So I’m sure that many of you out there were looking forward to the debate that never was over at the Civil Warriors blog between Kevin Levin and Earl Ijames over the veracity of specific claims pertaining to alleged “Black Confederates” from North Carolina. I know that I certainly was.
While I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on the individuals in question, I would like to make some general remarks.
Simply put, I find it remarkable that this debate is still going on. It just will not go away, no matter how many scholarly works leave the disciples of Black Confederates with no leg to stand on. They refuse to budge on their beliefs.
Were there some African Americans who wore Confederate gray and fought for the rebel cause?
Yes (for an interesting account see Richard M. Reid, Freedom For Themselves, p. 181 and footnote on p. 362).
Were there tens of thousands in Confederate ranks, fighting alongside Southern troops throughout the course of the war?
Yet new reports of alleged Black Confederates still keep cropping up. Kevin Levin has done a great job of repeatedly emphasizing the distinctions between a slave pressed into Confederate service and an African American willingly taking up arms for the Southern Confederacy.
And, of course, it would seem that hard core adherents of the myth of the Lost Cause need Black Confederates to advance their claims that the Confederate cause was a noble struggle fought for individual liberty and the highest Constitutional principles. If there are African Americans in the ranks then slavery must not have been the primary cause of the war and white supremacy must not have been the “cornerstone” of the Confederate nation, right?
All of that being said, I would like to offer my chief annoyance at this ongoing dispute.
What is it, you ask?
The fact that keeping the spotlight on a group of black soldiers whose existence is at best questionable removes that very same spotlight from the 200,000 whom we know did in fact fight.
Honestly, has the last word been written on the United States Colored Troops of the Civil War era? Certainly many first words have been written (see my post listing some of the best books on the topic). But this is an area of scholarship that is of vital importance to understanding what the war was truly fought over.
With the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War already under way, I earnestly hope that there is much more room at the table for books, lectures, and even re-enactments that highlight the contributions of United States Colored Troops.