem. Recommended, but keep in mind the shortcomings I've listed above. This book is not as good as it could and should have been, but it is useful.
Sounds like one to check into. I know many feel no blacks or few fought for south. It has always been a very controversial subject. I am always interested in all views.
Looking for tangible evidence, not anecdotal evidence decades later.
 

Legion Para

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jgoodguy

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Phillip Thomas Tucker's Black Confederate Mess - Civil War Memory

I was hoping that this book might include some useful analysis or point me to new sources, but unfortunately Tucker’s contribution is an absolute mess. In fact, it is one of the worst history books that I have ever read in any subject area. This is made all the more painful given that Tucker holds a PhD in American history from St. Louis University.

Tucker is convinced that “a strict politically-based correctness have crept into the field of Civil War historiography to ordain what is considered to be acceptable in compliance with the day’s most popular and fashionable political climate that has little, if anything, to do with actual history.” (p. 14) The author fails to provide a single shred of evidence in support of this claim or even explain what it means, but that doesn’t prevent him from repeating it on practically every other page.

The narrative itself is unorganized and passage after passage is left without any reference. As for the bibliography, Tucker relies on a small number of sources, but the most popular one is …wait for it… John Stauffer’s 2015 essay “Yes, there were Black Confederates. Here’s Why,” which was published in The Root. This source is cited throughout the book along with a short piece published in the Harvard Gazette from 2011. Tucker accepts Stauffer’s claim that somewhere between 3-6,000 black men fought as soldiers in the Confederate army without any question, even though Stauffer himself never provides an explanation for these numbers. The author also makes use of some of the most popular references on the Internet from Lewis Steiner to Frederick Douglass. They are all present.
Picky
yA Short Review of Phillip Thomas Tucker's “Blacks in Gray Uniforms
There’s no index.

Other than missing references and index, it must be good for something.
 

WJC

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Thanks for posting the link to this review.
I was particularly interested in the reviewers comments on the photo we have discussed here, showing
Silas Chandler and Andrew Martin Chandler sitting together in uniforms of gray and in full battle gear: a rare view of two Confederate soldiers, one black and one white and side-by-side and about to meet the Yankee invaders. Even more, the tintype has revealed a physical representation of an invisible, but all-important, bond of brothers in arms that has been expressed in many Confederate letters of enlisted men and officers. Significantly, this image has also revealed ties that bound two men of different races together and as one at a crucial turning point in American history. In fact, Silas is wearing a uniform that is more formal than that of his youthful master, presenting an overall more professional military look, including the military brass buttons of a uniform jacket buttoned all the way up to his neck in contrast to his more casually-attired owner. (pp. 120-21)​
A "bond of brothers", one free the other his personal slave. Now that's revealing....
 

Andersonh1

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Phillip Thomas Tucker's Black Confederate Mess - Civil War Memory

I was hoping that this book might include some useful analysis or point me to new sources, but unfortunately Tucker’s contribution is an absolute mess. In fact, it is one of the worst history books that I have ever read in any subject area. This is made all the more painful given that Tucker holds a PhD in American history from St. Louis University.

Tucker is convinced that “a strict politically-based correctness have crept into the field of Civil War historiography to ordain what is considered to be acceptable in compliance with the day’s most popular and fashionable political climate that has little, if anything, to do with actual history.” (p. 14) The author fails to provide a single shred of evidence in support of this claim or even explain what it means, but that doesn’t prevent him from repeating it on practically every other page.

The narrative itself is unorganized and passage after passage is left without any reference. As for the bibliography, Tucker relies on a small number of sources, but the most popular one is …wait for it… John Stauffer’s 2015 essay “Yes, there were Black Confederates. Here’s Why,” which was published in The Root. This source is cited throughout the book along with a short piece published in the Harvard Gazette from 2011. Tucker accepts Stauffer’s claim that somewhere between 3-6,000 black men fought as soldiers in the Confederate army without any question, even though Stauffer himself never provides an explanation for these numbers. The author also makes use of some of the most popular references on the Internet from Lewis Steiner to Frederick Douglass. They are all present.

Other than missing references and index, it must be good for something.

Considering that half the entries in Levin's blog push the "myth" of the black Confederate, this is about what I expected from him in the way of a review. I question his objectivity on this topic.
 
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cash

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Considering that half the entries in Levin's blog push the "myth" of the black Confederate, this is about what I expected from him in the way of a review. I question his objectivity on this topic.

Considering Kevin demands actual evidence instead of anecdotes and looks for some real historical analysis instead of blindly accepting what a website claims, and considering the track record of the author of this book, I would expect his to be an accurate review.
 
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19thGeorgia

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Considering that half the entries in Levin's blog push the "myth" of the black Confederate, this is about what I expected from him in the way of a review. I question his objectivity on this topic.
He has a new book called "Searching For Black Confederate Soldiers." Strange title since he hasn't done any actual searching.

If you don't look for any you are sure not to find them.
 

Andersonh1

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He has a new book called "Searching For Black Confederate Soldiers." Strange title since he hasn't done any actual searching.

If you don't look for any you are sure not to find them.

Exactly right.

Levin is determined to believe there were no black Confederate soldiers, and he goes out of his way to dismiss all evidence brought before him and to denigrate anyone who attempts to present it. I've read plenty of his blog entries and the comments that follow. I don't think it's hard to predict how his "search" will turn out. I don't expect an open mind from him.

He can mock Tucker's book, but at least Tucker is open minded and willing to accept the evidence of the historical record.
 

cash

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Exactly right.

Levin is determined to believe there were no black Confederate soldiers, and he goes out of his way to dismiss all evidence brought before him and to denigrate anyone who attempts to present it. I've read plenty of his blog entries and the comments that follow. I don't think it's hard to predict how his "search" will turn out. I don't expect an open mind from him.

And how do you know what he's done and what he hasn't done regarding a search for black confederates?
 

AshleyMel

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The topic of Black Confederates interests me, as should be evident from a number of my posts, so it should be no surprise that I was curious to read this book.
I'm glad you read it! I was thinking about getting it (can't let a book that causes such a ruckus go to waste) to add to my library shelf but I just bought Varnia and Hubby bought me a different black confederate book for Mother's Day along with a spiffy new hat for church!!! It is too easy to buy all the books!!! :D

Thanks for the review!
 

jgoodguy

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Considering that half the entries in Levin's blog push the "myth" of the black Confederate, this is about what I expected from him in the way of a review. I question his objectivity on this topic.
Exactly right.

Levin is determined to believe there were no black Confederate soldiers, and he goes out of his way to dismiss all evidence brought before him and to denigrate anyone who attempts to present it. I've read plenty of his blog entries and the comments that follow. I don't think it's hard to predict how his "search" will turn out. I don't expect an open mind from him.

He can mock Tucker's book, but at least Tucker is open minded and willing to accept the evidence of the historical record.

Good News! Looking for a flood of BCs for the BC count thread based on the tangible evidence of the historical record from this fellow.
 
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