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Black Confederate soldiers? In your dreams
Kevin M. Levin's op-ed column on black Confederate soldiers.

 The Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery.
Library of Congress
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Date published: 9/23/2011


--The subject of black Confederate soldiers continues to fascinate the general public as we reflect on the Civil War's 150th. Last year Carol Sheriff, who teaches history at William & Mary, came across a troubling passage in her daughter's fourth-grade history textbook. In "Our Virginia: Past and Present," author Joy Masoff claimed that an entire division of black soldiers served under Stonewall Jackson.

It was soon learned that Masoff discovered this "fact" while doing an online search. Most academic historians, including James I. Robertson of Virginia Tech, challenged Masoff's claim. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a reputable Civil War scholar who believes that significant numbers of enslaved and free blacks fought with the Confederate army.

A basic understanding of the history of the Confederate government as well as the culture of race relations in the antebellum South provides sufficient context as to why this is. Still, every so often the general public is introduced to supposed new evidence that demonstrates the existence of these men along with swift denunciations of those who would deny this evidence.

Now Calvin Collier and Kevin Crowder purport to demonstrate the existence of these men ["Afro-Confederates took their stand for Dixie," Sept. 15]. How many? According to the authors, "at least dozens, possibly hundreds, perhaps thousands." No attempt is made to explain such a vague and ultimately meaningless claim. It is not clear whether the authors even understand the difference between claiming that the Confederate army included additional companies as opposed to entire brigades and divisions. The evidence included also fails to advance our understanding. In fact, a quick perusal of the many websites devoted to this subject reveals just how often these same accounts have been cut and pasted from one site to another. Unfortunately, the same shoddy analysis that accompanies these accounts elsewhere can be seen here.

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