My talk last night in Roanoke on Silas Chandler and black Confederates went very well. Of course, I heard that a phone call had notified organizers that a protest was likely, but it never materialized. In fact, the audience was attentive and they asked some excellent questions during the Q&A. It’s easy to exaggerate the significance of that small, but vocal group of partisans who clearly have an emotional stake in this “debate” rather than an intellectual or scholarly interest in this subject. Last night reminded me that there is a general public that is curious about this subject, but doesn’t quite know what to make of it. Many in the audience had heard about the Virginia textbook scandal from last year. What I love about this topic is that it gives me the opportunity to educate the general public about a widely misunderstood topic as well as the dangers of doing research Online.
By focusing on Silas Chandler I am able to steer clear of the numbers game and address more important aspects of the discussion, including the problem of utilizing Internet sources. Most importantly, by poking holes in the standard account of Silas, which pervades the Web, I can demonstrate what is wrong with the state of this discussion in its entirety. Silas really is the poster boy of this subject.
- There is no evidence that Silas and Andrew Chandler were childhood friends.
- They were not close in age.
- We do not have one single piece of evidence for how Silas understood the war.
- We do not know why Silas brought his young master home following his wounding at Chickamauga.
- There is no evidence that Andrew provided Silas with a piece of land following the war.
- There is no evidence to suggest that Andrew and Silas remained life-long friends following the war.
- There is no evidence to suggest that Andrew assisted Silas in procuring a pension (slave pension).
The story is a wonderful example of the desire on the part of some to read back into a past a story that we need to be true rather than a story that is supported by evidence. I have little doubt that this topic will continue to gain traction through the sesquicentennial and I have every intention of speaking out on it at every opportunity. The phone calls for interviews keep coming at a healthy clip and I plan to have a book finished by early next year.
Thanks to George Kegley for the invitation to speak. I also enjoyed having the opportunity to talk with Jeanne Bollendorf, who is the Executive Director of the Historical Society of Western Virginia. She is also the director of the local sesquicentennial committee and they appear to be actively engaged in organizing events for the local community. They are the only museum in the state that will host the current Civil War exhibit at the Virginia Historical Society in its entirety. If you live in the area I highly recommend a visit to the museum. I also had a chance to talk with fellow historian, Tom Perry, who graciously donated one of his books that is relevant to my current research – a real nice guy.
Finally, I don’t mind admitting that I felt just a little sad as I made my way “Up the Valley” yesterday afternoon. Yesterday was my final talk in Virginia before my move to Boston at the end of June. I am going to miss the beauty of this state, especially in the Valley. This is my home and it has been very good to me over the past ten years. On the way out last night an elderly woman, who informed me that she is a life-long resident of Roanoke, said that she was sorry to hear that I was leaving and that Virginia was losing a passionate teacher.
I had a smile on my face all the way home.