Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Now We’re Finally Getting Somewhere.

Posted in African Americans, Education, Memory by Andy Hall on August 22, 2010

Over the last few weeks there’s been a good bit of discussion about Ann DeWitt and her website on Black Confederates, particularly since the announcement of a new novel for young adults, written by her and Kevin M. Weeks, Entangled in Freedom. The discussion has been pretty volatile over at Levin’s place — who coulda’ seen that coming? — but I’ve tried to steer a little clear of criticizing Ms. DeWitt personally, because she seems a sincere, if ill-informed, advocate for the idea, and because at this point anything else will be perceived as “piling on.” But now, I think, she’s actually (and unwittingly) done us all a favor, by acknowledging explicitly what skeptics have been saying for a long time: that at the core of Black Confederate lies a definition of the word “soldier” that is so broad, so vague and nebulous that the word can be taken to mean virtually anything, and is applied to any person who had even the remotest connection to the Confederate army.

This morning, I noticed her project home page now opens with a definition:

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a soldier as a militant leader, follower, or worker.

If we’re going to quote the dictionary, let’s be clear: she’s quoting the secondary, alternate definition. By citing it, Ms. DeWitt tacitly acknowledges that the primary definition of the word — “a: one engaged in military service and especially in the army b : an enlisted man or woman c : a skilled warrior” — does not generally apply, or is at least too narrow to describe, Black Confederates as she identifies them. It is not too much to say, I think, that in citing such a broad definition, Ms. DeWitt just knocked over the whole house of cards that comprises most of the “evidence” for Black Confederates.

There’s an old saying that a “gaffe” is what happens when a politician accidentally speaks the truth. This is a gaffe. This is the truth that forms the foundation of most Black Confederate advocacy. To qualify as a Black Confederate, one needs only to qualify as a follower or a worker. In short, the term “soldier” applies to anyone — enlisted man, musician, teamster, body servant, cook, hospital orderly, laundress, sutler, drover, laborer, anyone — involved with the army in any capacity.

A long time ago, I learned a rule that has stood me in good stead ever since: any time a writer or public speaker starts off his or her essay by quoting a definition from the dictionary, you can safely stop reading or listening, because nothing worthwhile or new is likely to follow. That’s still true, but it this case Ms. DeWitt’s use of the technique does do us all a genuine service, by admitting what Black Confederate skeptics have been saying all along — that the movement’s advocates are so loose with the their definitions, so willing to conflate service as a volunteer, enlisted soldier under arms with a slave’s compelled service as a cook and body servant to his owner and master, that the narratives they offer cannot stand close historiographical scrutiny at all. To borrow an analogy allegedly coined by Lincoln himself, Black Confederate advocacy is like shoveling fleas across the barnyard — you start with what seems to be a shovelful, but by the time you get to the other side, there’s very little actually there.

Update, August 22: I just noticed this on the website, as well:

Another challenge is the fact that 19th century CSA enlistment forms and pension applications did not include race, so unless all current SCV members come forward with more historical accounts, the world may never know the total number of  African-Americans (Blacks) who served in any and all capacities of the American Civil War.

If I’m reading this correctly, Ms. DeWitt views any Confederate enlistment or pension document that doesn’t explicitly state otherwise to be potential evidence of a Black Confederate. Wowza!

Not sure what the call for “all current SCV members come forward with more historical accounts” means.

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32 Responses

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  1. Dick Stanley said, on August 22, 2010 at 10:02 am

    “To qualify as a Black Confederate, one needs only to qualify as a follower or a worker. In short, the term ‘soldier’ applies to anyone — enlisted man, musician, teamster, body servant, cook, hospital orderly, laundress, sutler, drover, laborer, anyone – involved with the army in any capacity.”

    And yet most of those terms are the very definitions of “soldier” used in today’s US Army. Not all soldiers carry guns or pull triggers. Many are in service jobs to the Army as a whole. In fact, those logistics troopies outnumber the combat troops by as much as 4-1 and always have. And the Army calls every one of them soldiers.

    Even “a slave’s compelled service” was elastic, as you know. Some of those so compelled ran away at the first opportunity. Others who could have run away stayed. There were some loyal slaves (that’s where “Uncle Tom” comes from), and a few light-skinned, freed half-blacks in the ranks. DeWitt may, in fact, be descended from one. My reading of her site indicates that she is African-American.

    I know some of the Black Confederate claimants contend there were platoons, if not regiments, of Black Confederates armed and deadly, stalking Blue Bellies everywhere, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Boys in Gray, and they deserve to be mocked.

    But is DeWitt in that category? I can’t tell from her site.

    “There’s very little actually there.” I agree with that, too. But very little is not none.

    • Craig Swain said, on August 22, 2010 at 1:11 pm

      “And yet most of those terms are the very definitions of “soldier” used in today’s US Army. Not all soldiers carry guns or pull triggers. Many are in service jobs to the Army as a whole. In fact, those logistics troopies outnumber the combat troops by as much as 4-1 and always have. And the Army calls every one of them soldiers.”

      Dick, there is a vast difference between the situation with modern armies and that of the Civil War, which makes the comparison invalid.

      First off, no matter how one wishes to drill down, the soldiers serving in service jobs in the modern military are trained first as combat soldiers. Only after that do they receive their support training. One of the lessons the army learns the hard-way (and did in Iraq) is that all soldiers must be able to handle their weapons.

      The outnumbering of logistic troops to combat troops is an evolution with modern warfare. Prior to industrialization, the ratio was lopsided to the other extreme. That change is still being felt. During WWII, the oft cited number is 1 to 5 (front line to rear echelon). Now days it is about 1 to 20, if you just count the combat MOSs.

      There’s another evolution taking place which not all of our society agrees with. Since more and more of the army’s work is rear echelon, the military services around the world (not just the US) have found it cheaper to contract that work. At the height, the ratio of contractors in theater to combat arms MOSs was roughly 2 to 1. I suspect it will grow in future wars. Its budget matched with the complexity of the war-fighting equipment. The army might train a soldier to do what I can with a server and network. But they’d outlay four to five times the cost over the span of a year, and the soldier would still not have the experience to fall back on.

      This is not seen as “proper” in all segments of our society. Contractors don’t take an oath of allegiance as soldiers do. At best they sign non-disclosure agreements and such, stating they will work within certain constraints or be held liable to punishment. Sure we can come up with “Firebase Gloria” scenarios where a contractor would fight to save his own skin, or hopefully be motivated beyond that to some patriotic duty. But reality is they are not obligated by oath to defend the Constitution or our way of life. They are only obligated to execute their duties within the statement of work.

      But given the oft cited logic to support counting black servants, teamsters and such as Confederate soldiers. (that “those who serve in support capacities should be counted as soldiers”), I have a logical conclusion to make then. I served eight years in the Regular Army, and four years National Guard. Under the definition that many propose in order to include so many black Confederates, then I should ask the Veterans Administration to tack on another ten years to my service time.

      I’m just saying that the definition offered for “soldier” is far too broad to be practically applied. The more narrow definition (and that used in the contemporary regulations) is best fitting. As such, very few of the teamsters, cooks, washers, handlers, or servants qualify as soldiers. (And there is a different story altogether with regard to pensions. A pension is not validation that someone served as a soldier, as has been demonstrated over and over.)

      I guess the bottom line is the extended definition of “soldier” doesn’t really fit for the Civil War period, or for the modern, contemporary situation for what it is worth.

      • Dick Stanley said, on August 22, 2010 at 10:12 pm

        Craig, I still think y’all are unnecessarily restricting the definition of “soldier,” especially as it applies to the ACW when society was a lot more romantic and far less specific about things than our better educated and more bureaucratic society is.

        And I don’t buy that all of today’s soldiers are combat trained. Weapons handling is not combat training.

        You’re referring to Basic Training, I suppose, for that “combat training” of today’s truck drivers and cooks, etc. Before some of them became contractors. I have a hard time envisioning these folks thrust into a rifle platoon or a combat patrol. They wouldn’t know what to do.

        Perhaps Basic has significantly changed from my regular Army years, 1967-71, but then it was a lot of marching in boots and sitting in classrooms and very little rifle range and only one morning, as I recall, of actual tactical maneuvers. (Unless you count the crawling under the barbed wire while the fixed-elevation machine gun fired a good three-feet over your head, which was mostly show biz.)

        Advanced Individual Training (after Basic) was where the combat training came in, but only for those in combat arms, while the truck drivers and cooks went off to their own separate schools that didn’t involve any combat training at all. Has it really changed that much when Army manpower is far more restricted than in the days of the draft?

        Qualifying on an M-4 or a 9mm is hardly “combat” training. It just means, presumably, that you won’t shoot yourself or a friend, unless you intend to.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm

      Dick, thanks for replying. I appreciate your comments and the effort that goes into them.

      I don’t know anything about Ms. DeWitt other than what I’ve gleaned from her website — which, as you suggest, doesn’t say much. Some weeks ago, when I first became aware of her site, I e-mailed her asking for any additional info about Bill Yopp, whose headstone she featured on her site. (I was unfamiliar with Yopp at the time, but have since read up on him.) She responded that she didn’t have any additional information, apart from the photo. I took from that the impression that the hodgepodge of material she presents on her site is mostly cut-and-paste from other sources. As I’ve said, I believe she’s probably sincere and well-intentioned, but simply wrong on the evidence. The novel she’s publishing complicates the matter further, which is advertised as “derived from 19th century official government records as well as real life family narratives of co-author, Ann DeWitt.” (This latter description no longer appears on her website, but it still up at the publisher.)

      Personally, I consider myself a skeptical agnostic on Black Confederates, and remain to be convinced. You wrote that relationships are “elastic,” and I certainly agree with that. People are complex. You also wrote that “very little is not none.” That’s true, though I’m still looking out for that very little.

      Edited to correct link to publisher.

      • Dick Stanley said, on August 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm

        Okay, try these two from Michael Hardy at michaelhardy.blogspot.com:

        “Franklin Cuzzens lived in Boone, Watauga County – check the 1860 Watauga County census. He is listed in household number 96, Boone district, with his wife Elizabeth and their daughter Mary. They are listed as Mulatto. In 1850, he is listed as black. Franklin, and his brother William Henry, volunteered as privates in what became Company B, 37th North Carolina Troops, on September 14, 1861. At times, according to their Compiled Service Records from the National Archives and Records Administration, their last names are spelled Cuzzens, Cozzins, Cossins, or Cossens. And at times, William Henry is just seen as Henry. In April 1862, both brothers voluntarily re-enlisted in the 37th North Carolina Troops. Franklin Cuzzens was killed in combat on August 27, 1862, during the battle of Second Manassas/Bull Run. William Henry survived the war, moved to Yancey County, married, and drew a pension for his Confederate service from the state of North Carolina.”

      • Andy Hall said, on August 24, 2010 at 5:21 pm

        Responding to Dick Stanley: That’s interesting information. As I said, I’m an agnostic, not an outright denier. That URL for Hardy’s blog doesn’t work for me, and I can’t directly verify the specifics, but research of the sort that’s suggested in your quote from it is exactly the way this question (or any other contentious one) should be approached. What I object to — and rightly deride — is the far more common cut-and-paste method that takes a decades-later pension record or a reunion photograph and then retroactively bestows on them a designation that’s entirely missing from contemporary, wartime accounts.

        Added: The more concerning issue for me about Ms. DeWitt’s website and upcoming book is not that there were one, or two, or a hundred African Americans who served under arms, actually enrolled as soldiers, but that she seems to be determined (see that last quote) to extrapolate information on a very small number of men into thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of African Americans in the ranks. Focusing on whether this or that individual legitimately should be considered a Black Confederate is entirely appropriate, but in the meantime Ms. DeWitt (among others) seems focused on putting across a much larger claim that is entirely unsupported. In military terms, she’s marching her corps around our flank while some of us are focusing on mopping up her skirmishers.

  2. Kevin said, on August 22, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Admittedly, I have taken a tougher stance when it comes to sites such as the one by Ms. DeWitt. From what I gather she does not intend it as a casual hobby, but as a legitimate site for teachers and students. In addition, she is asking for public donations. I guess I am just tired of pussy footing around with these people. There is simply too much misinformation out there on this topic to give people the benefit of the doubt.

  3. Craig Swain said, on August 22, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    “And I don’t buy that all of today’s soldiers are combat trained. Weapons handling is not combat training.”

    First, is this based upon your experience in 1972, or a source we can refer to? I hear this a lot from older vets. Bottom line, the Army today is not the Army of 1980. We need to acknowledge that when making such comparisons.

    Second, nobody placed a specific delineation here on what was considered “soldier training.” An army, be that the US or other nation, can define the level of combat training as needed. Again, I go back to contemporary resources (1860) here. In 1860, a soldier was trained to perform rudimentary drill and tactics. I’ve yet to see any references that indicate teamsters were subjected to Hardee’s in the 1860s.

    Doesn’t matter how we try to spin it, a teamster or a cook in 1861 were not soldiers. Even if those same tasks are performed by soldiers today. We can’t impose our modern definitions on the situation that existed then. Society didn’t define what was a soldier, military regulations did.

    • Dick Stanley said, on August 23, 2010 at 4:13 am

      There you go with the sources again. You guys don’t allow unsourced remarks when they don’t agree with yours. I don’t see you attributing any of your comments.

      “An Army can define the level of combat training as needed.” How convenient. It might fool the taxpayers, but will it fool the enemy?

      A Mississippi cousin of mine recently got out of the Army to go into private dental surgery practice. He wore BDUs and boots every day he worked at Walter Reed. He said it was a solidarity thing with the combat troops. And a public relations deal for the civilians. He’s qualified on the 9mm. He is smart enough to know that does not make him combat trained.

      Obviously, the Army of today is not the Army of yesterday. Now they actually use the guard and reserves. My Army, as they used to say, was destroyed by Vietnam. We ran in boots, now they run in “trainers” as the Brits call them, which is smarter, I’m sure. They no longer have the grenade throw, I’m told, in PT. That could be a mistake.

      But it’s apparent that there’s one thing the Army still has in abundance: bullshit. All the way back to WW2, when the Army Air Forces called coming within a mile of the target “pinpoint bombing.” Just like weapons handling today is called “combat training.” I guess.

      • Craig Swain said, on August 23, 2010 at 12:36 pm

        Dick, I’ve offered sources in many long posts elsewhere. I’ll respect our host’s comment parameters here and avoid detailing them at length here. I have however mentioned the one source that proponents of Black Confederates seem to avoid – the many army regulations that applied during the Civil War.

        I thank your cousin for his service. Likely he and I have run into each other at Walter Reed. And I will agree, that post is definitely removed from combat (well unless you consider the situation in the surrounding neighborhoods).

        But I would still point out that he received much, much more combat training than a teamster or a cook did in the Civil War era. You scoff at the limited training he did receive. But I will cite Army manuals on this subject and my personal experience. When a soldier in today’s army arrives in a tactical unit, the training continues for he/she in order to refine those skills.

        Is it sufficient? That may be debated elsewhere. But the fact is the Army today trains those support personnel in the manual of arms and tactical maneuvers. The Army of 1863 (under either flag) did not. That, along with the oath of enlistment, frames the definition of “soldier” in the Civil War time period. It was not broadly defined as someone who “worked” in support of the Army.

        There are not many things Kevin Levin and I agree upon. But this is perhaps one of a handful of instances where we do!

      • Dick Stanley said, on August 24, 2010 at 4:55 pm

        Cousin’s name, Craig, is Dr. Charles Stone, in case you actually did run into him at WR.

  4. Kevin said, on August 22, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Dick,

    If they were soldiers (volunteers or draftees) they should have the requisite enlistment papers. That is what is missing from this debate. It’s a simple request. When historians study and write about Civil War soldiers these are the men they are writing about. Even a cursory glance at the available evidence demonstrates that Confederate soldiers did not consider blacks to be soldiers. That’s not a surprise given that they were present as servants or impressed into various support roles.

    • Dick Stanley said, on August 23, 2010 at 4:20 am

      So if the historians can’t find the paperwork, it can’t be true? How dumb is that?

      I’m sure the Confeds did not formally consider blacks to be soldiers. Given the chance, in 1865, the Mississippi brigade in the trenches around Richmond voted hell no on the idea of formally making slaves soldiers. Stupid to the end.

      But that doesn’t mean some loyal servant or two didn’t pick up a rifled musket now and then and shoot back, and his young marster didn’t brag that old Cicero was a heckuva soldier.

      • Kevin said, on August 23, 2010 at 10:09 am

        Dick,

        I’ve never doubted that on occasion a servant picked up a gun and fired at a yankee, but I fail to see how that qualified as a soldier. I still see this as a case of a slave picking up a rifle. Did the owner of the slave now believe the slave was a soldier because of this.

        I’ve maintained all along that it is not my responsibility to provide the evidence. Rather, it is the responsibility of those making the claims who need to provide the source material. That’s how the process works. If you want to explore black men who served as soldiers than you need to look at the few men who were, in fact, recruited during the last days of the war in Richmond after the Confederate Congress and President Davis authorized their enlistment. I find it curious that you would get so upset about those of us who choose to ask the tough questions and demand the necessary evidence as opposed to stretching concepts to the point where they are sufficiently vague.

  5. Matt McKeon said, on August 23, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Off topic, but today’s army truckdrivers and other traditional support roles, can very easily find themselves in a combat situation in places like Iraq and Afganistan. Nothing to do with the discussion, but a shout out to the men and women in the non combat specialities who still see combat.

    • Craig Swain said, on August 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm

      Matt, that’s been my point all along. Today’s US Army soldiers go through combat training at every stage of their careers. Before deploying, they undergo intense training focused on combat skills needed to conduct their mission. In spite of what some might say (and often they divert conversations to the Vietnam War era army for comparison), ALL soldiers in the modern army receive training AS soldiers. The US Army has published piles of manuals of instructions for those “service support” and “combat service support” roles. And as you indicate they perform duties as soldiers in the present day combat zones.

      We cannot equate service in the support roles during the Civil War to the support roles in today’s wars. The two are apples and oranges. And arguments to equate teamsters and cooks from the Civil War era to soldiers of today are ignoring the facts. Looking back to the Civil War, there is no “School of the Teamster” manual or “School of the Cook” instructions. No manual instructed teamsters how to handle whips. Nor were cooks trained to use meat cleavers and rolling pins in combat. Why? Because they were not considered soldiers! They were what we’d call today “contractors.”

      Different times with different definitions. All who wish to debate the service of blacks in support of the Confederate Army should first read the regulations in use at the time, and fully understand the definitions that applied. There’s a heap of misunderstanding there.

  6. Matt McKeon said, on August 23, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    90% of the black Confederate soldier argument seems to be based on blurring and confusing things, instead of clarifying them. The word “serve” means serving as a soldier in the service, but also means to serve coffee. Blacks served in the Confederate army, in the sense they were servants, and they were located in a Confederate army camp. So its not quite lying. It’s more like deliberately misleading and obscuring and ….. well its kind of like lying.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm

      Matt, I agree about the blurring and confusing, wholeheartedly. Last night (Sunday) the History Channel re-ran a doc on Camp Douglas in Chicago, “Eighty Acres of Hell.” It seemed pretty well done to me, although at one point one of the specialized historians interviewed — I didn’t catch his name — was talking abut an incident wherein a newly-arrived African American prisoner was shot without provocation by one of the guards. In one clip (30 seconds?), maybe one long sentence, the modern historian referred to the man as a slave, a servant, and a soldier. Imprecise, conflating language obscures, rather than clarifies.

  7. Matt McKeon said, on August 23, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    An example for you Craig. My dad was in the First Cavalry Div. during the Korean War. I have a good photo of him holding a carbine and glaring at the camera, on the back its written “killer of men” which was what their bayonet instructor was trying teach them to be. In actual Korea he typed in a truck all day as a signalman, miles behind the line. Then one day their sergeant had them get their weapons and get ready to fight some infiltrators. Which never showed. But the Army had showed him how to be a killer and was ready to use him in that role.

  8. BorderRuffian said, on August 24, 2010 at 12:59 am

    Anyone enlisted in the army was a soldier.

    “The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, When transportation cannot be furnished in kind, the discharged *soldier* shall be entitled to receive 10 cents per mile in lieu of all traveling pay, subsistence, forage, and undrawn clothing, from the place of discharge to the place of his enlistment or enrollment….The foregoing to apply to all officers, non-commissioned officers, musicians, artificers, farriers, blacksmiths, and privates of volunteers, when disbanded, discharged, or mustered out of service….”

    http://dlxs2.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=moawar;cc=moawar;q1=musician;q2=soldier;op2=and;op3=and;rgn=works;idno=waro0127;didno=waro0127;view=image;seq=0352

    “Every man between sixteen and sixty, who is able to serve the Confederacy in the army, whether in the ranks or as an artisan or mechanic, laborer. teamster, cook, hospital attendant, or in any other capacity, ought to be put in service without regard to avocation or other plea. There ought to be no exemption whatever, except in the case of absolute and permanent physical disability. If by this means more *soldiers* are raised than necessary, it would be a very just and humane policy to grant furloughs to the old soldiers and put the young conscripts in their places.”

    General Thomas C. Hindman, CSA
    War of the Rebellion…, Series 1, Volume 22, part 1, p145

    • Andy Hall said, on August 24, 2010 at 2:49 am

      BorderRuffian, thanks for taking time to reply. You write that “anyone enlisted in the army was a soldier.” I agree; the problem is that there is no evidence that most of those claimed publicly today as Black Confederates were ever enlisted or formally enrolled in military service, or recognized as soldiers at the time.

      The citations you provide are useful in exploring this subject, in that they suggest a contemporary looseness of the word “soldier” then, not unlike what attains today. The first citation deals with the provision of travel funds, which doesn’t directly address definitions and distinctions of types of service recognized by the Confederate government. (Side question: are “artificers, farriers, blacksmiths” specific military ranks/rates in cavalry or artillery units? Sounds like it to me, which would shut out civilian camps workers from the legislation entirely.)

      Neither the legislation nor the quote from Hindman seems to encompass slaves, or men attached to the army as body servants to white soldiers, which seems to be the most common situation for those now cited as Black Confederates. Hindman’s memo, in particular, makes a clear distinction between those “in the ranks” as opposed to other trades. His subsequent use of the word “soldier” does not seem to me necessarily to encompass those other trades, given that he’s talking about “in the ranks or as an artisan or mechanic, laborer. . . .”

      Shorter: both these documents use the word “soldier” in a very general way, and neither document makes the case to me that cooks, teamsters and laborers — much less personal servants — were explicitly classed as soldiers as defined under regulations.

      But it is an interesting question, is it not?

  9. Craig Swain said, on August 25, 2010 at 11:04 am

    The case of Franklin Cuzzens is a great example of what mentioned before with regard to black Confederates. He is listed as mulatto. As we all know, mulatto is not a race. It is the identification of mixed races. Entomologically speaking, it indicates someone can move within two different racial groups, appearing as a member. But the word itself, which is indeed somewhat a recognition that racial based strata existed in a society, has many different meanings depending on place and time. In the particular area of NC mentioned, mulatto was just as likely to mean mixed black and native American. Or even mixed white and native American. So why was there a change in Cuzzens’ skin color between 1850 and 1860?

    So before we rush to call Cuzzens a black Confederate in arms, we’d first have to resolve why he was not listed in 1860 as “black” or “freedman” or otherwise some period label for blacks. Second we’d have to establish where Cuzzens was within the local community. In particular what was his connection within the community? In short, as with so many of these cases, where’s the context for the service?

    Just my observation, but the proponents of the “thousands of black Confederates” seemed more concerned about muster rolls than they are about the people listed on those rolls. Often times more information exists about the individual’s life outside the military than the brief military service.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 25, 2010 at 12:50 pm

      Craig, thanks for your thoughts. I don’t know a great deal about the Cuzzens case, but a couple of thngs do come to mind. I was able to glance very briefly at the few pages of service record on Footnote, and saw that it didn’t note him as “free Negro” or similar that we’ve seen in a handful of other cases. It occured to me that, not knowing his skin color otherwise, is it possible that he was “passing?”* It also seems, given the multiplicity of spellings of the name (a very common fact of records in those days) that there’s at least a possibility that the man in the census records may not be the same as the man on the enlistment roll. I don’t really know.

      But all that said, I much prefer to examine/discuss/analyze/argue over contemporary documents like census records and enlistment rolls than a reunion photo or pension application from fifty years after-the-fact. And better to have the discussion coalesce around men like Cuzzens than on Silas Chandler, Weary Clyburn or Bill Yopp, whose claim to the title of Black Confederate rests on far shakier ground.

      * I mention the possibility of “passing” because I recently read James Paradis’ African Americans and the Gettysburg Campaign, which seems to be a very useful little work, but one in which he falls utterly flat on Black Confederates. (The entire section reads like a half-finished, last-minute addition to the manuscript.) In a section with that name, he talks about the wide range of roles of African Americans in the AoNV, which is discussed generally but correctly, and then goes into really vague discussion of African American soldiers. The one example he gives in detail is Charles F. Lutz of Louisiana, who he says right up front was “passing” — which, regardless of his true ethnic/racial heritage, eliminates him as an example of African Americans openly enlisting in Confederate ranks.

      • Craig Swain said, on August 25, 2010 at 2:02 pm

        “But all that said, I much prefer to examine/discuss/analyze/argue over contemporary documents like census records and enlistment rolls than a reunion photo or pension application from fifty years after-the-fact.”

        Andy, I agree. My point was not to say we should accept those service records, or as you mention reunion photos, as irrefutable evidence, but rather in context with the entire body of information. What we need to know here before passing to a final conclusion is what role the individual played in the community. It all goes to aid understanding of the situation.

        I recall a fellow research partner jumping to conclusions when he found references to hundreds of “blacks” that volunteered for a particular unit formed in the Memphis area. On further investigation we found the muster rolls had names like O’Brien, O’Malley, and such. Odd right? Not if you consider the “roll taker” was a red-haired, recent immigrant from the “old country” and was referring to darker haired Irishmen.

        Indeed, who’s to say the “Cuzzens” case is not a similar example. The family name, and derivations offered, could stem from Italian, Portuguese, or any number of other “normally considered white” backgrounds. My point is we don’t know until more information about the individual comes to light.

      • Dick Stanley said, on August 25, 2010 at 9:48 pm

        Craig, what sort of surnames do you imagine slaves and freedmen had in the South ante-bellum? Or post-bellum, for that matter.

        O’Brien, O’Malley merely indicate the names of the owners, which they sometimes used (see below) for their slaves, and many freedmen adopted the owners’ name after emancipation. They’d known no other. Some changed the names later but even then few adopted African names. That’s only been fashionable since the 1960s.

        In the 13th Miss, for instance, on his muster roll Pvt. James Gage named Elias Gage as his “servant-cook.” Sergeant Major Robert Yarbrough’s muster roll names Abram Yarbrough, as the sergeant major’s “cook.”

        As for color changing from black to mulatto, if you’ve ever done any geneaology work, you know that government clerks changed frequently in those days (the pay was poor) and they didn’t all “see” things the same way. They also frequently spelled names phonetically, accounting for the variations of Cuzzens.

        All this pickiness has its place, I suppose, but it too often seems to devolve into wanting the mid-19th century’s limited government and its rather erratic paperwork to echo the widespread bureacracy of our own times where everything is more or less standardized. And in triplicate.

        This whole argument is not very well-defined. “Black Confederates” is being used to define black soldiers and denounced if the soldiers can’t be proved. There were lots of Confederates who were not soldiers, and undoubtedly some black ones among them.

    • BorderRuffian said, on August 25, 2010 at 1:07 pm

      Craig Swain:
      “The case of Franklin Cuzzens is a great example of what mentioned before with regard to black Confederates. He is listed as mulatto. As we all know, mulatto is not a race. It is the identification of mixed races. Entomologically speaking, it indicates someone can move within two different racial groups, appearing as a member.”

      In some cases.
      Note that Cuzzens wasn’t “passing as white” to the census taker.

      CS:
      “But the word itself, which is indeed somewhat a recognition that racial based strata existed in a society, has many different meanings depending on place and time. In the particular area of NC mentioned, mulatto was just as likely to mean mixed black and native American. Or even mixed white and native American. So why was there a change in Cuzzens’ skin color between 1850 and 1860?”

      It has to do with the individuals in charge of taking the census. One sees “black” while the other sees “mulatto.”

      It wasn’t a perfect science

      CS:
      “So before we rush to call Cuzzens a black Confederate in arms, we’d first have to resolve why he was not listed in 1860 as “black” or “freedman” or otherwise some period label for blacks.”

      If Cuzzens had joined the Union army he most likely would have joined the United States Colored Troops…which bring up another issue- Is it correct to call the USCT “black” troops since many were of mixed race.

      Perhaps a more accurate term for non-whites in the CS army would be colored rather than black.

      • Craig Swain said, on August 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm

        Mr. Border, if I may simply call you that (most ungentlemanly not providing at least a given name), in your haste to bludgeon me for making rational points about the black Confederate in question, I think you skipped over text of the comment that I wrote.

        I have simply asked two questions:
        1. Why did Cuzzens’ skin color change between 1850 and 1860?
        2. What place did Cuzzens hold in the community?

        Before anyone can say he was a “black Confederate” those two points must be addressed. From your response, it seems you require us to leave those questions unanswered, and simply accept the scant “evidence” at face without any debate.

        You bring up USCT. I don’t see anyone calling them “Black Federals” or “Black Unionists.” They are referred to by an official designation (one which the Confederacy either failed or neglected or had NO NEED OF applying). “Colored Troops.” So no, it most certainly does NOT bring up another issue.

        As to your “mixed race” references, I would ask you to define what that means to you. Is that opposed to “pure race”? After all, we are all “mixed” to some degree. In my experience, “race” has more to do with how society regards an individual than what tone their skin color is. Andy mentions “passing,” and for good measure. That implies something positive and negative at the same time. If society changed their perception of Cuzzens’ race between 1850 and 1860, that tells us something (if you are willing to listen).

        So to attempt to throw a blanket over the whole argument by contending that all non-whites in the Confederate Army should be considered “black Confederates,” well that implies a lot. First off that you feel the core of the Confederate Army was supposed to be lilly-white. Second, that anyone with even a partially mixed background serving in the Confederate army should be labeled as “black” (which begs the question what terms did the Confederates use to describe the organized units of Native-Americans in their Army?). Third, that you feel Southern society’s caste system was perfectly defined by race, with no gray areas at the lower orders of that society. Lastly, that your argument is running short of factual information, as you must resort to wild speculations for continuance.

        Have a good day and enjoy the last bits of summer, whom ever you really are.

  10. BorderRuffian said, on August 25, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    CS:
    “Mr. Border, if I may simply call you that (most ungentlemanly not providing at least a given name), in your haste to bludgeon me”

    I had no intent to “bludgeon” you…and don’t see how you get that idea.

    *

    CS
    “…for making rational points about the black Confederate in question, I think you skipped over text of the comment that I wrote.

    I have simply asked two questions:
    1. Why did Cuzzens’ skin color change between 1850 and 1860?”

    It didn’t. If you re-read my post you will see the answer to your question.

    It’s the perception of the individual taking the census.

    *

    CS
    “2. What place did Cuzzens hold in the community?”

    I have no idea…that’s why I skipped that part.

    *

    CS
    “Before anyone can say he was a “black Confederate” those two points must be addressed. From your response, it seems you require us to leave those questions unanswered, and simply accept the scant “evidence” at face without any debate.”

    Well we have a difference of opinion as to what is “scant” and what is “evidence.”

    I know the game- Raise the bar.
    It doesn’t work with me.

    *

    CS
    “You bring up USCT. I don’t see anyone calling them “Black Federals” or “Black Unionists.” They are referred to by an official designation (one which the Confederacy either failed or neglected or had NO NEED OF applying). “Colored Troops.” So no, it most certainly does NOT bring up another issue.”

    Yes, it does. This National Archives site calls them black-

    http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war/

    *

    CS
    “As to your “mixed race” references, I would ask you to define what that means to you. Is that opposed to “pure race”? After all, we are all “mixed” to some degree. In my experience, “race” has more to do with how society regards an individual than what tone their skin color is. Andy mentions “passing,” and for good measure. That implies something positive and negative at the same time. If society changed their perception of Cuzzens’ race between 1850 and 1860, that tells us something (if you are willing to listen).”

    As I have stated designation of race in the census was not a perfect science. But if you see a *consistent* record- “black”…”mulatto”…we (or at least I) can take that as good measure that he wasn’t white.

    *

    CS
    “So to attempt to throw a blanket over the whole argument by contending that all non-whites in the Confederate Army should be considered “black Confederates,” well that implies a lot.”

    Didn’t I say just the opposite?- “Perhaps a more accurate term for non-whites in the CS army would be colored rather than black.”

    • Craig Swain said, on August 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm

      So in other words, you present no evidence here. Just want us to assume this “black” man somehow changed to a “mulatto”? Usually those kind of dialogs also include lines like “watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!” Are you going to offer up even a single bit of evidence to support your claim, or is this just another “sighting” that we are supposed to believe?

      This is much like debating Global Warming with some -die-hard believer. When the wild assumptions are pointed out for what they are, then the line starts “the debate is over.” Then when we are told we must redefine the subject (was “Global Warming” now “Climate Change”…. Was “Black Confederate Soldiers” now “Non-White Confederate Workers.”).

      At this point the term “soldier” and “black” have been re-branded to a point they no longer match even a generous version of the original definition. So what started with “blacks took up arms in defense of the south” has become, “Non-white people from many different racial backgrounds did a lot of things, which was not just limited to fighting in combat, and may have included picking cotton and bailing hay, all to show their support for the Confederacy.”

      Can we make the thesis any more broad? Why not just admit that there isn’t enough evidence to draw a conclusion, instead of attempting to tailor the evidence to force a conclusion?

      Oh, and the link you offer…. Red herring again. Still doesn’t explain why we should consider the designation USCT in context of the discussion here. Blacks served in the Union Army, that’s been documented rather well. What’s you point?

  11. Dick Stanley said, on August 25, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    “So in other words, you present no evidence here. Just want us to assume this “black” man somehow changed to a “mulatto”? Usually those kind of dialogs also include lines like “watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!” Are you going to offer up even a single bit of evidence to support your claim, or is this just another “sighting” that we are supposed to believe?”

    Y’all are really good at verbal whippings, aren’t you? Are you dispassionate “historians” in search of the truth? Or quasi-academics with an agenda? Looks like the latter to me.

  12. Andy Hall said, on August 25, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    This thread is closing, for the time being. I’m happy for a vigorous debate, but today the signal-to-noise ratio has dropped precipitously. I don’t think anyone’s doing any convincing at this point. We can revisit this again in the future.


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