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Black Confederate soldiers? In your dreams page 2
Kevin M. Levin's op-ed column on black Confederate soldiers.

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


The first two accounts simply quote Union soldiers, who claim to have seen black men in the Confederate army. No attempt is made to analyze the possible explanations for these claims, nor do we know whether the individuals in question were soldiers. The historian's job is to ask questions and consider as many explanations as possible before arriving at a conclusion. Referencing a soldier's observa-tion as pointing to one conclusion without any corroboration is irresponsible.


Even more interesting, however, is that among the wartime accounts cited by the authors, they fail to include any accounts from inside the Confederate army. Collier and Crowder are not alone in this oversight, but given the conviction with which these claims are made one would think that these accounts are readily available. The authors also fail to shed any light on why, during the vigorous debate over whether to arm slaves as soldiers that took place within the army and on the home front in 1864-65, not a single person mentioned that blacks were already serving as soldiers.

No account has been cited more often than that of Lewis Steiner of the United States Sanitary Commission. Steiner's claims of armed black men in Confederate ranks in Frederick, Md., in September 1862 are typically taken at face value even though they are not corroborated by additional eyewitnesses.

More disturbing, however, is the failure to provide any context for his claims. As in the case of Frederick Douglass, whose 1861 newspaper editorial is often used as evidence, Steiner may have been using the occasion to advance the cause of the recruitment of black Union soldiers.

A careful reading of Steiner's account reveals many caricatures and exaggerations concerning the men in the ranks. The important point for now is that the authors have not provided sufficient analysis of their sources to warrant much of anything.


Finally, we come to the Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery sculpted by Moses Ezekiel, a VMI graduate and Confederate veteran. The monument was dedicated in 1914 and marked the graves of Confederate soldiers. It was funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Around its base is a bronze tableau of Confederate soldiers marching off to war, as well as a young black man wearing a kepi.

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