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Black Confederates

Black Confederates! Remember, you heard it here first. You will be hearing more if you have any interest at all in the Great Unpleasantness of the last century that is the focal point of American history. There are more things in heaven and earth, dear Horatio, than are dreamed of by Ken Burns.

In the film Gettysburg appears the English Colonel Arthur Fremantle, played as a somewhat silly character. Fremantle was a real person who accompanied the Confederate Army on the Gettysburg campaign and published a book, Three Months in the Southern States. One incident noted by Fremantle in his book did not, of course, make it into the movie—the spectacle of a black Confederate marching a file of Yankee prisoners to the rear.

Real life is always a lot more complicated than ideological history. The image that most Americans carry around in their heads of the Old South and the black slavery that flourished over much of this continent for two and a half centuries is cartoonish and largely misleading. (Just think of Uncle Tom's Cabin and Roots.) It is also, of course, extremely comforting to the mainstream American consciousness to think of the heroic soldiers in blue marching forth to strike the chains from the suffering black people—setting aside the fact that emancipation did not become a war goal until well after hostilities had begun, and that in many cases it resulted only in...

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