I can’t think of a better example of the dramatic shift that has taken place in recent years in our understanding of slavery’s central place in our collective memory of the Civil War.
Fort Monroe offers the National Park Service a unique opportunity to think carefully about how they are going to establish a relationship with the surrounding communities, including Hampton. As I learned in my study of the Crater it has not always been easy for the National Park Service to break down barriers, specifically within the black community. I hope the NPS places this high on its list of priorities when it begins the process of staffing the facility. The best way to begin this process is to work closely with area public schools as well as Hampton University, which has a rich history of its own going back to the Civil War era. Get the kids involved from the beginning and give them a stake in how the site is interpreted.
Yesterday I had a chance to read through the final version of the Silas Chandler article for the 50th anniversary of Civil War Times magazine, which will be published in a few weeks. Other than a few minor changes we are all set. The layout looks great, which is a testament to the hard work and talent of the editorial staff. Some of the detail had to be cut owing to space, but I am confident that readers will appreciate the extent to which it compliments and builds on the recent airing of the History Detectives episode on Silas and Andrew. Included is a very helpful sidebar by Mike Musick that provides an overview of how to research this subject at the National Archives.
Of all the things that I’ve written and published over the past few years this particular article has given me the most satisfaction. It’s been a real pleasure meeting and having the opportunity to work with Myra Chandler Sampson. This article would not have been possible without the hard work she put into collecting material related to her great great grandfather. Most importantly, we had a chance to correct one of the most popular and misunderstood stories from the Civil War era. You can’t beat that. Thanks again to Dana Shoaf and the rest of the staff at CWT for all their support.
Among the images that Civil War Timesmagazine has chosen to use for my co-authored article with Myra Chandler Sampson about Andrew and Silas Chandler includes the well-known t-shirt by Dixie Outfitters. We wanted to use something that reflects the story’s popularity as well as the mythology that surrounds the two. This one has got it all from the claim that Silas was a soldier to the assumption that they remained life long friends. There is absolutely no evidence for such a claim. Luckily, I own the shirt after one of my students purchased it for me as a gag gift and was able to make it available to the magazine’s editors.
I must assume that the shirt will be pulled by the company given what we now know about Silas’s legal status during the war as well as crucial elements of the broader story. Why am I confident that this will be done? Well, Dixie Outfitters claims on its website to be committed to the “truth of the War for Southern Independence.” We shall see.
Just wrapped up another productive week at the Massachusetts Historical Society with collections related to the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. There is something to researching real black Civil War soldiers as opposed to deconstructing silly claims about fictitious black Confederate soldiers. The MHS has an impressive collection of correspondence among the unit’s officers. In addition, I now have access to a number of black newspapers through a deal with Accessible Archives. They include a large number of letters written by enlisted men and officers from black regiments, including the 55th. I still haven’t decided what I plan on doing with this research beyond writing a couple of articles. There is definitely a book in all of this, but we will have to see if I am the one who will write it.
I am coming to you from a cafe in downtown Boston as I make my way over to the North End for dinner. Rather than take the train I decided to walk it, which was really just an excuse to spend some time at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial. This was the first time I noticed that the line of men extends behind Shaw’s horse, which you can see in this photo.
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"Levin is both superb scholar and public historian, showing us a piece of the real war that does now get into the books, as well as into site interpretation.” –David W. Blight, Yale University