ARLINGTON, Va. (WUSA) - It's well known, thanks to the movie Glory, that black soldiers fought for the Union. In the Confederate Army, historians say thousands of slaves worked as laborers, not as soldiers, but a new fourth grade textbook, "Our Virginia: Past and Present," has a different take.
"The people in Richmond who approved this book should be fired," said Jeremy Mayer, George Mason University Public Policy Associate Professor. "What do you have a credentialling board for textbooks for if not to catch howling errors?"
He and many historians are outraged about this line in the book, "Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson."
"It's astoundingly stupid. One of the great fears of the Confederacy was of a slave revolt. And you're trying to convince that they gave rifles to organized regimens of black people? No way is that true," said Mayer.
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Carol Sheriff is the historian who caught the error in her daughter's textbook. She says it was illegal in the Confederacy to use blacks as soldiers, until at the very end of the war, long after Stonewall Jackson was dead.
Mayer calls the offending sentence more than just an error.
"It is the equivalent of Holocaust denial being taught in public schools. But worse, it's like saying the Jews helped the holocaust." Mayer says the book should be "pulped" and that Virginia can afford to buy new textbooks that contain accurate information.
Author Joy Masoff has written several other text books, but she is not a historian. And she's reportedly said she got the information about blacks fighting in the Confederacy online.
"When you start talking about blacks fighting for the confederacy, people think you're out of your mind," said Edward Smith, an American University Anthropology professor, said in a speech he gave to the Sons of Confederate Veterans years ago which is online. Smith claims thousands, as many as 60,000, blacks served in the Confederacy. He appears to base the number on an observation made by Dr. Lewis Steiner, Chief Inspector of the U.S. Sanitary Commission who was apparently watching General Stonewall Jackson's occupation of Frederick, Maryland in 1862.
Mayer says it's just not true. "Many southerners grew up learning slaves were better off than free blacks. And all kinds of other crazy ideas. It's not the first time a Southern state has taken taxpayer money to teach young people lies about history."
Edward Smith was unreachable to comment on the book.
The Virginia Department of Education admits the line is quote "outside accepted Civil War scholarship," but it does not plan to dump the book and says teachers should be able to work around the objectionable sentence.
To learn more about the subject, Sheriff recommends Historian Bruce Levine's "Confederal Emancipation" and Loewen, "Lies My Teacher Told Me' along with Fitzgerald's "Revising America."
Mayer recommends this website for good information on the Civil War: http://cwmemory.com/black-confederate-resources/
Written by Peggy Fox
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