More on black Confederates: Carol Sheriff on Keith Olberman’s Show
From: Edward Harding
If you’d like to pass this along to SHN&V, that would be fine. I’ve also received a reply from Carl Strikwerda if you’d like to include that as well.
Dear Mr. Harding:
Thank you for your message. I am pleased that you’ve been an active scholar of the Civil War. Historical understanding always depends on the active exchange of information and interpretations. I would say that
Prof. Sheriff did not deny that blacks served on the Confederate side in the Civil War, but only pointed out the exaggerations in the textbook in question. I hope you continue to be engaged in active research. Best
Carl J. Strikwerda
Dean of Arts and Sciences
The College of William and Mary
PO Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
134 Ewell Hall
From: Edward Harding
Although I rarely post to SHN&V, I read your comment today regardin Carol Sheriff on Olberman’s show denying that there were Black Confederate soldiers. I searched in vain to locate her email address and being unsuccessful, I wrote to Carl Strikwerda, Dean and Head of the History Department. I wanted to pass this email along to you and hopefully, Dean Strikwerda will pass it along to Ms. Sheriff.
As a professor of history, I’m certain of how well you know that all factual information regarding a source should be taught to students, as well as to the general public. I mention this because of Carol Sheriff’s appearance on Keith Olberman’s MSNBC program and her denial of Black Confederate soldiers. Evidently Ms. Sheriff failed to do her own homework, or she purposely wants to exclude documented and factual information on this subject. There are numerous books and other sources documenting Black Confederate soldiers and one that I will refer to below is the book, Black Confederates in Gray. Yes, many Blacks served as cooks, teamsters, personal attendants, etc., and were classified as such, but when it came to fighting, they wanted to be as much a part of
it as the White, Jewish, Native American, Latino American, and Foreigners who served. However, not all had support roles and there were actual Black Confederate soldiers, not only in the Army, but the Navy as well.
Our children, as well as the general public need to be educated with all of what happened during this war, including both the good and the bad. By teaching only what the "so called experts" want us to learn and
eliminating other important criteria, people get nothing more than a distorted and biased version of history. Although I am what you would consider an amateur historian due to my lack of a Masters or PhD degree
in History, over the many years of my life, I have done extensive study and research on this period of time in our nation’s history. At age 57, and as a local historian, the one motto I live by comes from Cicero (106-43 B.C.) who stated, "The first law of the historian is that he shall never dare utter an untruth. The second is that he shall suppress nothing that is true. Moreover, there shall be no suspicion of partiality in his writing, or of malice."
To quote from the above mentioned book, I’d like to share some factual information and truly hope you’ll pass it along to Ms. Sheriff to broaden her own education.
"A servant from South Carolina wrote a letter to his sister which summed up his feelings in battle as well as his self-identity, as many other black Southerners must have felt, as a soldier: I’ve bin havin’ a good time ginerally–see a heap of fine country and a plenty of purty gals….I have also bin on the battle fields and hear the bullets whiz. When the Yankees run I…got more clothes, blankets, overcoats, and razors that I could tote. I’ve got an injun rubber cloke with two brass eyes keeps the rain off like a meetin’ house. Im a made man since the
battle and cockt and primed to try it again. If I kin kill a Yankee and git a gold watch, and a pair of boots, my trip will be made. How other n****rs do to stay at home, while we soldiers are havin’ such a good time is more than I can tell."
"Dr. Lewis Steiner, a member of the Sanitary Commission who happened to be in Frederick, Maryland, in the days just before Sharpsburg, noted their presence in the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862. The description
he recorded in his diary probably could have been written in June of 1863. According to Steiner, about 5% of the combat troops were black. Wednesday, September 10 At 4 o’clock this morning the Rebel army began to move from our town, Jackson’s force taking the advance. The movement continued until 8 o’clock P.M., occupying 16 hours. The most liberal calculation could not give them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in the number… They had arms, rifles, muskets, sabres, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. They were supplied, in many instances, with knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, etc., and they were manifestly an integral portion
of the Southern Confederacy army. They were seen riding on horses and mules, driving wagons, riding on caissons, in ambulances, with the staff of generals and promiscuously mixed up with all the Rebel horde."
"One Confederate reported that when his regiment went into battle their servants went in too, picking off Federal officers. During one charge they found that a half-dozen blacks had actually preceded them, and each
brought back a black Federal prisoner. The Southerners kicked and abused the Federals, saying: ‘you black rascal you! does you mean to fight agin white folks, you ugly n****rs, you? Suppose you tinks yourselves no
‘small taters’ wid dat blue jacket on and dem striped pants. You’ll oblige dis Missippi darkey by pulling dem off right smart, if yer doesn’t want dat head o’ yourn broke,’ said one of our cooks to his captive; ‘You couldn’t stay ‘t home and let us fight de Yanks, but you must come along too, eh? You took putty good care o’ yourself, you did,
behind dat ole oak! I was a lookin’ at yer; and if you hadn’t dodged so much, you was a gone chicken long ago, you ugley ole Abe Lincoln, you!"
"In August of 1861 a Federal officer observed a group he called the ‘Richmond Howitzer Battery’ near Newport News, Virginia that was manned by blacks. A correspondent from the New York Times riding with Ulysses
S. Grant reported in 1863 on a black artillery crew in Tennessee. ‘The guns of the rebel battery were manned almost wholly by Negroes,’ he noted, with ‘a single while man, or perhaps two, directing operations.’ An Indiana soldier wrote to his hometown newspaper about an exchange of fire with a group of black Confederates in the Fall of 1861. The story was then reprinted all over the North: ‘…a body of seven hundred Negro infantry opened fire on our men, wounding two lieutenants and two privates. The wounded men testify positively that they were shot by Negroes, and that not less than seven hundred were present, armed with muskets. This is, indeed, a new feature in the war. We have heard of a regiment of Negroes at Manassas, and another at Memphis, and still another at New Orleans, but did not believe it till it came so near home and attacked our men."
"Several accounts of black Confederate sharpshooters exist. The appearance of one during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, firing at members of Hiram Berden’s First U.S. Sharpshooters caught the imagination of the unit’s historian. His account deserves extensive quotation: For a considerable time during the siege the enemy had a Negro rifle sharpshooter in their front who kept up a close fire on our men, and although the distance was great, yet he caused more or less annoyance by his persistent shooting. On one occasion while at the
advanced posts with a detail, the writer with his squad had an opportunity to note the skill of this determined darkey with his well aimed rifle. Being stationed at a pit on the edge of a wood fronting the treeless stretch of ground around the opposing works, with sand bags piled up for cover, during the forenoon this rebellious black made his appearance by the side of an officer and under his direction commenced firing at us. For a long time this chance shooting was kept up, the black standing out in plain view and cool drawing bead, but failed to
elicit any response, our orders being to lie quiet and not be seen. So the Negro had the shooting all to himself, his pop, pop, against the sand bags on the edge of the pit often occurring, while other close shots among the trees showed plainly that he was a good shot at long range. He became pretty well known among the scouts and pickets, and had established quite a reputation for marksmanship, before he came to grief. Emboldened by his having pretty much all this promiscuous shooting unopposed, the pickets rarely firing at him, he began to work at shorter distance, taking advantage of the ground and scattering trees. This was what our men wanted, to get him within more reasonable range, not caring to waste ammunition trying to cripple him at the long distance he had at first been showing himself. They wanted to make sure of him. In the meantime our boys would when opportunity offered, without being seen, post a man forward to await in concealment for the adventurous darky. The scheme succeeded and his fate was sealed. A scouting party was sent out, cornered the black sharpshooter in a chimney top a quarter of a mile in front of their lines, and shot him. A similar account around the same time claims that another black sharpshooter ‘had done more injury to our men than any dozen of his
white peers..’ He perched in a big tree, behind its trunk and shot at Yankees in front of Yorktown. At one point he was nearly surrounded, and a Federal supposedly shouted at him, ‘I say, big n****r, you better come down from there.’ When told he had been captured he replied, ‘not as this chile knows of.’ and resumed firing, whereupon he was quickly shot through the head."
As I mentioned, this is but one of the many books available regarding Black Confederate soldiers. Ms. Sheriff should take the time to better educate herself by reading the many books and other sources available
documenting Black Confederate soldiers. By doing that, if future chances should arise where she can once again discuss this subject on television, she won’t make a fool of herself by her lack of knowledge. Lastly, if she should deny such documented information, it would prove she only wishes to teach distorted and biased history which would be a disservice to her students.
As Leonard Haynes, an African-American professor at Southern University once stated, "When you eliminate the Black Confederate soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South."
Edward L. Harding
Washington, North Carolina