Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Drawn Into the Reactionary Noise Machine

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 26, 2016

Joseph sold to (not Muslim) slave traders in the Book of Genesis.


There’s an essay making the rounds, “Political Correctness Strips the South of All Vestiges of Slavery While Ignoring Islam’s Contribution,” by retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel James G. Zumwalt. Zumwalt, who writes about the Middle East and Islam at Breitbart, goes through a list of recent controversies regarding Confederate symbols, including the name change to dormitory at Vanderbilt and decision to drop “Dixie” from the play list by the band at Ole Miss, but his main point here (as with most of his recent writing) is to remind us all that ZOMG the Muslims are coming! Even superficially, Zumwalt’s grasp of history is tenuous, like his claim that Muslims were the “originators” of the slave trade. That might surprise people familiar with the story of Joseph from Genesis 37:2-36, that predates the founding of Islam (and Christianity) by many centuries.

There are a bazillion essays like Zumwalt’s out there, and they’re really not worth a lot of attention. I only mention this one because he cites one of my blog posts as support for his screed. About two-thirds of the way through he writes (my emphasis):


Few Confederates were actual slave-owners. The debate continues as to how many were. For Texans, the numbers vary from a low of 2 percent to a high of 36 percent. Furthermore, other motivations existed for fighting, including states rights and territorial expansion.


This is simply not true, and a complete misreading of what I wrote. There is no substantive “debate” about the incidence of slaveholding across Texas or the South among historians who’ve studied it in a serious way; as I explain at length, the “low of 2 percent” Zumwalt mentions is based on a deliberately misleading — to the point of outright dishonesty — claim made by heritage groups about Confederate soldiers from Texas, in an effort to disassociate them from the “peculiar institution.” In fact, census data collected the summer before the war began suggests that about one-quarter of all free households in Texas owned slaves. This squares pretty well with Joseph Glatthaar’s analysis of slaveholding in the Army of Northern Virginia, who found that in the first year of the war about one in ten enlisted men in the ANoVa were slaveholders personally, another one in ten came from slaveholding households, and more than half of the officers owned slaves.

On the other hand, maybe a more succinct response to his assertion that “few Confederates were actual slave-owners” is, “but all the important ones were.

Furthermore, Zumwalt’s assertion that “other motivations existed for fighting, including states rights and territorial expansion” is one with an extremely short half-life, just long enough to ask, “for what purpose?” The states that seceded were indeed interested in states’ rights — to protect the institution of slavery, “the greatest material interest of the world,” — and territorial expansion, where “the destiny of the Southern master and his African slave. . . does not stop short of the banks of the Amazon.

The essay Zumwalt cites is one I wrote back in the early days of this blog, and it’s proved to be one of the most-frequently-accessed entries I’ve done. I’m glad of that, because I think it’s one of the more important pieces I’ve written here, although I suspect that a lot of people are drawn to it by the title, which is a quote that the essay itself is actually refuting. No matter. But I do wish that folks like Colonel Zumwalt would take the time to fully digest what I have to say, and think on it, before dropping in a link as a citation as supposed documentation for something I never actually said.




37 Responses

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  1. Leo said, on August 26, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    I’m no historian and I even know there’s no debate about the number of people in the Confefetacy who owned slaves. We have Census recorded, the 1860 slave schedule, and other official records to show us. A simple Google search is enough to point Mr. Zumwalt in the right direction.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 26, 2016 at 11:55 pm

      The CW stuff is just an excuse for him to shout about Muslims. Again. Go look up his stuff on Breitbart. (Which, BTW, I hadn’t seen myself until I’d written this post and was making some final tweaks to it.)

      Make sure you check under the bed, they’re sneaky.

      • Leo said, on August 27, 2016 at 8:30 am

        I try to get my news fron reputable outlets, so I’ve never given Breitbart so much as a glance before. I took your advice and reviewed several stories on the site. As I pretty much expected, Breitbart is more about pushing a particular narritave than reporting factual news.

  2. bob carey said, on August 27, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Just a thought that I have no backup on. Some of the Africans, before they were bought by the Christian slave ship captains may have been actual Muslims. I believe that Islam did spread to some parts of sub-saharan Africa by this time. To your knowledge has there ever been a study on this?

    • Andy Hall said, on August 27, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      Islam had moved into sub-Saharan Africa by the 17th century when the transatlantic slave trade got well underway, although it was not part of a larger caliphate in the same way it was around the Mediterranean and in north Africa. Zumwalt seems to be describing aspects of slavery in the Barbary States along the coast of North Africa, which has no particular relevance to the Transatlantic slave trade, or how the institution grew and developed in the Americas.

      But remember, his claim is that Muslims created the slave trade, which is asinine. Slavery, and therefore slave trading, or at least as old as the historic record, and probably go back as far as organized warfare. You would think a professional military officer would know that. The Transatlantic slave trade was created by the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, and British, with a handful of other minor European powers thrown in for good measure. The Barbary states and other Islamic powers had nothing to do with it. The Europeans relied on local tribes and warfare to provide the prisoners for the factories on the coast to load the ships. Those things have been going on for centuries before Islam moved into the area, and that religion never dominated the region the way it did in the Mediterranean. Zumwalt is simply using the current controversy over Confederate symbols as an excuse to write another essay about Islam as an existential threat to civilization.

      • bob carey said, on August 27, 2016 at 5:50 pm

        The point I was attempting to make was that Muslims were more likely to be victims of the American slave trade than the benefactors. As you say the Lt. Colonel is an educated man and he is working a modern political agenda, I wonder if he is related to Admiral Zumwalt.
        On a side note, I had a fella tell me the other day that the the Muslims burned the Library at Alexandria, when I pointed out to him that they were not even around yet he kept insisting that he was right. I just walked away, I wonder who he’s voting for.

        • Andy Hall said, on August 27, 2016 at 6:00 pm

          Yes, sorry I misunderstood. You’re absolutely right about other Muslims being likely victims of the slave trade.

          Lieutenant Colonel Zumwalt is the grandson of the former Chief of Naval Operations.

        • medievalotaku said, on August 28, 2016 at 5:42 am

          No, Muslims were not victims of the Transatlantic slave trade. Muslim slave traders operated in Africa since the 7th century and declined to convert African tribes to Islam, because it was against Sharia law to enslave a free Muslim. Converting them would have taken Africans off the market! So, I don’t think that European slave traders would have sold slaves who were Muslim in the colonies.

          The Portugeuse likely encountered some Muslim slave traders in Africa and bought slaves from them in addition to buying from various tribal leaders. That is what Zumwalt meant by Muslims starting the Transatlantic slave trade–no one would be dumb enough to claim that Muslims first began slavery.

          As for burning the library of Alexandria, yes, Muslims did it in 642 AD. Julius Caesar did it in 48 BC, Emperor Aurelian around 275 AD, and the Coptic Pope in 391 AD. In effect, that library has been destroyed several times, and the culprit depends on which time one is talking about.

          • Mike Musick said, on August 29, 2016 at 7:07 pm

            “No, Muslims were not victims of the Transatlantic slave trade.” I may not understand what the commenter means to say, but certainly Muslims were among the enslaved Africans transported to North America. Some converted to Christianity, while others did not. A terrific account of the Muslim son of an African king who was sent to Mississippi and was recognized there by an Irish surgeon who had known him in Africa is Terry Alford’s “Prince Among Slaves: The True Story of an African Prince Sold into Slavery in the American South” [Abd al Rahman Ibrahima]. See also “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” by Sylviane A. Diouf.

            • medievalotaku said, on August 31, 2016 at 7:35 am

              Thanks for correcting me. My comment is true in regard to the Arab slave trade, but it seems like some slaves sold in the Transatlantic slave trade were Muslim–about 30% according to one article. I did note that the Portuguese came into contact with Arab slave traders, and these could not lawfully sell freeborn Muslims as slaves. But, in regard to the tribal chieftains Europeans also bought from, some must have captured men and women from Muslim tribes.

              The book written by Terry Alford sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out.

            • Ken Noe said, on September 1, 2016 at 9:03 am

              Islam existed in isolated parts of coastal Georgia, by way of the Caribbean, well into the nineteenth century.

      • Leo said, on August 27, 2016 at 6:00 pm

        Just about every culture on the planet practiced or is touched by slavery. However, the institution of slavery predates the written record.

        Zumwalt is just fanning the flames of anti Islamic hysteria for political gain. Lying also predates the written record..

  3. M.D. Blough said, on August 28, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    Andy- THE classic work on the impact, including economic, of slavery is Frederic Bancroft’s “Slave Trading in the Old South”. When Bancroft was researching his work, he interviewed many individuals, white and black, who had been involved in slavery/slave trading. One aspect he discussed, that I rarely see mentioned today, was the importance of slave LEASING. It enabled slave owners to defray the expenses, especially in slack times, of slave owning and get additional income in. It was not unusual for slaveowners’ wills to bequeath slaves to widows and/or orphans for the express purpose of providing a steady income for the heirs through leasing out the slaves. As for the lessees, they got labor, including maintenance, only when they needed it. It also gave them some of the status of slaveowning even when purchasing a slave was beyond their means.

  4. David Kent said, on August 29, 2016 at 8:21 am

    In reading the book Great Britain and the American Civil War by Ephraim Douglass Adams, it states pretty clearly why the south fought the war. The south needed the British to break the blockade in order to have any chance of winning, but there was one great thing in their way……..slavery. It appears that statements made by confederate officials who openly said that upon winning the war, their entire economy would be based on slavery, made a huge difference to the British. They wanted to reopen the slave trade, and Mexico, Cuba, as well as any territories they would get from the north were mentioned in forming a great slave republic. They “just wanted to be left alone” was truly a bunch of B.S. They had big plans, and it all revolved around slavery. They cooked their own goose with statements like this getting back to the British. There is no denying that a certain segment of British officials wanted to break up, in their eyes, the upstart U.S., as they felt threatened. But better minds in the British government saw a single U.S. as an important future ally. I suppose the world wars proved them correct.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 29, 2016 at 10:50 am

      Yep. Pat Cleburne’s memorandum from the winter of 63/64, calling for the abolishment of slavery and the immediate enlistment of former slaves as soldiers, was driven directly by his recognition that the Confederacy could never win international support and intervention as long as it held on to the “peculiar institution.” His argument was not based on any moral repudiation of the practice, but on cold, pragmatic reasoning. His mistake, perhaps because as an immigrant, was that he did not fully appreciate the way slavery was embedded into the very identity of the South in that era.

    • BPS said, on August 30, 2016 at 9:58 am

      David Kent wrote “They wanted to reopen the slave trade”
      Much of what else you wrote is true, but the confederate constitution Article I Section 9(1) explicitly outlaws the international slave trade. There was no need. The 488,000 blacks imported into what is now the U.S. from Africa and the West Indies before 1808 had grown to 4 million by natural increase in 1860.

      • Andy Hall said, on August 30, 2016 at 12:06 pm

        There were some who wanted to reopen the international slave trade; that’s what the voyage of WANDERER was about, shortly before the war.

        • James F. Epperson said, on September 1, 2016 at 11:02 am

          “Our Man in Charleston,” by Christopher Dickey, is very explicit that many Southerners had no intention of abiding by the prohibition on slave-trading. It was one of the key points that the British consul in Charleston passed along to his government.

          • M.D. Blough said, on September 1, 2016 at 11:53 am

            Furthermore, the debate about the reopening of the slave trade had little or nothing to do with any moral or ethical issues. It turned more on a thriving domestic industry (the intra- and inter-state domestic US slave trade) fighting off the threat of relatively cheap foreign imports. Frederic Bancroft documented the soaring slave prices of the 1850s (calling it slave fever and comparing it to some of the financial shenanigans in the period leading up to the Great Depression of the 1930s). Advocates of the reopening feared that as prices took the hope of either they or their descendants ever entering the slave-owning elite from non-slave-owning whites, the sense of solidarity that white supremacy created between the two groups would dissolve and non-slave owners might actually start looking at what was in it for them (there was also a sense that newly arrived Africans would not have been exposed to or have the language to be exposed to American ideals of the Declaration of Independence and would be more easily controlled as a result).

  5. David Kent said, on August 29, 2016 at 11:58 am

    I wish every one of these slavery deniers would read that book. It’s always about following the money, which leads to following the politics of the money………ad nauseam………..throughout history. The south’s “king cotton” idea was a perfect example of this. The British were going to beat the south’s door down when the cotton supply dried up, because of the money involved. Then they ended up burning it themselves, when they finally realized that Britain was never going to recognize them. They forgot there were other places in the world that could grow cotton, and the British had plenty of colonies that could do, (and did), just that. They were not going to get into an expensive war with the U.S. over it. It was much cheaper to keep the laid off workers fed. It’s always about the money………….and the value of their slaves, in real dollars, was their only issue……….period.

  6. Buck Buchanan said, on August 29, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    I actually think his use of his rank borders on a Standards of Conduct violation. And making LTC is not that big of a deal. I wonder what his academic credentials are…

    • Andy Hall said, on August 29, 2016 at 3:50 pm

      I’m not sure what his academic credentials are. For his intended audience, I’m sure his former military status is considered sufficient authority for anything he chooses to opine on.

      As for Standards of Conduct, I don’t know the rules, but he’s retired, and it does seem to me that there are an awful lot of retired officers out there making highly-partisan political mischief without consequence.

  7. woodrowfan said, on August 29, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    So he writes for an openly white supremisit site. lovely person.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 30, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      There are an awful lot of folks who have an ingrained notion that white supremacists are the guys in sheets, burning crosses in the woods, and as long as they’re not doing that specifically, there’s not a problem.

  8. David Kent said, on August 30, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    I clicked on a link that ended up putting me on breitbart’s main page. It took me about 15 seconds to say wow, and get out of there. Really bad people.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 30, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      That’s why it’s a matter of some concern that the guy who was running Breitbart is now running the campaign of one of the two major candidates for president.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 31, 2016 at 11:03 am

      Believe me, I know. I’m following all of it closely, trying not to let too much spill over here onto the blog.

  9. J.B. Richman said, on September 2, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    I’m on some Conservative e-mail newsletter lists. They seem to come in two types regarding the Civil War era.
    1) People who see Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans of his era as the Archetype of Liberty-loving Conservatives who promoted Free Enterprise and Moral Law.
    2) People who see the Confederates as defenders of individual rights against a Federal juggernaut.

    It appears to me that the dividing line between those two groups is mainly along the Mason Dixon Line. Opinions on Islam do not divide along the same line at all.

    Trump is descended from recent immigrants to New York City (Grandson on his Father’s side, Son on the other), and supposedly used to be a Democrat. New York City was a hot bed of anti-Civil War activities in the North. Of course his ancestors were not there for the Draft Riots. I don’t think he really cares about the Civil War at all, and isn’t concerned about which side his supporters are from.

    • Andy Hall said, on September 3, 2016 at 9:48 am

      My personal view about Trump is that he knows or cares a little about anything outside of his own experience in New York real estate. There are many examples from his current campaign that indicate that he has no real working knowledge of how the different components of the US government function and interlock with one another. This is basic high school civics level knowledge. So I don’t think he has any understanding of American history at all except what one picks up here and there through osmosis, which is not encouraging. But that’s a discussion for another time.

      But yes, all political parties tend to bend the historical record to their advantage, and make overly simplistic arguments based on that. There’s a reason this time every four years is called “the silly season.”

      • J.B. Richman said, on September 4, 2016 at 2:05 am

        Trump has been in the Real Estate business in many states. They say all Real Estate is local, but that is not exactly the case in my opinion. His chief opponent also has displayed ignorance of how government is supposed to work (unless you think George Washington Plunkitt was an ideal public servant). Trump is part Real Estate deal maker and part P.T. Barnum. The two minor party candidates on the ballot in nearly all the states live in two different alternate universes. This isn’t 1860, so I don’t see how we will ever see a four way split of the electoral votes. Johnson and Stein won’t even take their home states. In 1860, two of the four candidates didn’t take their home states. Only Bell and Lincoln did that.

  10. J.B. Richman said, on September 4, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    “Joseph sold to (not Muslim) slave traders in the Book of Genesis.”

    Really? The Bible clearly states the traders that Joseph were sold to were Ishmaelite spice and balm traders from Gilead. In Islam, Ishmael is a Prophet, and his views were those of Mohammed. From Wikipedia:

    “Ishmael is considered a prophet in Islam and is listed in the Quran with other prophets in many instances.[12][13][14][15] In other verses, such as 21:5-86[16] and 38:48,[17] Ishmael is praised for being patient, good, and righteous.[18] A particular example which describes Ishmael individually is 19:54-55[19] – “And call to mind, through this divine writ, Ishmael. Behold, he was always true to his promise, and was an apostle [of God], a prophet, who used to enjoin upon his people prayer and charity, and found favour in his Sustainer’s sight.”[20] As a descendant of Ishmael, Muhammad is justified as the Prophet and continues the line of prophets from pre-Islamic times.”

    Ishmael was of the same generation as Isaac, and his Sons were of the generation of Israel (Jacob). So his Grandsons (and maybe Great-Grandsons were the spice traders. I guess they aren’t Muslims if you don’t believe the Koran, an they aren’t (primarily) slave traders if you believe the Bible.

    • Andy Hall said, on September 5, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      All three religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — trace their origins to many of the same people a prophets; that’s why they’re known as the Abrahamic religions, after Abraham. But the traders who bought Joseph were no more Muslims than they were Christian.

      • J.B. Richman said, on September 5, 2016 at 4:26 pm

        I don’t think they (the traders) were Muslim, as I don’t believe in the Koran as divinely inspired. They did have a connection to Abraham (direct descendants), and they were of the same tribal lineage as Mohammed (by common tradition). I personally believe that the Mohammedan religion is a mixture of Arab traditions (which is Ishmaelite), and Biblical and non-Biblical Judeo-Christian writings. The early Ishmaelites probably had some of Abraham’s monotheistic beliefs mixed with the culture of desert nomads; that is the source of Arab traditions. One reason why Islam varies so much across the Middle East is that local customs are often a mixture of Islam and tribal tradition.

        • Andy Hall said, on September 5, 2016 at 4:31 pm

          “I don’t think they (the traders) were Muslim, as I don’t believe in the Koran as divinely inspired.”

          Whether one believes Islam to be divinely inspired or not is irrelevant. It’s a matter of chronology. The story of Joseph took place many centuries BCE; Muhammad, who established Islam, came along more than a thousand years later.

          Of course those traders weren’t Muslim. No one was then.

          • J.B. Richman said, on September 6, 2016 at 12:59 am

            So Islam was created ex nihilo by Mohammed? I’m saying that significant parts of Islam were present in the beliefs and customs of Arabian tribes dating back to the mythological/historical period depicted in your picture. The thousand years is meaningless to that, just as it is to those Christian core beliefs that pre-date Christ.

            • Andy Hall said, on September 6, 2016 at 10:02 am

              Muhammad was the catalyst figure in establishing Islam as a religious faith, just as Jesus was in establishing Christianity. Both drew on earlier cultural and religious traditions, but it would be inaccurate to retroactively designate those as either Christian or Muslim.

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