Last Thursday, September 22, Peter S. Carmichael spoke at St. Mary’s Hall about the myth that there were slaves who wanted to serve in the Confederate Army. His talk was titled, “Imagining Slaves as Loyal Confederates: A Dangerous and Enduring Fantasy.”
Carmichael is the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies as well as the Director of the Civil war institute at Gettysburg College. However, he did not only use his knowledge of the Civil War to tell his story, he also shared personal information about his family, like the astonishment his daughters had when they learned that the south left the Union.
Students like senior Caitie Harrigan found the talk interesting. “I thought he had a very compelling argument, and thought that the emotion he put into it [made it] much more interesting to watch,” she said.
Harrigan said she went to the talk because she, “took a slave narrative class, and I thought it would be important to hear a historical perspective.”
Senior Dominick Morris also found the history interesting, saying, “I liked how he looked at the legacy through a modern perspective, and I thought it was interesting how people are still clinging to this myth.”
Carmichael talked about how the myth of slaves wanting to fight for their masters continues today in textbooks in the south. He says that the reasoning behind the myth is personal accounts of families who had slaves that had the chance to escape but did not, images of white and African American soldiers, and personal accounts of African Americans after the war was over.
But what is wrong with these sources? Carmichael explained that the relationship between slave and master should never be confused or construed as a loving relationship. Slaves ultimately did what they needed to do in order to survive, which potentially included lying to former Confederate soldiers, after the war was over, about why they fought.
The talk very much was about how to look at history. Carmichael explained how sources can be read very differently. Some people may see a picture of a white soldier with a black soldier and see some sense of loyalty between the two. He showed the various flaws with this idea simply by asking questions like, “Why would a slave support a cause that wants him to remain a slave?”
“I thought it was interesting how he took the evidence and framed it in the slave’s perspective,” said Morris.
For those interested in aspects of the Civil War, there will be a lecture on the Confederate Flag this Thursday, Sept. 29 at 4:15 p.m. in the Auerbach Auditorium of St. Mary’s Hall by John M. Coski, historian and vice-president at The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.