The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Wiley (Bell I.): Typescript of Southern Negroes, 1861-1865
Collection Number: M307
Dates: ca. 1933
Volume: .25 cu. ft.
Bell Irvin Wiley was born on January 5, 1906 in Halls, Tennessee, the sixth child of Ewing Baxter Wiley and Ann Bass Wiley. Wiley attended Asbury College in Kentucky and graduated in 1928 with a B.A. in History. Following graduation, he worked part-time at Asbury College as a member of the debating department, before accepting a position as assistant history professor. While working at Asbury, he began graduate study at the University of Kentucky, receiving his masters degree in 1931. He then attended Yale University where he came under the guidance of Ulrich B. Phillips, noted historian of the Old South. In 1933 Wiley received his Ph.D, and five years later his dissertation was published under the title, Southern Negroes, 1861-1865.
In 1934, Wiley moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where he became a professor of history at State Teachers College, (now the University of Southern Mississippi). During the summer, he lectured at Peabody College, where in 1935, he met Mary Frances Harrison. In December 1937, the two were married and subsequently had two children, George Bell (b.November 1946) and John Frances (b.December 1954).
During his lifetime, Wiley held several academic and professional positions, including professorships at the University of Mississippi (1938-1943), Louisiana State University (1946-1959), and Emory University (1960-1974). He served as president of the Southern Historical Society in 1955, and Chairman of the National Civil War Centennial Commission in 1961. In addition, he served in the United States Army between 1943 and 1946, during which time he was Staff Historian. He left the army in August 1946, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Throughout the 1960s, Wiley traveled extensively in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Unfortunately, he suffered from severe bouts of depression in the late 1960s, and eventually retired from Emory University in 1974.
Surrounded from an early age by stories of the Civil War (his grandmother was a Confederate widow), Wiley always expressed a deep interest in the history of the period. His first book, Southern Negroes, 1861-1865, reflects that interest, as do many of his other works, which include The Life of Johnny Reb, the Common Soldier of the Confederacy (1943); The Plain People of the Confederacy (1943); The Life of Billy Yank, the Common Soldier of the Union (1952); Lincoln and Lee (1966); and Confederate Women (1975). Wiley also edited fifteen other works including W.W. Heartsill's Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-One Days in the Confederate Army and Gilbert Moxley Sorrel's Recollections of a Confederate Staff Officer. Known as a pioneer of the social history of the American soldier, Bell Wiley's work is notable for his analysis of the "plain people" and the experiences of the ordinary rank-and-file.
This collection consists of a bound copy of the typescript for Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 by Bell I. Wiley. Although the book was published in 1938, the work was originally written as a dissertation during Wiley's studies at Yale University in the early 1930s. The copy in the collection was presented to the University of Southern Mississippi by Miss Anna Roberts on July 11, 1962, and is probably a carbon copy of the original dissertation. The typescript is approximately 530 pages long and contains 15 chapters, as well as a preface, a bibliographical note, and an index. Although later revised editions may show some changes in content, the majority of ideas contained in the typescript appear in the 1938 published version of the work.
This work dispels many of the myths associated with the black experience under slavery and during the American Civil War. For example, Wiley demolishes the notion that the majority of slaves remained loyal to their former masters following emancipation. Some slaves did choose to stay with their former owners but, according to Wiley, most willingly left their masters and mistresses behind, and began to take control of their own lives. Also, Southern Negroes highlights the treatment of blacks in the North during the war. In particular, Wiley points out the harsh discrimination suffered by many blacks when they joined the ranks of the Union Army. Compared to their white counterparts, black soldiers invariably suffered from poor pay, inadequate equipment and training, poor medical care, and a shortage of decent food and clothing.
This collection is of note to anyone interested in African American history, or to any researcher studying the American Civil War. Most notably, Wiley's work highlights aspects of the war normally ignored by other historians.
Dr. Bell Irvin Wiley Oral History Interview, transcript call number F341.5 .M57x vol. 211 (McCain Library).
Copies of Dr. Bell Irvin Wiley's Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 are available in the Cook, McCain, and Cox Libraries. Copies of Dr. Wiley's other books are also available; see the USM Libraries' online catalog ANNA.
Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), call number E185.2 .W65 1965 (Cook, McCain, Cox).
Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974, c1938), call number E185.2 .W65 1974 (McCain, Cox).