The Myth of the Black Confederates

2010 October 20
by Ellen Noonan

Right on schedule, as commemorations of the 15oth anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War lurch into gear, comes news from Virginia of an elementary school textbook containing the whopper “Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.” Author Joy Masoff’s evidence for this claim? “Internet research, which turned up work by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”

Many historians can (and no doubt will in the coming days) set the record straight on this one. Probably the best equipped to do so is Bruce Levine, who will be appearing on our February 3, 2011 panel on Civil War scholarship. Levine’s book Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War thoroughly details how Confederate political and military leaders went from rejecting the idea of arming slaves to slowly accepting its necessity, and finally attempting to enact it a mere two weeks before the Confederacy’s final failed military stand at Appotmattox.

The idea that slaves fought for the Confederacy is put forth by those who want to convince us that the Confederacy was not fighting to defend the practice of slavery. It is, in the 21st century, obviously a minority position, but a tenacious one. Here’s hoping that the attention generated by the sesquicentennial will put it down once and for all. Although that may be far too optimistic; the Washington Post‘s editors seem to want to avoid the historical discussion entirely. The question they pose to readers in a discussion group linked to the article is “Should research for textbooks be conducted online?” Sigh.

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