Discussion Refuting Professor Walter E. Williams' "Black Confederates"

yankeeblue

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Joined
Jul 24, 2018
Walter E. Williams is an economics professor at George Mason University, and is well known among conservative minded people. In fact, Professor Williams has substituted for Rush Limbaugh on Rush's radio show many times in the past.

A few years ago I found an article online that was authored by Professor Williams about blacks having served as soldiers in the Confederacy. His article is located in several places online and each one is slightly changed. See this link for a good example: http://www.vagenweb.org/dinwiddie/cwar/black-conf.htm

Professor Williams attempts to show that the Confederacy actually employed blacks as soldiers in the Civil War. While there much that I agree with Professor Williams about regarding politics and economics, he is dead wrong in this article. Between the Spring and Summer semesters this year I sat down and wrote a research paper to refute all the arguments he uses to "prove" his idea of the black Confederate soldier. I have pasted the link to my paper in my Google drive below.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LmyHTRDMZpIp_5Kqr1gIGmGuCHSJUNyw/view?usp=sharing
 

Andersonh1

Brigadier General
Moderator
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Location
South Carolina
I tend to wonder what Walter Williams would have written if he'd had more than a column's length to address this topic. He hits some high points and that's about it. He's a smart and educated man, and I'm glad to see you giving him his due, even while you disagree with his conclusions here. That's the kind of respectful disagreement I wish more would employ.
 

C.W. Roden

Formerly: SouthernFriedOtaku
Joined
Dec 3, 2019
Location
South Carolina, USA, Earth
I don't fault Dr. Williams, who is an honorable man and a great mind, but his scope of proving Black Confederate service was limited by the usual starting points for conversation and by the length of his article.
Fortunately Black Confederate Denial has been soundly refuted, and in greater detail. I would invite you to check out my own critically acclaimed article on the topic. I think you will find a much more realistic case for the service of Black Southern Loyalists, and why the arguments of those who insist on denying them are little more than historical negationism.
http://southernfriedcommonsense.blogspot.com/2019/04/busting-myth-of-black-confederate-denial.html
 

yankeeblue

Private
Joined
Jul 24, 2018
I don't fault Dr. Williams, who is an honorable man and a great mind, but his scope of proving Black Confederate service was limited by the usual starting points for conversation and by the length of his article.
Fortunately Black Confederate Denial has been soundly refuted, and in greater detail. I would invite you to check out my own critically acclaimed article on the topic. I think you will find a much more realistic case for the service of Black Southern Loyalists, and why the arguments of those who insist on denying them are little more than historical negationism.
http://southernfriedcommonsense.blogspot.com/2019/04/busting-myth-of-black-confederate-denial.html

Thanks, I'll have a look at it.
 

19thGeorgia

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Walter E. Williams is an economics professor at George Mason University, and is well known among conservative minded people. In fact, Professor Williams has substituted for Rush Limbaugh on Rush's radio show many times in the past.

A few years ago I found an article online that was authored by Professor Williams about blacks having served as soldiers in the Confederacy. His article is located in several places online and each one is slightly changed. See this link for a good example: http://www.vagenweb.org/dinwiddie/cwar/black-conf.htm

Professor Williams attempts to show that the Confederacy actually employed blacks as soldiers in the Civil War. While there much that I agree with Professor Williams about regarding politics and economics, he is dead wrong in this article. Between the Spring and Summer semesters this year I sat down and wrote a research paper to refute all the arguments he uses to "prove" his idea of the black Confederate soldier. I have pasted the link to my paper in my Google drive below.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LmyHTRDMZpIp_5Kqr1gIGmGuCHSJUNyw/view?usp=sharing
Here's a project that was started a few years ago. It lists about 800 - most of whom were enlisted.
"Why 800?" you may ask. We quit when we got tired. There are many more...
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/co...vice-records-of-black-and-mulatto-men.142783/
 
Last edited:

yankeeblue

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Joined
Jul 24, 2018
Here's a project that was started a few years ago. It lists about 800 - most of whom were enlisted.
"Why 800?" you may ask. We quit when we got tired. There are many more...
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/co...vice-records-of-black-and-mulatto-men.142783/

I really hate it when others intentionally ignore the overall point just to justify their own mythical beliefs. As I stated in my paper, no one is arguing against the existence of the occasional black Confederate soldier. Many are known to have served. But these were onesies and twosies who served at the pleasure of their immediate commanders; they were the exception, not the rule. Find me an example of an organized Confederate unit composed solely of colored soldiers that was not ordered to be disbanded; on second thought, don't bother, because they never existed.

In the forum link you posted, there are many muster roles presented. But many of those papers do not have any race listed, so how do we know that the individual is colored or not? Also, many of those papers list the individual as non-combatant in some form. Again, no one doubts that blacks acted as non-combatants in the Confederacy; thousands did so. But the armed black soldier was a rarity.

If black Confederate soldiers were really the norm, then explain to me why General Cleburne was ocstracized after he suggested to General Bragg that the Confederacy begin actively arming blacks as soldiers in 1864. Why did Jefferson Davis immediately reject the suggestion when he heard it himself? When manpower was at dangerously low levels, why did General Lee and Jefferson Davis have to beg and plead to the Confederate Congress to allow blacks to serve as armed soldiers? If black Confederate soldiers had been the norm, then why would the Confederate Congress have even bothered to finally pass a law in February 1865 that allowed blacks to enlist as armed soldiers?
 
Joined
Jun 16, 2016
I don't fault Dr. Williams, who is an honorable man and a great mind, but his scope of proving Black Confederate service was limited by the usual starting points for conversation and by the length of his article.
Fortunately Black Confederate Denial has been soundly refuted, and in greater detail. I would invite you to check out my own critically acclaimed article on the topic. I think you will find a much more realistic case for the service of Black Southern Loyalists, and why the arguments of those who insist on denying them are little more than historical negationism.
http://southernfriedcommonsense.blogspot.com/2019/04/busting-myth-of-black-confederate-denial.html

What critical acclaim?
 

19thGeorgia

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
I really hate it when others intentionally ignore the overall point just to justify their own mythical beliefs.
I posted a project thread for you. I didn't state any beliefs.

"If black Confederate soldiers were really the norm, then explain to me why General Cleburne..."

I don't believe you'll find anyone here claiming they were the norm.

*

Isn't Walt Williams' article a bit dated? Published year 2000? He may have refurbished it a few times over the years, but it sounds basically the same. We've moved on from those days.
 
Last edited:

Andersonh1

Brigadier General
Moderator
Joined
Jan 12, 2016
Location
South Carolina
I've read your paper, and I wanted to respond to a few things:

"the Confederacy did not choose to arm and equip black soldiers for battle until just weeks before General Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia, and that no organized unit of black soldiers was ever deployed to battle by the Confederacy."​
Sticking strictly with the black soldiers recruited under the 1865 law, there is evidence that Dr. Chambliss's unit from the hospital spent some time on the front lines at Petersburg, based on a letter written by their commanding officer when he turned them over to Majors Pegram and Turner in Richmond who were recruiting black soldiers. There are several reports from Grant's army of seeing black soldiers in the trenches at Petersburg. That's not quote "deploying in battle", admittedly, but that is spending time in the field.

In addition, there are several reports of the black soldiers leaving Richmond with Lee's army as it headed ultimately towards Appomattox, and that they took part in several skirmishes and "performed well" if I remember the quote. Given that the CS military had less than a month to recruit and train these men, a limited amount of service is about all we should expect to find, but I don't think we can correctly state that "no organized unit of black soldiers" was ever deployed by the CS.

You mentioned Douglas being frustrated that the Union army would not employ black men as soldiers, while complaining that the South was already doing so. Douglas was one of many newspaper publishers to make that same claim. It appears over and over in the newspapers of 1861 and 1862.

The 1st Louisiana Native Guard were volunteer Louisiana State troops, and they were deployed to defend New Orleans in April 1862. They were placed near the mint and I am honestly not sure if they were unwilling to evacuate the city with the other militia, or unable to. I've read accounts that indicate either is a possibility. They were not in the federal Confederate army, however they were State troops belonging to a Confederate state. And it's worth noting something that you don't mention, that only about 10% of the Confederate Native Guard sided with the Union when Benjamin Butler formed his black units. Most of them did not switch sides, they just apparently dropped out of the war, and Jordan Noble, probably the most famous member of the Native Guard who was known for his part as a drummer during the War of 1812, lost his property because he refused to take the oath of allegiance for a long time.

As the war progressed, many Confederate officials began to question whether blacks should be used as soldiers, but this idea was not seriously considered by the Confederate Congress until February 1865, and only because the Confederate armies were dangerously short on manpower.​
The debate actually began in earnest from the ground up, with the Confederate Congress being the last to get on board. Newspapers began seriously discussing the possibility of mass enlistment of slaves after Vicksburg and Gettysburg, and some of the coastal States were more open to the idea, with at least one Alabama representative (I think, need to check my notes) pushing to allow the mixed-race population of this state to enlist. The move by the Confederate Congress to enlist slaves as laborers is more properly seen as one of their earliest, reluctant steps down the road towards what would ultimately culminate in the black soldier bill a year later. The movement in the South to enlist black soldiers was a gradual process, not a sudden change of heart in March 1865.

If slaves had already been used in the Confederate armies since at least 1862, then why would General Cleburne make a proposal in December 1863 to use slaves as soldiers? If Lee’s army had been employing slaves as soldiers since 1862, then why did he need to ask a Virginia state senator to make a law allowing slaves to be soldiers?​
A couple of observations here: don't leave the free black population of the South out of consideration when looking at possible black soldiers. They made up only a small portion of the black population of the South, but they often volunteered for service at the beginning of the war, and were often accepted as laborers, if not to fight. They Native Guard are one of the rare example of black men who volunteered to fight and were accepted, but there were other groups in Louisiana and at least one in Florida, and possibly one in Tennessee, at least on the state level. My opinion is that for the small number of black individuals who did fight as soldiers, they probably came from the free black population. The other observation is related: there's a difference between a few black soldiers scattered here and there in the CS army, and mass enlistment of slaves. Apples and oranges, in my opinion. Even if high-level officers like Lee or Cleburne had seen a black man fighting in the ranks from time to time (and I'm not aware of any evidence that they did, so I'm not making that claim), that's a far cry from arming 200,000 slaves for the army. It's a different situation requiring major changes in the law, while a slave picking up a gun and taking part in a battle, or a free black man fighting with an otherwise all-white regiment did not.

I think this is a topic that's hard to address in a short column like the one that Walter Williams wrote, but I applaud him for being open-minded enough to consider the evidence and write about it in today's political climate. And I appreciate you attempting to offer a thoughtful countering point of view. I've seen too many out there look down at Williams with a condescending attitude and make fun of his ideas. I like seeing your more thoughtful approach, even though I disagree with some of your conclusions. Thanks for sharing.
 
Joined
Jun 16, 2016
Well it was reviewed and praised by Mr. Tony Horowitz best selling author of "Confederates In The Attic".
Oh and this site engaged in quite the spirited debate on it as well. Also I understand it was mentioned in Civil War Monitor and a few other sites as well.

Please share. Thank you.
 

yankeeblue

Private
Joined
Jul 24, 2018
I've read your paper, and I wanted to respond to a few things:

"the Confederacy did not choose to arm and equip black soldiers for battle until just weeks before General Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia, and that no organized unit of black soldiers was ever deployed to battle by the Confederacy."​
Sticking strictly with the black soldiers recruited under the 1865 law, there is evidence that Dr. Chambliss's unit from the hospital spent some time on the front lines at Petersburg, based on a letter written by their commanding officer when he turned them over to Majors Pegram and Turner in Richmond who were recruiting black soldiers. There are several reports from Grant's army of seeing black soldiers in the trenches at Petersburg. That's not quote "deploying in battle", admittedly, but that is spending time in the field.

In addition, there are several reports of the black soldiers leaving Richmond with Lee's army as it headed ultimately towards Appomattox, and that they took part in several skirmishes and "performed well" if I remember the quote. Given that the CS military had less than a month to recruit and train these men, a limited amount of service is about all we should expect to find, but I don't think we can correctly state that "no organized unit of black soldiers" was ever deployed by the CS.

You mentioned Douglas being frustrated that the Union army would not employ black men as soldiers, while complaining that the South was already doing so. Douglas was one of many newspaper publishers to make that same claim. It appears over and over in the newspapers of 1861 and 1862.

The 1st Louisiana Native Guard were volunteer Louisiana State troops, and they were deployed to defend New Orleans in April 1862. They were placed near the mint and I am honestly not sure if they were unwilling to evacuate the city with the other militia, or unable to. I've read accounts that indicate either is a possibility. They were not in the federal Confederate army, however they were State troops belonging to a Confederate state. And it's worth noting something that you don't mention, that only about 10% of the Confederate Native Guard sided with the Union when Benjamin Butler formed his black units. Most of them did not switch sides, they just apparently dropped out of the war, and Jordan Noble, probably the most famous member of the Native Guard who was known for his part as a drummer during the War of 1812, lost his property because he refused to take the oath of allegiance for a long time.

As the war progressed, many Confederate officials began to question whether blacks should be used as soldiers, but this idea was not seriously considered by the Confederate Congress until February 1865, and only because the Confederate armies were dangerously short on manpower.​
The debate actually began in earnest from the ground up, with the Confederate Congress being the last to get on board. Newspapers began seriously discussing the possibility of mass enlistment of slaves after Vicksburg and Gettysburg, and some of the coastal States were more open to the idea, with at least one Alabama representative (I think, need to check my notes) pushing to allow the mixed-race population of this state to enlist. The move by the Confederate Congress to enlist slaves as laborers is more properly seen as one of their earliest, reluctant steps down the road towards what would ultimately culminate in the black soldier bill a year later. The movement in the South to enlist black soldiers was a gradual process, not a sudden change of heart in March 1865.

If slaves had already been used in the Confederate armies since at least 1862, then why would General Cleburne make a proposal in December 1863 to use slaves as soldiers? If Lee’s army had been employing slaves as soldiers since 1862, then why did he need to ask a Virginia state senator to make a law allowing slaves to be soldiers?​
A couple of observations here: don't leave the free black population of the South out of consideration when looking at possible black soldiers. They made up only a small portion of the black population of the South, but they often volunteered for service at the beginning of the war, and were often accepted as laborers, if not to fight. They Native Guard are one of the rare example of black men who volunteered to fight and were accepted, but there were other groups in Louisiana and at least one in Florida, and possibly one in Tennessee, at least on the state level. My opinion is that for the small number of black individuals who did fight as soldiers, they probably came from the free black population. The other observation is related: there's a difference between a few black soldiers scattered here and there in the CS army, and mass enlistment of slaves. Apples and oranges, in my opinion. Even if high-level officers like Lee or Cleburne had seen a black man fighting in the ranks from time to time (and I'm not aware of any evidence that they did, so I'm not making that claim), that's a far cry from arming 200,000 slaves for the army. It's a different situation requiring major changes in the law, while a slave picking up a gun and taking part in a battle, or a free black man fighting with an otherwise all-white regiment did not.

I think this is a topic that's hard to address in a short column like the one that Walter Williams wrote, but I applaud him for being open-minded enough to consider the evidence and write about it in today's political climate. And I appreciate you attempting to offer a thoughtful countering point of view. I've seen too many out there look down at Williams with a condescending attitude and make fun of his ideas. I like seeing your more thoughtful approach, even though I disagree with some of your conclusions. Thanks for sharing.

Do you have any sources for the colored soldiers in the Petersburg trenches, or the colored soldiers that went to Appomattox?

No one is denying that a small number of blacks and mulattoes fought with the Confederacy, but they were the exception, not the rule. You are correct that the decision to arm blacks came about gradually in the Confederacy. In 1864, Jefferson Davis issued a call for 20,000 slaves to be recruited from the South to serve as laborers in the Confederacy. But he did not seriously consider arming colored persons until several weeks for the Confederacy collapsed, and only because there was a severe shortage of manpower. It was too little, too late. A really good book that covers this is Confederate Emancipation by Bruce Levine.
 

Andersonh1

Brigadier General
Moderator
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Location
South Carolina
Do you have any sources for the colored soldiers in the Petersburg trenches, or the colored soldiers that went to Appomattox?

I don't know that they ever actually made it to Appomattox, but they saw some action along the way. I'll see if I can find my sources on that and post them for you. They might be in this linked thread, which collected information about black soldiers recruited under the March 1865 law: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/th...-raised-march-april-1865.154756/#post-1988572

My sources on the men in the trenches at Petersburg are a combination of post-war recollections, a contemporary letter from their commanding officer, and newspaper reports from both sides of the lines, one of which quotes a dispatch by John Brady.

Officers: Colonel Scott Shipp, VMI; Major Henry C. Scott
Place of recruitment: Jackson Hospital, Richmond, recruited by Dr. F. W. Hancock, Dr Chambliss

e29fhpn-jpg.jpg


From the National Archives, RG 109 (Administrative Files – Subject Index: Ships – Zouaves, Box # 5 , “Slaves” Folder)
Hd Qrs Jackson Battalion
March 16th 1865

Sir​
I have the honor to report that in obedience to your orders received through Surg Hancock I ordered my Battalion from the 1st 2d 3 & 4 Div of Jackson Hospital to the front on Saturday night at 12 o’clk and reported by order of Maj. Pegram to Col. Ship P.A.C.S. Comdg Cadet Corps.​
I have great pleasure in stating that my men acted with the utmost promptness and good will.​
I had the pleasure of turning over to Major Chambliss a portion of my Negro command to be attached to his Negro command. Allow me to state that they behaved in extraordinary commendable(?) manner. I would respectfully ask that Major Chambliss be particularly noticed for the manner which he handled that very important element to be inaugurated in our service.​
Respy your Obdt Servt​
H. C. Scott​
Surg(?) & Major Comdg​
Jackson Battln​

The newspapers reported that these men had been at the front, and they were seen on the Union side of the lines as well and reported as late as March 29.

The New York herald. (New York [N.Y.]) 1840-1920, March 13, 1865
qddtpbe-jpg.jpg



The Tipton advertiser. (Tipton, Cedar Co., Iowa) 1856-1962, March 16, 1865
0ruvuka-jpg.jpg



The daily dispatch. (Richmond [Va.]) 1850-1884, March 22, 1865
xit0nj3-jpg.jpg



The New York herald. (New York [N.Y.]) 1840-1920, April 03, 1865
ipvxs2k-jpg.jpg
 

yankeeblue

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Joined
Jul 24, 2018
I recently learned that Professor Williams died in October, not long after I wrote my paper. While I disagree with pretty much everything he has said about the Civil War, I've always greatly admired him, and I wish I could have had the chance to meet him. I would have enjoyed discussing the Civil War at length with him. RIP Professor Williams.
 
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