Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Just what AM I talking about?

Well, I’m breaking my half-hearted vow not to blog whilst on vacation – so sue me.

While I was surfing through my friend Robert Moore’s blog I came across a post that I had somehow missed. It addresses a question that is constantly lurking in the back of my mind, considering that I write and post about a group of men that I have very little in common with.

Moore asks the fundamental question of how much those of us who blog about the Civil War and the African American experience can truly know about this topic – especially if we’re white (like yours truly).

Here’s the post:

Are we limited in our perspectives in the Civil War blogosphere?
Posted on January 26, 2009 by Robert Moore
After reading a comment made in one of my posts from few days ago, I realized something; something that I had really not thought of before. I think it is revealing in terms of how the Web can erase racial barriers. Nonetheless, of all of those who blog in the Civil War blogosphere, who among us is other than caucasian? I don’t ask this to discriminate, but it leaves me wondering if, while we speculate on any number of subjects tied to slavery and Civil War-related topics concerning African-Americans, we are sorely lacking something critical to a better, more well-rounded understanding of that which we discuss. To me, it seems, at present, that our perspectives are rather limited.
We offer thoughts/opinions on the pains of slavery in historical memory; we offer thoughts/opinions on the role of African-Americans who served the Confederacy; we offer thoughts/opinions on the complications experienced by African-Americans (former slaves especially) in their experiences in transitioning as soldiers to the Union army; we offer thoughts/opinions of the exodus of former slaves to the North, before and during the Civil War… we offer thoughts/opinions and ideas on a number of things in relation to Civil War memory and the impact it continues to have on the historical memory of African-Americans, but are any of us who offer these thoughts/opinions actually at the very center of the very discussions in which we engage? While many of us offer thoughts/opinions that are reflective of our work and studies in history, can any of us offer opinions of historical memory from the perspective of the African-American and are any of us actually African-American? In many cases, aren’t we simply offering perspectives of perspectives? Don’t we lose something in the value of our discussions because of this? Perhaps we don’t want to know in order to keep racial identity blurred in this setting. Still, isn’t it important to know the perspective of “historical memory” from those who are at the center of the discussion, especially considering some of the discussions in which we engage?
Just some thoughts…
As usual, Moore hits the nail right on the head. From my perspective, I started blogging about USCTs in order to gain a better understanding of the Battle of New Market Heights. The deeper I descended down the rabbit hole, however, the more I had to ask myself – just what the hell am I talking about? If I could speak with a USCT for five minutes would he agree with my opinions or just shake his head at the staggering ignorance of what I’m purporting? The fact that black Union soldiers did not leave behind a plethora of letters and diaries just adds fuel to the fire.

After six months of blogging, I’m happy to say that I still have absolutely no idea. This tension is a good thing, in my opinion. It helps me to wrestle with a vastly complicated topic and not be hasty to jump to conclusions (I hope).

Whenever I give a talk on New Market Heights and there’s an African American in the crowd, I’m always eager to gain their perspective on what I’m saying. I was very happy to have several re-enactors who belong to the 6th USCI on my first battlefield tour out at New Market Heights. A few months later I was able to spend a day with the descendants of one of the 14 Medal of Honor recipients from that same battle. Their insights and opinions are invaluable to me.

However, with the exception of Hari Jones, who recently established a blog for the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum, the blogosphere remains without the voice of an African American.


  1. They're too conflicted on the subject, I suppose, though you would think the USCTs would be an easier approach.

  2. Hi Dick,

    I'm not sure if people are conflicted or just plain unaware. I was recently on a tour of Fredericksburg National Cemetery and at one of the stops the ranger pointed out the grave of a USCT. He was a slave at Chatham who had escaped and joined the 1st USCC. When the ranger stated that over 180,000 African Americans served the Union cause, some people in the crowd gasped. They had absolutely no idea.