INDIANAPOLIS, IN - “Some people believe that thousands of African American slaves voluntarily served in the Confederate ranks as soldiers. This is a misleading picture of the past,” says Civil War expert Peter S. Carmichael.
“The notion that slaves and whites served together in Confederate armies out of mutual fidelity resonates with large segments of the American public who desire a sanitized Civil War of white heroism,” says Carmichael, an Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) alumnus and Gettysburg College professor.
Carmichael will deliver the 2010 John D. Barlow Lecture in Humanities tonight at 5:30 p.m., in the IUPUI Campus Center.
His talk, “Imagining Slaves as Loyal Confederates: A Dangerous and Enduring Fantasy,” explores the idea of the devoted black slave during the Civil War and the present-day political impact of the historical memory of this form of human bondage.
Those who want to disassociate the Confederacy from the evils of slavery and racism often trot out the idea of loyal slaves defending the South to prove that human bondage forged an unbreakable alliance between master and the enslaved, according to Carmichael, the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.
While this sanitized version of the Civil War “minimizes slavery as an important part of the Confederate experience,” the professor says it is understandable that certain southern heritage groups would “sanitize” the war given that the legacy of losing the war and owning slaves is a “moral burden carried from one white generation to another.”
Significant information supports instances of slaves who fought in battle on the side of the Confederacy, however, anyone who interprets a slave’s choice to pick up a musket and shoot at a Union solder as an act of identification with the cause of the Confederacy has lost sight of the fact that for the slave, options were limited, the Gettysburg College professor says.
Slaves “were surrounded by white men with guns who day to day questioned (the slaves’) loyalty. Ironically in order to survive human bondage these slaves had to risk their lives in battle,” he said.
A 1988 graduate of the Department of History in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, Carmichael is the 2010 recipient of the School of Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumni Award. The award recognizes alumni who have brought honor to their alma mater by distinguished career of service or achievement or by giving extraordinary service to the school. The school will present the award to Carmichael following his lecture.
The Barlow Lecture is hosted by the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and honors Liberal Arts Dean and Professor Emeritus John D. Barlow.