Kevin Levin reports on the bizarre and dismaying trend of Harvard professors espousing Neo-Confederate bunk as history. Levin took in a talk by John Stauffer and Henry Louis Gates. The results were evidently lamentable:
The talk itself failed to add anything new to the discussion. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that Stauffer needs to step back and think more carefully about some of the fundamental questions involved, specifically when it comes to the proper definition of a soldier. Earlier on he suggested that anywhere between 3-10,000 black Confederate soldiers served in the army, but he never qualified this with anything approaching an analysis of what the concept means. While Stauffer went on to note that this number is statistically insignificant he did argue that they held "immense symbolic value" though I am still unsure as to what he meant. He quoted from a few primary sources pointing to the existence of these men, which included the infamous Douglass quote as well as a soldier from Connecticut...
What seems to be lacking here is basic application of methodology. The citation of Frederick Douglass is telling. In September 1861, Douglass wrote in his eponymous publication:
It is now pretty well established, that there are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops, and do all that soldiers may to destroy the Federal Government and build up that of the traitors and rebels. There were such soldiers at Manassas, and they are probably there still.There is a Negro in the army as well as in the fence, and our Government is likely to find it out before the war comes to an end. That the Negroes are numerous in the rebel army, and do for that army its heaviest work, is beyond question. They have been the chief laborers upon those temporary defences in which the rebels have been able to mow down our men. Negroes helped to build the batteries at Charleston. They relieve their gentlemanly and military masters from the stiffening drudgery of the camp, and devote them to the nimble and dexterous use of arms. Rising above vulgar prejudice, the slaveholding rebel accepts the aid of the black man as readily as that of any other. If a bad cause can do this, why should a good cause be less wisely conducted?
What I had the most trouble with, however, was the apparent mistrust of Civil War historians, who have apparently too quickly given the back of their hand to the possibility of black Confederate soldiers. Once again, no one has suggested that a few black southerners did not manage to join the ranks for one reason or another. Both Henry Louis Gates (who introduced Stauffer) and the speaker suggested as much. At one point Gates suggested that James McPherson's dismissive attitude can be explained by not wanting to admit something that would threaten his view of the war as a Second American Revolution for African Americans.
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