In the Studio With Andrew and Silas Chandler

There are only a handful of images of Confederate soldiers and officers with their slaves or camp servants. The famous tintype of Andrew and Silas Chandler is the most famous, but it is also one of the most unusual images. The photograph of the two was likely taken in August 1861 right around the time Andrew enlisted as a private in the Palo Alto Guards, which became Company F of the 44th Mississippi Infantry, Army of Tennessee.

Most photographs of master and slave show the former sitting with the slave standing behind and just slightly out of focus. Andrew and Silas sit side by side. Both occupy center stage. More importantly, both men are armed. Andrew wears a typical private’s jacket and holds a pinfire pistol while a revolver is nestled in his belt. Tucked into what appears to be Silas’s Short or Shell jacket is a pepperbox, which leaves his large left hand free to grip a rifle across his lap. To complete this unusual scene, both men wield large bowie knives in their right hands.

It is likely that the weapons are studio props. Continue reading “In the Studio With Andrew and Silas Chandler”

Getting to Know the Army of Tennessee

My knowledge of the Confederate army is confined mainly to the Army of Northern Virginia. As I sketch out my cultural biography of Silas Chandler, however, I am running into my limited understanding of the Army of Tennessee. Silas’s master, Andrew Chandler, served in Co. F of the 44th Mississippi Infantry up to the battle of Chickamauga in 1863. He then served Andrew’s brother in the 9th Mississippi Cavalry Regiment, which accompanied Jefferson Davis after he abandoned Richmond in April 1865. That’s another story.

Silas and Andrew were together for some of the major battles such as Shiloh in which the latter was taken prisoner and Chickamauga, where Andrew was wounded. According to stories Silas supposedly convinced a doctor in Atlanta not to amputate his owner’s leg and used coins stitched in his jacket to pay for passage for the two to return home to Mississippi. Continue reading “Getting to Know the Army of Tennessee”

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”

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”