Photo Forgery – 1st Louisiana Native Guards

My piece in Disunion in the New York Times finally appeared late Friday night. If you haven’t read it, here is a <link>. I received an email Saturday from John C. Van Horne of the Library Company of Philadelphia to alert me to a neo-Confederate photo forgery associated with the 1st Louisiana Native Guards. I already knew about it. I was going to write about the photo forgery in my article, but the piece was getting long, and I wanted keep the focus as much as possible on the Native Guards and not give contemporary Confederate partisans undue attention in the Times. Van Horne also alerted me to a website put together by Jerry Handler and Michael Tuite (www.retouchinghistory.org) debunking the photo forgery. I would certainly recommend it.

This website deals with what is merely the tip-of-the-iceberg in terms of the neo-Confederate phenomenon. It is not surprising that the Confederacy continues to attract supporters 150 years later, despite the fact its cause in essence was keeping nearly 4 million Americans enslaved. Despite the growing homogenization of American culture, the South remains one of the most distinct regions of the United States and justly proud of its heritage. Many descendants of Confederate soldiers also live there and elsewhere in country, and want to think well of their ancestors. Plus, the Confederate cause has the inertia of decades of being romanticized in popular culture and appeals to contemporary political conservatives opposed to what they see an overly powerful and overreaching federal government. These last factors explain much of the appeal of the Confederacy outside the South. One finds neo-Confederates just about everywhere in the United States. Last March, I had one of them from Minnesota, calling himself “Jefferson Davis,” go after me on this blog. (Read the comments for this <blog entry> if you’re interested in studying his rants.)

For a complete run-down on the neo-Confederate phenomenon, check out Kevin Levin’s piece on it in Disunion from January 2011 and from his blog, Civil War Memory. Although highly problematic as good history, in a way it is actually encouraging that the extreme southern partisans of the 21st Century in their myth-making are choosing to pencil in African Americans as supporters of the Confederate cause. The real Confederates of the late 19th century, except for a few mentions of “faithful slaves,” largely kept black Southerners out of their remembrance of the war. It says a lot about the positive changes in the United States, especially those won by the post-World War II civil rights movement, that contemporary Confederate partisans are so energetically attempting to insert African Americans into their Confederacy of memory. I sometimes wonder what the real Jefferson Davis and the other marble men of Confederate cause would make of it.

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About Donald R. Shaffer

Donald R. Shaffer is the author of _After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans_ (Kansas, 2004), which won the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2005. More recently he published (with Elizabeth Regosin), _Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files_ (2008). Dr. Shaffer teaches online exclusively (i.e., a virtual professor). He lives in Arizona and can be contacted at donald_shaffer@yahoo.com
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8 Responses to Photo Forgery – 1st Louisiana Native Guards

  1. JosephineSouthern says:

    Know this: There are several reasons that black persons in the South didnot want the yankee invaders to know if they assisted or concurred with the Confederates.

    1. During the occupation and takeover many slaves and free blacks were killed by the invading Union army just for assisting a Southern White person, therefore they had ever reason to hide the fact from them.

    2. It was more to the ex-slaves advantage to play dumb, they would get more from the union invaders that way.

    3. The White Southern people had no desire to harm them by exposing
    their allegiance.

    4. Actions speak louder than words; Many White and black Southerners reminded life long friends, and readily helped one another when in need.

    Present-ism and pseudo psychology are today part and parcel of Levin and this authors writings. Be cognizant that this is their take on that period in history. I am with James Madison when he said:

    “Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”
    –James Madison

  2. The Louisiana Native Guards should not be called “African Americans” since they were European-American in culture and often predominately in race or ancestry. Claiming the mixed-race Creole minority as “African American” is a kind of “documentary genocide” (a phrase first used by Melungeon author N. Brent Kennedy).

    A.D. Powell, former columnist for the web sites “Interracial Voice” and “The Multiracial Activist,” is the author of “Passing” for Who You Really Are: Essays in Support of Multiracial Whiteness.

    • Hi A.D. Identity is in the eye of the beholder. Many of the Native Guards no doubt thought of themselves as part of a third racial group in Louisiana. For whites though who operated under the “one drop” rule, the Native Guards were African Americans and ultimately treated as such.

    • BorderRuffian says:

      Some of the men in the Confederate Native Guard later joined Federal forces (30% according to Stephen Ochs) including some who could ‘pass’ as white. The units were part of the “Corps d’Afrique.”

  3. Edwin Thompson says:

    Very good Disunion article Donald. You wrote a powerful piece on understanding black Americans in New Orleans. It must have been a difficult culture to navigate for free blacks – always concerned that they would be re-enslaved.

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