A Cultural Biography of Silas Chandler

Last month I shared a brief update concerning my book manuscript on the history and memory of Confederate camp servants and black Confederates. At the time I was weighing the strengths and weaknesses of different narrative forms. As it stood the narrative lacked focus not in the sense that the evidence was not organized, but that the lives and experiences of camp servants remained inaccessible to the reader. Readers meet a large number of camp servants/slaves during the war and in the postwar period, but they are almost all snippets of rich lives shared in passing by their owners and others. I want readers to be able to identify with an individual.

As I mentioned in that earlier post the one exception is Silas Chandler. Having experimented with different narrative approaches to highlighting his life and memory throughout the manuscript I decided to start over and write a cultural biography of Silas. This change is not something that I joyfully embraced so late in the process, especially because I have never written such a book, but I am beginning to see the benefits of doing so. Continue reading “A Cultural Biography of Silas Chandler”

Black Confederates to the Rescue… Again

I’ve been writing about this subject for much too long to be surprised by the emergence of the black Confederate narrative by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in response to last Wednesday’s shooting in Charleston. Black Confederate soldiers have been coming to the SCV’s and other Confederate heritage supporters rescue since the late 1970s, following the release of the popular mini-series, “Roots.”

This particular incident is unfortunately tailor-made for this myth. In a statement released by the South Carolina Division, SCV they maintain that neither the Confederate flag nor the history of the Confederacy has anything to do with the reasons behind Dylan Roof’s actions.

Historical fact shows there were Black Confederate soldiers. These brave men fought in the trenches beside their White brothers, all under the Confederate Battle Flag. This same Flag stands as a memorial to these soldiers on the grounds of the SC Statehouse today. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a historical honor society, does not delineate which Confederate soldier we will remember or honor. We cherish and revere the memory of all Confederate veterans. None of them, Black or White, shall be forgotten.

The historical record suggests that Confederate soldiers never acknowledged the existence of black comrades in arms during the war, though thousands of slaves performed a wide range of functions in the armies and elsewhere. They certainly didn’t acknowledge their presence while massacring black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow or the Crater and there were no signs of black soldiers while rounding up hundreds of fugitive and escaped slaves during the Gettysburg Campaign in the summer of 1863. Continue reading “Black Confederates to the Rescue… Again”

“The People Were Not Prepared For It”

I’ve said numerous times that actual Confederates would be utterly confused by the rise of the black Confederate myth in the last two decades, especially as it has been framed by individuals and organizations that claim legitimacy through their ancestral connections. For the latter, the black Confederate narrative is intended to distance the Confederate war effort from the explicit goal of establishing a slave-holding nation – the very goal that united so many even past the point where victory appeared to be likely. In short, this narrative places Confederates and their descendants in two different worlds, with one claiming the existence of the very thing that the other was fighting to prevent.

As we all know, apart from mistaken accounts by Union soldiers – often published for political purposes – there are no wartime accounts by Confederates affirming the existence of a single black Confederate. Not one. We do have accounts that indirectly deny their existence in the form of hundreds of newspaper editorials, letters and diary entries authored by Confederates in the army and home front in 1864-65 concerning whether their country should recruit slaves as soldiers. The debate makes little sense if free and enslaved blacks were already fighting as soldiers in the army. Continue reading ““The People Were Not Prepared For It””

Searching For Black Confederates in Narrative

While a big chunk of my manuscript on the history and memory of camp servants/black Confederates is either completed as a rough draft or in outline form, I am still playing with the structure of the overall narrative. As it stands each chapter begins with a vignette that captures the theme of the chapter and includes its main argument. This is standard fare. The first chapter begins with Confederate General Edward Porter Alexander’s purchase of a servant in 1862 while the third chapter starts off with a detailed description of a Confederate veterans reunion that included former camp servants. As it stands, they work pretty well, but it is lacking in one important way. Continue reading “Searching For Black Confederates in Narrative”

Open Notes, Open Book

Much of my book on the history and memory of the battle of the Crater was shared in some form on this blog. This site was used regularly to share my thinking about various questions and to solicit responses from readers. It worked out incredibly well. Consider this post from 2009 in which I first proposed thinking about the Crater as a slave rebellion. Reader feedback figured directly into how I thought about this concept, which eventually became the organizing theme of the first chapter of the book.

The other aspect of this sharing that I enjoyed was showcasing what I understand to be the process that goes into a historical study. I thought it would be helpful to give my blog audience and potential future book readers a behind-the-scenes tour of the challenges faced in writing history that leans more toward the analytical as opposed to a straightforward narrative. Continue reading “Open Notes, Open Book”