For those of you in the Boston area I will be speaking tonight at the North Worcester Civil War Round Table in Leominster. My topic is Silas Chandler and the myth of black Confederate soldiers.
Nice attempt at recreating the famous tintype of Silas and Andrew Chandler. They almost pull it off except for the fact that the individual portraying Silas isn’t slightly hunched over in a subservient position. The original image tells us quite a bit about the culture of slavery and antebellum race relations. Myra Chandler Sampson (great granddaughter of Silas) shared her thoughts about the image a while back during our first phone conversation. What follows appeared in that subsequent post.
“I was most interested in talking with Ms. Sampson about her thoughts concerning the photograph of Silas and Andrew Chandler. Ms. Sampson mentioned 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.”
Welcome to all of you looking for additional information about Silas and Andrew Chandler. I’ve been writing about the two for a few years now as part of my broader interest in how the presence of enslaved and free blacks in the Confederate army have been remembered in popular culture. What follows is everything I’ve written about these two individuals. Hopefully, the posts will give you something to think about as you await the airing of PBS’s segment on the famous tintype. Thanks for stopping by.
The vast majority of black Confederate accounts on the Internet follow a well-worn narrative. First, we are somehow to believe that servants/slaves volunteered to accompany their owners to war and in doing so solidified a bond of friendship and a commitment to the achievement of Confederate independence. Many of these postwar accounts offer rich descriptions of servants who rush onto a battlefield to rescue their wounded master or secure the dead body for the long trip home. These stories were and continue to be told by whites as a way to minimize the horrors of slavery and as a vindication of the Confederate cause. African Americans almost never come out from under the shadow of white storytellers. To put it another way, African Americans remain an extension of the white storyteller’s will or as part of his chosen memory of the past. It should come as no surprise then that many of these accounts paint a picture of peaceful relations between former master and slave following the end of the war. We see this clearly in the case of Silas and Andrew Chandler. Even Andrew Chandler Battiale, who appeared on the Antiques Road Show for an appraisal of the famous tintype suggested such a relationship: “The men grew up together; they worked the fields together, and continued to live closely throughout the rest of their lives.”
It’s really nice to be back in Virginia, even if it is just for a few days. I started the day off with a morning run along the beautiful Canal Walk and I am getting ready to check out a session on black Civil War soldiers before heading out to do some research. So far I am having a wonderful time. The ASALH is definitely less stuffy than what I’ve come to expect in a history conference. You can still pick out the academic types from a mile away, but this conference includes a wide range of participants from social workers to community activists, and clergymen. It definitely makes for a lively Q&A and for someone interested in historical memory it offers a wealth of perspective from within the African American community.
What I’ve heard thus far reinforces the obvious that there is no consensus among African Americans about how to remember the Civil War. While walking along the booths I noticed a number of copies of Lerone Bennett’s, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, but I wasn’t able to gauge the extent to which it reflects anything approaching a consensus within the African American community when I raised the issue during one session on memory and the Civil War. For a Civil War enthusiast interested in the story of African Americans you can’t do much better. There is simply way too much to take in. I am very much looking forward to my session tomorrow morning at 10am on black Confederates with Ervin Jordan, Emmanuel Dabney, and Jaime Martinez. It should be a lively discussion and I will be sure to write up a full report.