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.
Those of you interested in how the evolution of digital technology has transformed the writing and publication of history will want to check out Writing History in the Digital Age, which is an open-review collection of essays edited by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki. This is an interesting experiment. You have access to a fairly large number of essays and comments can be added to each paragraph. This open review process will continue until Nov. 14 when the editors will select those essays that will be included in the volume.
Thanks to Andy Hall for passing along the following items from Confederate Veteran. The first is Andrew M. Chandler’s obituary from the July 1920 issue. It includes a reference to his severe wounding at Chickamauga, but there is no reference to Silas. Let’s just be clear about the nature of the story, which sits at the center of the mythology that surrounds these two. Here is the standard Internet account:
During the fighting at Chickamauga, Andrew Chandler suffered a great wound to the leg which the surgeons were ready to amputate off. But Silas pulled out a gold coin that the boys were saving to buy some whiskey. Bribing the doctors to let Chandler go, he then carried the injured boy on his back to the nearest train. They rode all the way to Atlanta in a box car. Once there, the hospital doctors saved the boy’s leg and life.
Remember, Silas and Andrew supposedly remained life long friends. I should point out that I have little doubt that Silas escorted Andrew home following his wounding and he may have saved his life. What we don’t have, however, is any evidence to support the specifics of this account. But if it were true one would expect some acknowledgment from Andrew. Well, perhaps not in an obituary that was likely written by a family member. What about an account written by Andrew himself about his experience at Chickamauga for Confederate Veteran? Keep in mind that this publication is littered with references to loyal former body servants/slaves, who rescued and saved their masters on the field of battle. To be fair, Andrew doesn’t mention his wounding at all; rather, he uses the opportunity to share the experience of battle.
This is a story that has been passed down between the families, but there is no evidence to support the specifics of the account. Family stories can be incredibly valuable in the search for historical truth, but they can just as easily hinder that process. I will leave you with the words of Chandler Battaile, great-great-grandson of Andrew M. Chandler, which helped to close out the History Detectives investigation.
I think it’s interesting to understand the place of stories in family histories. Obviously, the story that we’ve shared is one that is very comfortable, and comforting to believe. But without documentary evidence, it is a story. Our families’ histories have been, and will always be, deeply intertwined and evolving with the times.
Let me be perfectly clear that despite some problems I had with the final section of last night’s History Detectives episode about Silas and Andrew Chandler I am pleased with the overall production. Wes Cowan and the rest of the HD staff put to rest the question of whether Silas was a slave or a soldier and, with the help of Professor Mary Frances Berry, put to rest the controversy surrounding the recruitment of slaves as soldiers in the Confederate army. The points were clearly articulated and they were based on the best scholarship and a close reading of the relevant archival sources. As I’ve already stated, the show will not convince the diehard black Confederate myth makers nor should anyone criticize it because of this fact. The show was never meant for folks whose understanding of the past is based more on faith than critical thought and honest investigation.
Once the producers of History Detectives committed themselves to exploring the story behind the tintype of Andrew and Silas Chandler through the respective memories of both sides of the family they embraced a narrative of reconciliation. At some point they had to bring both sides of the family together through a common bond that implied some sort of friendship or mutual respect. That comes out in their rather vague explanation of a plot of land that the white Chandlers sold to a black congregation. Yes, they put to rest the ridiculous claims about Silas serving as a soldier in the Confederate army, which as I suggested last night we already knew, but they completely went off the deep end once the show emerged from the Civil War. In fact, it’s not a stretch to suggest that HD offered a distorted picture of Reconstruction. What do I mean?