Black Confederates on the Internet

So the other night I dove into the fet­tered and fes­ter­ing pool that is the sub­ject of Black Con­fed­er­ates on the inter­nets.  Back­ground: per my pre­vi­ous post, Lost Causers deny that the Civil War was about slav­ery.  Thus, if one can “prove” that black men vol­un­tar­ily fought for the Con­fed­er­acy in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers, it bol­sters the argu­ment that, heck, the rebel­lion couldn’t have been about slavery–look at how many of our own south­ern Blacks fought for us in the rebel­lion.  It must have been about tar­iffs, or the transcon­ti­nen­tal railroad.

Now there is no his­tor­i­cal basis for this claim.  Is it pos­si­ble that a few Black men picked up arms when their owner was gunned down?  Of course.  And of course many hun­dreds of thou­sands dug ditches and drove wag­ons, but the claims of the neo-Confederates go far beyond this.  They claim thousands–perhaps as many as 30,000–Black men fought in orga­nized units against the Yan­kees through­out the war.  This is non­sense, because as late as the spring of 1865–a few months before the end of the war–the Con­fed­er­ate high com­mand was still heat­edly debat­ing the wis­dom of arm­ing the slaves only a few weeks before Appomattox.

All of this his­tor­i­cal back­ground brings me to my foray into the dig­i­tal realm of Holo­caust deni.…um, Black Con­fed­er­ate believ­ers.  Google lists 127,000 some odd hits for “black con­fed­er­ates”, and I vis­ited sev­eral dozen.  They share many com­mon traits: typo­graph­i­cal and gram­mat­i­cal errors (there’s the elit­ist in me!); reliance on a few com­monly cited sec­ondary sources for their claims (yes, I saved them to Zotero, Richard); and a hos­til­ity to the counter evi­dence pro­moted by pro­fes­sional his­to­ri­ans.  Oh, and at least one of them was a rag­ing anti-Semite, but I digress.  Inter­est­ingly, there seems to be an entire sub-genre of African-American south­ern­ers who also assert that large num­bers of their ances­tors fought for the South.  I haven’t fig­ured out what this is all about, but I’ll get back to you.

If noth­ing else, this exer­cise has given me a new appre­ci­a­tion for our quaint rules for han­dling evi­dence.  Almost all of the blog­gers drifted con­fus­ingly between dis­cus­sions of the admit­tedly numer­ous African-American labor­ers, and those they claimed were will­ing sol­diers in arms.

I will con­tinue down this road, but it seems to me that many of these blog­gers believe in their his­tory in a way that isn’t open to evi­den­tiary per­sua­sion.  Open­ing a con­struc­tive dia­logue about his­tory with these blog­gers would prob­a­bly not be fruit­ful.  Nev­er­the­less, onward.

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5 Responses to Black Confederates on the Internet

  1. I’m really curi­ous about what you can find out re: the sub-genre of African-American south­ern­ers who claim that large num­bers of their rel­a­tives fought for the South. This is quite an inter­est­ing dig­i­tal jour­ney you’re on! Have you tried com­ment­ing on some of the blogs you’ve found that pro­mote this Black Con­fed­er­ate theory?

    • Daniel says:

      No kid­ding, Kristina. I feel a lit­tle like Alice down the rab­bit hole. I just didn’t real­ize how devel­oped this dig­i­tal realm is. I haven’t tried com­ment­ing, but it is instruc­tive to note that one of the blog­gers appar­ently started refus­ing what he called “trolls” but what were prob­a­bly peo­ple who merely dis­agreed with him. I had to go way down that par­tic­u­lar thread to get any dis­sent­ing voices. When I get my ducks in a row research wise (I’m going to read the books they read), I’ll dive in and take a swim.

  2. matthew says:

    It is a bit like step­ping into the wardrobe to bor­row another lit­er­ary metaphor… This is noth­ing new how­ever as most of the “troll” type blogs are the mod­ern day equiv­a­lent of grub street writ­ers at best and hate pam­phlets gone dig­i­tal at worst. One of the inter­est­ing things about infor­ma­tion unfet­tered on the web is that just because it can be multi-modal and encour­age dia­logue, does not mean it will.

  3. BorderRuffian says:

    They claim thousands–perhaps as many as 30,000–Black men fought in orga­nized units”

    Now who said 30,000?

    • Daniel says:

      The num­bers of Black com­bat­ants varies sig­nif­i­cantly from site to site. Here’s one that claims 80,000 “donned the gray uni­forms of the Con­fed­er­acy.” Here’s another that claims 13,000 Black com­bat­ants. This is where it gets tricky. Most of the sites talk­ing about Blacks in the Con­fed­er­ate army slip vaguely between num­bers of sup­port or labor­ing Blacks and num­bers of actual uni­formed Black sol­diers vol­un­tar­ily fight­ing for the South.
      What we know for sure is late in the war (March/April 1865) the Con­fed­er­ate high com­mand was still argu­ing about the ques­tion of arm­ing the slaves in an orga­nized way. No his­to­rian I know would claim that NO Black man ever picked up a rifle to fight for the South, but the idea of large orga­nized units of Black Con­fed­er­ates is just fan­ci­ful. There are no muster roles, pay records, action reports, etc. to sup­port this claim. What we do see a lot of is anec­do­tal evi­dence and claims of a cover-up.
      Thanks for the interest.

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