I just received my author copies of the latest issue of Civil War Times, which should hit newsstands any day now. As you can see Silas Chandler made the cover. I love the fact that he is pictured alone and out from behind the shadow of Andrew Chandler. It’s powerful. Kudos to whoever made this decision. What Myra Chandler Sampson and I tried to do in this short article was tell as much of the story from Silas’s perspective as possible rather than the mythical story that has come to dominate popular memory. That narrative’s treatment of Silas as a loyal slave and/or soldier is little more than a self-serving attempt to ignore or minimize the place of slavery and race in the Confederate war. He has a much more interesting story to tell if we are only willing to listen.
Myra and I want to thank Dana Shoaf and the rest of the editorial staff for their hard work and for their agreeing to take on this manuscript. I have no doubt that their inboxes will be flooded in a matter of weeks. I can already anticipate the reaction. This is my third feature article in CWT in the last year and I have nothing but the highest praise for the work they do. Finally, congratulations to Civil War Times on this their 50th anniversary. Included in this issue are articles by Harold Holzer, Scott Patchan, and Jacqueline G. Campbell. They also published an essay by Glenn Tucker on James Longstreet that originally appeared in their very first issue, which I think is a great idea.
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.
Among the images that Civil War Timesmagazine has chosen to use for my co-authored article with Myra Chandler Sampson about Andrew and Silas Chandler includes the well-known t-shirt by Dixie Outfitters. We wanted to use something that reflects the story’s popularity as well as the mythology that surrounds the two. This one has got it all from the claim that Silas was a soldier to the assumption that they remained life long friends. There is absolutely no evidence for such a claim. Luckily, I own the shirt after one of my students purchased it for me as a gag gift and was able to make it available to the magazine’s editors.
I must assume that the shirt will be pulled by the company given what we now know about Silas’s legal status during the war as well as crucial elements of the broader story. Why am I confident that this will be done? Well, Dixie Outfitters claims on its website to be committed to the “truth of the War for Southern Independence.” We shall see.
Guys, I can’t tell you how exciting this is for me. After the Roadshow episode aired there were a lot of questions that were raised about the story. Viewers wrote in droves to question whether the African American in the picture was a slave or a free man and whether so-called black Confederates were a myth. It’s a story and a debate that I also find fascinating.
I was one of those viewers, but I chose to speak out on this blog. Of course, I had been writing about Silas and the broader mythology of black Confederate soldiers for some time, but this particular episode probably did more to push me over the edge than anything else. Here was a chance on national television to debunk many of the wild claims made about the role of African Americans in the Confederacy and essentially a family’s story was allowed to pass as history.
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.