by Kevin M. Levin
University of North Carolina Press
More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, scores of websites, articles, and organizations repeat claims that anywhere between 500 and 100,000 free and enslaved African Americans fought willingly as soldiers in the Confederate army. But as Kevin M. Levin argues in this carefully researched book, such claims would have shocked anyone who served in the army during the war itself. Levin explains that imprecise contemporary accounts, poorly understood primary-source material, and other misrepresentations helped fuel the rise of the black Confederate myth. Moreover, Levin shows that belief in the existence of black Confederate soldiers largely originated in the 1970s, a period that witnessed both a significant shift in how Americans remembered the Civil War and a rising backlash against African Americans' gains in civil rights and other realms.
Levin also investigates the roles that African Americans actually performed in the Confederate army, including personal body servants and forced laborers. He demonstrates that regardless of the dangers these men faced in camp, on the march, and on the battlefield, their legal status remained unchanged. Even long after the guns fell silent, Confederate veterans and other writers remembered these men as former slaves and not as soldiers, an important reminder that how the war is remembered often runs counter to history.
"Levin's timely and telling account should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the uses and abuses of history and the power and dangers of mythmaking." --Library Journal, starred review
"The pose one sees in photographs of Confederate soldiers with their seemingly loyal 'camp slaves' is in microcosm what the issue of 'black Confederates' became in our own time--a 'pose' by neo-Confederates seeking legitimacy for their fool's cause. Kevin Levin has provided this mythic problem what it dearly needs: a carefully researched and beautifully written history, first of wartime itself, then of the Lost Cause memorial period, and then of the Civil War sesquicentennial in which the question of blacks in gray would not die. Levin's book needs to be widely read as a rich history drawing the life out of a lethal narrative of wish fulfillment." --David W. Blight, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
"When parents discover that their schoolchildren are learning about black Confederates, when visitors read a display at a historic site that celebrates black Confederates, and when undergraduates encounter hagiographies of black Confederates online, they will now have a rigorous and trustworthy resource at their disposal to dismantle this dangerous and corrosive distortion of history." --W. Fitzhugh Brundage, author of Civil Torture: An American Tradition, a Pulitzer Prize finalist
Kevin M. Levin is a historian and educator based in Boston. He is author of Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder and the award-winning blog Civil War Memory.