Category Archives: Memory

Honoring Silas Chandler’s Memory

Grave of Silas Chandler

Next week PBS’s History Detectives will air an episode on the famous image of Andrew and Silas Chandler.  We anticipate that this episode will help to correct some of the many myths that have revolved around these two individuals.  The famous photograph of Andrew and Silas is arguably the most popular image on the Web purporting to demonstrate the existence of thousands of loyal black slaves, who served in the Confederate army.  The research and writing that I conducted with Myra Chandler Sampson shows that this was not the case.  Silas served his master as he had done for his entire life.  Our research will be published in the 50th anniversary edition of Civil War Times magazine, which should be available in December.   We hope that both the PBS show, as well as our article, will help to correct some of the misconceptions about Silas and the larger subject of the role of slaves in the Confederate war effort.

In light of both these efforts, Ms. Sampson has asked me to publish a petition demanding that the SCV and UDC discontinue the practice of placing a Confederate flag and Iron Cross in front of Silas’s gravestone.

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Civil War Remembrance 2.0

Stave Lake

Fifty years ago Americans emerged from the Civil War Centennial with a collective narrative that fit neatly into a pervasive Cold War culture.  Though slightly bloodied and bruised this narrative retained strong Lost Cause and reconciliationist themes even as the civil rights movement reminded the nation on a daily basis of the war’s “unfinished business”.  Much of this can be explained by the limited numbers of voices that were heard during the centennial years as well as the influence of relatively few historical and cultural institutions.  This lent itself to a narrative that emphasized consensus surrounding the fundamental questions of Civil War remembrance.

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The Crater You Don’t Know

Crater Battlefield (USAMHI-SC735-RG667S-VOL.8-MOLLUS)

Yesterday I finalized the selection of images that will appear in my forthcoming book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.  Readers will recognize a number of them, but many will be published for the first time.  They include images of the 1937 Crater reenactment that appeared in Richmond newspapers as well as a wonderful postwar image of the Griffith House, which housed a small collection of artifacts and at least one member of the family into the twentieth century.  William Griffith’s decision to preserve the area around the crater ensured that it would not be lost to development.

I am not exactly sure where this is on the battlefield, though I am pretty sure that these are Confederate lines adjacent to Elliott’s Salient, where the explosion took place.  There is another image of the skulls that will appear in the book, which can also be found in Earl Hess’s recent study, Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg.

The image above did not make the cut, but I wanted to share it with you because it represents such a sharp contrast with some of the more popular images of the landscape, many of which focus on the crater itself.  These early postwar images help us to imagine a lost landscape that has yet to be shaped by encroaching trees and the effects of a manicured 18-hole golf course that was in operation briefly in the 1920s.  If you look closely you will see at least one black individual.  Former slaves were a common sight on the battlefield collecting human remains for which they were paid based on  weight.