Book Review Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth by Kevin M. Levin

unionblue

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It convinces you because it is exactly what you want to hear.

No, you're saying exactly what you want to hear about me.

Levin is not perfect and he has made mistakes, but I trust him far more than the likes of the Kennedy Brothers, Thomas DiLorenzo, Clyde Wilson, and a hoist of other neo confederate cheerleaders.

I don't blindly take anyone's words when it comes to Civil War history. I run down footnotes and quotes and check them out myself. Evidence and actual historical sources are my standard.

Levin meets that standard.

Unionblue
 

unionblue

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I merely try to channel my role model, the late great Mr. Lewis Grizzard. I would point out that my blog isn't strictly a history blog either, even if I do tell local historical accounts from time to time. And as I said, I don't do this to profit from the dead, or feed my own ego.
For the most part all of my "aw shucks" stuff is good-natured. I don't hate anyone, and I don't recognize people who disagree with me as personal "enemies" just folks who need to be educated.
Also I am certain when it comes to the subject of defending Black Confederate Veterans, I have sugar coated nothing dude.

As you say, Carl, but it's not what I see.

Unionblue
 

C.W. Roden

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Unionblue
Oh well, we see what the limits of our own understanding allow us to see.
Seemingly we will have more than enough time in the future to learn more about one another personally.
But enough about me and you, Mr Levin is the subject of this discussion, or rather his (ahem) historical interpretations.
 

unionblue

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Oh well, we see what the limits of our own understanding allow us to see.
Seemingly we will have more than enough time in the future to learn more about one another personally.
But enough about me and you, Mr Levin is the subject of this discussion, or rather his (ahem) historical interpretations.

And it's statements like this that show it's more about your opinion of Mr. Levin than the research he presents in his book, hence OUR ongoing discussion.
 

19thGeorgia

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Levin sez "[Servants] fighting for the Confederate cause was a rare exception rather than the rule" (p.176)

Was it? How often did servants go into battle? If only one out of ten fought that means the Confederate side had a few hundred additional muskets in every major battle.

Statements from Tennessee Colored Confederate Veteran Pension Applications (by applicant or witness)-

John Churchill
"Was in 7 fights first at Springfield Mo where General Lyons commander of Yankees was killed 10 Aug 1862 [1861]. I had a horse shot under me Richmond Ky. was at Arkansas Post where Genl Churchill was captured, but they did not capture me." (p.250)

W.M. Easley
"the applicant...was servant of Maj. J. J. Williams and was also in the same battle [Shiloh] and was also slightly wounded" (p.7)

Henry Gore
"He was the servant of Col. Gore, but when in battle he, applicant, would engage in the battle." (p.158)

Ned Gregory
"Ned Gregory went out with William Chick being a member of Forrest's old regiment; and remained until after the battles of Franklin and Nashville, in which he served." (p.2)

B.J. Jones
"Battle of Lowden Tenn. and Athens, Strawberry Plains, Bulls Gap, Flat Creek, Lookout Mountains, Salt Works, Va., Mocasin Gap, Ky and other. But was not wounded." (p.115)

Manuel Kennedy
"I was never captured. I was in the Grenada fight, and at Meridian and Vicksburg." (p.190)

William McCarter
"reached Chickamauga and was in the battle at that place" (p.205)

Bob McClaran
"was always found ready to his duty in camp on the march or along the firing line" (p.220)

Benjamin Moore
"Fought in Franklin, Tenn, Pulaski, Bulls Gap, Chattanooga & Mississippi." (p.277)

John Moore and Cal Sharpe
"We were in the battle of Parkers Crossroads, Atlanta, Ga, July 24, 1864" (p.299)

Lewis Muzzall
"I was in the battle at Oklahone [Okolona, MS] with my master" (p.66)

George Pearce
"Cumberland Gap, Battle Vicksburg, and one at Roan [Rome] Ga - not wounded." (p.160)

Mose Ward
"Mose Ward served in the Battle of Centerville, Tennessee, September, 1863, and was under Federal fire when they captured the Hickman County Courthouse and burned same to keep Federals in control of this county." (p.298)
Brigadier General Francis A. Shoup:
"[T]he negroes that have served with our armies as cooks and teamsters, are as thoroughly enlisted in our cause as are their masters; and in many cases have been known to fight as gallantly as they." -Albany patriot. (Albany, Ga.), April 13, 1865
 

Horrido67

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Brigadier General Francis A. Shoup:
"[T]he negroes that have served with our armies as cooks and teamsters, are as thoroughly enlisted in our cause as are their masters; and in many cases have been known to fight as gallantly as they." -Albany patriot. (Albany, Ga.), April 13, 1865

I am pretty sure these words are part of "letter" to a Richmond Newspaper that urged everyone in the Confederacy to support this idea of employing black combat soldiers in Feb, 1865 when the Confederates were still debating over the very issue. The author, whoever that might be, was clearly aware that the Confederates yet to adopted the new policy of enlisting black as combat soldiers and failed to properly honor those blacks as soldiers who might have fought for the Confederacy "in many cases" while he fully recognized that the US had "marshalled 200,000 of our slaves against us".

Here is a few things to consider 1) Gen. Shoup was from a free state 2) because of this, It seems like He never quite fully-grasped the socio-economic importance of slavery in slave states. 3) He was clearly delusional on the issue of slavery (he claimed in his essay that there was "a universal sentiment among planters" that they wouldn't tolerate a cruel master and slaves were "undoubtedly happy").

If the letter was indeed from Gen. Shoup, then I think this is another case of non-natives of Slave States being more open to the idea of filling up their ranks with black combat soldiers.

Even then Gen. Shoup wasn't delusional as some people of today - he noted in his essay that "They (slaves) knew perfectly that the conflict was about them, and that the success of the Federal arms meant their freedom".
 

19thGeorgia

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I am pretty sure these words are part of "letter" to a Richmond Newspaper that urged everyone in the Confederacy to support this idea of employing black combat soldiers in Feb, 1865 when the Confederates were still debating over the very issue. The author, whoever that might be, was clearly aware that the Confederates yet to adopted the new policy of enlisting black as combat soldiers and failed to properly honor those blacks as soldiers who might have fought for the Confederacy "in many cases" while he fully recognized that the US had "marshalled 200,000 of our slaves against us"....

Even then Gen. Shoup wasn't delusional as some people of today - he noted in his essay that "They (slaves) knew perfectly that the conflict was about them, and that the success of the Federal arms meant their freedom".
You have one thing right - it's from a letter. But the lines "marshalled 200,000 of our slaves against us" and "They (slaves) knew perfectly that the conflict was about them, and that the success of the Federal arms meant their freedom" are not in it.
 
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19thGeorgia

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Another observation by Shoup:
"The negro doesn't fight for the enemy because he is free. He has been tricked and forced into his service, and he cannot help it. Those who have been recaptured say they would rather fight on our side, because we know better how to treat them."
 

Horrido67

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You have one thing right - it's from a letter. But the lines "marshalled 200,000 of our slaves against us" and "They (slaves) knew perfectly that the conflict was about them, and that the success of the Federal arms meant their freedom" are not in it.

I am sorry. I should have been more specific. The essay that I mentioned wasn't this letter. It was another article that Gen. Shoup wrote.

"There never was any hesitancy in talking freely before and to them about the war and its causes. They knew perfectly that the conflict was about them, and that the success of the Federal arms meant their freedom. There were large areas in the extreme Southern States from which nearly every able-bodied white man had gone to the scene of war, leaving the old men and the women and children entirely in the hands of the slaves. It was not at all unusual for the managers of plantations to be blacks, with not a white man at hand. They knew, too, that the food supply of the armies depended upon them. There never was an attempt at insurrection."
 
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Horrido67

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"because we know better how to treat them"

This was just his claim. Remember this is the same man who believed that slaves were "undoubtedly" happy since "No class of laborers on the face of the earth were, as a class, so free from care and so moderately tasked."

Source : "Uncle Tom's Cabin Forty Years After"
Francis A. Shoup
The Sewanee Review, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Nov., 1893), pp. 88-104
 

Viper21

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Here is a few things to consider 1) Gen. Shoup was from a free state 2) because of this, It seems like He never quite fully-grasped the socio-economic importance of slavery in slave states. 3) He was clearly delusional on the issue of slavery (he claimed in his essay that there was "a universal sentiment among planters" that they wouldn't tolerate a cruel master and slaves were "undoubtedly happy").

If the letter was indeed from Gen. Shoup, then I think this is another case of non-natives of Slave States being more open to the idea of filling up their ranks with black combat soldiers.
Are you suggesting that folks from "free states" were less informed, or ignorant, about the South's "peculiar institution", & it's nuances ..?
:wink:
 

Andersonh1

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Back in October I posed a question to Levin about the book:

I do have a question after reading the first two chapters. The focus is almost entirely on the slave experience with the CS army, and there is very little mention of how the free black population experienced life with the CS army during the war. Why was that subject not a larger part of those two chapters, particularly since you state that free blacks largely replaced slaves after Gettysburg and Vicksburg? Thanks.​
Here was his answer:
Now that is a very reasonable question and one that I will try to answer to your satisfaction.​
The black Confederate myth is largely built on stories of body servants or what I call camp slaves in the book. As you note, I do mention the presence of free blacks in the army, but the questions that I had going into this project had more to do with the relationship between master and slave at war. I was interested in how a relationship that was reinforced at home would function in a very different and unknown environment. As I argue in the first two chapters, this relationship stretched and contracted at various points and was severed entirely by enslaved men who ran off at different times.​
In addition and as you will see in subsequent chapters it is the stories of camp slaves that occupied a central place in the Lost Cause narrative after the war. Free blacks are nowhere to be seen.​
As you know neither the free blacks performing roles as cooks, musicians, along with the body servants were considered to be soldiers by real Confederates during the war. Military regulations were crystal clear on this score.​
I actually think that the presence of free blacks is one area that could be explored further, though I think wartime sources will be scarce. One place where they do make an appearance is in Virginia’s pension applications. In contrast with the other four former Confederate states that issued pensions to former body servants (camp slaves) Virginia extended its program to include free blacks. There are very few of these accounts because so few were still alive by the 1920s.​
I don’t know to what extent free blacks “replaced” impressed slaves after Gettysburg. We don’t have any numbers to work with so it is entirely speculative.​
Hope that helps and I thank you for the question. Glad to see that you are reading the book. I am happy to respond to any other questions time permitting.​
 

Viper21

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Back in October I posed a question to Levin about the book:

I do have a question after reading the first two chapters. The focus is almost entirely on the slave experience with the CS army, and there is very little mention of how the free black population experienced life with the CS army during the war. Why was that subject not a larger part of those two chapters, particularly since you state that free blacks largely replaced slaves after Gettysburg and Vicksburg? Thanks.​
Here was his answer:
Now that is a very reasonable question and one that I will try to answer to your satisfaction.​
The black Confederate myth is largely built on stories of body servants or what I call camp slaves in the book. As you note, I do mention the presence of free blacks in the army, but the questions that I had going into this project had more to do with the relationship between master and slave at war. I was interested in how a relationship that was reinforced at home would function in a very different and unknown environment. As I argue in the first two chapters, this relationship stretched and contracted at various points and was severed entirely by enslaved men who ran off at different times.​
In addition and as you will see in subsequent chapters it is the stories of camp slaves that occupied a central place in the Lost Cause narrative after the war. Free blacks are nowhere to be seen.​
As you know neither the free blacks performing roles as cooks, musicians, along with the body servants were considered to be soldiers by real Confederates during the war. Military regulations were crystal clear on this score.​
I actually think that the presence of free blacks is one area that could be explored further, though I think wartime sources will be scarce. One place where they do make an appearance is in Virginia’s pension applications. In contrast with the other four former Confederate states that issued pensions to former body servants (camp slaves) Virginia extended its program to include free blacks. There are very few of these accounts because so few were still alive by the 1920s.​
I don’t know to what extent free blacks “replaced” impressed slaves after Gettysburg. We don’t have any numbers to work with so it is entirely speculative.​
Hope that helps and I thank you for the question. Glad to see that you are reading the book. I am happy to respond to any other questions time permitting.​
I appreciate that he took the effort to respond to your question. He deserves credit for that.

He seems to admit that he focused on a particular facet of the topic, & for the most part ignored the rest of the topic. Unless it is covered in detail later in the book, it appears (from this response), he chose the low hanging fruit of, what he could use to more easily support his opinion on the subject.

Not sure how you could ignore the free men, & discount them because we don't know their numbers. We don't know the numbers of either (free or slave).

Am I being too cynical..?
 

Andersonh1

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I appreciate that he took the effort to respond to your question. He deserves credit for that.

He seems to admit that he focused on a particular facet of the topic, & for the most part ignored the rest of the topic. Unless it is covered in detail later in the book, it appears (from this response), he chose the low hanging fruit of, what he could use to more easily support his opinion on the subject.

Not sure how you could ignore the free men, & discount them because we don't know their numbers. We don't know the numbers of either (free or slave).

Am I being too cynical..?

There is very little information about the free black population in the book. He focuses very much on the slaves and their experience as he sees it.
 

Viper21

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There is very little information about the free black population in the book. He focuses very much on the slaves and their experience as he sees it.
What a shame. Though I can't say I'm surprised.

One of the key actions of those that poo poo the topic, is to quickly dismiss any claim of "Confederate" status as, they were slaves. We've all been lectured at how disrespectful (in their opinion), it is to put the title of Confederate on men who had no say in the matter, as they claim.

While I believe there are exceptions to this argument, as several of us have seen, this argument on their part at least has some merit, even though I disagree with their assessment when used across the board, or with a broad brush. I think the discounting of these men's contributions to the Confederacy is done, because it's easy to do. It's a pretty simple connecting of the dots that, these men didn't have free will, & were only doing what they were forced to do. Certainly the case in plenty of examples but, I do believe it's too broad of a brush.

That argument flies out the window when you're discussing Freemen. Now the arguments most commonly used to discount their contributions, & outrage at calling them Confederates, is MUCH more subjective. While most of us acknowledge these are small numbers of men, I personally find their stories fascinating. I consider getting into their motivations, secondary to learning about their actions.

Many people from all periods, perform similar actions with unique motivations. To classify their motivations as only X, or Y, takes away their individuality, & in a sense their freedom. Their freedom of thought, freedom to be individuals in the arena of study.

There are examples in this very thread showing Black men who actually fought, & killed Yankees. We've seen multiple reports of such, from a variety of sources. We all know, many Black men were in Grey. Some of them were freemen. Sad that an author as popular as Levin, didn't think their stories were worth telling, or understanding. The cynic in me believes, his motivation for that: It doesn't fit his preferred Narrative.
 
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Andersonh1

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Were free blacks generally allowed to serve in the Confederate army as combat soldiers?

As I've noted, it doesn't seem correct to define "Confederates" just as soldiers. We don't do that with the white population and should not do it with the black population either. I would rather examine the role they played, whatever it might have been, rather than dismiss them because they were not generally allowed to serve as soldiers in combat (though some clearly did anyway). Free black men who enlisted (and that is often the correct term) in the army as musicians, cooks, teamsters, etc. had value to the CS military and should be included in any study of black Confederates. So should civilians who supported the war effort in some way, such as volunteer labor or financial contributions.
 
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Eric Calistri

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Were free blacks generally allowed to serve in the Confederate army as combat soldiers?


The statute allowing this was not enacted until March 1865. The thing about free blacks in this context is that there were so few of them. As per the 1860 census, 96% of the blacks in the 11 states of the Confederacy were slaves.
 

Desert Kid

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As I've noted, it doesn't seem correct to define "Confederates" just as soldiers. We don't do that with the white population and should not do it with the black population either. I would rather examine the role they played, whatever it might have been, rather than dismiss them because they were not generally allowed to serve as soldiers in combat (though some clearly did anyway). Free black men who enlisted (and that is often the correct term) in the army as musicians, cooks, teamsters, etc. had value to the CS military and should be included in any study of black Confederates. So should civilians who supported the war effort in some way, such as volunteer labor or financial contributions.

Yeah, but that wouldn't including that dashing Robert Gould Shaw, and have the movie Glory made about it. So it doesn't count to guys like Levin.
 
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