Re: [civilwarwest] slave soldiers
Bill, Connie, et al...
This is a fascinating discussion, but a little bit at cross purposes. Bill said:
slavery is not clear cut... Slaves were people and they had the right
to contradict sense and logic.
And I would agree with the first while respectfully disagreeing with the second. What might seem like a contradictory or self-defeating action to us was probably imminently sensible and logical for the person doing it. People in slavery (or poverty or other disagreeable situations) ALWAYS did what seemed most likely to improve that situation. During the American Revolution some slaves fought with the Americans on the assumption that since this was a fight for "freedom", an American victory would mean the abolition of slavery (and a durn shame it did not!) Others fought for the British on the assumption that they would likewise be rewarded with freedom, if not for the race then at least for themselves. Both groups were betrayed in the end.
Likewise, the situation of a black person in the South--probably slave but there WERE free blacks in every state--in 1861 is going to be greatly different from somebody in 1863 who has just watched a Union army come marching into the area.
All of these people were more than "a slave." Was the person old or young or in between? Did they have a spouse or children or elderly parents for whom they were responsible back "home"?
How long had the person, or his family, been in America? (Not only did many ships smuggle in slaves straight from Africa even after this was outlawed in 1808 but importation from the Caribbean islands was legal all along. The longer a person had been in the US the more likely he or she was to be Christian, to have white or Indian ancestry, to be literate, to be "assimilated" into white mores and aspirations.)
Did he have a trade or means of earning a living? (Many, many did, in everything from blacksmithing to harness making to midwifery.)
Did he have experience in urban life or had he been restricted to backwoods plantations?
Was he literate? (A slave would often be sent to town to pick up the mail, including newspapers and magazines. These would often be read on the trip home, meaning that news got around the slave quarters faster than it did the Big House. Southern states made extreme efforts to block the mailing of abolitionist literature into their borders, and were very careful about who got named to the job of Postmaster.)
An absolutely wonderful book on the history of slavery in America is "Many Thousands Gone" by Ira Berlin, which I plug almost as often as I do "The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell". :-) I recommend it strongly to anyone interested in the subject. While it stops well before the outbreak of the war it provides a whole new perspective on how it came to be and "where people's heads were at" (if I may borrow an expression from my youth) when it finally did.
- In a message dated 1/5/02 3:05:56 PM Central Standard Time,
<< "Many Thousands Gone" by Ira Berlin, which I plug almost as often as I do
"The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell". : >>
Ah another book on my list. It is so long now I'll need a wheel barrow to
get it to the next book buying spree. Thanks.
I will add this to your post which zeroed in on the essential question:
The voices of 19th C blacks have been silenced so long, it is difficult for
researchers to compile a reliable profile. The slave system kept the black
people isolated without interaction, even between slaves on the same
plantations. This adds to the problem and as you say, a long list of
questions must be asked before a conclusion can be drawn. W.E.B. DuBois at
the beginning of the 20th C was the first to attempt a scientific study of
blacks in slavery. Unfortunately, he was often frustrated by both white and
black society. The whites because they wanted blacks to remain invisible and
blacks because they wanted to retain a neutral veil that would protect them
from reactionary oppression. However, almost all study since, rests on the
work of DuBois.
Nonetheless, as you said, blacks fleeing the chains of slavery reacted in
their individual best interest as they saw it at the moment. But, I also
hold that no matter what their survival choice, as a group they would not
have laid their bodies on the line to protect, retain or further the course
of the CSA, which was synonymous with "slavery into perpetuity."
--- In civilwarwest@y..., "L. A. Chambliss" <xanthippe@i...> wrote:
Thank you for the information about those two books. They sound
wonderfully fascinating and enlightening. I will definitely try to
find them and read them soon.