Next week PBS’s History Detectives will air an episode on the famous image of Andrew and Silas Chandler. We anticipate that this episode will help to correct some of the many myths that have revolved around these two individuals. The famous photograph of Andrew and Silas is arguably the most popular image on the Web purporting to demonstrate the existence of thousands of loyal black slaves, who served in the Confederate army. The research and writing that I conducted with Myra Chandler Sampson shows that this was not the case. Silas served his master as he had done for his entire life. Our research will be published in the 50th anniversary edition of Civil War Times magazine, which should be available in December. We hope that both the PBS show, as well as our article, will help to correct some of the misconceptions about Silas and the larger subject of the role of slaves in the Confederate war effort.
In light of both these efforts, Ms. Sampson has asked me to publish a petition demanding that the SCV and UDC discontinue the practice of placing a Confederate flag and Iron Cross in front of Silas’s gravestone.
[Hat-tip to Brett Holman]
This video has been up on YouTube for a couple of days, but for some reason I didn’t bother to listen. Thanks to Brett for passing it along. He even manages to throw in a reference to black Confederates. I think you are going to enjoy it.
Fifty years ago Americans emerged from the Civil War Centennial with a collective narrative that fit neatly into a pervasive Cold War culture. Though slightly bloodied and bruised this narrative retained strong Lost Cause and reconciliationist themes even as the civil rights movement reminded the nation on a daily basis of the war’s “unfinished business”. Much of this can be explained by the limited numbers of voices that were heard during the centennial years as well as the influence of relatively few historical and cultural institutions. This lent itself to a narrative that emphasized consensus surrounding the fundamental questions of Civil War remembrance.
While modern day Lost Cause advocates of the black Confederate myth overwhelmingly refer to these men as soldiers, their preferred narrative falls right out of a late nineteenth-century fascination with the loyal camp or body servant. As I’ve said before there are almost no references to loyal black Confederate soldiers before the 1970s. What you will find, however, are scores of Confederate Veteran magazine accounts and other works of popular literature that wax poetic about the loyal body servant, who rushed to the battlefield to tend to his master’s wounds or to escort his body home in the event of his death.
I am doing my best in the first chapter of my black Confederate book to explore the complex exchange between master and slave that ensued as a result of being away from home and loved ones and in light of the many challenges associated with camp life and battle. The difficulty is compounded simply by the fact that we have so few black voices to work with. What I find so disturbing about this and other interpretations of that relationship is that it harkens back to blatantly racist notion that slaves could not live without their masters. The loss of the master was tantamount to the loss of a limb. To put it bluntly, it’s dehumanizing.