The Washington Post reports today that:
A textbook distributed to Virginia fourth-graders says that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War — a claim rejected by most historians but often made by groups seeking to play down slavery’s role as a cause of the conflict.
The WP article goes on to discuss the controversy the textbook’s questionable “facts” about black soldiers in the Civil War. As is a widespread habit, the report has no hesitancy to assign fault for the error — at least by indirect implication — on the internet, as the reader is told:
The author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian but has written several books, said she found the information about black Confederate soldiers primarily through Internet research, which turned up work by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Two ways online resources would solve and prevent the fourth graders being stuck with inaccurate history in the expensive textbook issued to them by their school.
First, if young Virginians using an online textbook it could be corrected quickly and cheaply.
Second, online resources would present not just the view of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. In this instance, as in most in my view, the Wikipedians have done a far better job than the textbook publisher of setting out the facts:
African Americans in the Confederate Army
“Nearly 40% of the Confederacy’s population were unfree. the work required to sustain the same society during war naturally fell disproportionately on black shoulders as well. By drawing so many white men into the army, indeed, the war multiplied the importance of the black work force.” Even Georgia’s Governor Joseph E. Brown noted that “the country and the army are mainly dependent upon slave labor for support.” Slave labor was used in a wide variety of support roles, from infrastructure and mining, to teamster and medical roles such as hospital attendants and nurses.
The idea of arming slaves for use as soldiers was speculated on from the onset of the war, but not seriously considered by Davis or others in his administration. Though an acrimonious and controversial debate was raised by a letter from Patrick Cleburne urging the Confederacy to raise black soldiers by offering emancipation, it wouldn’t be until Robert E. Lee wrote the Confederate Congress urging them that the idea would take serious traction. On March 13, 1865, the Confederate Congress passed General Order 14, and President Davis signed the order into law. The order was issued March 23, but only a few African American companies were raised. Two companies were armed and drilled in the streets of Richmond, Virginia, shortly before the besieged southern capital fell. Several African American soldiers, free and enslaved, served with the Confederate Army during the war, but the Confederate Government failed to recognize their contributions until this late time.