Descendants of Silas Chandler Speak Out (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I shared an email I received from a descendant of Silas Chandler, who is one of the most popular “black Confederates.”  I’ve been in contact with two descendants and am planning a telephone conversation, which I hope will lead to an announcement of some ideas I have to help bring a more complete story of this individual to the general public.  Yesterday I received an email from yet another descendant:

I am a direct descendent of Silas Chandler from California. Over the years, I have heard many versions of Silas’ story, from family, on the web, and from Confederate historical societies. Thank you to Ms. Sampson for shedding some light on the subject from a reliable, direct source.

I remember when my great, great, great grandfather Silas was awarded the Iron Cross posthumously, and some members of my family attended the ceremony. While I’ve always had mixed feelings about it, it has ultimately become [a] source of pride for me, not offense. I may never be exactly sure how it went down, but I know that I have Silas to thank for my freedom. Believe me, I have no love fort he Confederacy or its symbols… I’m just also no big fan of the Yankees, and have no illusions about why the Civil War was fought.

I also know that some of the greatest men in history end up being “honored” by their enemies. This would not be the first time that history has been rewritten to make folks look more sympathetic or benevolent (see the movie “Glory” and the mounds of misinformation that it contains).

Anyone that thinks that Silas joined the Confederate army out of some “love” for his master is naive at best, and stupid/racist at worst. That being said, there were many slaves that were dragged into the field to fight against their own self-interest. This happened in the Civil War, and in the Wars for centuries and millennia before.

Honestly, I just hope this discussion unearths as much truth as possible. Thank you again to the Chandler family for helping to set the record straight. I look forward to learning more

Andrew Foster Williams
Oakland, CA

I am featuring this comment for a couple of reasons.  Most importantly, it reflects a memory of the war that is much more complex than anything the Sons of Confederate Veterans or United Daughters of the Confederacy would have you believe about the legacy of the Civil War within the African-American community.  Both organizations reduce their narratives down to loyalty to master and cause and they do this by commemorating slaves as soldiers.  Their preferred narrative has nothing to do with understanding the story of black men in the army or helping families uncover their histories; rather, it is an attempt to dissociate the Confederate war effort from slavery as well as the Lost Cause myth that slavery was benign.  Unfortunately, both organizations have been successful in convincing black families to take part.

What I appreciate about Mr. Williams’s response is the extent to which his narrative fails to support or vindicate either a Lost Cause or Emancipationist view of the war.  It sits uncomfortably in the middle.  On the one hand Mr. Williams has little patience for stories of a loyal Silas Chandler, but he is also suspicious of the assumptions that reduce the United States to the moral cause of emancipation.

Mr. Williams’s comment may also tell us something about why African Americans have been absent from public commemorations of the Civil War and why they may stay away during the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  After all, much of our public remembrance and memory of the war is wrapped up in neat dichotomies of North v. South and Union v. Confederate.  Where does Mr. Williams’s memory of the war fit into all of this?  It’s not wonder that many African Americans are suspicious of Civil War Memory.

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The War Between East and West

[Hat-tip to David Woodbury]

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2 (Part 2) – The Forgotten Civil War
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Use “War Between the States”

Today I received a letter for an essay contest sponsored by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy here in Charlottesville.  I have to say that I got a kick out of it.  The contest offers students in three different grade levels the opportunity to compete for a prize of $50.  Students in grades 4-6 must write a 1,000 word essay on Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury; students in grades 7-9 will write about the life of Judah P. Benjamin; and high school students in grades 10-12 get to explore the important contributions of Stand Waite.  Your guess is as good as mine as to why Stand Waite was chosen.

The guidelines are quite telling.  My favorite is the following:

Use “War Between the States” rather than “Civil War” unless quoting directly from a source.

The UDC also offers the following observation concerning sources:

The internet plays  such an important role in education today that books are no longer being used.  Please encourage students to use at least one book as a source for their information.

Guess what ladies, you can actually find books on this thing called the internet.

[Image: Mrs. Homer S. (Jane) Durden III, President General, 2008–2010]
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If I Should Teach American Exceptionalism…

do I also need to test for it as well?  In other words, do I need to test my students to ensure that they leave my class understanding that the United States is an exceptional nation?  Would I need to fail a student who vehemently disagrees and arrives at her own conclusions? What do I do with students who arrive at opposing ideas of what is exceptional about American history?  Do I need to continue?

The more I listen to members of the Texas Board and other proponents of this nutty view the more disgusted I become.  Do we really think so little of our students to believe that they need to be told what to think?  What exactly is the point of education if we don’t even trust them to think through difficult questions about their own history?  Perhaps I am missing something fundamental, but the thought that as a teacher I should intentionally work to steer my students to believe a set agenda is morally repugnant to me.  This is called indoctrination, not education.

Honestly, I don’t care at all what my students believe about the broad sweep of American history.  I am as indifferent to a student who believes that the United States is the greatest nation in the history of the world as I am with a student who believes the exact opposite.  What I care about is whether they can articulate reasons for their preferred view.  I care about whether they can utilize the tools of a historian that I do my best to teach year after year.

I can’t help but think that this agenda reflects a deep-seated insecurity on the part of those who believe that this is a history teacher’s responsibility.  It stems from an inability to accept that free thinking people can, should, and must arrive at different conclusions about complex historical questions.

That feels better. :D

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Siskel and Ebert Review Gettysburg

and for Tim Abbott:

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