I am slowly gathering materials for my next book project on “black Confederates” that I agreed to write for Westholme Publishing. A few weeks ago I ordered the two volumes on the subject published by Pelican Press, which includes Black Southerners in Confederate Armies and Black Confederates – both edited by Charles Kelly and J.H. Segars. In addition to these two books I also have on hand James Brewer’s study of Virginia military laborers, Ervin Jordan’s study of slaves and free blacks in Virginia, and Bruce Levine’s excellent analysis of the debate to arm slaves in the Confederacy. Of course, there will be plenty of additional material utilized for this study, but there are very few decent book-length treatments of this particular subject.
Given the quality of books published by Pelican I have to say that these two books will be extremely helpful, but I suspect not for the reasons intended by the editors. Both books include a wide range of primary documents, including newspaper accounts, pension files, cartoons, service records, photographs, and historical markers. There is very little commentary and what is included is entirely useless as historical analysis, but very helpful when it comes to understanding how the subject has been remembered. These books can be found as references on many neo-Confederate websites and SCV sites that focus on this subject. What is so striking, however, is that even a cursory glance at the information provided in these two books reflects and incredibly complex and fascinating subject and yet most people can’t seem to get beyond the Lost Cause language of “loyalty” and “devotion” along with the common refrain of numbers and claims of cover-ups. I’ve never seen primary sources so poorly interpreted and under utilized for their historical value.
Both Pelican books include references to Silas Chandler. A few days ago I received an email from a descendant of Silas Chandler, who has agreed to provide me with archival material that she has collected over the years. Better yet, this individual has agreed to co-author an article with me on Silas for one of the Civil War magazines. This will give me the opportunity to explore questions and issues that will be addressed in much more detail in the book-length project. It will be quite satisfying to be able to use the Pelican books for their primary sources on Chandler and at the same time demonstrate just how shallow and, at times, inaccurate the information provided is.