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Kevin M. Levin's op-ed column on black Confederate soldiers.
The Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery.
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While he looks like a soldier, he carries no visible weapon. That doesn't prevent Collier and Crowder from drawing their preferred conclusion. Even a cursory survey of the relevant evidence, however, would have helped the authors to properly interpret the monument. There is no evidence that Ezekiel believed he had sculpted a black soldier, and newspaper accounts of the event as well as the official history of the event by the UDC suggest otherwise. Consider the following description from Hilary A. Herbert's "History of the Arlington Confederate Monument" (1914):
"There they come, representing every branch of the service, and in proper garb; soldiers, sailors, sappers and miners, all typified. On the right is a faithful negro body-servant following his young master, Mr. Thomas Nelson Page's realistic 'Marse Chan' over again. And there is another story told here, illustrating the kindly relations that existed all over the South between the master and the slave--a story that can not be too often repeated to generations in which 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' survives and is still manufacturing false ideas as to the South and slavery in the 'fifties.'
"The astonishing fidelity of the slaves everywhere during the war to the wives and children of those who were absent in the army was convincing proof of the kindly relations between master and slave in the old South. One leading purpose of the U.D.C. is to correct history. Ezekiel is here writing it for them, in characters that will tell their story to generation after generation. Still to the right of the young soldier and his body-servant is an officer, kissing his child in the arms of an old negro 'mammy.' Another child holds on to the skirts of 'mammy' and is crying, perhaps without knowing why."
Ezekiel's monument is not depicting a story of loyal black Confederate soldiers, but a well-engrained narrative of loyal slaves that continued to animate the collective memory of both Northerners and Southerners.
As in so many cases, the analysis by Collier and Crowder is long on pointing the finger at stubborn scholars and short on analysis. The result is a questionable editorial that serves only to add to the general public's misunderstanding of this subject.
The presence of thousands of slaves and free blacks in Confederate ranks is an important subject that desperately deserves more attention by historians. What we don't need are editorials that claim authority without even a rudimentary ability to properly analyze the relevant evidence.
Kevin M. Levin is an independent historian. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder."