Fort Monroe Becomes a National Monument

I can’t think of a better example of the dramatic shift that has taken place in recent years in our understanding of slavery’s central place in our collective memory of the Civil War.

Fort Monroe offers the National Park Service a unique opportunity to think carefully about how they are going to establish a relationship with the surrounding communities, including Hampton.  As I learned in my study of the Crater it has not always been easy for the National Park Service to break down barriers, specifically within the black community.  I hope the NPS places this high on its list of priorities when it begins the process of staffing the facility.  The best way to begin this process is to work closely with area public schools as well as Hampton University, which has a rich history of its own going back to the Civil War era.  Get the kids involved from the beginning and give them a stake in how the site is interpreted.

Silas Chandler in Civil War Times

Civil War Times magazine

Yesterday I had a chance to read through the final version of the Silas Chandler article for the 50th anniversary of Civil War Times magazine, which will be published in a few weeks.  Other than a few minor changes we are all set.  The layout looks great, which is a testament to the hard work and talent of the editorial staff.   Some of the detail had to be cut owing to space, but I am confident that readers will appreciate the extent to which it compliments and builds on the recent airing of the History Detectives episode on Silas and Andrew.  Included is a very helpful sidebar by Mike Musick that provides an overview of how to research this subject at the National Archives.

Of all the things that I’ve written and published over the past few years this particular article has given me the most satisfaction.  It’s been a real pleasure meeting and having the opportunity to work with Myra Chandler Sampson.  This article would not have been possible without the hard work she put into collecting material related to her great great grandfather.  Most importantly, we had a chance to correct one of the most popular and misunderstood stories from the Civil War era.  You can’t beat that.  Thanks again to Dana Shoaf and the rest of the staff at CWT for all their support.

History Detectives Tell Us What We Already Know

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.