Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Way We Were ?!? Part Three


There is a scientific method for conducting research. However, everything after that is pure art. The quality and accuracy of your final analysis is dependent upon the purpose of your research. All research is conducted in one of two ways, to see what you can find, or to look for information to support what you already know or believe.

The former is the most time consuming, but if you are after accuracy this is the way to go. The latter is the quickest way to conduct research, and the least accurate because you can disregard any information that does not support what you know or believe. To look to see what you can find is a very difficult way to conduct research. It is innate to see and understand things through the prism of your own experiences, a tendency you must fight if you want an accurate snapshot of that moment in time you are researching. To do accurate research you must look for data with a totally open mind, ignorant of everything you knew previously to your research. Even the best of us fail at this from time to time.

Even when you have done your best it is still possible to miss important data. As I was writing this I saw an episode of “Pawn Stars” that proves this point. A gentleman brought in an authentic civil war pistol which was engraved with the original owners name. A black civil war officer with the 1st Louisiana Native Guard. The customer said he was a Confederate officer. They called in an historian (“Mark”) to verify the story and a gun expert to verify the authenticity of the gun and the engraved name. The gun and the engraving was authentic. The historian confirmed the original owner was a black civil war officer, but he said he was a Northern officer and that there were no black Confederate officers. He said the 1st Louisiana Native Guard was a Yankee unit formed after General Butler captured New Orleans.

Well, yes and no. The 1st Louisiana Native Guard was formed on 27 September 1862 (New Orleans fell in April 1862). But, that was not the first 1st Louisiana Native Guard. The first, 1st Louisiana Native Guard was formed on 2 May 1861 and disbanded by the Louisiana state legislature on 15 February 1862. This earlier unit was a Confederate unit. Many men were members of both the Confederate and the United States unit, which had the same name, including the officer who had originally owned the pistol. So, despite what the credentialed historian thought, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard had also been a Confederate unit, meaning the Confederacy did have black officers within that unit. As I said, it is easy to make mistakes in research.

Now. Back to our story on Andrew and Silas Chandler ( http://video.pbs.org/video/2152291788/ ) and my analysis. We will start at the beginning of this series. Dr. Berry said that no black men served in the Confederacy as soldiers, it was illegal. She also said that Silas was not a freedman, it was illegal. Yes and no, Silas was not legally free, and probably was not freed until the end of the war. Now those who disagree with Dr. Berry may believe that she is part of the politically correct contingent which is trying to rewrite history. I disagree with this evaluation of Dr. Berry’s motive. If you look at Dr. Berry’s resume it would be hard to imagine her saying anything else.

Dr. Berry has spent her professional life in public service and in education (including public appearances, published articles, papers, and books, and consultations that go with those professions). In public service one of the jobs she had was on the Civil Rights Commission (read law) and in education she is of the History of American Law and the History of Law and Social Policy. So, you see, throughout her professional life the doctor has been concerned with the law, and quite naturally looks at history through the prism of what the law says. So, based on her personal experiences, she is absolutely correct. However, in real life, the law is rarely followed so strictly by everyone.

One of America’s greatest military generals quite often found himself in deep trouble for not doing what he was supposed to. At the end of World War Two, General Patton was in charge of the occupation army in Germany and got into quite a bit of trouble for not following the law. The United States Congress had passed “de-nazi-fication laws.” Those laws barred former members of the Nazi party from being in public service or working for public utilities and services. Patton ignored those laws, and when questioned he reportedly said that when he was supplied with the people to run the trains, phones, and electrical plants who were not former members of the Nazi party he would use them, until then he would use the people he needed to keep things running. They relieved him of his command, but the war was over. During the war, they chastised General Patton and punished him, but they always promoted him, gave him another army to command, and sent him right back into battle, which was where Patton wanted to be.

Another of the often used comments of those who say blacks did not serve in the army, is that blacks served as servants, cooks, they worked in supply, and helped as medical orderlies, so they were not part of the army. Of course, most of the people making that claim never served in the military. For centuries we have action reports of battle where these “non-military” people are used in combat. It was towards the end of the 20th century before blacks were allowed in jobs other than support roles in the military. In the submarine service the crews are much smaller than on surface ships. Due to crew size, every man in a submarine crew must learn every job on board the submarine. During World War Two, submarine service attracted many blacks in the navy, expressly because of this. For the first 50 years of the submarine service this offered the only path blacks had to learn technical skills in the military. On the submarines I served on, our support people were also part of our battle stations. They worked out fire control data for the torpedoes, they help load torpedoes, stood watch in sonar with the sonar techs and (like all members of a submarine crew) were also part of the damage control parties. During routine watches these men could qualify for almost any watch they wished to stand: lookout, helmsman, quartermaster, sonar operator, as well as others. When in battle commanding officers will use whoever they have available to try and win a battle … the laws of politicians be damned. And when a man proves himself in battle, often those men are used more regularly.

Confederate troops were almost always outnumbered and so it stands to reason freedmen and slaves would eventually be used as combat troops no matter what the law said. But, of course, since it was illegal, looking at Confederate action reports would not reveal the use of blacks as combat troops. No officer is going to write and sign a report that could result in charges being brought against them. So, the best place to find evidence of blacks used as combat troops is not in the Southern action reports. The best place to find primary source evidence of blacks being used by the Confederates as combat troops, is in the action reports of the enemy, written by officers in the US Army.

As for the many web sites that talk on this subject, most are partisan at best. One good example of this is a web site that quotes the 65,000 blacks fighting for the Confederacy and claims the person using this must have made it up and that they have no idea where such a preposterous number could have come from. Actually the man who originates this number explains in detail how he arrived at the number. He calculated this number from the action report of one Union officer in one battle who stated there were 3,000 blacks fighting with the Confederates. Then calculated the percentage of blacks in the Confederate ranks for this one battle and calculated what the number would be if that same percentage represented the number of blacks in the entire Confederate Army. His math was correct but his method flawed. And the first web site was being dishonest in an effort to discredit anyone claiming blacks fought for the Confederacy.

Books written about the war since the war are at best secondary sources. When doing research, secondary sources can point the way for the direction of your research, but primary sources should always be used to base your research upon. In this case the best primary source reference on the civil war is The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (commonly referred to as the “OR”)

Beginning in 1864 (after April 1865 for Confederate records) the War Department of the United States began collecting first-hand accounts, orders, reports, maps, diagrams, and correspondence (created as the events were happening) from the war departments of the United States and Confederate States. They were published by the United States government, including a separate series for the Union and Confederate navies.

The OR was published as 128 books organized as 70 volumes with over 130,000 pages, and more than 1,000 maps and diagrams. The last of the books was published in 1922. This is the best primary source information available, though it is obviously not complete as some of the material would have been accidentally or intentionally destroyed during the war.

The best evidence to support blacks fighting for the Confederacy is not a book someone wrote 100 years after the war. The best evidence is to take a Confederate unit that supposedly use blacks in combat and then look for the action reports of the Union officers who fought against that Confederate unit in the many battles that specific Confederate unit fought in. What I found was a consistency in the reports of blacks being used in some units. The numbers would not be accurate as the Union officer was estimating while fighting in combat. But an officer stating their were 3,000 blacks in battle against him may be off by several hundred, but certainly would not mistake 3 or 30 for 3,000.

It is important to look at several battles, because in an emergency a commanding officer would use anyone who could hold a gun to keep from losing a battle. We are not looking for that emergency, but we are looking to find out if blacks routinely fought for the Confederacy, even though it was illegal.

I have my own copy of the OR, but if you would like to do your own research using these series, you can access them at most libraries, or you can now read them online thanks to Cornell at this link http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/m/moawar/waro.html

One of the other claims made to refute the idea that blacks fought for the Confederacy is that they had no choice. Since they were slaves (in this argument I guess the existence of freedmen is ignored) they were fighting because they were told too and could not refuse. The argument also ignores the possibility that some of the slaves may have chosen to fight for the Confederacy if they were given the choice. Looking at this argument from our modern time it does seem logical. But, to arrive at the accurate facts of the matter we need to look at this argument from the mind-set of people in the mid 19th century.

In 2014, it has been four decades since we had a draft, in the United States, we have an all volunteer military – no one can be forced to serve in the military. But before that, in a time of war large percentages of the fighting force were drafted. They had no choice. They could show up for military service or go to jail, just like Muhammad Ali in 1967.

No one would think of not honoring a Vietnam veteran or a World War veteran as a veteran simply because they were drafted. So why would anyone refuse to honor a Civil War veteran as a veteran? Two answers immediately come to mind. The first reason, looking at the mid 19th century and judging it by our modern opinions, beliefs and ideals; instead of judging it with mid 19th century opinions, beliefs, and ideals. The second reason, is as old as ancient Egypt, pure politics.

Being accurate is difficult, but always should be the goal of any one doing research. Even the most well intentioned person can make an innocent mistake, but not all errors are unintentional mistakes or innocent.

If you do make a mistake, claim it as soon as possible, people will place more faith in your work. I hope you will look at the OR sometime, just to see what is available if nothing else, it is indispensable for anyone wanting to do serious research on the civil war.

I will be tackling more of the controversial issues of the Civil War this year.

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Way We Were ?!? Part Two


There are many web sites that cover parts of Civil War not taught in our public schools. One of those parts of our history covers the participation of blacks in the Confederate Army. Many of these sites link to, and cite as a source, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) as well as books that may be purchased on the SCV web site. In short the “pro” side of argument over whether blacks fought for the South use numbers of 2000 to 65000 for the estimated number of freedmen and slaves who fought for the Confederacy.

The “con” side of this argument would have you believe that the SCV is a group of racist, ignorant, armchair wannabe historians bent on changing American history. However, upon investigating the claims of the SCV you discover that there are many credentialed historians that the SCV and its supporters quote and a smaller number of credential historians that support many, if not all, of the claims of the SCV.

Dr. Ed Bearss, National Park Service Historian Emeritus, and one of the foremost Civil War historians once stated, “I don’t want to call it a conspiracy to ignore the role of blacks, both above and below the Mason-Dixon Line, but it was definitely a tendency that began around 1910.” Many other historians including Roland Young (an African-American) and Edwin Kennedy Lt Col. US Army retired have researched, written about, and given talks about blacks who fought for the South.

Some of the reasons given for their service are:

1)Patriotism. The South was the only home these men had ever known, and it was being invaded. They did not agree with everything in the South, but it was their home.

2)The expectation of receiving their freedom. Some men were promised to be given their freedom if they served.

3)Some of the freedmen, were not just former slaves. They had economic ties to the south, some owned businesses and some owned slaves themselves.

4)Some were forced to serve, and some served in the hopes it would make it easier to escape to the north.

The SCV also points to pensions where the applicant wrote “soldier” and it was crossed out and replaced with “servant.” The pro side of the argument also points to family verbal and written histories. Sometimes in the form of diaries.

There are descendents of black confederates who are members of the SCV and speak proudly of their ancestor’s service.

Oral histories are not known for their accuracy, and often the sources cited by the pro side are modern books written on the Civil War. Though, those books may be accurate, they are not primary source material (though they may have used primary source material).

Both sides of this argument are very ardent, with individuals on both sides resorting to name calling and personal attacks at times.

Part three will be my analysis of the two sides of the argument.

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The Way We Were ?!? Part One


There are two historical topics which I enjoy studying and am loathe to write about, ironically for the same reason. The first is RMS Titanic, and the second is the American Civil War or as it is known in the South, The War of Northern Aggression. The reason I do not like writing on these two topics is that they are fields of historical research where emotional attachment and opinion override evidence and logic. It is in these two fields of historical research where people make the strongest assertions that their opinion is not opinion but fact, and where the discourse between those of different opinions is the most disrespectful and caustic – at best. When all else fails, the intelligence of opponents is attack as if, you guessed it, these attacks (opinions) were also established fact demonstrated by evidence instead of what they really are, which is dogmatic opinions. And what are those opinions, really? In most (but not all) cases they are an attempt by someone losing an argument to bully an opponent into silence, or someone content to find “authorities” they agree with to mimic instead of researching the material themselves. This last group moves to the attack the quickest depending on how long their memory is. The fewer words of their hero they can remember, the sooner they launch into personal attacks.

Today I wish to discuss black (negro, colored, people of color, Afro-American, African-American, or whatever term your generation uses) who are veterans of the Confederacy. I am sure I will have something to say to upset everyone, at least a little bit.

I remember a long time ago I had an English teacher talking to me about essays. She said it is hard to prove a negative. You know what I mean, bigfoot doesn’t exist, space aliens don’t exits, God doesn’t exist (I’m not taking sides one way or the other on these, they are just examples). So, I am going to start with the negative “… did not happen,” side of this story and then move on to the “… it did happen” side of the story, and end with my analysis. Like I said, I’ll probably upset everyone a little, but if you read my articles two years ago on how I do research then you will not be surprised by my approach.

What got me started on this is an episode of The History Detectives on PBS. A show I thoroughly enjoy. You can go to www.pbs.org and watch this particular episode for yourself (aired October 11, 2011 : episode title “Chandler Tintype, Hollywood Indian Ledger, Harlem Heirs). It is one of the few programs on TV that I really enjoy, and I also like each of the show’s hosts. They all do very good work and their support team is very good at what they do. Wes Cowan hosted the segment I am going to use as my intro into this topic. Now, I need to be fair to Mr. Cowan, he is an appraiser and auctioneer, not a credentialed historian. But he does have a good foundation in history for his work, and (in my opinion) does an outstanding job on the show.

For those who do not know, viewers contact the show about an object they have. An object they know nothing about, someone told them about, or just something they want to know about that is or could be historical. The hosts then track down the historical evidence using primary source material to tell the owner what they have.

The part of this particular episode we are interested in is the first one and is about a Civil War photograph (not particularly rare), of two confederate soldiers (a little more rare), one of them black (ok, more rare), sitting side by side. Yup, this is very rare Andrew (white guy) and Silas (black guy) are sitting side by side. Normally even the union photos of blacks and whites always show the black man in a subservient position (standing behind the white guy or holding the reins of the horse the white guy is sitting on), never side by side as equals would be. The descendents of the two men explain the family history states the one man gave the other his freedom before the war started, and that they fought together in the same unit for the Confederacy.

Andrew (left) Silas (right)

Andrew (left) Silas (right)

There was also other questions they wanted answers to, but we are going to confine our discussion to Silas’ service in the Confederacy. So, these are the questions we will examine:

  1. Was Silas given his freedom before the war started?
  2. Did Silas fight as a Confederate soldier?
  3. If Silas did fight as a Confederate soldier, was he doing so as a slave against his will, or voluntarily as a freed man?

Mr. Cowan went to Dr. Mary Francis Berry, University Of Pennsylvania Historian, (who teaches the History of American Law, and the History of Law and Social Policy. She also advises students in African American History) to answer these questions.

Dr. Berry shared, quite correctly, there were free people of color who joined the militia at the beginning of the war, but those units never saw battle and were disbanded by the state legislatures not long into the war. She went on to say that Silas was not freed on the eve of the war, because in Louisiana it was illegal to give slaves their freedom by 1856.

Mr. Cowan and Dr. Berry go on to talk about the “myth of black Confederates.” When Mr. Cowan tried to say it not possible for Silas to fight for the Confederacy, Dr, Berry said it would be inaccurate to say there was no way they could not have fought, but they were not accepted by the Confederacy as soldiers. Blacks were used in supporting roles for the Confederacy (cooks, teamsters driving supply wagons, servants, construction and other support roles). It was also said that since these men were slaves, they were forced into service and did not have a choice in the decision of whether they would support the Confederacy or not. There support of the Confederacy was, in other words, compulsory.

Next, Mr. Cowan used the Civil War Roster web site, which is maintained by the National Park Service. This site listed Andrew was listed, but Silas was not listed. Mr. Cowan used this to support his conclusion that Silas did not fight for the Confederacy. He also checked the 1860 census for Chickasaw Parish Louisiana and found no listing of any freedmen in the Parish (Louisiana has parishes instead of counties). The pension that Silas received as a servant (slave) in the service of the Confederacy was explained as part of the “Lost Cause” justification common in the late 19th and early 20th century in the South as an attempt to justify the Civil War.

Next week we will discuss the side of the argument that there were freedmen and slaves who fought for the Confederacy. The third part of this series will be my analysis of the pro and con evidence given by the two sides.

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Bill is Right, Then, Now, and Tomorrow


William Shakespeare

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