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.