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Friday, March 1, 2013

Civil War Photo Friday: Black Union soldiers kidnapped for the Neo-Confederate cause

This photo shows a unit of black soldiers and their white officer. It's obviously a Union unit because of the officer's uniform and a belt buckle saying "US" on one of the figures. I've zoomed in on him; he's the man in the center in the photo below. The uniforms on the soldiers look very light, but often Union troops wore a light shade of blue that appears gray in these old photos.
Nothing is otherwise known about this photograph or what unit it represents. That's what gave it new life.

In an article titled Retouching History, Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite, Jr., describe how a doctored version of this photo was put up for sale by a self-styled "Rebel" website as a photo of the First Louisiana Native Guard, a Confederate unit in New Orleans made up of free blacks that never saw action and was opposed by many Confederate officials. It isn't even clear if they were ever fully equipped. It seemed they were only kept around for the propaganda value. When New Orleans fell to the Union, some of these men joined the Union army.

This is retouched the photo:
As you can see, that pesky Union officer has been cropped out. A closer inspection of a larger-format version of this photo (which you can see in the original article) shows that the US belt buckle has been blurred over. Also, the font is a modern one called "Algerian", developed in 1988.

Neo-Confederates assert that thousands of blacks fought for the Confederacy. This is used to bolster their claim that the war wasn't about slavery, despite the fact that Confederate officials repeatedly said it was about slavery and that there is no evidence whatsoever for thousands of black soldiers fighting for the South. Did a few blacks (like maybe a dozen) fight for the South? Yeah, probably. Does that change what the war was about? Nope.

Since most of my readers are American, Canadian, or British, let's play an imagination game. Imagine you're surfing the net and see a photo of one of your relatives who fought in World War Two, but the photo has been doctored so he now wears a German uniform. The caption says, "An American volunteer in the Wehrmacht!" How would that make you feel?

Photos from the original article, used under the terms of "Fair Use", the justification being that they are being used for nonprofit, educational purposes and the original image is in the public domain. If the folks who doctored the photograph want to sue me for infringing on their creative copyright, feel free to expose yourselves in the comments section.


  1. Very interesting! Looks like the Neo-Confederates were trying to rewrite history.

  2. Doctoring a photo like that is so uncool.

  3. It's awful people can use photos to rewrite history like that. Thanks for exposing the truth. :-)


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