Andrew and Silas Chandler
Yesterday I posted on the Civil War Memory Facebook page an NPR interview with Noah Andre Trudeau that focused on Robert E. Lee and recent commemorative events of the Civil War. I didn’t listen to it straight through so I missed this little gem of a comment on black Confederates. It’s a bit disappointing given his work on black Civil War soldiers that I used throughout the research phase of my Crater study.
This is from Jim in Birmingham: I’ll celebrate my ancestors in north Alabama who joined the First Alabama Cavalry USA and fought the slaveholders in Alabama and served with Sherman on the march to the sea.
And Andy Trudeau, that reminds us: This is not a simple conflict.
Mr. TRUDEAU: No. There are so many complex threads involved here. You cannot say something never happened. And right now, I’m a little concerned that there’s a polarization and that there’s groups that claim it was only about states’ rights. There’s another group that’s saying that it’s absurd to think that a Southern African-American would even consider doing anything to support the Confederacy. And they just block any effort to make mention of that, when, in fact, I don’t think you can deny that some of that happened. We’re talking small numbers, but clearly, this is a very complex community. There are bonds of intertwining trust and friendship between black and white that carry forward into the war. And it’s not unusual, I think, especially in some small units, to find African-Americans serving with their white – I guess you’d have to call them their masters. But it happened – not a lot, but it happened.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with this brief comment. First off, I can’t discern whether Trudeau is referring to slaves or soldiers; this confusion is all too common in this debate. If he is referring to slaves than we are talking about large numbers that were present with Confederate armies throughout the war. Kent Masterson Brown suggests that Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia included thousands of servants and impressed men in the summer of 1863, who performed an array of jobs. As for “bonds of intertwining trust” I think it is safe to say that we are on much shakier ground. I have no doubt that the war probably brought master and slave together in close contact and I have no doubt that certain bonds were formed. The problem for any historian researching this, however, is that there is almost nothing available to help fill in the blanks. It should come as no surprise that I have yet to see a wartime account from a slave that references how he felt about his master while in the army. Working on my article on Silas and Andrew Chandler it is easy to imagine the two conversing about how much they miss being away from loved ones, but I don’t have access to one shred of evidence that might help me to better understand Silas’s perspective. If Trudeau is referring to soldiers than he is simply misinformed, which is unfortunate. I would have him talk to Robert K. Krick about the presence of black soldiers in Lee’s army. Continue reading →