Let me be perfectly clear that despite some problems I had with the final section of last night’s History Detectives episode about Silas and Andrew Chandler I am pleased with the overall production. Wes Cowan and the rest of the HD staff put to rest the question of whether Silas was a slave or a soldier and, with the help of Professor Mary Frances Berry, put to rest the controversy surrounding the recruitment of slaves as soldiers in the Confederate army. The points were clearly articulated and they were based on the best scholarship and a close reading of the relevant archival sources. As I’ve already stated, the show will not convince the diehard black Confederate myth makers nor should anyone criticize it because of this fact. The show was never meant for folks whose understanding of the past is based more on faith than critical thought and honest investigation.
But if we take one step back we can get any even clearer view of this particular show’s importance and lasting value. Notice that Wes Cowan never went about investigating this subject by doing a search on Google and consulting one of the thousands of websites on the subject. He didn’t get into a shouting match with folks who believe that they have a monopoly on their southern heritage/history. Cowan consulted with a respected scholar, utilized a database, and a few archival records. The conclusions are indisputable. So, why does this matter?
Silas Chandler was the black Confederate community’s best card. If anything demonstrated the existence of hundred, if not thousands, of loyal black Confederate soldiers it was the image of Silas and Andrew in uniform and armed. To deny it meant that you were delusional, a Yankee, northern liberal carpetbagger or worse. Here is what Ann DeWitt wrote not too long ago at the Southern Heritage Preservation Page:
What everyone should know is this. The bloggers, who are against acknowledging the hard work and dedication of African-American military service with the CSA, have drawn the family members of Silas Chandler into the debate. The goal is to prove that Silas Chandler unwillingly went to war with Andrew Chandler. Are the blogger’s motives sincere in protecting the family or are the blogger’s motives centered on promoting their own personal historian careers?
This is the same woman, who recently uncovered an entire regiment of black Confederate cooks. My only question for Ms. DeWitt is how quickly does she plan to include a link to the HD episode on her “educational” website? When will Dixie Oufitters remove their “Chandler Brothers” t-shirt from their catalog? And finally, what about the Sons of Confederate Veterans itself, which claims legitimacy as a historical organization. Will they instruct individual chapters to remove or revise the many websites published about Silas Chandler as part of their commitment to spreading “true history”? I won’t hold my breadth for any of these corrections, but that doesn’t really matter. The silence from the usual suspects speaks volumes.
The shell shock is probably fleeting, but perhaps they got a brief glimpse of what it is involved in serious research rather than the self-posturing and defensive tone that is all too often embraced as deep historical understanding. At least for now, if you are going to speak out on this particular case you better have done your research.
Again, their silence speaks volumes.