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Black Flag Over Dixie

Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War

Edited by Gregory J. W. Urwin

Publication Year: 2005

Black Flag over Dixie: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War highlights the central role that race played in the Civil War by examining some of the ugliest incidents that played out on its battlefields. Challenging the American public’s perception of the Civil War as a chivalrous family quarrel, twelve rising and prominent historians show the conflict to be a wrenching social revolution whose bloody excesses were exacerbated by racial hatred. 


Edited by Gregory J. W. Urwin, this compelling volume focuses on the tendency of Confederate troops to murder black Union soldiers and runaway slaves and divulges the details of black retaliation and the resulting cycle of fear and violence that poisoned race relations during Reconstruction. In a powerful introduction to the collection, Urwin reminds readers that the Civil War was both a social and a racial revolution. As the heirs and defenders of a slave society’s ideology, Confederates considered African Americans to be savages who were incapable of waging war in a civilized fashion. Ironically, this conviction caused white Southerners to behave savagely themselves. Under the threat of Union retaliation, the Confederate government backed away from failing to treat the white officers and black enlisted men of the United States Colored Troops as legitimate combatants. Nevertheless, many rebel commands adopted a no-prisoners policy in the field. When the Union’s black defenders responded in kind, the Civil War descended to a level of inhumanity that most Americans prefer to forget.


In addition to covering the war’s most notorious massacres at Olustee, Fort Pillow, Poison Spring, and the Crater, Black Flag over Dixie examines the responses of Union soldiers and politicians to these disturbing and unpleasant events, as well as the military, legal, and moral considerations that sometimes deterred Confederates from killing all black Federals who fell into their hands. Twenty photographs and a map of massacre and reprisal sites accompany the volume. 


The contributors are Gregory J. W. Urwin, Anne J. Bailey, Howard C. Westwood, James G. Hollandsworth Jr., David J. Coles, Albert Castel, Derek W. Frisby, Weymouth T. Jordan Jr., Gerald W. Thomas, Bryce A. Suderow, Chad L. Williams, and Mark Grimsley.


Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book traces its origins to the research I have done for nearly a decade on the Civil War west of the Mississippi River. The experiences of African American troops in Arkansas, Kansas, and Indian Territory represent some of the more dramatic and tragic episodes in the Civil War. It is time for historians to bring those...

Map: Civil War Racial Atrocities and Reprisals

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pp. xiii

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Introduction: Warfare, Race, and the Civil War in American Memory

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pp. 1-18

The Civil War ended more than 135 years ago, but it continues to tower above all competition as the most popular period in American history. It seems strange that anything as terrible and inhuman as a war can be described as popular—especially the conflict that destroyed more American lives and property than any other—but...

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1. A Texas Cavalry Raid Reaction to Black Soldiers and Contrabands

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pp. 19-33

In June 1863, when Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s army bottled up the Confederates in Vicksburg, the Union campaign to gain control of the Mississippi River moved into its final stage. As summer began, many Southerners feared the army defending the town could not hold out much longer. Nevertheless, Confederate...

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2. Captive Black Union Soldiers in Charleston What to Do?

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pp. 34-51

“Thirteen prisoners Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, black. What shall I do with them?” That message, hastily penned by Confederate Brig. Gen. Johnson Hagood on the night of July 16, 1863, near the beginning of the Union attack on Fort Wagner, also noted that two of the blacks were “refugee” slaves, the rest free.1 The general’s question...

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3. The Execution of White Officers from Black Units by Confederate Forces During the Civil War

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pp. 52-64

On May 1, 1863, both chambers of the Confederate Congress passed a resolution in response to the Emancipation Proclamation declaring that “every white person being a commissioned officer” who commanded, armed, trained, organized, or prepared black men for military service was guilty of “inciting servile insurrection...

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4. “Shooting Niggers Sir ” Confederate Mistreatment of Union Black Soldiers at the Battle of Olustee

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pp. 65-88

On the evening of February 20, 1864, a defeated Union army abandoned large numbers of wounded and missing troops during its retreat from the bloody Olustee battlefield. A substantial percentage of these soldiers came from three black regiments that had composed a significant part of the defeated Northern force. Of..

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5. The Fort Pillow Massacre An Examination of the Evidence

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pp. 89-103

A feeling of horror swept across the North during the month of April 1864. From the banks of the Mississippi down in Tennessee came news that the Union garrison at Fort Pillow had been brutally massacred by the Confederate cavalry of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Not only had the Confederates murdered most of the..

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6. “Remember Fort Pillow!” Politics, Atrocity Propaganda, and the Evolution of Hard War

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pp. 104-131

News of the “Fort Pillow Massacre” arrived at a crucial time in Washington, D.C. Speculation abounded throughout the country about the upcoming 1864 presidential election, a contest many viewed as a referendum on the nation’s will to continue the war and decide the character of postwar Reconstruction. For the..

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7. “We Cannot Treat Negroes ... as Prisoners of War ” Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in Civil War Arkansas

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pp. 132-152

The Battle of Poison Spring, April 18, 1864, was one of the most complete victories ever won by Confederate forces in Arkansas. Fewer than four thousand cavalrymen sprang a cleverly laid ambush within the hearing of thirteen thousand Union...

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8. Massacre at Plymouth: April 20, 1864

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pp. 153-202

On the morning of Wednesday, April 20, 1864, the Federal post at Plymouth, North Carolina, commanded by Brig. Gen. Henry W. Wessells, was captured after a four-day siege by a Confederate force under Brig. Gen. Robert F. Hoke. Included among Plymouth’s 3,244 defenders (2,834 army and approximately...

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9. The Battle of the Crater: The Civil War ’s Worst Massacre

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pp. 203-209

After fighting his way south from the Rapidan to the gates of Richmond during May and June 1864, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant found himself stalemated in front of the formidable trenches protecting Petersburg, the rail junction that supplied the Confederate capital. During June...

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10. Symbols of Freedom and Defeat: African American Soldiers,White Southerners, and the Christmas Insurrection Scare of 1865

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pp. 210-230

On October 22, 1865, E. G. Baker, a white planter from Panola, Mississippi, wrote to three of his state legislators with regard to the trouble African American soldiers were creating among the freed people in the state and the horrors he believed...

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11. “A Very Long Shadow ” Race, Atrocity, and the American Civil War

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pp. 231-246

Following the battle of the Crater in July 1864, Confederate artillerist William R. J. Pegram penned a well-satisfied letter to his younger sister Jennie. The Army of Northern Virginia, he wrote, had at last come face-to-face with a full division of African American troops. He had been hoping for such an encounter, believing...

Select Bibliography

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pp. 247-250


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pp. 251-252


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pp. 253-265

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809388288
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809326785

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2005