The Civil War Connections Blog

Black Confederates: What They Signify (Part 2)

Howdy folks, and welcome back to the Connections blog! This is part 2 of a 2-part blog series on “Black Confederates,” or more accurately, on the misconception about them. In my blog post of this past Tuesday, I explored the possibility of black soldiers fighting with the Confederates, and if you haven’t read it, please stop and go read it. If you have already done so, you know that the notion of black soldiers fighting for the Confederacy is false. This post will seek to address the issue of WHY the idea of black Confederate soldiers has such a noteworthy presence in modern culture, and what that says about our society.

… that we should read more?

 

After the Civil War ended, the American South was about as defeated and devastated as any nation in history has been. Reconstruction was painful and problematic, and in the wake of all this hardship Americans in the south – having failed to create their own identity through independent nationhood – sought to remember their pre-war and wartime identities in the best possible light. Indeed, as Professor David Blight of Yale University writes in his book “Race and Reunion,” both North and South struggled with the issue of how to remember the war almost as soon as it was over. To summarize his main point, there were two competing ways to remember the war: the North remembered the war as a fight for emancipation and to preserve the Union, while the South remembered the war as a titanic struggle over states rights that the South happened to lose. This gave way later on to the rise of many “Lost Cause” style movements in the early 20th Century that glorified the South. The Confederates were portrayed as brave and courageous soldiers, who held on against overwhelming odds. They saw themselves as the descendants of the American Revolution who fought for states’ rights, not slavery. In fact, slavery itself was interpreted as a benevolent system, and dismissed as an irrelevant part of the war.

The book explains it better than I can.

 

American culture and society tolerated this point of view for a while, since it made reconciliation between north and south much easier. However, as the 20th century wore on and civil rights became more and more important, research and scholarship moved the historical memory of the Civil War more towards reality: this has resulted in a much more accurate understanding of the conflict, but has also caused a cultural backlash from the South. After spending almost a century remembering the Civil War in a somewhat heroic light, southerners were no doubt dismayed to have their image reduce to that of secessionists who wanted to preserve slavery. As a result, several ‘neo-Confederate’ organizations have cropped up in reaction to what they see as the slandering of their forefathers. A statement like the one made by that nameless museum volunteer, that “The South had black soldiers fighting alongside white soldiers,” is that person’s way of convincing himself that his side was right. After all, if blacks fought beside whites, then racism and slavery would not be serious problems and southerners could continue to feel proud of their Confederate heritage.

Which is like saying “If Lincoln was a Communist, it’s OK that we tried to succeed from the Union!” or “If aliens landed on the moon, then we have to keep wearing our tinfoil hats so they can’t melt our brains!”

 

This split between the American cultural memory and the neo-Confederate movement is a problem, but perhaps not a very serious one. Though quite a few Americans – especially those in the deep south – hold neo-Confederate beliefs that create an inaccurate and idealized picture of what the Civil War was about, most Americans do not. While the legacy of the Confederate south certainly has its share of faults, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one must be ashamed to be southern, and it certainly doesn’t mean that one must ascribe to wildly inaccurate interpretations of the Civil War. I think that everyone will find that doing research, reading academic works, and generally improving one’s education will do far more for your pride in yourself and your heritage than believing any old rumor you hear.

Read more articles HERE and HERE!