My two worlds converged recently.
In my world as a writer for the University of Illinois College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, I recently did a story about the “Myth of Black Confederates”–a subject that directly applied to my other world as a writer of historical novels. My latest novel, The Lincoln League, opens with John Scobell, a former slave, heading north to fight for the Union in the first year of the Civil War. This is not a spoiler, but in the second chapter, we find that Scobell has been captured by Southern forces and put to work for the Rebel cause, building breastworks.
As I researched the use of slave labor in the Southern army, I kept running across many claims that blacks fought in large numbers for the Confederacy. Little did I know that the University of Illinois had one of the leading experts on the topic of black involvement in the Confederacy during the Civil War–until I was given an assignment to interview Professor Bruce Levine and write a story about this very subject.
Check out my article–“The Myth of Black Confederates.” As Professor Levine explains, there were two black militia units in the Confederacy–in New Orleans and Mobile–but they were symbolic and saw no serious action. Some slave owners brought along their body servants to battle (something I touch upon in the novel), and it’s possible that some may have told their slaves to pick up a gun and fight in the heat of battle. But he says black soldiers did not fight in large numbers for the Confederacy.
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By Doug Peterson
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