Myths Cont: A Response From Professor Gates

Regarding our conversation yesterday around the myth of black Confederates, Professor Henry Louis Gates sent the following note. I offer it without comment, given that my thoughts are well laid-out across this blog:


I would worry if anything I wrote lent credence to the notion that tens of thousands of black men served as soldiers in the Confederate army. "No black rebel units ever fought Union forces, although many slaves fought alongside their owners, and thousands more were compelled to labor for the Confederacy, rebuilding rail lines or constructing fortifications. 

As the Confederacy faced defeat in the closing months of the war, cries for the arming of slaves increased. Most Southerners rejected the call. Howell Cobb, who had been secretary of the treasury under President Buchanan and became a general commanding Georgia Confederate troops, exclaimed that 'If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.' Nevertheless, late in the war many state governors and commanders in the field cried out for more men-and the four millions of slaves represented the only fresh group available. 

Desperate to avoid defeat, President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, in February 1865, approved the measure. When it obtained the blessing of General Robert E. Lee, Virginia organized a small contingent of poorly equipped and untrained slaves....On the issue of black troops fighting for the rebellion, see: James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford, 1988), 832-835," Donald Yacovone, my co-editor, wrote in a headnote in Lincoln on Race and Slavery, pp. 313-314. 

 What's beyond dispute is that the Confederate Army was overwhelmingly white; the simple fact is that the war was fought over slavery, and slavery never endeared itself to the enslaved.
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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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