More on Black Confederates
Retouching History: The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph
Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite, Jr.
“In the past decade,” the Yale historian David Blight has recently written, “the neo-Confederate fringe of Civil War enthusiasm . . . has contended that thousands of African Americans, slave and free, willingly joined the Confederate war effort as soldiers and fought for their ‘homeland’ . . . . Slaves’ fidelity to their masters’ cause – – a falsehood constructed to support claims that the war was not about slavery – – has long formed one of the staple arguments in Lost Cause ideology.”
In this paper we discuss a graphic example of Blight’s contention by examining a Civil War-era posed studio photograph of black Union soldiers with a white officer. We maintain that this photograph has been deliberately falsified in recent years by an unknown person/s sympathetic to the Confederacy. This falsified or fabricated photo, purporting to be of the 1st Louisiana Native Guards (Confederate), has been taken to promote Neo-Confederate views, to accuse Union propagandists of duplicity, and to show that black soldiers were involved in the armed defense of the Confederacy. As of the date of this website this photograph is being sold on the web by an on-line retailer, www.rebelstore.com, which promotes itself as “The Internet’s Original Rebel Store,” and advertises this photograph as a legitimate photo of “Members of the first all Black Confederate Unit organized in New Orleans in 1861.”
In a photographic studio somewhere in Philadelphia, probably in early 1864, a group of black Union soldiers posed for a rather somber photograph with a white officer. We know nothing of this group, but it may have formed part of a unit that had been recently formed in the union army . In his preliminary emancipation proclamation of September 1862, President Lincoln announced that the federal government would enroll African-American soldiers as of New Year’s Day 1863. By June of that year, a committee of prominent Philadelphians had been appointed to raise black regiments. By the war’s end the federal government had raised 166 black units of infantry, cavalry and artillery totaling 185,000 combatants. Eleven of these units had been formed at Camp William Penn, “the largest camp existing for the organization and disciplining of Colored Troops,” located in Chelten Hills (now Cheltenham Township, just outside the northern city limit of Philadelphia). The white officers commanding the troops were trained under the auspices of the Free Military School for the Command of Colored Troops established in Philadelphia in 1863.
The rest of the essay, with notes, can be found here.