We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Regarding your recent cover story (“The Black and the Gray,” 7/17), Eddie Dean incorrectly writes that “Ken Burns left out some crucial information in his 1990 Civil War documentary, which made no mention of the fact that some of the Grays were black.” I can clearly recall at least one scene in which this fact was mentioned: In discussing the relationship of Lee with Jeff Davis and the Confederate Congress, it was mentioned that although the idea of black conscripts fighting in the Rebel Army was abhorrent to Davis and others in the Confederate government, once Lee requested it, black soldiers, mostly slaves, were reluctantly recruited for the Confederacy, because they “dared not” refuse any request Robert E. Lee might make. The program also pointed out that a number of the new recruits were mustered for the defense of Richmond, and I believe that David McCullough’s voice-over intro to one of the episodes also pointed out that although most blacks who fought in the war fought for the Union, some fought on the side of the Confederacy.
Burns may not have emphasized the issue enough for some revisionists, just as he may not have made enough of Union sympathizers in the South, or Rebel sympathizers in the North, to suit some historians. The scope of Burns’ subject and the limited time he had to cover it made it impossible to treat every such historical footnote in depth; the fact that he worked these facts into his narrative at all is admirable.
I strongly suspect that, of all the people who know that blacks fought on both sides of the Civil War, most (like myself) learned this either directly or indirectly from Burns’ documentary.
via the Internet