Bruce Levine is the J. G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has published three books on the era of the Civil War. The first, entitled The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor Conflict, and the Coming of Civil War (Illinois, 1992), examines immigrants' reactions to slavery and the sectional conflict in America. The second, entitled Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War (Hill & Wang,1992; revised 2005), explores the social, economic, and political causes of the war. The third, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War (Oxford, 2005), analyzes the Confederacy's desperate, last-minute attempt to win the war by enlisting and emancipating its own slaves. Confederate Emancipation received the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship and was named by the Washington Post as one of the year’s ten best books. Levine’s next book describes the destruction of slavery and the South's slave-based society during the Civil War.
Dr. Levine began by stating that “one of the most energetically propagated of all Civil War myths” is the myth that large numbers blacks served in the Confederates army. According to this myth between 10,000 and 100,000 African Americans served in the Rebel army. Those who make these claims do so to back up their idea that most blacks supported the southern Confederacy, according to Dr. Levine.
Levine surveyed the reality of those African Americans who found themselves supporting the Confederate war effort and stated that their cases were well known in academia.
They were not, however, soldiers. Not until March of 1865 did the Confederate government consider arming their slaves.
Levine gives many examples of soldiers and citizens who pushed for black enlistment and were harshly rebuffed by the Jefferson Davis administration. He asserted that Confederates were stubborn on this issue because they were fighting to preserve slavery both in theory and practice. To let African Americans serve in the military would undermine their views that blacks were inferior. They were also afraid that if they banded blacks together it would offer them the perfect opportunity to escape. He cited John Beauchamp Jones as stating that there were no blacks serving in the Confederate army.
Levine then reviewed Davis’s decision to arm blacks late in the war and the firestorm of controversy that it caused. He said that those black recruits who were raised were kept under close supervision at Confederate prisons!
He concluded by mentioning a quote from one Confederate that large numbers of black soldiers serving in the Rebel army was a “species of madness.”
Kevin M. Levin. Searching For Black Confederates in History and Memory (forthcoming).
Bruce Levine. Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Bruce Levine. “Black Confederates and Neo-Confederates: In Search of a Usable Past” in James and Lois Horton, eds. Race, Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory. Ed. New York: The New Press, 2006.