Tag Archives: Silas Chandler

Descendants of Silas Chandler Speak Out (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I shared an email I received from a descendant of Silas Chandler, who is one of the most popular “black Confederates.”  I’ve been in contact with two descendants and am planning a telephone conversation, which I hope will lead to an announcement of some ideas I have to help bring a more complete story of this individual to the general public.  Yesterday I received an email from yet another descendant:

I am a direct descendent of Silas Chandler from California. Over the years, I have heard many versions of Silas’ story, from family, on the web, and from Confederate historical societies. Thank you to Ms. Sampson for shedding some light on the subject from a reliable, direct source.

I remember when my great, great, great grandfather Silas was awarded the Iron Cross posthumously, and some members of my family attended the ceremony. While I’ve always had mixed feelings about it, it has ultimately become [a] source of pride for me, not offense. I may never be exactly sure how it went down, but I know that I have Silas to thank for my freedom. Believe me, I have no love fort he Confederacy or its symbols… I’m just also no big fan of the Yankees, and have no illusions about why the Civil War was fought.

I also know that some of the greatest men in history end up being “honored” by their enemies. This would not be the first time that history has been rewritten to make folks look more sympathetic or benevolent (see the movie “Glory” and the mounds of misinformation that it contains).

Anyone that thinks that Silas joined the Confederate army out of some “love” for his master is naive at best, and stupid/racist at worst. That being said, there were many slaves that were dragged into the field to fight against their own self-interest. This happened in the Civil War, and in the Wars for centuries and millennia before.

Honestly, I just hope this discussion unearths as much truth as possible. Thank you again to the Chandler family for helping to set the record straight. I look forward to learning more

Andrew Foster Williams
Oakland, CA

I am featuring this comment for a couple of reasons.  Most importantly, it reflects a memory of the war that is much more complex than anything the Sons of Confederate Veterans or United Daughters of the Confederacy would have you believe about the legacy of the Civil War within the African-American community.  Both organizations reduce their narratives down to loyalty to master and cause and they do this by commemorating slaves as soldiers.  Their preferred narrative has nothing to do with understanding the story of black men in the army or helping families uncover their histories; rather, it is an attempt to dissociate the Confederate war effort from slavery as well as the Lost Cause myth that slavery was benign.  Unfortunately, both organizations have been successful in convincing black families to take part.

What I appreciate about Mr. Williams’s response is the extent to which his narrative fails to support or vindicate either a Lost Cause or Emancipationist view of the war.  It sits uncomfortably in the middle.  On the one hand Mr. Williams has little patience for stories of a loyal Silas Chandler, but he is also suspicious of the assumptions that reduce the United States to the moral cause of emancipation.

Mr. Williams’s comment may also tell us something about why African Americans have been absent from public commemorations of the Civil War and why they may stay away during the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  After all, much of our public remembrance and memory of the war is wrapped up in neat dichotomies of North v. South and Union v. Confederate.  Where does Mr. Williams’s memory of the war fit into all of this?  It’s not wonder that many African Americans are suspicious of Civil War Memory.

Descendents of Silas Chandler Respond

The story of Silas Chandler is one of the most popular black Confederate stories out there on the Web.  You can find it featured on the website of the 37th Texas, the Petersburg Express, on blogs, and you can even purchase a t-shirt of Silas and Andrew at Dixie Outfitters.  A few weeks ago the famous image of “the Chander Brothers” was featured on Antiques Roadshow and not surprising my post on it received a great deal of attention.  There is no evidence that Silas served in Confederate ranks, though that apparently did not prevent the United Daughters of the Confederacy from decorating his grave with an Iron Cross and Confederate battle flag.  Yesterday a descendant of Silas Chandler left the following comment on the blog:

I am the Great Granddaughter of Silas Chandler. The lies being told about Silas fighting in the confederate army keep growing. And that is what they are “LIES”. The majority of the decendents of Silas are also disgusted about all of the lies told about our ancester. Silas was a slave, and did what he had to do in order to survive. I am a Black Chandler who grew up in West Point, Mississippi where it was unheard of to even look at or even speak to a white Chandler. I have a letter signed by the majority of the decendents of Silas demanding the Iron Cross and Confederate flag be removed from Silas’ grave. Signing this letter is the Granddaughter of Silas who is 107 years old and still lives in Long Island, New York. I grew up with my Grandfather, who was the son of Silas. He told us all about Silas and how he saved his money and hid it in the barn and bought his freedom. He also bought the land where he built his house. That record is in the Clay County court house as of this day.

Continue reading

How Much for the Black Confederate?

[Hat-tip to Ta-Nehisi Coates]

Looks like I missed a very interestingAntiques Roadshow last night.  A descendant of Andrew Chandler brought in the original famous photograph of his great-great-grandfather and slave, Silas Chandler.  The piece was assessed between $30,000-$40,000, by the very capable, Wes Cowan of History Detectives fame.  This is one of the more popular stories floating out there in the crazy world of black Confederates.  Silas Chandler is regularly touted as one of the best examples of a black Confederate who fought for the cause.  The standard “neo-Confederate” line can be found here [warning: turn the mute button off first] and you can even buy a Chandler Brothers t-shirt from Dixie Outfitters.  The transcript of the appraisal as well as a video can be accessed here.

I was a little disappointed with Cowan’s interpretation, though I guess it could have been much worse in different hands.  Cowan should have responded immediately to the following from his guest:

The gentleman on the right is Silas Chandler, his slave, or as we’ve always called him, manservant. Andrew Chandler fought with the 44th Mississippi Cavalry, as did Silas. They’re about the same age, joined the Confederate army when Andrew was 16, Silas was 17, and they fought in four battles together.

Silas did not fight with the 44th Mississippi.  He was a slave.  And Silas did not join the Confederate army when he was 17.  He was a slave.  Cowan correctly identifies Silas as enslaved, but then goes on to ask the following: “And Silas actually received a pension from the Confederate government for his service during the war, isn’t that correct?”  No, it’s not correct.  The Confederate government did not issue pensions; rather, veterans were able to apply for pensions from the states in which they lived following the war.  However, Cowan fails to mention that while some slaves did receive pensions this did not signify status as a soldier.  The viewer is left to wonder whether Silas was indeed a soldier. I know, it’s an excusable mistake, but in this case it makes all the difference.

We need to be careful when it comes to telling these stories.  We need to be sensitive to the military records when determining service as a soldier as opposed to simply throwing words such as “service”, “fought”, “joined” around loosely as is typically the case.  More importantly, we need to be careful about imposing our assumptions about the relationships between these men.  I am happy that the descendants of these two men are now close friends, but that has absolutely nothing at all to do with understanding the master-slave relationship through Andrew and Silas Chandler.  We need to take care of our history.