Textbook clash in Virginia over Civil War: Live Chat with Carol Sherriff

A textbook distributed to Virginia fourth-graders says that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War -- a claim rejected by most historians but often made by groups seeking to play down slavery's role as a cause of the conflict.

The issue first came to light after College of William and Mary historian Carol Sheriff opened her daughter's copy of "Old Virginia: Past and Present" and saw the reference to black Confederate soldiers. "It's disconcerting that the next generation is being taught history based on an unfounded claim instead of accepted scholarship," said Sheriff.

Sheriff was online Wednesday, Oct. 20, at Noon ET to discuss the controversy.


Not too shocking to believe: I wouldn't find it shocking that blacks fought for the Confederacy. Are we supposed to believe there wasn't a single black person who fought against the Union? That's hard to believe. Besides, there were some black slave owners in the U.S., is that correct?

Carol Sheriff: Hi, this is Carol Sheriff at the College of William and Mary, where I teach and publish on the Civil War. Thanks for your question. There is historical evidence that individual blacks, usually servants who followed their masters to the front, occasionally picked up guns in the heat of battle. But it was illegal in the Confederacy to use black as soldiers until the waning days of the war (early 1865). A few companies (a company was usually 100 men at full force) were raised then, but none saw battle action, as the surrender followed shortly thereafter. Stonewall Jackson had died in 1863, so no black soldiers could have served under his command. There were, however, thousands upon thousands of free blacks and slaves who worked as laborers for the Confederate army, including under Jackson's command. Most of them worked involuntarily....

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