PBS's History Detectives
Let me begin by saying that I couldn’t be more pleased that History Detectives decided to follow up on the story behind the tintype of Silas and Andrew Chandler. No, this episode is not going to convince the diehards, who smell a conspiracy behind anything that fails to conform to their narrow and overly simplistic view of the Civil War era. The real benefit of the show will be for those people who have a genuine interest in better understanding how the war affected the master-slave relationship as well as how the Confederate government utilized slave labor.
In the end, however, we certainly didn’t learn much. What many of us already knew about the legal status of Silas Chandler is based on a close reading of the best scholarship on the subject of slavery and the Confederacy as well as a simple search through the archival record. Wes Cowan didn’t pull a rabbit out of a hat; he did what any undergraduate would do in a seminar on basic research methods. So, what did we learn?
- Silas was a slave.
- Silas was not freed before the war.
- The Confederate government did not recruit slaves as soldiers until the very end of the war.
I still have no idea what the postwar sale of land by the Chandler family to the congregation of ex-slaves tells us about the relationship between the two families. As far as I can tell the white Chandlers probably earned some much needed cash from the sale of land during what must have been tough economic times. To say that there is a “kernel of truth” to the close relationship between the two is stretching it.
Stay tuned for my co-authored essay with Myra Chandler Sampson on Silas and Andrew Chandler, which will appear in an upcoming issue of Civil War Times. The article will hopefully fill in some of the detail that HD left out.