While a big chunk of my manuscript on the history and memory of camp servants/black Confederates is either completed as a rough draft or in outline form, I am still playing with the structure of the overall narrative. As it stands each chapter begins with a vignette that captures the theme of the chapter and includes its main argument. This is standard fare. The first chapter begins with Confederate General Edward Porter Alexander’s purchase of a servant in 1862 while the third chapter starts off with a detailed description of a Confederate veterans reunion that included former camp servants. As it stands, they work pretty well, but it is lacking in one important way.
Anyone who tackles this subject must confront the dearth of evidence from slaves and former slaves. This is a story that is told almost entirely from the perspective of Confederates, postwar Southern writers, and beyond. While individual chapters may dig into the master-slave relationship at war or the way in which the lives of former slaves continued to lend support to the Lost Cause narrative and Jim Crow, it can offer little in the way of detailed portraits of individual lives.
The one possible exception to this bleak picture is the life and memory of Silas Chandler, which is due largely to the famous photograph taken with his owner, Andrew Chandler. Over the years I’ve learned a great deal about Silas’s life owing to my relationship with one of his descendants, who has been a tireless advocate in correcting the many myths surrounding the relationship between Silas and Andrew.
With that in mind I decided to take a shot at writing a new outline for the book. Admittedly, it’s a very, very rough outline, but it does begin to anchor the book by including a thread that highlights how one individual’s story bridged the divide between history and memory. I am also hoping that as the outline evolves it brings, dare I say, a more personal element to the story.