In the Studio With Andrew and Silas Chandler

There are only a handful of images of Confederate soldiers and officers with their slaves or camp servants. The famous tintype of Andrew and Silas Chandler is the most famous, but it is also one of the most unusual images. The photograph of the two was likely taken in August 1861 right around the time Andrew enlisted as a private in the Palo Alto Guards, which became Company F of the 44th Mississippi Infantry, Army of Tennessee.

Most photographs of master and slave show the former sitting with the slave standing behind and just slightly out of focus. Andrew and Silas sit side by side. Both occupy center stage. More importantly, both men are armed. Andrew wears a typical private’s jacket and holds a pinfire pistol while a revolver is nestled in his belt. Tucked into what appears to be Silas’s Short or Shell jacket is a pepperbox, which leaves his large left hand free to grip a rifle across his lap. To complete this unusual scene, both men wield large bowie knives in their right hands.

It is likely that the weapons are studio props.

There is something quite humorous about this image. It’s not that the two men are armed, it’s that they are armed to the hilt. We would do well to remember that Andrew was only 17 years of age in 1861. Silas was about 24 years of age. Andrew must have been anxious to capture those feelings of youthful exuberance and the anticipation of martial valor for his family. One can imagine a wide-eyed Andrew as he spotted the props and quickly found a way to include as many as possible. Perhaps that is why Silas is seated. Observing the image from this perspective, it’s hard not to chuckle.

What Silas made of this scene is more difficult to discern. He has always appeared to me to be seated just slightly slouched compared to Andrew. Did he share Andrew’s excitement? Was he disinterested or perhaps even embarrassed by this faux display of martial manhood?

What do you see?

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27 comments… add one
  • London John Sep 13, 2015

    Yes, while Andrew is holding himself rigid Silas looks patient and relaxed. These are the two possible ways to pose for a long-exposure mid-19thC photograph, of course, but I think Silas looks slightly amused by the whole thing.
    At the beginning of the Civil war teenagers could believe they were going on a great adventure. It was the CW, particularly the last 2 years, that established that War is Bad. Europeans showed a similar excitement in 1914. Did Americans, with the experience of the CW behind them, have a more sober attitude in 1917?

  • MSB Sep 13, 2015

    Silas definitely looks like the grown-up of the pair. When I first saw the image (here, actually), my eye was drawn to Silas, and it took all I knew about the ACW to recognize that the skinny white kid was supposed to be the subject of a picture of “a man and his property go to war”.

  • TFSmith Sep 13, 2015

    Is it a rifle or a shotgun? None of the weapons are exactly the appropriate for an infantryman destined to face opponents with rifled small arms. One question – are there similar portraits of, say, women decked out like this? Presumably there may be some elaborate joke element to this incident.

  • Matt McKeon Sep 14, 2015

    I think these exercises are more revealing about the observer, than about the observed.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 14, 2015

      Hi Matt,

      Any exercise that involves interpreting the past reflects the values and biases of the interpreter. You do your best to interpret the available evidence as do others and hopefully through the give and take you come to some approximation of the truth.

  • Rosieo Sep 14, 2015

    Somewhere in the back of his mind, Silas wants to make the arm holding the knife move and jam the edge sure and strong across Andrew’s neck.
    But Silas knows he won’t do it.
    He won’t allow the thought of doing it more than the fleeting instant it commands when it rises unbidden in his consciousness.
    But time and many marches later when Andrew sleeps, Silas slips behind Union lines.
    ….As for Andrew, he is a victim of his time. He’ll never know what he dosen’t know.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 14, 2015

      Silas was with Andrew through his wounding at Chickamauga and then accompanied his brother until the very end of the war.

  • Rosieo Sep 14, 2015

    well…. oh.

    • Rosieo Sep 15, 2015

      Can we in 2015 appreciate the mindset of a slave in 1861? Silas maybe grew up with Andrew – didn’t kids have kid slaves? I seem to remember that they did. Silas maybe saw himself as Andrew’s caretaker and took the job seriously and with pride. He does not have the face of … he looks subservient.
      I feel sad about him. But sad for Andrew, too. Andrew is looking so young and cocky.
      Both men were taught lifestyles that are just crazy mean.
      What is your take, Kevin?

      • Rosieo Sep 15, 2015

        PS
        At least Silas got the better hat…

  • Tim Talbott Sep 14, 2015

    I’ve looked at this pictured many times before, but before looking at it closely on the Library of Congress website I never noticed before now what appears to be a military-style dark stripe on the side seam of Silas’s trousers.

  • Matt McKeon Sep 15, 2015

    We’re not interrepting the photo. We’re guessing and mindreading after 150 + years.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 15, 2015

      I admit that it is a very loose reading and it is just a blog post, but I do offer reasons. My own reading is based on a limited understanding of Andrew and Silas.

  • Matt McKeon Sep 15, 2015

    “intrepreting”

  • Marian Latimer Sep 15, 2015

    I have studied this photo off and on for several days and what jumps out at me is that Andrew looks rather olive-skinned. I guess he was just getting a lot of that Mississippi sun or perhaps it might be that as some historians/anthropologists have noted, the people of the south did not have as white a bloodline as they wanted to believe. I would have never noticed this any other time, but there you have it. That is what jumped out at me right away and that’s what stuck with me after reading your post.

  • Michael Williams Sep 18, 2015

    http://www.history-sites.com/cgi-bin/bbs62x/nvcwmb/webbbs_config.pl?page=1;md=read;id=76423

    Here’s another photo of black men in Confederate uniform.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 19, 2015

      Nice pic of four Confederate slaves/servants. Thanks.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Sep 21, 2015

    I see much more of 1861 in this image than anything else, i.e. war would be an adventure, and Andrew wasn’t going to miss it and Silas was coming along whether he wanted to or not.

    Contrast this to photos from 1864 or 1865 – no more Bowie knife pics, no more posing with multiple pistols and rifles, etc. Those late-war photos are the opposite end of the spectrum, and the adventure was long since dead.

  • H. S. Anderson Nov 6, 2015

    According to what I’ve read, in 1863 Silas saved Andrew’s wounded leg after the battlefield surgeons wanted to amputate. He took him to a hometown doctor in Mississippi who found an alternative to amputation. The impulse to protect was mutual as Andrew kept a group of soldiers from attacking Silas and stealing a shelter that Silas had built for himself. These two young men may have been master and slave, but they clearly had a bond of mutual loyalty to each other.

    People hate when they’re taught to hate. I’d like to think these two men were not taught to hate, whatever the life circumstances they experienced.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 6, 2015

      You can find all kinds of stories on the Internet.

      • H. S. Anderson Nov 6, 2015

        Is the Library of Congress website an unreliable source, in your opinion?

        • H. S. Anderson Nov 6, 2015

          Here is my source: http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/SoldierbiosChandler.html

          From an essay by Ronald S. Coddington, “He Aided His Wounded Master,” published in his book African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album (Baltimore : The Johns Hopkins University Press, [2012])

          • Kevin Levin Nov 6, 2015

            He took him to a hometown doctor in Mississippi who found an alternative to amputation.

            I know Ron Coddington and I am familiar with his research. This is not what he claims in his book. At least get his story right.

            • H. S. Anderson Nov 6, 2015

              I summed up the following paragraph from the linked article in my initial comment:

              7th paragraph: “In 1863 at Chickamauga, three of every ten men of the Forty-fourth who went into battle became casualties, including Andrew.10 Thanks to Silas, he avoided an amputation. According to one of Andrew’s grandsons, “A home town doctor prescribed less drastic measures and Mr. Chandler’s leg was saved.”

              However, you are correct that there is more to the story.

              3rd paragraph: “According to family history, surgeons decided to amputate the leg. Silas stepped in. A descendant explained: “Silas distrusted Army surgeons. Somehow he managed to hoist his master into a convenient boxcar.” They rode by rail to Atlanta, where Silas sent a request for help to Andrew’s relatives. An uncle came and brought both men home to Mississippi, where they had started out two summers earlier.”

            • Kevin Levin Nov 6, 2015

              My concern with your earlier comment is the assumptions concerning the nature of their relationship. We have no wartime evidence from Silas as to what it was like serving as Andrew’s slave during the war before traveling with his younger brother. This is a serious issue given the many unsubstantiated accounts that one can find on the Internet. Ron Coddington is careful not to delve into this quagmire. I agree with the general outline that he provides, which confirms with my own archival research.

            • H. S. Anderson Nov 6, 2015

              I understand, and thanks for clarifying. To be fair, for this particular post you did ask “what do you see?”, which invites speculation about the two men. So I speculated. 🙂

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