Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

More Phase IV news from the Civil War: The junk Virginia is teaching

All youse who told me to calm down about the governor of Virginia tending the fires of Confederacy may want to reconsider. Here’s the latest Lost Cause hogwash being given an official imprint by the state government. "A textbook distributed to Virginia fourth-graders says that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the ...

The U.S. National Archives/flickr
The U.S. National Archives/flickr

All youse who told me to calm down about the governor of Virginia tending the fires of Confederacy may want to reconsider. Here's the latest Lost Cause hogwash being given an official imprint by the state government. "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," reports the Washington Post, which pays attention because it is the biggest newspaper in Virginia. The textbook makes the extraordinary claim that there were two black battalions fighting under Stonewall Jackson.

The textbook's author, not a historian, found the information where? By, of course, reading stuff posted on the Internet by members of the Sons of the Confederacy! Which maintains that the war wasn't about slavery. James McPherson, author of my all-time favorite book on the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom, tells the Post, "These Confederate heritage groups have been making this claim for years as a way of purging their cause of its association with slavery."

The textbook's author also said she was relying on the work of University of Virginia historian Ervin Jordan. But Professor Jordan tells the Post, "There's no way of knowing that there were thousands. And the claim about Jackson is totally false. I don't know where that came from."

All youse who told me to calm down about the governor of Virginia tending the fires of Confederacy may want to reconsider. Here’s the latest Lost Cause hogwash being given an official imprint by the state government. "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," reports the Washington Post, which pays attention because it is the biggest newspaper in Virginia. The textbook makes the extraordinary claim that there were two black battalions fighting under Stonewall Jackson.

The textbook’s author, not a historian, found the information where? By, of course, reading stuff posted on the Internet by members of the Sons of the Confederacy! Which maintains that the war wasn’t about slavery. James McPherson, author of my all-time favorite book on the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom, tells the Post, "These Confederate heritage groups have been making this claim for years as a way of purging their cause of its association with slavery."

The textbook’s author also said she was relying on the work of University of Virginia historian Ervin Jordan. But Professor Jordan tells the Post, "There’s no way of knowing that there were thousands. And the claim about Jackson is totally false. I don’t know where that came from."

The textbook’s author, Joy Masoff, is also co-author of "Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty" and "Oh Yikes! History’s Grossest Moments." I am not joking.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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