Greetings Cosmic Americans!
So - I've been on Youtube again. It's a guilty pleasure, really. Last night was a real kicker. I followed a few video "suggestions" to a series of posts on black Confederate soldiers. There seems to be this warped idea out there that there were thousands and thousands of blacks serving as soldiers in the Confederate army. One estimation claimed as many as 90,000 black people shouldered a musket for the glorious CSA. You have got to be freakin' kidding me. 90,000?? That is bigger than the whole Army of Northern Virginia at its grandest.
Now I am not saying that blacks were absent from the military scene. When the ANV (or any other CS army) went somewhere, they took black people with them. They were - you guessed it - slaves. They did what they were forced to do. Laundry, cooking, clearing trees, building fortifications, etc. Slaves were drafted in to Confederate service in others ways too (much to the irritation of their masters). They built fortifications around Atlanta, Richmond and Petersburg, for example. These were the toils of slaves. They were not willingly serving the Confederate cause.
The very idea of this is perverse at best. Imagine - blacks serving a country conceived on the idea of racial inequality and the protection of the "peculiar" institution. Wow. Does that mean that a slave or two may at one time have picked up a musket, maybe - but regiments or even divisions of black soldiers. You think we would have heard of them.
Seriously, I have never seen or heard of a letter written by a Union soldier describing the several regiments of black Confederates he faced in battle. I have never read a newspaper describing black Confederate divisions defending a Rebel position. I am guessing it's because they didn't exist. I mean really, don't you think Ken Burns would have at least said something about this? (Insert Ashokon Farewell theme music here..."Dear Mama - today 90,000 black Reb soldiers marched by...we fear the worst...I have dysentery....blah blah blah.")
Now the prospect of raising limited black troops had crossed a few Rebels' minds. Even Robert E. Lee thought it was a good idea. But nothing of significance ever happened in this regard. Rebels in power decided that if they armed blacks, then what they had been fighting for would have been pretty pointless. Late, late, late in the war CSA Congress finally passed legislation to raise a few black troops as sort of a last ditch effort. And there were reports of a handful of black troops drilling in Richmond early in April 1865. But this was way too little waaaay too late.
Now after the war, some United Confederate Veterans dressed up a few former slaves in Confederate gray and paraded them around, I suppose, to show that the war wasn't about slavery and that blacks were in favor of Confederate independence. Oy. So if you are trying to prove that black people supported the Confederate war effort just stop. Or better yet, show me some real evidence that these thousands and thousands of black soldiers actually existed. Put them on a map, show me the battle reports, anything. Just saying they were around doesn't make it so - evidence does.
Have a look at my friend Kevin Levin's Blog, Civil War Memory for a comprehensive look at this topic - he has spent a great deal of time and effort examining the all claims from the moderate to the bizarre. Another friend, Jaime Martinez just wrote a succinct piece on Black Confederates for the Encyclopedia Virginia that you can check out HERE. And of course, if you have any real evidence that these guys actually existed - please submit in the comment section.