On January 12, 1865, the Charleston Mercury gave its pronouncement upon plans in the Confederate Congress to enlist Black southerners into the Confederate Army in exchange for their emancipation:
By the compact we made with Virginia and the other States of this Confederacy, South Carolina will stand to the bitter end of destruction. By that compact she intends to stand or to fall. Neither Congress, nor certain makeshift men in Virginia, can force upon her their mad schemes of weakness and surrender. She stands upon her institutions—and there she will fall in their defence. We want no Confederate Government without our institutions. And we will have none.” And, further, “We are free men, and we chose to fight for ourselves—we want no slaves to fight for us…. Hack at the root of the Confederacy—our institutions—our civilization—and you kill the cause as dead as a boiled crab.”
Notwithstanding this pronouncement against the possibility of slaves fighting for an independent South, for decades some have persisted in the belief that by 1865 slaves were already fighting for the Confederacy, and indeed had been fighting for it since the beginning of the Civil War. (One piece of evidence for this is the picture above, which we discuss in the podcast.) The continuing controversy over “Black Confederates” is not only an argument about the Civil War, or civil rights, or the racial history of the United States—important as all those things are. It is at its root also an argument about how to think historically, perhaps even how to read.
With me today to discuss this is Kevin Levin, who has for years been at the center of this argument. Kevin is a teacher, a long time blogger at Civil War Memory, and his latest book is Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth.