True Defiance

Douglas Wilson

For the relativist, obviously, no absolute truth can exist anywhere. Consistency in this view is hard to come by; it always needs working up to gradually, and even then it falls short. A relativistic rebellion can never occur all at once, but rather begins where the sinful heart of man chafes most readily under the government of absolutes–sexual ethics, dogmatic theology, etc. At the beginning, relativists like to pretend that when “this one point” is challenged, the rest of the universe will not fly off in all directions. So after the first stages of the coup, any standing residuum of the old moral order is not taken as remaining evidence of absolute truth, but rather just plain furniture, for which no account need be given. Thus it is assumed two and two will continue to equal four even though no absolute law can ever constrain one’s lusts.

But ideas have destinations, along with their consequences. Relativism is a leaven that cannot be limited to immoral sexual activity or a rejection of the creeds. Eventually any claim to objective truth, whether in arithmetic or science or history, must be rejected also. No truth claim may be accepted other than the one which rejects truth claims. Our current obsession with multiculturalism is a prime example of this. This obsession is not an educated desire to “modify the emphasis,” gently reminding us that the Chinese had a great civilization while our Anglo ancestors were still killing their meat with rocks. If the desire of the multiculturalists was simply a well-taken insistence that white people are not the only people in history who ever did anything, there would be no argument. But modern “multi-culturalism” is relativistic and, thus, is not an attack on “white history.” It is an attack on the very idea of objective history itself.

As a result, multiculturalism delivers a two-fold insult to American blacks. In the first place they are saddled with a mandatory pride in bogus realities. Advocacy history in its “Afrocentrist” guise says that blacks taught Socrates everything he knew, blacks built the pyramids, etc. Thinking blacks are embarrassed by the whole farce. “Kwandi Kweebe invented the light bulb. Yeah, right.” The second insult, worse because it has been far more successful as a slander, consists of withholding from blacks an important part of their genuine heritage, one in which they can and should take deep satisfaction and pride.

The Confederate States of America lasted as long as it did, against overwhelming odds, because of the immense contribution made by loyal Confederate blacks to her war effort. This contribution is probably one of the greatest untold stories in the annals of our nation’s history. Not only was it their finest hour, to use Churchill’s phrase, it was an hour which white America generally refuses to acknowledge–to this day. This was a valiant contribution not calculated to earn the praise of men. But even though it was not offered by menpleasers, our duty of acknowledging this long-ignored heroism remains.

Before discussing some of the particulars, a reply should first be made to an anticipated objection. The modern egalitarian mindset is incapable of recognizing an aristocratic and feudal society, which the antebellum South was, without assuming as axiomatic that the subordinate classes must, of necessity, have been constantly seething with resentment and discontent. Therefore any black “contribution” to the cause of the South (if you can prove it, which you can’t because we’re not listening) must have been coerced at the end of the lash, and there ends the discussion.

But biblical students of history know that conflicts such as the Southern War of Independence are never as tidy as the mind of the historical propagandist would like to make them. Thousands of white Southerners fought for the North. Thousands of white Northerners, called “Copperheads,” were Southern sympathizers. Some states, like Maryland and Virginia, split in two. The Vice-President of the Federals was a native of Tennessee, and the Vice-President of the Confederacy was an ardent opponent of secession. But the king of all such oddities is the great untold oddity–the ardent support of the Confederacy by tens of thousands of blacks, both free and slave. This black support was like the rest of the country–torn and mixed. Some blacks were trying to prove themselves. Some wanted adventure, while others were fighting for self-preservation. About one quarter of the free blacks in the South were well-to-do slave owners.[1] They knew a Northern victory would ruin them, which it did. But the majority of blacks who supported the cause did so in order to protect the way of life they had always known.

Black Southerners were Southerners. Many of them were patriots. They were natives of a land at war, and their response to the invasion of their country should not be at all surprising. The wave of patriotic fervor which swept the South clearly included the black population. Across the South, blacks frequently and publicly offered their whole-hearted service to the cause of the Confederacy. Charles Tinsley, spokesman for Peterburg’s free blacks, was representative. “We are willing to aid Virginia’s cause to the utmost extent of our ability.”[2]

But of course the central issue is not how blacks felt about the war when it first began, because emotions always run high for everyone at such a time. But what did Southern blacks do to contribute tangibly to the war effort “across five Aprils”?

Three areas are worthy of mention. The first is to recognize that the infrastructure of the Southern war effort was heavily dependent upon faithful and loyal black labor. The South was thoroughly dependent upon its black population, and could not do anything, much less go to war, without black involvement and support. Speaking of slaves, Benjamin Quarles notes the obvious–that slaves were used in the Southern war effort: “Not far behind the lines, and frequently within them, were the military laborers who threw up the foundations for the artillery, built the forts and dug the entrenchments”[3] What is not so obvious, especially to modern eyes, is the fact that, under such conditions, such work could not have been accomplished without a great loyalty and willingness to serve. On the home front, blacks manned the mines, the munitions factories, and kept the crops growing which in turn kept the army in the field. Many black slaves stepped into the vacated role of white overseers, and served there diligently.

Second, we must remember the numerous body servants who accompanied their masters to war, and who faithfully served them throughout the conflict. Regarding this, Charles Harper stated, “No class of servants had such excellent opportunities to desert or to evidence disloyalty. Yet this class almost never deserted. Black Confederates followed their masters to war, worked as teamsters, laborers, foragers and cooks in the Confederate army, and did yeoman service, shouldering arms and burning gunpowder in combat, and when captured entered Yankee prisons as prisoners of war.”[4] This class of Confederates exhibited great courage, resourcefulness, and loyalty. Nathan Bedford Forrest said of the servants who went to war with him that no better Confederates ever lived.

The third area is the direct contribution of the black combat troops. The best estimate places the number of black Confederate combatants at around 40,000. The first Union officer to lose his life in combat, Major Winthrop, was probably shot by a black man.[5] A Union medical officer observed Stonewall’s troops marching through Fredrickburg in 1862, and calculated that about 5 percent of his force were black men, armed as soldiers, and fully integrated with the ranks.[6] One Union soldier wrote a letter to the Indianapolis Star, and which was reprinted by the New York Tribune. It said, in part, “A body of seven hundred Negro infantry opened fire on our men, wounding two lieutenants and two privates. . . . 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 until it came so near home and attacked our men.”[7] It is true the Confederate national government did not approve the use of blacks under arms until late in the war, but the decentralized nature of the CSA must also be recognized. Many opportunities for black service existed in local and state units, and those opportunities were taken.

Blacks also served effectively as snipers. One remarkable sharpshooter would settle in tall trees, and begin to systematically pick off Union soldiers. Because of this a detachment of soldiers was sent to get him, and after much maneuvering, finally surrounded him. One of the Yanks yelled up at him, “I say big nigger, you better come down from there, you are captured.” The black Confederate’s last words were, “Not as this chile knows of!” He resumed fire, and was immediately killed.[8]

We must recognize the racism that has afflicted many in the South since the war is the fruit of the Reconstruction, not of slavery and the war. Those southern whites who today despise blacks, far from showing on-going resistance, are continuing to submit to that humanist nightmare which was first imposed at Reconstruction. Far better would be the attitude of Southern whites who fought and bled alongside Southern blacks. At a reunion of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry in 1876, Col. William Sanford said, “And to you our colored friends . . . we say welcome. We can never forget your faithfulness in the darkest hours of our lives. We tender to you our hearty respect and love, for you never faltered in duty nor betrayed our trust.”[9] The Confederate heritage includes deep affection between white and black.

Nevertheless, some of our readers may question the wisdom of emphazing this issue. “We have enough problems in our culture without resurrecting a war that ended one hundred and thirty years ago.” This may seem as fruitful to them as a partisan rehash of the Second Punic War. But we are convinced that we will not understand the current civil conflicts which surround us until we go back and learn the truth about the War Between the States. Until we get that particular history lesson straight, we will continue to get every other subsequent history lesson wrong. The battles we fight today are simply a later stage in the same war.

The war was over the meaning of constitutional government, the nature of federalism, the life of republics, and the definition of civic liberty. Not one of these issues has become a museum piece since the close of the war, and all of them began long before the war. We cannot hope to fight the good fight now while repudiating those who fought the same fight earlier.

But still the apparently reasonable advice is offered to us. “Give it up. Let it go. Stop fighting old battles. Quit tilting at windmills. Just accept the past. Let’s just do what we can now. Don’t inflame old wounds. Just let it go. ”

Not as this chile knows of.

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