Carmichael Selected as New Civil War Institute Director

Congratulations to my good friend Peter Carmichael on being selected as the new Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.  It’s safe to say that anyone with a passion for Civil War history would welcome the opportunity to teach it in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

“I am very excited about the Civil War Institute and building on this incredible legacy of Gabor Boritt,” said Carmichael. “There’s no other place like Gettysburg College to be a public intellectual and where you can bring together students, scholars and the public to study the Civil War. I have visited here numerous times, but to think about this place to live in and to teach is extraordinary. I am honored.”

As you can imagine this was a highly competitive position.  I know of a number of top-notch scholars who applied for this position and I am confident that any number of them would have done an excellent job of advancing the mission of the Institute.  Peter’s commitment to reaching out to the broader community as well as his interest in public history makes him an ideal choice for this position.  Best of all a move to Pennsylvania will hopefully translate into more visits with Peter and his wife.  I wish them both all the best as they prepare for another big move.

[Photograph from Five Forks, L to R: Keith Bohannon, Kevin Levin, Peter Carmichael]

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Looking For Silas Chandler

Update: Thanks to TF Smith for the following comment, which I decided to add to the post.  He offers some very interesting observations about this image that are worth serious consideration. Your thoughts are much appreciated.

Actually, this was obviously a posed studio portrait, and there’s probably a case to be made the weapons – or at least most of them – were props. As examples, the individual I take to be AM Chandler has two revolvers, one (possibly an 1861 model Army or Navy Colt) stuck in his belt and another (fairly small) in his left hand, plus the weird machete/gladio-like edged weapon – only the large revolver looks like anything one would go to war with in 1861.  The weapons that the individual I take to be Silas Chandler has an even weirder assortment of weaponry:  the long gun, which appears may be a shotgun, rather than a rifle; some sort of pistol (pepperbox?) stuck into his shirt; and the large knife – again, not exactly standard equipment for your typical CSA infantryman, in 1861 or any other time.  Given the studio element of the photo, the possibility that some or all the weapons are props is quite possible, which raises the question of whether the uniforms were as well. It is entirely possible the photo was, to be frank, a joke. . .

Last Sunday evening I had a wonderful talk with Ms. Myra Sampson, who is the great granddaughter of Silas Chandler.  We talked for about an hour about her family’s history and quite a bit about Silas, who as you all know is one of the most visible “black Confederates” on the Internet.  You may remember that Ms. Sampson left a very thoughtful comment on a post about the well known image of the “Chandler boys” that was recently featured on Antiques Roadshow.  Her concern about the image and the chance to learn more about her ancestor led to a private email exchange, which ultimately led to the phone conversation.

Ms. Sampson is committed to challenging the distorted history about Silas that can be found on multiple websites and more specifically by the Sons of Confederate Veterans who placed an Iron Cross on his grave marking Silas as a Confederate soldier.  Even without my communication with Ms. Sampson there is reason to doubt what has become the standard story, but based on what I’ve learned over the past few weeks it is clear to me that little of the SCV’s story holds up.  I am convinced that the best way to tackle the mythology of black Confederates is not simply by making sweeping generalizations, but by challenging individual stories head on.  That has been my approach in cases involving Weary Clyburn, John Venable, and Bill Yopp to name just a few.  Most of the accounts of black Confederate soldiers revolve around a small number of individual names, which reflects the overall weakness of the argument.  Again, Silas is one of the most visible, in large part, because of the image of him with Andrew Chandler.  One of the things that I wanted to talk with Ms. Sampson about is the possibility of writing an essay about Silas Chandler for one of the popular Civil War magazines.  I’ve already had an editor express interest in the story.  It would be an effective way of sharing a more complete history of the man as well as to demonstrate how these stories so easily evolve into myth and distortion. Over the past few years Ms. Sampson has worked hard to collect historical documents in hoping to set the record straight about her famous ancestor.  I am hoping to help her in that endeavor.

One of the things that I’ve become interested in over the past few years is how African American families remember the Civil War and other aspects of the American past.  Ms. Sampson was very gracious in sharing her own personal story with me.  Much of it broadened my understanding of black historical memory while other aspects fell into line with other interviews that I have conducted over the past few years.  I will share just a few facts that are relevant to this story.  Ms. Sampson grew up in West Point, Mississippi in the years before the Civil Rights Movement.  She attended an all-black Presbyterian High School and was taught by both black and white teachers.  Interestingly, the history textbooks used were new editions in contrast with the older editions that were used in the nearby white public schools.  The amount of attention given to black history is unknown.  While her family did not share stories about the Civil War or slavery, Ms. Sampson does remember hearing quite a bit about Silas.  These stories came directly from her grandfather, George, who was Silas’s son.  It is commendable that Ms. Sampson has not relied simply on oral stories, but has worked in local archives to provide a richer history of her great grandfather.

Silas Chandler

A short biographical sketch of Silas at the 37t Texas website offers the standard story that can be found on numerous SCV websites.  It’s not so much a history of Silas, but a history of the “Chandler Boys” and their collective experience in the Civil War. Rarely do these websites consider these men on their own terms.  A few excerpts will suffice to make this clear.

37th Texas: “Enlisting in the Palo Alto Confederates in 1861 from his home in Palo Alto, Mississippi, at age 15 Andrew Martin Chandler was mustered into Co. F of Blythe’s Mississippi Infantry, 44th Mississippi Infantry. He participated in several campaigns with his childhood playmate, friend and former slave,  17 year-old Silas Chandler.”

Silas was born a slave on January 1, 1837 in Virginia on the Chandler family homestead plantation.  Andrew Martin Chandler was born April 3 , 1844 on the homestead plantation in Clay County Mississippi.  Much of this story hinges on the false belief that Andrew and Silas were childhood playmates and left for the war as close friends.  All of the Chandlers moved to Mississippi and all bought plantations in Clay County in 1839.  At that time Silas was 2 years old.  There is no record of Silas’s parents.  It is possible that they were sold by the Chandlers before they moved to Mississippi.  Given the age difference between the two it is difficult to believe that they were childhood playmates.

37th Texas: [includes the following from a 1950 typed transcript of handwritten notes from an interview with Andrew Martin Chandler conducted in 1912] “While there, he told me of another Silas Chandler that served with him in the Army. This Silas was a former slave owned by his parents, who was papered out just before the war. Even though he was granted his freedom, he insisted on going off to war with Andrew, partially because of their friendship, and partially because since Silas was a little older, he felt that he needed to protect Andrew.”

No service record exists for Silas in the 44th Mississippi Infantry.  The Confederate Army files at the Tombigbee Regional Library in West Point show that Andrew Chandler enlisted on August 16, 1861 at the age of sixteen years and took his slave Silas with him.  The available evidence demonstrates that Silas was a slave at that time and ran messages and packages back and forth from the plantation to Andrew. The record shows Andrew participated in battles at Shiloh and Murfreesboro, Tennessee and Chickamauga, Georgia.   Again, there are no service record for Silas.  It is well documented that Silas made many trips back and forth from from Andrew in the Army to the plantation in Mississippi.  There is  absolutely no evidence that he ever fought while present with the army.

37th Texas: “Andrew gave Silas land adjoining one of the the Chandler plantations on which Silas built a church for the Black population of Palo Alto…. Andrew and Silas returned to Palo Alto, remained fast friends, lived close by each other and, in 1878, Andrew signed the papers which resulted in Silas receiving a Mississippi Confederate Veteran Pension.”

The white Chandlers claim that the family gave Silas land adjoining theirs.  Land records in the Chancery Clerk’s office in West Point indicates that Silas and Lucy (wife) purchased some land and paid off their debt prior to the due date.  Silas applied for a pension in July 1916, but there is no record that he ever received one.  There was a Silas Chandler that received a pension in 1833 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  This, of course, was for the Revolutionary War.  Given the sloppiness that can be found in many of these accounts it is likely that our Silas Chandler is being confused with this individual.  I did not discuss the construction of a church by Silas with Ms. Sampson, but we did talk a bit about his career as a carpenter following the war.  Interestingly,  Silas helped to construct a new courthouse in West Point, Mississippi after the war and during his own life Silas’s son, George, also worked on the building.  I find it ironic that a former slave and the son of a slave would end up working on what became a symbol of white supremacy during the Jim Crow Era.

37th Texas: “Andrew’s Great-grandson, Andrew Chandler Battaile, still lives in Mississippi, while Silas’ Great–grandson, Bobbie Chandler, lives the Northeast. About eight years ago, the two men reunited and restored the family relationship.”

It should come as no surprise that there is much more to the story.  This version of the story was essentially reaffirmed by the Chandler descendant who appeared on the Antiques Roadshow.  According to Ms. Sampson the story is simply not true.  While there are indeed a few white and black Chandlers who have reunited the history of family relations has been one of separation.  There has been nothing close to a family reunion.  These stories function more to satisfy our own desire for reunion and a narrative of the war that steers clear of the tough issues of race and slavery.  Silas himself was severely wounded at one point during the postwar era when he defended his family from a white vigilante group called “the Raiders.”

The Photograph

I was most interested in talking with Ms. Sampson about her thoughts concerning the photograph of Silas and Andrew Chandler.  Ms. Sampson shared that she owned a German Shepherd dog, which I thought was a strange thing to share until she added that posture is very important when handling this particular breed.  It should come as no surprise that a firm posture is essential to reinforcing the authority of the owner over the dog.  Looking at the image of Silas and Andrew I understand exactly what she means.  I never noticed it before, but Silas is clearly hunched over; remember he is seven years older than Andrew.  The image is not one of two childhood friends going off to war, but of a slave whose future now hinges on the boy next to him.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with Myra Sampson and the rest of the family in helping them to share the rich history of their ancestor with the rest of the Civil War community.  Silas Chandler along with the countless other slaves and black workers who spent time in the Confederate army deserve to have their stories told.  They deserve to be understood on their own terms rather than as pawns in the agendas of organizations who are committed to distorting the past for their own selfish purposes.

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Did Lynchburg Not Have a Slave and Free Black Population?

Looks like the folks at Historic Sandusky in Lynchburg, Virginia have produced a quality film on the battle of Lynchburg.  It is scheduled to premier in May, but they have released a two-minute trailer, which you can view here.  Like I said, I was impressed with the quality, but I was struck by the failure to include one black face in the trailer.  Hunter’s Raid had profound implications for the area’s slave population, including Lynchburg.  In 1860 the free black population of the city was around 3,000 and included a few hundred free blacks.  [I highly recommend the book, Free Blacks of Lynchburg, 1805-1865 by Ted Delaney and Phillip W. Rhodes.]

Perhaps the film does include a dramatization of what Hunter’s Raid meant to the black population, but to not include anything in the trailer may leave the impression that the film is only being marketed to one segment of the population.  Look very closely, however, and you will see a “black Confederate” soldier at the 1:27 mark.  I do like the burning homes and the Union soldier with the torch in hand at the very end..

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Editorial Responsibility

Thought I would share a few comments that I left on the last post surrounding the exchange in Reviews In American History between Professors McDaniel and Stauffer.  First, I am in no way attempting to alleviate Stauffer of his having to take responsibility for his outrageous charge of homophobia.  Stauffer must now take ownership of what is a well-documented pattern of behavior when it comes to working out professional differences with fellow historians.

That said, I have to wonder whether the editors at RiAH dropped the ball on this one.  Why didn’t they approach Stauffer about his response to McDaniel?  Did they approach Stauffer about it?  Both the charge of homophobia made against McDaniel and the commentary regarding the website page on how to manage large reading loads have absolutely nothing at all to do with the substance of his critical review.  It’s just the kind of review that I assume the editors at the journal are looking for.  I would love to know why they believed it was appropriate to print Stauffer’s review in its entirety.  As I pointed out in a comment, isn’t there a danger of the journal losing the opportunity to work with certain historians who might now justifiably be worried about being treated in a similar manner?  This whole incident could have been so easily avoided.

What do you think?

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John Stauffer Strikes Again

I have written over 75 book reviews in the last ten years that have appeared in both popular magazines and academic journals.  Anyone who has bridged both arenas knows that the focus, length, and style differ depending on the audience.  When I write for a popular magazine I lean more toward sharing the overall narrative and a bit of critical assessment if time permits.  Writing for a journal, however, demands much more of an analytical edge.  Readers are looking for analysis and assessment of the author’s thesis as well as an understanding of how the book fits into the broader historiography.  The former can be fun while the latter can at times be daunting.  Regardless of publication I’ve never felt a need to attack an author on a personal level since it has nothing to do with the content contained in the book.  Most of you out there will no doubt agree with this.

With that you can imagine my surprise and disappointment as I made my way through a section of the latest issue of Reviews in American History.  I do not subscribe to this journal and I thank one of my readers for passing it along.  The journal allows reviewers the opportunity to write extensive critiques of books that include responses by the authors themselves.  They can be very informative and incredibly entertaining as both reviewer and author do their best to defend their respective turf.  The most recent issue [March 2010] includes two reviews of John Stauffer’s book Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln (2008), one by John Ernest and the other by W. Caleb McDaniel.  [I should point out that I have not read Giants, but I have read most of his previous study, The Black Hearts of Men.]

First, a bit of background.  Many of you will remember the inappropriate accusations leveled on this site at Prof. Vikki Bynum by Prof. Stauffer as a result of her critique of his new book on the State of Jones.  Prof. McDaniel teaches at Rice University and is the former blogger at Mode For Caleb, which is in my mind still one of the best written history blogs.

McDaniel’s review of Giants is thorough and at times highly critical.  He challenges specific claims made by Stauffer as well as his analysis that assumes a close relationship framed around friendship and an understanding of the two as “self made men.”  McDaniel also offers commentary on the structure of the book and points to sections that seem irrelevant to the broader argument:

Some chapters also veer into subjects whose relevance to the main narrative is unclear. In a lengthy excursus on Lincoln’s relationship with Joshua Speed, who is introduced as “the love of his life,” Stauffer defends C. A. Tripp’s controversial thesis that Lincoln and Speed, who shared a bed as young men, were more than platonic friends (p. 108). Those unconvinced by Tripp will probably find little here to change their minds. More importantly, Stauffer leaves unclear this section’s connection to his main argument about the “parallel lives” of Lincoln and Douglass, except for the sotto voce implication that both men endured marriages strained by love for another—in Lincoln’s case, Speed, and in Douglass’s case, Ottilie Assling and Julia Griffiths. (p. 171)

While the review is highly critical there is nothing inappropriate about this review, which I encourage you to read for yourself.  Unfortunately, Stauffer’s response to McDaniel is anything but professional.  Consider his response to the above passage:

Of course, he also hates my “lengthy excursus on Lincoln’s relationship with Joshua Speed.” My main points in the six pages I devote to the subject are that Speed helped “civilize” Lincoln, contributing to his self-making; and that in light of what we know about romantic friendship at the time, coupled with the facts surrounding Speed’s and Lincoln’s friendship, there is no reason to suppose they weren’t physically intimate at some point during their four years of sleeping together in the same small bed, long after Lincoln could afford a bed of his own. To ignore this, as Mcdaniel wants to do, is to pretend that same-sex carnal relationships were abnormal. It thus presumes a dislike or fear about such relationships, reflecting a presentist and homophobic perspective. (p. 180)

Now, as far as I am concerned there is nothing inappropriate about Stauffer’s response up until that last sentence.  It is unfortunate that the editors at Reviews didn’t point this out to Stauffer as problematic.  It undercuts his entire argument because it colors the response as defensive.  Where is the professionalism?  But wait, it gets even better.  Stauffer concludes his response by referencing a webpage that McDaniel created to help his students manage the immense amount of reading that they must complete.  I find it hard to believe that Stauffer didn’t understand how this was being used:

Perhaps one reason for Mcdaniel’s animosity toward GIANTS stems from our different approaches to reading history. Mcdaniel calls for “active skimming,” as he says in his essay, “How to read for History.” do not read in a linear fashion, he tells students. Instead, jump directly from the intro to the conclusion, then from the first to last page of each chapter. “Don’t read every paragraph line by line” and “do not get hung up on things you do not under- stand.” In the second go-round, “decide which sections of the book are most important to read” in the traditional mode. The goal is simply to understand the author’s argument, ignoring the niceties of form, style, figures of speech, ambiguities, and things suggested or evoked. I confess that I was taught to read linearly, from beginning to end. and I still do! I love surprises and ambiguities and consider form and content, manner and matter, virtually inseparable. To me, the idea of jumping from opening to ending seems almost sacrilegious, destroying the subtleties and nuances of the narrative. Had I written GIANTS with Mcdaniel’s “history reader” in mind, I would have modeled it on a prosecutor’s brief or how-to guide, with lots of bullet points and bold-faced type. fortunately, most people read in the old-fashioned way, if the book’s sales, reviews, and awards are any indication. They like to look for “the stories hinted at between the lines,” to use ernest’s felicitous phrase. (p. 180)

It is unfortunate that McDaniel had to devote time to dealing with personal attacks rather than a more refined and professional response:

In reply, however, Stauffer draws several generalizations about me. He attributes my analysis to animosity and intolerance of ambiguity, suggests I was not taught how to read properly, and groundlessly insinuates that homophobic assumptions clouded my judgment. I cannot respond to all these charges here, nor is this the place to do so. The most personal charges are only answerable by my life and by those who best know me and my work….

Stauffer concludes by speculating that an unrelated teaching tool he found on my website explains how I read books for a scholarly review. I wrote “How to read for History” to help undergraduates read effectively for a semester-long history course, and notwithstanding Stauffer’s highly selective excerpts, the essay encourages students to read books carefully, more than once, constantly adjusting their judgments as they reread. I, too, gave Giants a careful reading, and I encourage interested readers to judge the book for themselves. (pp. 181-82)

I sense a pattern here.

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