Black Confederates Cont.

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In his interview with the Takeaway, Kevin Levin pointed out that one reason the Black Confederate myth continues is because academics haven't done enough public debunking. Leaving aside our need to believe certain myths, I think part of the problem is that so much of academic debate is hidden behind the curtain of conferences and JSTOR. My sense is that there are reasons even beyond that owing to some larger split between the University and the public. I'd hear more from the Horde on that point.


With that said, I was glad to see this thorough entry in the Encyclopedia Virginia on black confederates, authored by Jaime Amanda Martinez, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Bottom line:

The War Department, however, acted quickly upon the new legislation, and General Orders No. 14 authorized the enlistment of free blacks as well as slaves whose masters signaled their approval by manumitting them before enlistment. No men still enslaved would be accepted as Confederate soldiers. Newspapers throughout the Confederacy immediately reported the widespread enlistment of thousands of black soldiers, but the actual results were far more modest. 

Only two units were ever created, both in Richmond. The first enrolled approximately sixty orderlies and nurses from Winder and Jackson Hospitals; the second, created at a formal recruiting center, never numbered more than ten recruits. The first company was hastily put into the trenches outside Richmond for a day in mid-March, but the unit canceled a parade scheduled for the end of the month due to the fact that the men lacked uniforms and rifles. Based on this, it is unclear how much fighting they could have done. The second unit was housed in a former prison and carefully watched by military police, suggesting that white Confederate officers did not trust these new black soldiers.

I really hope, as we enter the sesquicentennial, that journalist will reach out to actual historians, and not pretend that there is reasonable debate where there really isn't any.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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