History Detectives Spins Chandler Investigation

Wes Cowan of the History Detectives

Like many of you, I am looking forward to tomorrow night’s History Detectives segment, which will investigate the story behind the famous tintype of Silas and Andrew Chandler.  At various points during their investigation I offered advice on what I had learned about the story as well as my understanding of the mythology that has emerged surrounding so-called black Confederates.  My co-author, Myra Chandler Sampson also assisted the producers of the show at various points.  Both of us were scheduled to be interviewed for the show this past spring, but producers made a last minute decision to talk to someone else.  It just so happens that I will be giving a talk on Tuesday evening about Silas Chandler to the North Worcester County Civil War Roundtable in Worcester, MA.

It looks like PBS is advertising this segment as a natural marriage between Antiques Road Show and History Detectives.  Wes Cowan can be seen on both shows and he was the one who offered the initial appraisal that caused so much controversy.  What is being left out, however, is that Cowan did more than just offer an appraisal of the tintype.  He also commented on the subject at hand and while it could have been much, much worse he made a few mistakes.  First, Silas did not receive a pension from the Confederate government after the war from the Confederacy since that government no longer existed.  What he did receive was a pension from the state of Mississippi that specifically cites his role during the war as a slave.  Cowan also missed the mark on the status of slaves that could be recruited following the passage of legislation on March 13, 1865.  The legislation did leave the decision as to whether slaves would be freed if offered by their masters for service, but the War Department quickly countered it: “…General Orders No. 14 authorized the enlistment of free blacks as well as slaves whose masters signaled their approval by manumitting them before enlistment. No men still enslaved would be accepted as Confederate soldiers.”

The fallout from the ARS episode was the result of Cowan’s limited understanding of the subject coupled with a family story that was accepted without question.  That, of course, is a recipe for disaster.

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9 comments… add one
  • Emmanuel Dabney Oct 10, 2011 @ 8:44

    Just to reiterate what has been said before on this forum and elsewhere…

    Silas was NOT a free person. He was until 1865 an enslaved man that Louisa Chandler, the mother of Andrew Chandler paid property taxes on from 1854 (following her husband’s death) until the death of slavery. She paid taxes on him in the same way she did livestock, pleasure furnishings, the land, and 35 other human beings who ranged in age from six months to 80 years old.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 10, 2011 @ 8:50

      Thanks, Emmanuel.

  • Arleigh Birchler Oct 10, 2011 @ 5:52

    I think that if I read something that said that a Confederate Soldier received a pension from the Confederate Government after the end of the War, I would doubt the reliability of the remainder of the story. I am having a little trouble unpacking this sentence: “First, Silas did not receive a pension (from the Confederate government) after the war (from the Confederacy) since that government no longer existed.” The structure of the sentence confuses me a little. In any event, neither the Confederate government nor the Confederacy existed after the end of the War. Many Confederate soldiers and other who provided material service to the Confederacy received “Confederate Pensions” long after the War. As you correctly state, these came from their individual state governments. Even Missouri gave out Confederate Pensions, although they were long delayed, for a small amount, and for a very brief period of time.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 10, 2011 @ 5:56

      I am not sure what you find confusing about that sentence. The Confederate government did not issue pensions because it did not exist. It was the former states that issued pensions to former soldiers for their service in the Confederate army or to servants who accompanied their masters to war. Silas did not receive a pension from the Confederate government. What’s the problem?

      • Arleigh Birchler Oct 10, 2011 @ 15:56

        I understand all of that. It is the two “from” phrases. I am not sure why it says “from the Confederate government” and then says “from the Confederacy”. Certain not a major point or anything to worry about.

        • Kevin Levin Oct 10, 2011 @ 16:09

          I am not worried at all.

  • BorderRuffian Oct 10, 2011 @ 4:22

    “…specifically cites his role during the war as a slave.”

    Where does it say that on the pension?

    • Kevin Levin Oct 10, 2011 @ 4:40

      It’s hard to read but it states: “Application of Indigent Servants of Soldier or Sailor of the Late Confederacy”. See James Hollandsworth’s excellent article on black pensioners for additional information.

      • BorderRuffian Oct 10, 2011 @ 6:15

        Not all servants in the Confederate army were slaves. I have seen a number of accounts where free blacks were hired on as servants. It’s a small portion, but the possibility is there.

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