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.