A Fitting Conclusion to the Silas Chandler Story

Andrew and Silas Chandler

Andrew and Silas Chandler

[Hat-tip to Andy Hall]

As many of you know, over the past few years I’ve maintained a sharp interest in the story of Silas Chandler. The famous image of Silas seated next to his owner, Andrew Chandler, remains one of the most iconic images of our Civil War. Around it revolved a divisive and often confused debate about race relations in the Confederacy and the existence of black Confederate soldiers. The original tintype remained in the hands of Andrew Chandler Battaile Jr., a descendant of Andrew’s. While there is no doubt that Mr. Battaile cared deeply about preserving the original artifact there can also be no doubt that he did not fully understand the story represented in the image. Yesterday he donated the tintype to the Library of Congress.

The narrative of a loyal slave (if not Confederate soldier) was embraced by Mr. Battaile’s family and encouraged by Confederate heritage groups like the SCV and others. Thankfully, that story has been displaced by a more complex narrative, that while still contains many unknowns, at least has moved beyond the distortions of the past. You can watch the episode of History Detectives devoted to the story in addition to Ron Coddington’s essay at the Disunion blog as well as the essay that I co-wrote with Myra Chandler Sampson for Civil War Times magazine.

Thanks to Mr. Battaile for helping to ensure that the history and memory of Silas and Andrew Chandler will be properly preserved and interpreted for future generations.

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

10 comments… add one

  • M.D. Blough Aug 16, 2014

    That is the best possible news, Kevin. Thank you. Myra Chandler Sampson must be very satisfied.

  • Myra Sampson Aug 16, 2014

    Very appropriate. Thank you.

  • Will Hickox Aug 16, 2014

    A Facebook commentator sums it up: “The image should be admired on its own merits. Enough with the pro-Southern crap.” Aside from changing pro-Southern to pro-Confederate, I couldn’t say it better.

  • Roy Gates Aug 17, 2014

    Good job of investigation and explanation.

  • Paul Reber Aug 21, 2014

    Kevin, I am prompted to write a response to this post because I believe you have done a disservice to Chandler Battaile by stating that he did not “fully understand” the story of this important image. Since I know Chandler well, I can assure you that he fully aware of the significance and meaning of the object. Your fellow blogger, Andy Hall, said as much in his post about this image. Chandler’s decision to relinquish ownership of this important piece of his family’s history is a testament to his commitment to assuring this image and its story is preserved and accessible.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 21, 2014

      Hi Paul,

      Nice to hear from you and thanks for the comment. Before the History Detectives episode on the tinype Mr. Battaile was under the impression that Silas voluntarily went off to war with Andrew, that his side of the family donated land to Silas and that the two families remained friends after the war. That interpretation is problematic on a number of levels. I assume Mr. Battaile has since then revised some of these beliefs in light of the research that was provided in the episode as well as other publications.

      That said, I have no doubt that Mr. Battaile understands the significance of the artifact and I applaud him for handing it over to the LOC for the benefit of future generations.

    • Andy Hall Aug 21, 2014

      I believe you have done a disservice to Chandler Battaile by stating that he did not “fully understand” the story of this important image. Since I know Chandler well, I can assure you that he fully aware of the significance and meaning of the object. Your fellow blogger, Andy Hall, said as much in his post about this image.

      Yes, I did write that I believed Chandler Battaile did not originally understand the full story behind the photo. I still think that’s true. Having watched both the Antiques Roadshow and History Detectives episodes, I think that’s an accurate description.

      But I also wrote that it’s very much to his credit that Mr. Battaile’s understanding shifted, and he was willing to look at the historical evidence that challenged his previous understanding. A lot of people won’t (or can’t) do that, and it’s entirely laudable that he did. Recall what he said in the latter show:

      I think it’s interesting to understand the place of stories in family histories. Obviously, the story that we’ve shared is one that is very comfortable, and comforting to believe. But without documentary evidence, it is a story. Our families’ histories have been, and will always be, deeply intertwined and evolving with the times.

      This is an absolutely wonderful, succinct explanation of why we always have to be willing to look at the evidence of the past with fresh eyes, and to question things we’ve always assumed were true. Chandler Battaile’s approach to this process is exactly right, and he sets a first-rate example for others to follow.

      His willingness to transfer the image to the LoC is, in my view, further evidence of his desire to share his family’s history with the nations. Kudos to him for being willing to do that.

  • Andrew Dodenhoff Sep 3, 2014

    Ms. Sampson’s main thesis is that the Chandler family story is wrong because Silas could not have been given his manumission papers because Mississippi passed a law forbidding such an act. However, she claims that Silas earned every penny to buy his freedom. Can’t have it both ways. He was freed like all other slaves in the Confederate states by the Emancipation Proclamation.

    Her other claim, which is correct that Silas was not 17 when he went off with Andrew Martin is not is dispute, He was several years older. He had a spouse and a child. Very good reasons for him to not run away as he traveled back and forth from the battle field and Palo Alto to bring supplies to Andrew. Many politically correct and history revisionists, refuse to accept that the slaves were “faithful” and or “devoted” to their masters. Sorry, but that is the least offensive term I can think of.

    In the Chandler family we hold the greatest respect for Silas Chandler’s devotion and faithfulness to Andrew Martin Chandler and the fact that he was instrumental in saving him after he received a grievous would in the leg. My father told me his grandfather had a very serious limp the rest of his life. If it had not been for Silas, AM Chandler may have had a peg leg and been on crutches.

    The fact that his name is on the cornerstone of a church in West Point doesn’t not disprove that he was given a piece of land across from the Chandler Plantation/Farm in Palo Alto. There is a Missionary Church existing to this day across the highway from the Chandler Family Cemetery.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 3, 2014

      Thanks for the comment.

      I would suggest that you read the article about Silas and Andrew that I co-wrote with Ms. Sampson. My guess is that she would point you to that as reflecting what she believes.

      If you have evidence for what Silas thought of Andrew and his experience away from home during the war I would love to see it. Other than that I am not really interested in what you assume about Silas and/or the nature of his relationship with Andrew.

      • We should all be happy. We all got what we wanted. My goal was to remove the confederate flag and iron cross from my great grandfather’s grave as well as for the truth to be known. I got more when I learned that the tintype had been donated to the Library of Congress. The descendants of Andrew got what they always wanted, $$$ for the sale of the tintype. You should be happy that we are not the descendants of Aunt Jamima who are suing Quaker Oats for a billion dollars for using her image. After all it is the image of my great grandfather, Silas Chandler which makes this tintype valuable. Thank you Mr. Liljenquist for donating the tintype to the Library of Congress. The ending would have been much sweeter if Andrew Battaile had such integrity.

Leave a Comment