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)