Available from University Press of Kentucky, 06/12
Earlier this week I learned that my forthcoming book on the Crater is now available at Amazon. Get it while it’s almost hot!
The Battle of the Crater is known as one of the Civil War’s bloodiest struggles—a Union loss with combined casualties of 5,000, many of whom were members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) under Union Brigadier General Edward Ferrero. The battle was a violent clash of forces as Confederate soldiers fought for the first time against African American soldiers. After the Union lost the battle, these black soldiers were captured and subject both to extensive abuse and the threat of being returned to slavery in the South. Yet, despite their heroism and sacrifice, these men are often overlooked in public memory of the war.
In Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War is Murder, Kevin M. Levin addresses the shared recollection of a battle that epitomizes the way Americans have chosen to remember, or in many cases forget, the presence of the USCT. The volume analyzes how the racial component of the war’s history was portrayed at various points during the 140 years following its conclusion, illuminating the social changes and challenges experienced by the nation as a whole. Remembering The Battle of the Crater gives the members of the USCT a newfound voice in history.
“Levin offers something new and valuable in this book. His approach of unpacking the complex telling and forgetting of the events surrounding one battle allows him a focus and specificity that even many very good treatments of historical memory often lack. Remembering the Battle of the Crater stands to make a real and lasting contribution to the field of Civil War memory studies.”–
Anne Marshall, author of Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State
Impressed Slaves Working on Confederate Earthworks
At the beginning of Tuesday night’s History Detectives episode Wes Cowan offered the following assessment of his Antiques Road Show appraisal of the now famous tintype of Silas and Andrew Chandler:
Guys, I can’t tell you how exciting this is for me. After the Roadshow episode aired there were a lot of questions that were raised about the story. Viewers wrote in droves to question whether the African American in the picture was a slave or a free man and whether so-called black Confederates were a myth. It’s a story and a debate that I also find fascinating.
I was one of those viewers, but I chose to speak out on this blog. Of course, I had been writing about Silas and the broader mythology of black Confederate soldiers for some time, but this particular episode probably did more to push me over the edge than anything else. Here was a chance on national television to debunk many of the wild claims made about the role of African Americans in the Confederacy and essentially a family’s story was allowed to pass as history.
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Battle of Chickamauga (Sept. 1863)
Thanks to Andy Hall for passing along the following items from Confederate Veteran. The first is Andrew M. Chandler’s obituary from the July 1920 issue. It includes a reference to his severe wounding at Chickamauga, but there is no reference to Silas. Let’s just be clear about the nature of the story, which sits at the center of the mythology that surrounds these two. Here is the standard Internet account:
During the fighting at Chickamauga, Andrew Chandler suffered a great wound to the leg which the surgeons were ready to amputate off. But Silas pulled out a gold coin that the boys were saving to buy some whiskey. Bribing the doctors to let Chandler go, he then carried the injured boy on his back to the nearest train. They rode all the way to Atlanta in a box car. Once there, the hospital doctors saved the boy’s leg and life.
Remember, Silas and Andrew supposedly remained life long friends. I should point out that I have little doubt that Silas escorted Andrew home following his wounding and he may have saved his life. What we don’t have, however, is any evidence to support the specifics of this account. But if it were true one would expect some acknowledgment from Andrew. Well, perhaps not in an obituary that was likely written by a family member. What about an account written by Andrew himself about his experience at Chickamauga for Confederate Veteran? Keep in mind that this publication is littered with references to loyal former body servants/slaves, who rescued and saved their masters on the field of battle. To be fair, Andrew doesn’t mention his wounding at all; rather, he uses the opportunity to share the experience of battle.
This is a story that has been passed down between the families, but there is no evidence to support the specifics of the account. Family stories can be incredibly valuable in the search for historical truth, but they can just as easily hinder that process. I will leave you with the words of Chandler Battaile, great-great-grandson of Andrew M. Chandler, which helped to close out the History Detectives investigation.
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.
Andrew and Silas Chandler
Let me be perfectly clear that despite some problems I had with the final section of last night’s History Detectives episode about Silas and Andrew Chandler I am pleased with the overall production. Wes Cowan and the rest of the HD staff put to rest the question of whether Silas was a slave or a soldier and, with the help of Professor Mary Frances Berry, put to rest the controversy surrounding the recruitment of slaves as soldiers in the Confederate army. The points were clearly articulated and they were based on the best scholarship and a close reading of the relevant archival sources. As I’ve already stated, the show will not convince the diehard black Confederate myth makers nor should anyone criticize it because of this fact. The show was never meant for folks whose understanding of the past is based more on faith than critical thought and honest investigation.
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Andrew Chandler Battaile and Bobbie Chandler
Once the producers of History Detectives committed themselves to exploring the story behind the tintype of Andrew and Silas Chandler through the respective memories of both sides of the family they embraced a narrative of reconciliation. At some point they had to bring both sides of the family together through a common bond that implied some sort of friendship or mutual respect. That comes out in their rather vague explanation of a plot of land that the white Chandlers sold to a black congregation. Yes, they put to rest the ridiculous claims about Silas serving as a soldier in the Confederate army, which as I suggested last night we already knew, but they completely went off the deep end once the show emerged from the Civil War. In fact, it’s not a stretch to suggest that HD offered a distorted picture of Reconstruction. What do I mean?
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