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Hi, I’m Eric. Thank you for dropping by. Let me tell you a bit about myself.

I’ve had a love and interest in all things Civil War from even before I can remember. Growing up in central Pennsylvania, my parents would regularly take me to Gettysburg, Antietam and Manassas. I’d tramp the battlefields and buy Confederate kepis, toy muskets, Rebel flags, and tin cups. My fascination for the war grew along with me until the movie Glory came about.

Never before had the battles been so horrifically depicted! The point of the movie – free black men literally fighting against slavery – was lost on me. Slavery, my middle school-aged mind knew, was bad, but figured it was just something that fizzled out as time went on. Thankfully, Glory‘s depictions of it were easily forgotten – unlike those awesome battle scenes.

I had been to reenactments before, but now with elevated interest in the war, they became more of my focus. Reenactments weren’t about politics or even the day-to-day lives of the soldiers (and certainly not about slaves), but battles. Everyone watched the 2pm battle, but basically nobody walked through the farby encampments where old bearded guys sat on hay bails and drank canteens full of Mountain Dew.

Many reenactors I met at the time felt the need to address the treatment of black people in movies such as Glory. “They were never treated like that,” said one bearded guy dressed in the typical wear-something-blue sort of Union garb. “They were never called the N word – nobody said that.”

This was exactly what I needed to hear. For some reason, I had fallen in love with the Southern side of the conflict. Maybe it was my youthful adoration to the Dukes of Hazzard every Friday night at 9pm, maybe I was just a good ol’ rebel at heart. And sure, I knew that slavery was wrong, but if it wasn’t so bad, then maybe it wasn’t as wrong as everyone said it was.

And then Gettysburg was released. I was in college and actually skipped a few classes to drive to a showing in the town itself. Once again my fears were put to rest. Confederates “ain’t fighting for no darkies one way or the other” – they were fightin’ for their rights (or “rats” as the scruffy fellow put it). Sure, young Tom was reprimanded by brother Lawrence for calling black people “darkies,” but that was about as progressive as the movie got.

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With those ideas firmly in mind, the concept of black Confederate soldiers blew up all around the Civil War community. Actually, this first started bubbling up in the late 1970s, but really got going in response, I assume, to Glory. But whenever it came about, I latched onto this around 1995, at the age of twenty.

For the next decade and a half, I delved into this ideology. I wasn’t a Southerner, of course, but that didn’t stop me from identifying myself as a Neo-Confederate. The Kennedys’ books like The South Was Right and Myths of American Slavery were basically my Bibles. A slew of other books on Black Confederates began to weigh down my shelves. I even had a novel about black Confederates called (and I’m totally not kidding) Brothers in Grey. Granted, the battles, especially Gettysburg and Antietam, were still my primary focus, but I saw all of that through the lens of the South simply being right.

The war, I thought, wasn’t about slavery. The South seceded because they were a different culture, a different people who deserved their own country. If they had been left alone, slavery, which I then believed to be in drastic decline by the end of the 1850s, would have gone away and black people would have gotten along with white people like nothing bad had ever happened.

I believed this possible because I also believed that there were legions of black Confederates. I thought Lincoln a tyrant, and his Emancipation Proclamation meaningless. I held that while some slaves were treated poorly, that many more were not in such bad conditions as our history books tell us. And many, I thought, fought for the South – so how could the war have been about slavery?

Then, as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War came about, I decided it would be quite a learning experience to blog about the daily events across those four and a half years. This became the Civil War Daily Gazette. From the beginning, I wanted to be perceived as fair and balanced, even though I believed the South to be in the right. With that in mind, I gathered as many books about the start of the war and Lincoln’s election to give me a good foundation with which to begin.

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Books like William Freehling’s The Road to Disunion and Elizabeth R. Varon’s Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War were like nothing I had seen before. They were both written by actual historians – not just fellow Neo-Confederates preaching to other Neo-Confederates. Both books, and others I read at the time, leaned heavily on primary sources – all proper histories do (not just the ones about battles). This convinced me that I needed to do the same. Everything I wrote would have to come from contemporary sources or secondary sources which used them. My opinion that the South was right began to matter less and less. It was, I found, replaced simply with the desire to learn what happened.

Sure, I still even called myself a Neo-Confederate, but what I believed simply wasn’t the point of history. History didn’t care about what I wanted to have happened. It didn’t care about my heritage or culture, my Northern or Southern ancestors. My opinion on slavery didn’t matter even a little. All that mattered was what happened. And though it bummed me out a bit that I wouldn’t be able to work in how much a tyrant Lincoln was as often as I would have liked, I decided to stick to the facts as I found them.

Even from the start, I saw my bias getting in the way. I hardly covered the reasons for secession, especially those written and published by actual seceding Confederates in 1860-61. I knew what was there, and just didn’t want to deal with it. But as time went on and I sat down each day to research and write the events which happened 150 years prior, I came to see that what I believed not only didn’t matter, but that what I believed was simply fantasy. I had bought into a sham – a Confederate fan fiction as old as the war itself.

Less than a year into the writing, my opinions had changed. They had to. I had been presented with evidence and my hypothesis was found wanting and utterly untenable. While it was infinitely more comfortable to believe that black people were revered by Confederates and even fought side-by-side with them in racial harmony, it simply wasn’t true, and no amount of heritage could make it so.

When the previous project ended, along with the sesquicentennial, I wasn’t really sure what to do next. But as the Confederate battle flag heated up the news, and I heard scads of people who sounded exactly like I did five years before, I decided to start this blog so that I might explore such issues, digging into them as I did when writing the Civil War Daily Gazette. Teaching myself as I learn from others, and sharing what I’ve discovered.

The CWDG was a blog read by many across the political spectrum. I suspect this blog will not be so widely accepted. The CWDG’s two biggest spikes in visitation were due to mentions by Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich. I sincerely doubt that either will be directing people to This Cruel War.

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19 thoughts on “About The Author

  1. As with CWDG I look forward to hearing about history from the perspective of a serious and sober seeker of knowledge. Thanks for all you have done and for sharing your passion and your discoveries. I myself could not devote the time necessary to trulystudy this important matter. But trusting your sincere commitment allows me to learn over your shoulder.

  2. I believe you should not just get the books but original documents. Much can be gleaned from the original documents and help explain the slavery versus state’s rights issue. In one sense, it is about state’s rights but the underlying theme of these rights is slavery.State documents present a fascinating study.

    As for the Confederate battle flag, it has had a unique history since its birth. Today, it represents a different meaning for may different groups.Right or wrong, the argument is less about the flag than the moral judgments being cast about.

    Nice perspective of your Civil War views. Reminds of my visit to Monticello. The slaves had it so nice. I would want to be one, too. The reality was a mixture of unbalanced misery with prosperity. I think recent scholarly study may be skewed with modern thoughts like we are seeing today with the flag, monuments, and memories.

    1. I couldn’t agree more about the original documents. I used them as often as possible for the previous CWDG posts, and find myself using them with this project as well.

      I’m going to delve more into the history of the various Confederate flags in a few different posts.

      I’m not sure that you actually meant to say that “the slaves had it so nice” at Monticello. They were human being owned by another human being who raped at least one of them. That is not “so nice,” and I sincerely doubt that you would actually want to be one. While modern scholarship may be this or that, take a look at the words the slaves actually wrote and spoke themselves. What you will find (if you’re not just looking at Confederate apologist literature) is that the slaves were fairly miserable despite their accommodations.

      A good place to start is with the 1930s interviews of former slaves, which can be found here.

  3. My sarcasm was misunderstood concerning the statement about Monticello. My error in not being clear. I was referring to the staff at Monticello painting a kinder picture about the slaves. As a person who has done research on the American Civil War as well as post-war white “Lost Cause”, I am well aware of the apologists from both sides. This whole history is very gray with many truths hidden away by both sides of the picture. We often look at slavery as a racial issue when in reality it is about greed. I point to Haiti’s past where slavery was at its worst. Though a strong minority, blacks did enslave blacks. This is off your topic, so I’ll end it with that.

    Always be careful of taking these interviews of former slaves as fact. Accounts such as these can be very biased, not because they are former slaves but for the fact they are human. As historians or someone interested in this part of history, we need to be careful when listening to these interviews. Often times, it is difficult to tease out the facts especially when a person is recounting an event that happened 60 to 70 years later.

    1. Ah, okay. Yes, your sarcasm didn’t translate. I’ve heard the same rhetoric all too often.

      We look at slavery in America as a racial issue because, in America, it was a racial issue. What happened in Haiti (or Rome or Egypt for that matter) is of little consequence to the specific study of American history unless those examples effected that history – such as the fear of slave uprisings following the Haitian revolution.

      Black people may have on some occasions enslaved black people, but black people *never* enslaved whites. That’s a very important thing to remember. Slavery in America was 100% based upon race. And outside of the racially-strange New Orleans, the examples I’ve found are familial ties to circumvent that black people, unlike white people, were not citizens and could not legally marry or have parental rights even, often times, when free. But like you said, it was very rare. And while it should be recognized, the amount that it’s shouted by certain factions of the Civil War community is grossly disproportionate to its rarity.

      As for the interviews with the former slaves, yes, of course. When viewing any historical document that far removed from the incident, there can be discrepancies. But they should also be treated as something more telling than mere antidotes.

      1. I am so grateful you are spending your time to write about this. This is a part of our history that is the most interesting and has the most misinformation. I’m certainly one person who will be educated reading this.

      2. The relationship between black slave-owners and their slaves was often radically different than between white slave-owners and their slaves. You see black folks often bought slaves to rescue and reunite family members, and it is this that accounts for the markedly higher percentage of black slave-owners

  4. Eric,

    In going through articles from 1861, I came across one that supports what you’ve been writing related to the Confederate national flag vs. the battle flag:

    War Flag of the Southern Confederacy.

    Arkansas True Democrat [Little Rock], December 12, 1861

    We see in several exchanges allusions to the war flag of the Southern Confederacy, which is now waving over the camps on the Potomac, but no description of it. The reason for its use is that the “stars and bars” so nearly resemble the “stars and stripes,” that it is difficult to distinguish them. We gather from an incidental allusion to it in the correspondence of the Richmond Dispatch that the emblem is the Southern cross. We suppose it is a number of white stars arranged in the form of a cross, on a solid ground.

  5. One of the things that strike me about the use of the statistics from Tuskegee is that the raw numbers also hold another story, and that is the relative practice of lynching in relation to population. If you average the number of lynchings with the average black population of each state then there is a reshuffling of the states. Kentucky moves way up to 2nd place. These are the numbers as I worked them out based on the likely danger to black residents in each state. The numbers after each state are-total number of lynchings during the span of the Tuskegee reports, average black population during the span of the Tuskegee reports, averaged number of lynchings per year, and the percent of lynchings by average population.

    MS 539 904,745 6.195 .0000068
    KY 142 241,056 1.632 .0000067
    AR 226 393,066 2.598 .0000066
    FL 257 463,272 2.954 .0000063
    TN 204 449,095 2.615 .0000058
    GA 492 1,053,067 5.655 .0000053
    LA 335 774,187 3.850 .0000049
    TX 352 827,696 4.046 .0000048
    WV 28 75,683 0.322 . 0000042
    AL 299 870,631 3.437 .0000039
    OK 40 130,649 0.494 .0000037
    MO 69 242,880 0.793 .0000032
    SC 156 782,410 1.793 .0000022
    VA 83 701,234 0.954 .0000013
    NC 86 836,781 0.988 .0000011
    MD 27 331,985 0.310 .000009

    1. Thank you so much for this information! I’m honestly not incredibly surprised by Kentucky.

      Do you have access to the Tuskegee data? The University explained to me that it is only on microfilm at a few libraries here and there (and at the University). I find it incredibly unlikely that it hasn’t been published on paper at some point. It would be great to have it digitized someday.

      1. Hello, sorry for the late reply. No, I don’t know where the raw data can be found. That is one of the frustrating things about the internet, so much information out there and yet something which should be accessible is not. For instance, why are the public domain copies of the New York Times absent from the Chronicling America website? As far as I know you can only access them through a subscription to the NYT.

    1. Ha! You are correct! I totally forgot that I used it. Two things. It wasn’t technically banned, it’s just that Disney has decided not to rerelease it (for obvious reasons).

      Second, when I was a reenacter, I purchased a bootleg copy of it from a sutler at the Cedar Creek reenactment (the 135th I think). It was also where I bought Kennedys’ The South Was Right, and a historical fiction about black Confederates called Brothers in Gray. This was kind of the Neo-Confederate starter pack.

    1. Thank you, Mary! It’s been a long strange trip, and I’ve learned so much, especially about my own short circuits in logic and my own biases. Thanks!

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