How Much for the Black Confederate?

[Hat-tip to Ta-Nehisi Coates]

Looks like I missed a very interestingAntiques Roadshow last night.  A descendant of Andrew Chandler brought in the original famous photograph of his great-great-grandfather and slave, Silas Chandler.  The piece was assessed between $30,000-$40,000, by the very capable, Wes Cowan of History Detectives fame.  This is one of the more popular stories floating out there in the crazy world of black Confederates.  Silas Chandler is regularly touted as one of the best examples of a black Confederate who fought for the cause.  The standard “neo-Confederate” line can be found here [warning: turn the mute button off first] and you can even buy a Chandler Brothers t-shirt from Dixie Outfitters.  The transcript of the appraisal as well as a video can be accessed here.

I was a little disappointed with Cowan’s interpretation, though I guess it could have been much worse in different hands.  Cowan should have responded immediately to the following from his guest:

The gentleman on the right is Silas Chandler, his slave, or as we’ve always called him, manservant. Andrew Chandler fought with the 44th Mississippi Cavalry, as did Silas. They’re about the same age, joined the Confederate army when Andrew was 16, Silas was 17, and they fought in four battles together.

Silas did not fight with the 44th Mississippi.  He was a slave.  And Silas did not join the Confederate army when he was 17.  He was a slave.  Cowan correctly identifies Silas as enslaved, but then goes on to ask the following: “And Silas actually received a pension from the Confederate government for his service during the war, isn’t that correct?”  No, it’s not correct.  The Confederate government did not issue pensions; rather, veterans were able to apply for pensions from the states in which they lived following the war.  However, Cowan fails to mention that while some slaves did receive pensions this did not signify status as a soldier.  The viewer is left to wonder whether Silas was indeed a soldier. I know, it’s an excusable mistake, but in this case it makes all the difference.

We need to be careful when it comes to telling these stories.  We need to be sensitive to the military records when determining service as a soldier as opposed to simply throwing words such as “service”, “fought”, “joined” around loosely as is typically the case.  More importantly, we need to be careful about imposing our assumptions about the relationships between these men.  I am happy that the descendants of these two men are now close friends, but that has absolutely nothing at all to do with understanding the master-slave relationship through Andrew and Silas Chandler.  We need to take care of our history.

125 comments

What, No Battle of the Crater Re-enactment?

Georgia Civil War Commission Chairman John Culpepper has announced which battles will be reenacted as part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  The decision was made by 75 representatives from around the country.  The major battles endorsed by the convention are 2011-Manassas (Va.) Shiloh (Tenn.); 2012-Second Manassas (Va.) Vicksburg (Miss.); 2013-Chickamauga (Ga.) Gettysburg (Pa.); 2014-The Wilderness (Va.) Atlanta; 2015-Bentonville (N.C.) Appomatox (Va.).  I have no idea who the people and organizations involved speak for.

Looks like a nice balance between Union and Confederate victories as well as the inclusion of one siege.  The only problem, as I see it, is the failure to include an engagement that will highlight the service of United States Colored Troops.  I’ve only been to a few reenactments in my life, but to be honest, they all look the same to me.  How about reenacting a battle that gets at the heart of what the Civil War was about?

1 comment

New Guest Post Series: Civil War Classics

I am pleased to announce a new series of guest posts that will be authored by graduate students who are enrolled in Professor Peter Carmichael’s Readings Course at West VirginiaUniversity.  Professor Carmichael and I have been talking about doing this for some time now.  Students are required to write a 300-500 word review of a Civil War classic and then participate in any dialogue that may follow.  The only criteria for selecting a book is that the author needs to be dead.  A few of the students have already contacted me with information about their particular titles and I suspect that the first reviews will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.  Stay tuned.

I like this idea for a number of reasons.  Most importantly, it introduces young scholars to the possibilities associated with social media.  Many of Professor Carmichael’s students hope to enter the field of Public History, which has been particularly strong in taking advantage of social media tools such as blogging and, especially, Twitter.  Organizations such as the Museum of the Confederacy, Virginia Historical Society, and Lincoln Cottage are just a few that come immediately to mind.  From my vantage point, however, it looks like History Departments have been slow to acknowledge the possibilities associated with social media tools.  The exception has been in the area of digital history.  I thoroughly enjoyed following their commentary on the state of the field at the recent AHA through Twitter [use the hashtag #AHA2010].  It goes without saying that the growth of digital history and the culture that each generation brings to the field will lead to even more dramatic changes in how History Department’s evaluate social media.

p.s. I don’t think we are going to see a review of anything by Bruce Catton.  I just liked the photo.

9 comments

The NAACP and the Confederate Flag

Thousands of Americans are expected to crowd the streets of Columbia, South Carolina today to demand the removal of the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds.  This is the 10th such rally in South Carolina.  I published this post back in 2008, but thought it might be appropriate to highlight it once again.

By now most of you are aware that the NAACP is once again pushing the state of South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds. In 2000 the flag was removed from atop the Capitol dome to a position near the Confederate Soldier Monument. First, let me say that I believe the NAACP has the right to protest a symbol that they believe to be offensive. Anyone who knows the history of that flag, especially during the era of “Massive Resistance”, must understand the perspective of African Americans. The idea that any one individual has a monopoly on the proper interpretation of such a divisive symbol is simply to fail to understand the epistemology of public symbols. I also want to say that I support the mission of the NAACP even though I do not agree with all of their programs and public positions. I say this this to preface the fact that I do not understand their decision to continue this protest in South Carolina.  [click to continue…]

5 comments

Remembering USCTs in Nashville

This is a very interesting video about a recent monument that was erected in Nashville’s National Cemetery to honor the 2,000 USCTs who are buried there.  The video includes reflections from black reenactors (including the individual who posed for the sculpture) who reflect on the importance of acknowledging the service of these men along with an interview with the sculptor.  I wonder whether the push to honor legitimate black soldiers in the United States army explains the recent ceremony in nearby Giles County, Tennessee honoring 18 “black Confederates.” You will remember that the VA denied these men markers after determining that they were slaves.

7 comments