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Feedback: “Get a life and stop being so PC!”

October 18th, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe · 7 Comments

A reader named John Stones has replied to our entry on black Confederates:

I am sure that many US service members that were drafted down through the years would not have done so voluntarily, either. Their service was just as “coerced” but I’m sure they were/are all seen as soldiers! Get a life and stop trying to be so PC with your agenda and tell the truth on the issue!

Context for Mr. Stones’s complaint can be found in the entry’s opening lines (emphasis added):

Black Confederates is a term often used to describe both enslaved and free African Americans who filled a number of different positions in support of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Most often this assistance was coerced rather than offered voluntarily. Male slaves were either hired out by their owners or impressed to work in various departments of the Confederate army. Free black men were also routinely impressed or otherwise forced to perform manual labor for the army.

Mr. Stones’s contention, then, is that a United States citizen who registers for the draft, is drafted, and then enters the army is being “coerced” in the same fashion as an enslaved African American. But according to the United States Supreme Court, an enslaved man was not a citizen, and as such, could not vote for the men who passed laws like the ones that instituted a draft. In addition, by virtue of being enslaved, his range of “choices” in life were strictly limited and likely did not include whether to join the army.

Of course, this argument can be turned around: By virtue of my being a citizen, I can vote against anyone who would support a draft, and if I am drafted, I can resist the draft—in personal and political terms—and although I certainly risk federal prison by doing so, I do not risk being whipped or hanged. Or, for that matter, sold. These differences, between me and an enslaved man, are not insignificant.

Still, there are many people who defend the view, as expressed in the 2010 edition of the now-revised fourth-grade Virginia studies textbook Our Virginia: Past & Present, that “thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.” The problem is that they (the people who defend this version of history) have provided little evidence beyond the anecdotal and have not adequately responded to evidence that suggests different conclusions. Criticisms like Mr. Stones’s tend to be politicized (“stop trying to be so PC”) while making no real argument at all.

This would hardly matter if unsupported information about black Confederates hadn’t actually shown up in our kids’ textbooks. But it did. So it’s worth noting that our black Confederates entry is a solid bit of scholarship, one that has been vetted by a top-notch Civil War historian and has been through our rigorous fact-checking and copy editing process. More than that, it reflects what is a broad consensus among historians who have studied this period.

It hardly means that each word has been carved in stone for eternity, only that we would respectfully ask Mr. Stones or anyone else who might disagree with its conclusions to be specific about their complaints and provide evidence for different conclusions. Only then can a real conversation begin.

SILAS CHANDLER: In the meantime, I invite readers to view part of a recent episode of the public television program History Detectives, which examines the tintype (pictured above) of a Confederate soldier, Andrew Chandler, and his enslaved servant Silas. Or was he enslaved? Perhaps Silas was a free African American who fought out of loyalty to the Confederacy. Watch the episode and see what the historians have to say and how the families of both men react to their conclusions.

And to follow the controversy as it unfolds online, check out this post by the historian Brooks D. Simpson, or pretty much any post by Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory, or, for another perspective, see this blog, or the Southern Heritage Preservation Group, of whose Facebook page John Stones appears to be a member.

IMAGE: Andrew Chandler and Silas (via)

Tags: Feedback

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Brendan Wolfe // Oct 18, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Many thanks, Tommy, for your various definitions of “PC.” I tend to think that those definitions vary according to the term’s user, and that ultimately the term is employed to stop, rather than further, discussion.

    That said, I’m not sure what you mean by “appeasement” in this case. Care to elaborate?

  • 2 Tommy // Oct 18, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Mr. Stones is confused about his terms. “Politically correct” means using socially sensitive, often euphemistic, language — not stating an outright lie. “Doublespeak” is a specious political statement. Exposing the flimsiness of the revisionist’s case for willful participation by “Black Confederates” is neither political correctness nor doublespeak.

  • 3 Tommy // Oct 18, 2011 at 10:11 am

    I should have added that PC can also mean a decision or statement made as to not offend specific groups. I assume that is what Mr. Stones meant by his use of the term. Still, I do not see any need for appeasement when the evidence shows that “Black Confederates” were not deliberate Southern patriots but mobilized, enslaved property.

  • 4 Tommy // Oct 18, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Now I made an error of improper use! My apologies. I meant that there is no need for “PC” language if there shouldn’t be any controversy over refuting the revisionist’s “Black Confederates” myth with facts. The real controversy, as you stated, lies in the textbook inclusion of a wildly misleading claim.

  • 5 Brendan Wolfe // Oct 20, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for the comment, BorderRuffian. I’ll be happy to address your concerns, either here or in a separate blog post, by the end of the week.

  • 6 BorderRuffian // Oct 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    I see several problems with your “Black Confederates” article. Here’s a short list-

    “When New Orleans fell to Union forces in April 1862, the Louisiana Native Guards embraced the change, and offered their unit’s services to Union general Benjamin F. Butler”

    “The story of the Louisiana Native Guards is instructive, as the unit’s members chose to align themselves with whichever army was in power.”
    *******

    These statements give the impression that the entire unit switched sides…which is false. In 1862 about 100 (out of 1000) joined the Federal army. Another 200 joined over the course of the remainder of the war. And this was not always voluntary.

    “Another element of the Native Guards’ story—the fact that the Confederate and state governments did not trust them…”
    *******

    Do you have a document that supports this statement? Either from Confederate or state authorities?
    Remember, it was the governor of Louisiana that gave them permission to organize a regiment.

    “In Georgia, Savannah’s famed black fire companies were eliminated.”
    *******

    Source?

    I have documents that show them in service in 1861, 1863 and 1864, and nothing that supports the statement that they were eliminated.

    “Newly formed white militia units chose to drill near independent black churches, perhaps as a means of intimidation.”
    *******

    Source?
    (“Perhaps”…? Are we guessing?)

  • 7 Brendan Wolfe // Oct 21, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    With apologies to BorderRuffian, our response will have to wait until next week.

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