Descendents of Silas Chandler Respond

The story of Silas Chandler is one of the most popular black Confederate stories out there on the Web.  You can find it featured on the website of the 37th Texas, the Petersburg Express, on blogs, and you can even purchase a t-shirt of Silas and Andrew at Dixie Outfitters.  A few weeks ago the famous image of “the Chander Brothers” was featured on Antiques Roadshow and not surprising my post on it received a great deal of attention.  There is no evidence that Silas served in Confederate ranks, though that apparently did not prevent the United Daughters of the Confederacy from decorating his grave with an Iron Cross and Confederate battle flag.  Yesterday a descendant of Silas Chandler left the following comment on the blog:

I am the Great Granddaughter of Silas Chandler. The lies being told about Silas fighting in the confederate army keep growing. And that is what they are “LIES”. The majority of the decendents of Silas are also disgusted about all of the lies told about our ancester. Silas was a slave, and did what he had to do in order to survive. I am a Black Chandler who grew up in West Point, Mississippi where it was unheard of to even look at or even speak to a white Chandler. I have a letter signed by the majority of the decendents of Silas demanding the Iron Cross and Confederate flag be removed from Silas’ grave. Signing this letter is the Granddaughter of Silas who is 107 years old and still lives in Long Island, New York. I grew up with my Grandfather, who was the son of Silas. He told us all about Silas and how he saved his money and hid it in the barn and bought his freedom. He also bought the land where he built his house. That record is in the Clay County court house as of this day.

I contacted Myrna Chandler Sampson to see if she might be interested in sharing the letter with the general public, which thankfully she has agreed to do:

To:   Descendants of Silas Chandler
From:  Myra Chandler Sampson, Great Granddaughter of Silas Chandler
Sara Chandler Wims, Great Granddaughter of Silas Chandler
George Duckett,  Great Grandson of Silas Chandler
Re:  Confederate flag on Silas Chandlers’ Grave

It has come to our attention that a confederate flag has been placed on our Great Grandfather Silas Chandler’s grave along with the confederate iron cross in Greenwood cemetery in West Point, Mississippi.  The confederate flag and the iron cross are symbols of oppression. They represent the worst of this country:  Slavery, Civil War, lynching, segregation, Ku Klux Klan, and terrorism.  Many hate groups fly the confederate flag along side the Nazi flag.

Silas Chandler was NOT GIVEN his freedom as many of us have been lead to believe.  Our Grandfather, George W. Chandler who was the son of Silas, often told us the story of how his father, Silas saved his pennies.  He hid them in the shed where he buried them because slaves were not allowed to own money.  With these saved pennies, he proudly bought his freedom from the Chandler family who owned him.

Once Silas Chandler gained his freedom he instilled his love of freedom in his son George W. Chandler.  George W. Chandler became an avid collector of firearms to protect his family from any and all oppressors.

In a cynical attempt to further their political objectives, the descendants of Silas’ oppressors have decided  to place an iron cross and a confederate flag on Silas’ grave.  This is equivalent to the descendents of the Gestapo placing a swastika on the grave of a Holocaust victim.  The placing of the confederate flag on Silas’ grave is a gross affront to the memory of Silas, and nothing more than  an attempt to rewrite history.

We are soliciting your signature on the enclosed petition to have the flag  and iron cross permanently removed from his grave.  Please sign and return it in the self-addressed stamped envelope provided.  If you know of any descendants of Silas Chandler that did not receive this letter, Please inform us at ____.

I also asked Ms. Sampson about the endorsement of the story included on the 37th Texas site by Harold Chandler:

Yes, I am aware of that website.  I am also aware of the endorsement by Harold Chandler.  Harold is my nephew.  He endorsed this poster without consulting any family member outside of his immediate family and he did not sign the letter that I sent.  There were several members of our family who did not sign the letter.  .  Yes, our family is split on the controversy.  The family was not consulted about placing the iron cross on Silas’ grave.  A few family members made that decision and were involved in the ceremony.  An overwhelming majority of the family as indicated by the signatures on the letter were outraged by the actions of these few family members.  Back to the history.  The history that I know about Silas was taught to me by my Grandfather, who was the son of Silas..  When I was a small child, the White Chandler family in West Point, Miss. had a family reunion and invited my Grandfather so that he could tell them the history of Silas.  That was the only time to my knowledge that the two Chandler families acknowledged each other.  He told them the same history that he taught me.  All of the things that I am now reading is new fantasies. The dates and most of the things do not even make sense or add up.  It is just history being rewritten.My Grandfather, George W. Chandler, son of Silas was listed on the Mississippi Sovereign Commission as one of the Negroes for the whites to keep an eye on.  Members of the white Chandler were members of the Sovereign commission.  I have documentation to prove this.

Once again, I greatly appreciate Ms. Sampson’s willingness to share her family’s story with all of us.

27 comments… add one

  • Annie Mar 10, 2010

    I think that the comparison between the Confederate flag and symbols of Nazism is an incredibly fascinating testament to the shape CW memory and historical memory at large. I have heard many avid Union supporters balk at the suggestion that the two be aligned in any way, but the argument that the two are similar by a descendant of a slave certainly indicates something about the Black community’s awareness of American history is at odds with that of whites’. Thanks for posting this, really interesting stuff.

  • jfe Mar 11, 2010

    This kind of response is *very* interesting. Very interesting.

  • bobhuddleston Mar 11, 2010

    I wonder who controls the cemetery. Usually the Cemetery Association limits who can make changes to a grave to the heirs.

  • Larry Cebula Mar 11, 2010

    Wow, she isn't pulling any punches. Nor should she–people are appropriating the history of her ancestor to whitewash the history of those who held him in chains. It is a righteous anger.

  • woodrowfan Mar 12, 2010

    thank you to Kevin and to Ms. Sampson for sharing this.

  • matttyrrell Mar 12, 2010

    This is the kind of reaction so rare and so refreshing. It is unfortunate that the Confederate Batte Flag now must be compared with the Nazi; it is the result of the changes of its symbolic status since the Civil War. “Unioners” who say this goes too far are only considering its war-time meaning. With an audacity that the Stars and Stripes can never express as the official flag of the government, the meaning CBF has changed as its popularity has risen. The memory of the Confederate army alone will not be associated with this flag again until at least it has returned to its only rightful and necessary place in American culture: a museum. The use of the flag for “modern” political and social purposes (needless to outline what purposes those were) has tarnished its already questionable war- related symbolism.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2010

      Hi Matt,

      Great meeting you and the rest of the class the other night. I agree that there is no way to divorce the Confederate battle flag from the rest of its post-war history. As Coski points out in his book, the flag's history is much longer than the few years it functioned as the symbol of the Army of Northern Virginia. Proponents of the flag have no argument here other than to limit its use in public. The problem is that at this point no one group has an interpretive monopoly on what the symbol means.

      • Robert Lee Baker Sep 30, 2010

        Kevin,

        I know in an earlier blog that I can’t find you mentioned you were still looking if there was evidence of black veterans of the Confederate Army. have you come across Louis Napoleon Nelson. Supposedly a slave then free man that fought with Nathan Bedford Forrest. His Grandson, Nelson W. Winbush, is a H.K. Edgerton type, member of SCV, supports the flag and all that. I am looking for anything that might debunk this but am having trouble.

    • Robert Lee Baker Sep 30, 2010

      I agree with you on the flag bit. Especially since this is the battle flag that was flown under so many that weren’t involved with slavery. If the protest was over the government flags or such I could understand. And there are also prominent pictures of the Ku Klux Klan walking the United States flag down Pennsylvania Ave. But most stereotype the klan as being only a southern institution. The same brainwashing flips both ways.

  • Dan Wright Mar 12, 2010

    It's very interesting to hear the black perspective on this issue.

  • heidic Mar 13, 2010

    This is very interesting and I couldn't agree more with Matt – the Confederate Battle Flag has been removed from its historical context and the only proper place for it is in a museum — but it makes one wonder if that if blacks see the Confederate Battle flag as a symbol of hate and oppression what do native Americans see when they see the American flag (or any other peoples denied rights by America)? Anyway, it is in a way nice to see that whites aren't the only ones concerned about the history of the Civil War, and people would rather tell the truth about the war than the myths and lies perpetuated about it.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 13, 2010

      Hi Heidi,

      What are you doing reading my blog on a Friday night. That doesn't look good at all. :D The only way these distortions will be corrected is if more African Americans take ownership of their family histories.

  • mariannedavis Mar 13, 2010

    Matt and Heidi are more generous than I, and probably more thoughtful. They're certainly both right in stressing how meaning can shift through the years. The CFB has become a symbol of racism because it has been so gleefully appropriated by racists. But, we must also be careful not to swallow what the SCV and UDC tell us the CFB once “really” meant. They mourn the misuse of a banner they declare was a symbol of valor, honor, and sacrifice. This is a faulty premise, and we accept it at peril to the facts.
    The Confederate battle flag was carried by men wielding arms against the United States of America. That is neither valorous nor honorable. They were not fighting for the right of their own states to permit slaveholding, that was not in serious question in 1861. Rather, they were fighting for their right to spread the practice further within the United States and in territories they dreamed of conquering elsewhere in the Americas.
    The CFB stands for insurrection, slavery and racism. The descendants of Silas Chandler had no trouble seeing through a cynical, intellectually dishonest attempt to turn their ancestor into another Hayward Shepherd. Bravo to them all.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 13, 2010

      Hi Marianne,

      We all too often overlook the fact that the various Confederate armies operating in the field functioned as an extension of the Confederate government, which made its position on slavery quite clear in its Constitution as well as in the speeches of its most prominent officials.

  • Andrew Foster Williams Mar 19, 2010

    I am a direct descendent of Silas Chandler from California. Over the years, I have heard many versions of Silas' story, from family, on the web, and from Confederate historical societies. Thank you to Ms. Sampson for shedding some light on the subject from a reliable, direct source.

    I remember when my great, great, great grandfather Silas was awarded the Iron Cross posthumously, and some members of my family attended the ceremony. While I've always had mixed feelings about it, it has ultimately become source of pride for me, not offense. I may never be exactly sure how it went down, but I know that I have Silas to thank for my freedom. Believe me, I have no love fort he Confederacy or its symbols… I'm just also no big fan of the Yankees, and have no illusions about why the Civil War was fought.

    I also know that some of the greatest men in history end up being “honored” by their enemies. This would not be the first time that history has been rewritten to make folks look more sympathetic or benevolent (see the movie “Glory” and the mounds of misinformation that it contains).

    Anyone that thinks that Silas joined the Confederate army out of some “love” for his master is naive at best, and stupid/racist at worst. That being said, there were many slaves that were dragged into the field to fight against their own self-interest. This happened in the Civil War, and in the Wars for centuries and millennia before.

    Honestly, I just hope this discussion unearths as much truth as possible. Thank you again to the Chandler family for helping to set the record straight. I look forward to learning more

    Andrew Foster Williams
    Oakland, CA

    • Sharon Collins Jun 8, 2010

      Andrew. If your mother’s name was Adrienne please email me. I was a friend of hers.

  • Ron Coddington Apr 9, 2010

    Kevin,

    I am interested in making contact with Myrna Chandler Sampson. Any chance you can connect us?

    Ron

    • Kevin Levin Apr 9, 2010

      I will get back to you, Ron.

  • Kat Oct 10, 2011

    It looks like the true answer will be unveiled on History Detectives tomorrow night on PBS.

  • Deborah Bass Oct 12, 2011

    Are these black Chandlers’ related to Artis Chandler of Mississippi? The served in the military…the Navy I think. I have a picture of him. He is listed on my birth certificate as being being 26 years old when I was born in 1954. He and my mother may have met in Detroit, Michigan or somewhere up north. I met him a couple of times when I was a toddler. I lost contact with him but it would be amazing to me some of his relatives.

  • James Golub Oct 12, 2011

    The LPB story used this to forward an agenda. They picked and chose the few facts that suited them to present a specific image, ie, that no Blacks “fought” for the Confederacy. That is a political issue that some want all one way. I have done a lot of Civil War research and there was a lot of types of records that were NOT looked at. One item that is often touted as the ‘last word’ on Black Confederate “Soldiers” is that Confederate law did not allow the enlistment of Negroes. “The law didn’t allow it so it didn’t happen.” With that, they don’t look further. Did Silas serve his master, or the Confederacy? That cannot be said without being researched. And, at least from what I saw on PBS, it has not been researched. Did the Chandlers unit have any reunions after the war? Did Silas participate if there were? This was not even considered. There are complaints about the UDC decorating Silas’ grave with CS emblems. Why? The UDC does not go around decorating graves at random. By what record were they attracted to Silas’ grave? Nobody bothered to ask. What about published and unpublished papers, manuscripts or unit histories concerning Chandlers outfits? Nope. Nobody bothered to look. How about any references of the Official Records of the Great Rebellion? This is one record often over looked by those who want to say Blacks did not fight for the CSA. I guess because it was compiled by the victors and contains all the records they could find published during the war and, that it includes many references to Blacks in Confederate uniform, under arms, and using those arms against Union forces? FACTS would be horribly inconvenient to those trying to perpetuate a different IMAGE. Example: “I advanced with these two regiments… under a severe fire of shell, grape, and canister. I encountered their skirmishers when near the farther edge of the wood. Allow me to state that the skirmishers of the enemy were Negroes. (Report of Col. Peter H. Allabach, 131st Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, in Official Records, Volume XXV, in Two Parts, 1889, Chap. 37, Part I – Reports, p. 555″
    Another:” … the enemy, and especially their armed Negroes, did dare to rise and fire, and did serious execution upon our men…. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, D. STUART,(Report of Brig. Gen. David Stuart, U. S. Army, commanding Fourth Brigade and Second Division, of operations December 26, 1862 – January 3, 1863, in Official Records, Volume XVII, in Two Parts. 1886/1887, Chap. 29, Part I – Reports, pp. 635-636, emphasis added)
    And yet another… “… quite a number of Negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day. (Lieutenant Colonel Parkhurst’s Report, Ninth Michigan Infantry, on General Forrest’s Attack at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, July 13, 1862, in Official Records, Series 1, Volume XVI, Part 1, p. 805)”
    There are many more such to be found. And yet, we are still told that Blacks weren’t soldiers and they didn’t fight.” This does not speak at all well for people who are considered “scholars” whose one sided political opinions we are supposed to accept as true? They obviously are merely political promoters, not historians.
    One more thing. I was a cook in the Army. Does that mean I wasn’t a soldier?
    What about the Negro drivers (teamsters of the “Redball Express” in WWII and Korea? The engineers of those times? Not Soldiers?!
    One last item. We are told Silas could not have been a soldier because he filed for a pension as a “slave or servant.” Unless I’m mistaken, that was likely the only option he had for claiming a pension as a man of colour?!
    I’ve made my point. Now I’m sure I’ll be vilified. Well, have at it.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 13, 2011

      Did the Chandlers unit have any reunions after the war? Did Silas participate if there were? This was not even considered.

      There is no evidence that Silas participated in veterans reunions and even if he did that would not imply that he was a soldier. There are plenty of accounts in Confederate Veteran magazine of former servants attending reunions, but you will not find them referred to as slaves.

      There are complaints about the UDC decorating Silas’ grave with CS emblems. Why? The UDC does not go around decorating graves at random. By what record were they attracted to Silas’ grave? Nobody bothered to ask.

      Why don’t you ask the SCV and UDC? I’ve done my research.

      Nobody bothered to look. How about any references of the Official Records of the Great Rebellion?

      I looked, but you are welcome to follow up.

      I was a cook in the Army. Does that mean I wasn’t a soldier?

      First, thank you for your service. If you were enlisted through official channels than you served as a soldier.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • D. W. Feb 23, 2012

    My dear father grew up in West Point, and despite his family’s racist point of view, Daddy from childhood did not believe in racism. As a young child he had a lady schoolteacher, who taught the schoolchildren in his class that blacks and whites were equal and that treating black people badly was immoral. My father believed her teaching, as did many of the receptive children, her persuasiveness was so strong. Eventually the children went home with these new ideas. My father said that his schoolteacher’s house was set on fire with her in it, and that she made it out by holding her breath as she ran through the fire. She died after nine days of agony in the hospital. Daddy said he and some of the other children kept vigil for her by the rail road tracks, knowing she suffered and why. It was believed and circulated on town that offended racist set her house on fire to murder het for her teaching the children right from wrong. Daddy said he was very young, but that he felt this very deeply and it permanently fixed it on his mind that she was right and had been martyred heroically for being a just person. He never forgot this and was made to go to a lynching by family members and others to make him watch and to make him change his views. I think he was under seven. When he would not turn racist, he was abused horribly, physically and in every way. He taught us, his children, not to be racist. I grew up in the South of the 60′s and 70′s. My mother had been brought up very well in NC. Her father taught her when she was little that black People were equal to whites, and that black children were her brothers and sisters. Her father also worked in support of American Indians in NC in the 20′s and 30′s. I have been trying to research the horrible event that happened to my father’s teacher in MS, but am having a hard time finding records. On one research trip, I was confronted by someone in the courthouse, who demanded to know what I was looking for and why. Do you have suggestions how I could research to get facts?

  • Billie Sep 14, 2012

    I have just read the article on your experiences as a descendant of Silas Chandler. I deeply regret that your memories are fraught with so much pain. I accept that your experiences are valid for you. But, I regret that you do not have the memories that I have of the relationship between the Chandler families. Andrew Martin Chandler was my great grandfather. My grandmother, Mary Ivy Chandler Dodenhoff, gave me her great love and respect for Silas Chandler and his descendants. I grew up believing Silas to be a hero and friend. I was taught about his family and their accomplishments. My sister has possession of a letter written from Andrew’s mother to him on the battlefield. In the letter, Mrs. Chandler says to tell Silas that George is fine and has learned to shoot a gun. Without caring, why would she send word to Silas about his son? As a very small child, I remember my mother taking my grandmother to see George W. Chandler at his home because he had been ill. He was very old, but he was an important person to my grandmother and she was concerned about him. She transferred that love for the Black Chandlers to me. Maybe she was unusual in the White Chandler family but I hope not. It is my experience, and that of my cousins, that Silas and his family are loved and respected. As far as symbols of the confederacy on Silas’ grave, they are no longer there and it is as it should be. Do not use these symbols to judge all Chandlers.

    • Myra Chandler Sampson Sep 15, 2012

      Billie,
      It is refreshing to know that you agree that the confederate symbols should not be on Silas’ grave. I am aware of the fact that none of the white Chandlers who reside in West Point attended the ceremony to place the confederate iron cross and flag on Silas” grave. However, I do question the validity of the letter that your cousin has in his possession. You stated that Andrew’s mother wrote the letter to Andrew on the battlefield to tell Silas that George was fine and had learned to shoot a gun. I must admit that my grandfather George was an excellent marksman. He often boasted that he could hit the center of the eye of a sparrow in flight. My grandfather George was born FREE on August 22, 1877 in West Point, not Palo Alto.. His birth name was NOT George, it was Ada. He changed it to George Washington when he went away to college at Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee. Silas and Lucy’s first child, William Henry was born in 1863 while Silas was away with Andrew during the war. After Andrew was wounded, Silas served Andrew’s brother BS. Chandler until the end of the war. Even William Henry would not have been old enough to shoot a gun. These events are well documented facts. If you do the math, you will see that it could not be possible. It is possible,however that your mother and grandmother did visit my grandfather because he was well loved and highly respected by everyone.

      • Billie Oct 23, 2012

        Thanks for your response to my post. Evidently, I am not remembering the details of the letter very well or have them wrong altogether. I wish there was a way for you to read it. If can get it long enough to scan it, maybe you could see it. It may make much more sense to you than it did to me. Best wishes.

        • Myra Sampson Jan 19, 2013

          Thank you for your response. I am sorry that I did not see this earlier. I would love to read the letter as I continue to do research on my ancestor.

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