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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Re: Character and characters
In Response To: Re: Character and characters ()

Mr. Powell:
Here I'd like to amend the message re "Character and characters" that I posted on this site Friday evening. I don't want to leave the impression that I beleive that information that can not be verified--information that can not be firmly planted in the "there ain't no boubt about it" catagory--has no place in the writing and presentation of history.
Of course such information MUST be included in the story. Some of this material is "unknown" (with luck only a temporary status that will be cured with additioinal research and new discoverries) and some of this material will unfortunately (but probably) remain "unknowable".

But, and there is usually a "but" with me, I think you'd agree that the dictionary is filled with cautionary and qualifying words that should--no, make this MUST--be used when dealing with the unknown and unknowable.

To use the example we have ping-ponged around in recent postings: there is no proof that black regulars used the term "buffalo soldier" prior to Reuben Waller's l929 letter. But there is also ample evidence in the period press, and in some private corresponmdence, of the use of "buffalo soldiers" that I agree it is fair to assume that black soldiers heard or read the term and most likely used it at times to describe themselves, their fellow soldiers, and the units in which they served. But note here the caution/qualifiers are "ample evidence", "fair to assume": and "most likely".

Keeping in this track, other caution/qualifier choices might be: "evidence suggests...", "based on current research and evidence
it appears likely ("probable", "almost certain"--take your pick), that black soldiers used...". This list of possibilities is almost endless--and I think any are perfectly acceptable.

What, to me at least, is not acceptable is the constant repitition with great certainty and no use of qualifiers (and all too often no use of citations and references)of pronouncements such as these:
Indians called black troops "buffalo soldiers" as a term of respect for their fierce fighting asbility, or, black soldiers accepted the name as a sign of respect from the Indian adversaries, or, in time all black regulars were called buffalo soldiers, but the name applied especially to the troopers of the l0th Cavalry. And on and on and on and on. As you know this stuff is usually presented along with the "supplied with obsolete equipment and wind-blown nags, but the black units nevetrtheless emerged as elites" history of post-Civil War balck regulars.

Bottom line: if something is known--state it with certainty and with full and proper references; if something is assumed, based on the best analysisof presently available information, then state this clearly--BUT always with the addition of the necessary and proper cautions and qualifiers.

Tom Phillips


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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