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The Myth of Black Confederates

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by CMWinkler, Nov 30, 2014.

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  1. CMWinkler

    CMWinkler Colonel Forum Host Retired Moderator

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    The Myth of Black Confederates
    LAS professor rejects myth that blacks fought for rebels in large numbers.

    [​IMG]
    Black laborers mount a cannon for the attack on Ft. Sumter, 1861. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

    Patrick R. Cleburne, a prominent general in the Confederate Army of Tennessee, could see what was happening in the South in late 1863. Southern troops were outnumbered, soldiers were demoralized, and the institution of slavery was collapsing. So on January 2, 1864, Cleburne rode through a sleet-driven night in northern Georgia to present an audacious proposal to nearly a dozen Confederate generals.

    He proposed that the Confederate States of America offer freedom to military age male slaves who were willing to fight for the South.

    “Most of the generals denounced him,” says Bruce Levine, University of Illinois history professor and author of Confederate Emancipation and The Fall of the House of Dixie.

    Cleburne’s proposal was overwhelmingly rejected, for secessionist states were not about to undermine the system of slavery that they were fighting to defend. But despite this clear disdain for the idea of arming African Americans, Levine says that over the past 30 years there has arisen a myth that black soldiers did fight for the Confederacy in massive numbers—tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands, according to some accounts propagated online.

    More: http://www.las.illinois.edu/news/2013/confederates/#.VHqsbrp7nuw.facebook
     

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  3. 12th Missouri Yankee

    12th Missouri Yankee Sergeant

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    Cannot see that happening.... maybe they were laborers but not as soldiers in large numbers. Many defected and ran off to fight for the Union army.
     
  4. Patrick H

    Patrick H Major

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    I've never read nor heard anyone state that blacks served in huge numbers as soldiers. I was surprised to see a reference to that in the linked article.
     
  5. east tennessee roots

    east tennessee roots Captain

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    In November, 1895, While speaking in Atlanta, Georgia on the subject "The Negro as a Soldier," Medal of Honor winner, Christian A. Fleetwood spoke of what he perceived to be the Confederacy's failure at arming black freemen, and emancipating slaves who would in turn volunteer. Stating it "was not his purpose" to speculate on what might have been, "the immense addition to the Confederate fighting force, the quick recognition of them by Great Britain, to which slavery was the greatest hindrance, and the fact that the heart of the Negro was with the south, but for slavery, and one could make the case for a different outcome of the war." Source: "Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865." by Noah A. Trudeau.

    [​IMG]

    Christian A. Fleetwood

    Residence was not listed; 23 years old.

    Enlisted on 8/11/1863 at Baltimore, MD as a Sergeant.

    On 9/1/1863 he mustered into "G" Co. US CT 4th Infantry
    He was Mustered Out on 5/4/1866


    Promotions:
    * Sergt Major


    Intra Regimental Company Transfers:
    * from company G to Field & Staff


    Other Information:
    born 7/21/1840 in Baltimore, MD
    died 9/28/1914 in Washington, DC
    Buried: Harmony Memorial Park, Landover, MD

    Medal of Honor Information:
    He was awarded the Medal of Honor
    for action on 9/29/1864 at New Market Heights, VA.
    (Seized the colors and bore them nobly through the fight)

    Sources used by Historical Data Systems, Inc.:

    - Maryland Volunteers, War of 1861-65
    - Deeds of Valor. How our Soldier-heroes won the Medal of Honor
    - Medal of Honor Recipients 1863-1994
    - Congress Medal of Honor Legion of the United States
    (c) Historical Data Systems, Inc. @ www.civilwardata.com


    Christian A. Fleetwood, Alexander Kelly
    New Market Heights, VA
    09/29/64

    THOUGHT ONLY OF SAVING THE FLAG

    THE attack upon the rebel works at New Market Heights, Va.,
    September 29, 1864, one of the most stubborn in the history of
    the war, was delivered by the Fourth and Sixth U. S. Colored
    Troops, who lost more than half their men in that bloody charge.
    An account of the occurrence is given by Sergeant-Major Christian
    A. Fleetwood of the Fourth U. S. Colored Troops, as follows:

    " Our regiment lined up for the charge with eleven officers and
    350 enlisted men. There was but one field officer with us, Major
    A. S. Boernstein, who was in command. Our adjutant, George
    Allen, supervised the right, and I, as sergeant-major, the left.
    When the charge was started our color-guard was complete. Only
    one of the twelve came off that field on his own feet. Most of
    the others are there still. Early in the rush one of the
    sergeants went down, a bullet cutting his flag-staff in two and
    passing through his body. The other sergeant, Alfred B. Hilton,
    of Company H, a magnificent specimen of manhood, over six feet
    tall and splendidly proportioned, caught up the other flag and
    pressed forward with them both.

    " It was a deadly hailstorm of bullets, sweeping men down as
    hailstones sweep the leaves from the trees, and it was not long
    before he also went down, shot through the leg. As he fell he
    held up the flags and shouted: 'Boys, save the colors ! '

    " Before they could touch the ground, Corporal Charles Veal, of
    Company D, had seized the blue flag, and I the American flag,
    which had been presented to us by the patriotic women of our home
    in Baltimore.

    " It was very evident that there was too much work cut out for
    our regiments. Strong earthworks, protected in front by two
    lines of abatis and one line of palisades, and in the rear by a
    lot of men who proved that they knew how to shoot and largely
    outnumbered us. We struggled through the two lines of
    abatis, a few getting through the palisades, but it was sheer
    madness, and those of us who were able I had to get out as best
    we could. Reaching the line of our reserves and no commissioned
    officer being in sight, I rallied the survivors around the flag,
    rounding up at first eighty-five men and three commissioned
    officer. During the day about thirty more men came along-all
    that was left.

    " I have never been able to understand how Veal and I lived under
    such a hail of bullets, unless it was because we were both such
    little fellows. I think I weighed then about 125 pounds and Veal
    about the same. We did not get a scratch. A bullet passed
    between my legs, cutting my bootleg, trousers and even my
    stocking, without breaking the skin."

    The brave sergeant-major and his no less brave comrades, Sergeant
    Alfred B. Hilton, of Company H, and Corporal Charles Veal, of
    Company D, were awarded the Medal of Honor.

    At the same battle First Sergeant Alexander Kelly, of Company F,
    Sixth U. S. Colored Troops, also distinguished himself and was
    awarded with the medal for saving the flag of his regiment after
    the color-bearer and most of the company had been either killed
    or wounded.


    Source: Deeds of Valor, p. 434
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2014
  6. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Major

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  7. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree Major

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    There are people who have made that claim, and those claims have been discussed heavily on this forum. Over time, though, I see that particular claim less and less.

    One issue with the Black Confederate "issue" is that different people have different definitions of Black Confederates. For some people, slaves who, as in the picture in post #1, were laborers who moved canon were Black Confederate soldiers, or just plain Black Confederates. They were not seen that way in their era, but people have made these kinds of statements in ours.

    - Alan
     
  8. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    Bruce Levine on blacks in the CSA army:
    In response to an offer seeking the authority to raise a company of legally free "creoles" in Mobile, Alabama, for service in the Confederate armed forces, Confederate Secretary of War James A Seddon wrote this on November 24, 1863:

    "Our position with the North and before the world will not allow the employment of armed soldiers of negroes. If these creoles can be naturally and properly discriminated from negroes, the authority may be considered as conferred; otherwise not, unless you can enlist them as 'navvies' (to use the English term) or for subordinate working purposes." Navvies were laborers used to build roads, canals, and railroads.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2014
  9. Patrick H

    Patrick H Major

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    Yes, I know this has been discussed and argued numerous times on our forum--sometimes in a heated way. I'm convinced that our members will never completely agree on the issue.

    Here's the passage from the linked article that startled me:

    "But despite this clear disdain for the idea of arming African Americans, Levine says that over the past 30 years there has arisen a myth that black soldiers did fight for the Confederacy in massive numbers—tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands, according to some accounts propagated online."

    I've never read anyone claim that tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of black soldiers fought for the confederacy. I don't know where Levine got that idea. The claims I always read involve isolated slaves following their masters into the war and then fighting alongside them.
     
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  10. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    The SCV claims that 15% of slaves and 25% of free blacks in the South supported the Confederacy:
    http://www.scv.org/documents/edpapers/blackhistory.pdf

    The "fact sheet" says they "even" served as soldiers, though it does not give a number.
     
  11. DanF

    DanF Captain

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    Black confederates are part of neo confederate myth. The purpose is try and "prove" that the confederacy did not go to war to presrve slavery.
     
  12. DanF

    DanF Captain

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    How inconsiderate of them to refuse to share the results of what apparently was a poll conducted by tbe confederacy.

    **whistling**
     
  13. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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  14. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    Here is the Virginia textbook quote:
    "Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson."
     
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  15. DanF

    DanF Captain

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  16. DanF

    DanF Captain

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    If the multiverse theory is true then there must be a universe where this was true. Just isn't this one.
     
  17. kholland

    kholland Captain Forum Host Trivia Game Winner Retired Moderator

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    You would have thought that official reports and soldier's reminiscences would mention hundreds of black faces firing at them on a battlefield, don't ya think!
     
  18. Mild53

    Mild53 First Sergeant

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    Perghaps the almost “double negative” in the title of your post, “Rejects Myth”, has lead to some posters to interpet that the author of the article supports the idea that blacks seved as soldiers. Read the article, the author asserts that they did not.
     
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  19. AndyHall

    AndyHall Colonel Forum Host

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    Levine is correct, but it's a discussion that exists mostly on the Internet, not in mainstream CW publishing. Numbers as high as 100,000 have been tossed out repeatedly, although as Alan suggests, assertions of tens of thousands of African American soldiers enlisted in the Confederate army have dropped off considerably in the face of aggressive pushback from historians, including Levine. The response has been to hand-wave away distinctions between soldiers and servants and laborers, military and civilian, as with this gem I read recently:

    There were more than a million Black Confederates if everyone will stop defining the term as an equivalent for “military” service.
    You can claim anything is true so long as you're not bound by those pesky definitions, amiright?
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2014
  20. DanF

    DanF Captain

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    I wonder if tbe black slaves used by the confederacy for laborers (often over the objection of their owners) considered themselves "confederates"?

    Given confederate compaints about how such impressed labor had tendencies to" vote with their feet" and head for union lines given the chance, I am guessing not.
     
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  21. Patrick H

    Patrick H Major

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    Thanks to Pat, kholland and Andy for explaining the source of those claims. As I said, I've never seen any of them nor even heard them mentioned until now. I agree they seem so ludicrous it's amazing that anyone would believe them, but, apparently, some have. I always thought the real point of contention was the question of whether the personal servant ever fought beside his master. That's one that will probably never be settled to everyone's satisfaction and it's been argued for pages here in previous threads. I'm not writing this to stir up that argument again, so please don't start beating on me. I'm just saying that's the scenario that always comes up in my own reading.
     
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