Scenes from the 2011 Gettysburg Remembrance Day Parade


USCT Reenactors at the 2011 Gettysburg Remembrance Day Parade. Several of the female reenactors are from FREED (Female Re-Enactors of Distinction), a reenactors group based in Washington, DC.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is the site of the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War. As a result of the three day battle, lasting from July 1 to July 3, 1863, almost 8,000 men are estimated to have died, and another 38,000 were wounded, captured, or missing. (Some estimates put total casualties – men killed, wounded, captured, and missing – as high as 51,000.) On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave this speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, which has famously become known as the Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The dedication event is commemorated annually on Remembrance Day. The official date of Remembrance Day is November 19, during which a ceremony is held at the National Cemetery. On the Saturday of Remembrance Day week, a parade of Union and Confederate soldiers is held in the city of Gettysburg. Thousands of Civil War reenactors participate, and this is considered one of the largest reenactor events in the northeast.

These are some pictures from the 2011 Gettysburg Remembrance Day Parade. This year, the parade date was the same date as Remembrance Day – November 19. It was sunny and cool, and a great day for holding the parade.


The person on the left is Dr. Franklin Smith, who heads the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC.


I believe the man to the far left is James Price, who publishes The Sable Arm, a blog about the United States Colored Troops.

Scenes from the US Colored Troops Symposium at Kinston, NC


USCT Reenactors Joseph Becton and Mel Reid. This was taken at the CSS Neuse / Gov. Richard Caswell Memorial Museum State Historic Site in Kinston, NC.

I just got back from the Seventh Annual US Colored Troops Symposium in Kinston, NC. It was held in conjunction with Kinston’s Blue-Gray Civil War Living History Weekend in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. The event included several lectures, storytelling, a dedication to Kinston/Lenoir County US Colored Troopers, and a (very loud) live weapons demonstration.

I brought a camera, but due to a battery problem, I couldn’t get it to work. I was able to use my iPhone to take a few photos, which I’ve posted here. It’s a previous generation iPhone that doesn’t take the best of pictures, but I think these came out well.

The most interesting part of the event for me was the spirited exchange that followed a presentation given by Earl Ijames, the curator of African American and Community History at the North Carolina Museum of History, on “The Myth of Black Confederates.” Ijames’ spoke about the role of NC slaves and freemen during the Civil War, including some who acted like soldiers – although Ijames noted that he didn’t use the term “black Confederate soldier” in his talk. Ijames was immediately followed by Asa Gordon, the Secretary General of the Sons and Daughters of United States Colored Troops, who challenged the notion of the widespread existence of willing and loyal black Confederates. This is clearly a very controversial subject, and I expect we’ll see more discussions like this as the War’s sesquicentennial observance continues.

Although there wasn’t a huge turnout, I was heartened to see this much participation in a Civil War related event from what was largely a black audience. I am not yet sure that African Americans are taking an interest – great or small – in the War or its 150th anniversary, notwithstanding academics, professional historians and archivists, and War hobbyists who will always follow this subject. This was a good way to garner more attention and enthusiasm for what is an essential part of American history in general, and African American history in particular. The symposium was produced by Kinston’s Cultural Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to the commemoration of the role of blacks in the military, especially colored troops (and white Union soldiers) during the Civil War; and to other aspects of African American history.


Cannon at the Kinston-Lenoir County Visitors and Information Center


Colored Soldier Figurines. The figure at the rear is the ever-elusive Black Confederate Soldier.


The Littlest Trooper
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Bravery, Not Slavery: Why Some Black Folks Want to Believe in Black Confederate Soldiers

At Civil War Memory.com, there is an interesting and “complicated” story about Richard Quarles, a Civil War era slave who is identified and honored as a “Confederate soldier.” As the tale is told, Quarles went with his master to join the Confederate army. In the course of engaging the Union army, Quarles’ master was hurt. This prompted Quarles to pick up a weapon, fire back at the enemy, and recover his master from the battlefield. For this, the slave was honored recently by the Sons of Confederate Veterans… and perhaps, way back in the day, by the KKK in its own unique manner (check the video at the link for details).

From the details provided, Quarles was, to use a term in historian James Hollandsworth’s study of black Confederate pensioners, a “black noncombatant.” That is, he was not enlisted as a soldier in the Confederacy, but rather, was part of a particular Confederate unit solely due to service to his master. Hollandsworth’s study indicates that 85% of these black noncombatant pensioners served as cooks, launders, teamsters, or did other types of menial labor.

Yet, we get no sense of that kind of service from this story of a so-called Confederate “soldier.” At one point, the great grand daughter of the slave says, “Well, he was forced into the army, and… you either fight or die.”

But here’s the thing: he was not forced into the army to fight and die. Rather, he followed his master who went into the army, to perform those menial – but nonetheless important – tasks that were mentioned earlier. Military service is a duty and obligation of citizenship; slaves were not citizens. The slave’s duty was to not to battle the enemy, but to serve his master. There is a huge difference between those two things.

We’ve seen this before: black families filled with honor at the recognition given to their enslaved ancestors, for the reason that those ancestors somehow fought for what was a pro-slavery regime. The sense of conflict inherent in that is hardly mentioned. I got to thinking: how is it that so many black families ignore these details of their ancestors’ lives, status, and circumstances? Why is it that they are not addressing a key part of the story? After a little bit of thought, one answer was obvious. Black folks are like everyone else: they want to feel that their ancestors were heroes.

Simply put, there is no honor or glory in acknowledging that a long deceased relative was near a battlefield solely to do menial work as act of submission and service to a slave master. People would much rather believe that their ancestors were called to fight – which would be a recognition of their manhood, of their worthiness to do battle, and of their willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice.

But here’s the rub: if these slaves were in fact recognized for their manhood and worthiness – then why were they slaves in the first place? The reality is, black men were seen as degraded, to use a common term of the era, and subservient. Loyalty, not the capacity for courage, was most valued in a slave. After all, a bondsman who was intrepid enough to flee for his freedom – and perhaps fight for the Union – was of no use to a slavemaster on the battlefield.

But people of today want to see their ancestors through their own eyes, and they want to see those ancestors as brave and courageous. This focus on “bravery not slavery” dovetails perfectly with the “heritage not hate” narrative of groups like the Sons of Confederates Veterans. By maintaining an unspoken rule to avoid the unspeakable – the horrors of slavery and the contradiction of a slave fighting for a slave nation – both sides get to honor their ancestors without pondering the issues this “service” raises.

None of this is to say that the slaves who performed acts of heroism should be denied the honor that is due them. Whether or not he was considered a “man” by the Confederate state, or anyone, Quarles’ bravery showed him to be a man, and it’s fair – it’s righteous – to acknowledge that.

Indeed, the fact that this man was a slave does not make his bravery less impressive; it is makes it all the more remarkable. Unfortunately, that nuance is totally lost in what is surely being described in many places as an example of another “black Confederate soldier.” I think the memory of Richard Quarles deserves better.

Do a Google Search on “confederacy confederate blog”… what do you get?

The Google search engine works, in part, by determining the most popular web sites for searches on certain words; and then using popularity to determine which search results will be listed first.

For example, if people doing a search on “dog” most often go the site “Dog.com,” then Google will list that site first, and less popular sites thereafter.

(In addition to that, businesses pay Google to have their sites listed first when particular search terms are used; that’s one way that Google makes money.)

OK: do a Google search on “confederacy confederate blog.” Check out what leads the list… which is the most popular thing that people look at when they search the net using those words.

Who would have guessed it?

Confederate Secretary of War: Negroes Can’t be Soldiers… Unless They Can Pass for White

During the Civil War, it was generally understood in the Confederacy that negroes – “blacks” – would not or could not be used as soldiers. However, a question arose in 1863: what about using mixed-race people for soldiers?

Mobile, Alabama, along with New Orleans and Charleston, were Confederate cities with a sizable mixed-race population. Mixed-race people in the southern portions of Louisiana and Alabama were often called creoles or black creoles. Many of them were so light that they could pass for white, and often had much more in common with their white cousins than with their black cousins. Importantly, many of these creoles wanted to serve in the armed forces of the Confederate States of America (CSA).

This led Dabney H. Maury, a CSA Major-General, to formally request that creoles be used as soldiers in the CSA armed forces. This is his request, followed by the answer he got from the Confederate government:

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF,
Mobile, Ala., November 7, 1863.
General SAMUEL COOPER,
Adjt. and Insp. Gen., C.S. Army, Richmond, Va.:

GENERAL: I again call your attention to my request to accept into the Confederate service the company of creoles of Mobile, because I think that perhaps the War Department is not exactly informed about the people I have reference to. When Spain ceded this territory to the United States in 1803, the creoles were guaranteed all the immunities and privileges of the citizens of the United States, and have continued to enjoy them up to this time. They have, many of them, negro blood in the degree which disqualifies other persons of negro race from the rights of citizens, but they do not stand here on the footing of negroes. They are very anxious to enter the Confederate service, and I propose to make heavy artillerists of them, for which they will be admirably qualified. Please let me hear at your earliest convenience if I may have them enrolled in a company, or in companies if I can find enough of them to make more than one company.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
DABNEY H. MAURY,
Major-General.

[First indorsement.]
ADJUTANT AND INSPECTOR GENERAL’S OFFICE,
November 20, 1863.
Respectfully submitted to the Secretary of War. An application to have a company of creoles at Mobile accepted into Confederate service.
By order, &c.:
JOHN W. RIELY,
Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General.

[Second indorsement.]
[NOVEMBER] 24, 1863.
Our position with the North and before the world will not allow the employment as armed soldiers of negroes.If these creoles can be naturally and properly discriminated from negroes, the authority may be considered as conferred; otherwise not, unless you can enlist them as “navvies” (to use the English term) or for subordinate working purposes.
J. A. S.,
Secretary.

Source: Official Records of the Rebellion, series 4, volume 2, page 941

The J. A. S in the above is CSA Secretary of War James Seddon. Seddon is asked: can we use freemen as soldiers? Seddon’s reply: no… unless they can pass for white (which many creoles could do).

I guess this is the Confederate version of don’t ask, don’t tell.

But just as gays were denied participation in the military under the don’t ask, don’t tell rules, so too were mixed race people denied under Confederate policy. One has to wonder how the creoles, who were willing to risk their lives in service to their nation, felt after being reminded of their “place” in Confederate society.

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navvy -Brit., dated: a laborer employed in the excavation and construction of a road, railroad, or canal.
ORIGIN early 19th cent.: abbreviation of navigator.

Truth, Lies, and a Black Confederate Soldiers Hoax; and the True Story of the Louisiana Native Guards

This is a lie:

Fake-Black-Confederates-Picture

This picture purports to show the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, a group of African American soldiers who supposedly served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. It’s been used in numerous places, including Youtube videos here and here.

The picture has been used by pro-Confederate supporters for its propaganda value: the “fact” that blacks fought in the Confederate armed forces is offered as proof that the South was not fighting the Civil War to defend slavery, but rather, for their freedom or “states rights”… or something.

The problem with the picture is, it’s a fake. It’s a retouched version of this picture, which features a white Union official:
Real-Black-Confederate-picture

The picture was taken in Philadelphia, around 1864. It was eventually used to make an illustration for a Union recruitment poster that was targeted at blacks. The fascinating story of how this piece of history was made into a hoax is detailed at the site Retouching History: The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph. As described at the site,

“In the past decade,” the Yale historian David Blight has recently written, “the neo-Confederate fringe of Civil War enthusiasm . . . has contended that thousands of African Americans, slave and free, willingly joined the Confederate war effort as soldiers and fought for their ‘homeland’ . . . . Slaves’ fidelity to their masters’ cause – - a falsehood constructed to support claims that the war was not about slavery – - has long formed one of the staple arguments in Lost Cause ideology.”

In this paper we discuss a graphic example of Blight’s contention by examining a Civil War-era posed studio photograph of black Union soldiers with a white officer. We maintain that this photograph has been deliberately falsified in recent years by an unknown person/s sympathetic to the Confederacy. This falsified or fabricated photo, purporting to be of the 1st Louisiana Native Guards (Confederate), has been taken to promote Neo-Confederate views, to accuse Union propagandists of duplicity, and to show that black soldiers were involved in the armed defense of the Confederacy.

The actual 1st Louisiana Native Guards, consisting of Afro-Creoles, was formed of about 1,500 men in April 1861 and was formally accepted as part of the Louisiana militia in May 1862. The Native Guards unit (one of three all-black companies) never saw combat while in Confederate service, and was largely kept at arm’s length by city and state officials; in fact, it often lacked proper uniforms and equipment.

“The Confederate authorities,” James Hollandsworth has written, “never intended to use black troops for any mission of real importance. If the Native Guards were good for anything, it was for public display; free blacks fighting for Southern rights made good copy for the newspapers.” The unit apparently was never committed to the Confederate cause, and appears to have disobeyed orders to evacuate New Orleans with other Confederate forces; instead it surrendered to Union troops in April 1862.

The photographs of the Louisiana Native Guards… show how a legitimate photograph can be altered and used to advance and support a particular contemporary political or ideological perspective in the present-day United States.

The group that was the focus of this hoax – the Louisiana Native Guards – makes for an interesting story in and of itself. The guard, which was a militia of the state of Louisiana, consisted of creole (mixed race) soldiers. On Nov. 23, 1861 – after the start of the Civil War – they made their debut, with a show of 33 black officers and 731 black enlisted men along the banks of the Mississippi River next to their white counterparts in the Louisiana militia.

Civil War historian James Hollandsworth wrote a book about these troops titled The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Experience during the Civil War. He noted:

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