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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Denial is a river in South Carolina

The 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War with the firing on Fort Sumter has revived one of the most odious and absurdly conceived myths.  The myth is that many black men (one estimate thrown around the last few days is 30,000) served in the Confederate Army, and it is exacerbated by suggesting that they did so with a sense of honor and pride.  

What is most disappointing is that this contention has been aired in interviews marking the 150th anniversary on public radio.  

I find the contention fits in the mold of the claims that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.  One can get a good hint as to the direction some people in the nation are taking by touting slavery as a great humane enterprise.  

My personal objections to this claim come out of my work and my experience.  Some years ago, I became interested in how the Underground Railroad operated when I found that the folk song "The Rock Island Line" was not about the actual railroad, but about the routes along the Mississippi River, primarily on steamboats, for slaves to escape and make it to Rock Island, Ill., which was a major transfer terminal for the Underground Railroad.  The research I did on the Underground Railroad was informed by scholarship I have done on African American Literature,  oral and written.  If there were black slaves in the Confederate army, they were not there
willingly and were probably brought along by their masters to serve as personal valets.  One of the major scholars on the Confederate Army, however, says he has been able to find records for only about a dozen of such instances.  Suffice it to say that no slaves with any mental faculties intact at all would willingly fight in behalf of the institution that kept them enslaved.

Another  aspect of my experience is that I have been a re-enactor in the recreation of a Civil War unit that was stationed at and did the construction on Fort Sisseteon (named Fort Wadsworth at the time).  The Unit is Company F of the First U.S. Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  The Regiment was formed with Confederate prisoners of war.  Provided they signed a loyalty oath to the U.S. Army, they were allowed to join the Union army and serve, mostly on the frontier to fight in the Indian wars.  There were a number of these regiments.   A common attitude was that the men joined the Union army because they wanted their freedom and saw s that the Southern aristocracy did not have any more respect for ordinary white people than it did slaves.  Called Galvanized Yankees, many of these men traveled north and west after the Civil War ended.  

Two writers in some of best magazines, The Atlantic and The New Yorker, have provided more scholarly rebuttal for the slaves as Confederate soldiers falsehood. 

But if you like the budget proposal the Republicans have up before the U.S. House, you will love this myth.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States