Will Dixie Outfitters Pull This Shirt?

Dixie Outfitters t-shirt

Among the images that Civil War Times magazine has chosen to use for my co-authored article with Myra Chandler Sampson about Andrew and Silas Chandler includes the well-known t-shirt by Dixie Outfitters.  We wanted to use something that reflects the story’s popularity as well as the mythology that surrounds the two.  This one has got it all from the claim that Silas was a soldier to the assumption that they remained life long friends.  There is absolutely no evidence for such a claim.  Luckily, I own the shirt after one of my students purchased it for me as a gag gift and was able to make it available to the magazine’s editors.

I must assume that the shirt will be pulled by the company given what we now know about Silas’s legal status during the war as well as crucial elements of the broader story.  Why am I confident that this will be done?  Well, Dixie Outfitters claims on its website to be committed to the “truth of the War for Southern Independence.”  We shall see.

The essay goes to press on Wednesday.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

46 comments… add one
  • Alan Skerrett Nov 2, 2011 @ 18:22

    I think Dixie Outfitters should sell a shirt with this on it:

    After all, it does feature a black and a Confederate.

    The above is side of the regimental flag for the 22nd United States Colored Infantry (USCI) of the US Colored Troops. The motto at the top of the flag is “Sic semper tyrannis,” a Latin phrase meaning “thus always to tyrants,” and sometimes translated as “death to tyrants” or “down with the tyrant.”

    • Myra Chandler Sampson Nov 3, 2011 @ 11:51

      Allen , Is this soldier depicted on the USCI flag the image of an actual person or is it an unidentified character? If it is an actual person, was permission from the family given to use the image? That is where I draw the line. This t-shirt depicts a real person and is called the Chandler boys and specifically names Silas telling the myth of Silas and Andrew which mostly has been debunked. The only part that is true is that Silas helped Andrew when he injured his leg. I also would like to thank you for helping me find Dr. Lovett to help me locate the records of my grandfather who attended Roger Williams University.

  • Clayton Walter Nov 1, 2011 @ 5:00

    I find it interesting, this entire thread. To a great extent a significant part of the presentation of the war between the states(equally from both sides) is data-reinforced legend. I can see, in this light, nothing wrong with the shirt(I find it highly amusing), and I can see the viewpoints presented here as extreme and surprisingly aggressive. The saddest part of the entire thing is, around a century and a half later people are still arguing over the mythology. It’s perhaps the only unattractive thing about this lovely site.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2011 @ 5:04

      Thanks for the comment, Clayton. I am not sure what you find amusing or why you approve of the shirt. As a historian, what concerns me is that the shirt promotes a narrative of Silas Chandler that is not supported by the available evidence. In fact, much of it challenges the picture depicted here.

      • Clayton Walter Nov 1, 2011 @ 5:17

        I’m also amused by western and Samurai films, all of which completely misrepresent historical facts. I would say that they also create incorrect historical narratives in the minds of the public. The Samurai were, in general(especially from the current perspective) horrible…but I love me some Chambara. In the larger scheme, this is really just a t-shirt. I suppose that from the perspective of a professional academic it must seem near blasphemy, but as a consumer of historical folklore, it adds a fun oddity to the pile.

        I hope that clarifies my spot. Great site….very lively and interesting.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2011 @ 5:19

          Thanks for the follow-up. I guess I wonder what my co-author (a descendant of Silas Chandler) thinks about having her ancestor’s memory butchered for profit and as part of a coordinated effort to distort the history of the Civil War.

          • Clayton Walter Nov 1, 2011 @ 7:46

            I often think about those things when I interface with history-related commercial products. I highly doubt(or hope, anyway) that the family concerned won’t take a tshirt too much to heart. Sometimes the living and fluid mechanism of folk history requires that this and things like this are perpetuated. Raw data isn’t always the truth; the various desires and perspectives of individuals along the timeline are valid contributions to the historical story. I grew up with a hugely distorted view of history, and though it is very interesting to know the true details, I sometimes find the fiction just as interesting.

            • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2011 @ 7:51

              I don’t necessarily disagree with you, Clayton. In this case, however, this distorted view of Silas as just another loyal slave was part of a broader structure that both reflected the broader disfranchisement of African Americans from public life as well as justified it. This particular view is really a relic of the past given both the shift in our scholarly and popular understanding of this subject.

              • Clayton Walter Nov 2, 2011 @ 2:44

                I hear you there; when you’re personally involved in a specific incident or subject it really can amplify the inaccuracy and/or the inequities involved. Although I love the film ULZANA’S RAID, for instance, the way they distort the figure of Ulzana really chaps my hide. I have a great interest in the Native American tribal leaders during the resistance period, and I believe these things, though entertaining, also can do the history an injustice.

          • Myra Chandler Sampson Nov 2, 2011 @ 15:06

            When I first saw the shirt as well as the poster, it made me sick to the bottom of my stomach. It was so ultimately ridiculous. Not only had Silas been victimized when he was alive, now as a dead slave he was being used for financial and political gain. Friendship had nothing to do with the reason Silas was the chosen one. Silas was a slave who worked in the fields on a wealthy slave owner’s plantation. The Chandlers had 39 slaves for Andrew to choose from. It is so obviious why he chose Silas. Silas was highly intelligent as well as physically strong. You can see his muscular body on the picture. An uneducated slave being able to navigate his way from Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia etc. to Mississippi is incredible. Andrew used Silas’ strength and intelligence for protection. As soon as Silas gained his freedom, he moved from Palo Alto to West Point where he became an outstanding leader in the black community. He helped start the first African American Church and it was NOT on land given by Andrew’s family. He became a successful builder, building many homes for both whites and blacks in West Point. Many of the homes were still in use during my childhood, (as far as I know, some of the homes may still be in use today) It was the custom at that time to keep the name that you had been given. Silas Chandler’s strength and brilliant genes have been passed down to his descendants who continue to achieve and are successful and outstanding citizens fulfilling his dreams of freedom.

            • Clayton Walter Nov 3, 2011 @ 6:19

              …and now we see the other side of historical distortion; the deification of a figure through the amplification of the perceived value of available data. The very fact that is seems incredible an “uneducated slave” can make it from one state to another shows an hilarious bias; it takes no education to perform basic functions. Uneducated people aren’t stupid, and this level of incredulity speaks to the bias of the writer…

              It may be inconvenient that Silas was human, but using relatively sparse data to deify individuals is no better than any other distortion. Not actually having been there, assuming the absolute worst on the part of slave masters *in every circumstance* is bad history and renders every other conclusion suspect.

              • Kevin Levin Nov 3, 2011 @ 6:23

                I think you are over reaching here. I will allow Myra to speak for herself, but it seems to me that what she is emphasizing is that Silas had a life apart from Andrew. This narrative has all too often been told without any consideration of Silas’s perspective or history. The story begins and ends with how he served Andrew and sacrificed for the Confederacy. That the great great granddaughter would choose to emphasize his accomplishments, given the history of this narrative, should come as no surprise.

              • BorderRuffian Nov 3, 2011 @ 6:54

                “Not actually having been there, assuming the absolute worst on the part of slave masters *in every circumstance* is bad history and renders every other conclusion suspect.”


              • Michael Douglas Nov 3, 2011 @ 7:20

                Whence comes your accusation of “assuming the absolute worst. . .etc?” I’ve not seen that assumption on anyone’s part in this thread. On the other hand, holding human beings in chattel bondage for fun and profit is already pretty base and about as low as one can get.

                • Kevin Levin Nov 3, 2011 @ 7:27

                  I would like to know as well. It’s a strange claim. I think we can acknowledge that time, place, and a host of other factors influenced the lives of slaves while “assuming the absolute worst.” It doesn’t get much worse wen one person legally owns another. Perhaps Clayton can clarify his statement.

              • Myra Chandler Sampson Nov 4, 2011 @ 17:29

                Clayton, You probable think that it was very nice of Andrew, this so called great friend of Silas not to teach his favorite slave how to read and write. Remember, Silas signed his pension appliication with an X. Do you think that he could read a map and road signs but not be able to write his own name? It was not because he was stupid, but because he had toiled in the fields from sun up to sun down and his main interest was to survive. I am sure that you know what would have happened to him had he been caught reading or writting. As I said, Silas was brilliant and strong and that is why he was the choosen one.

  • BorderRuffian Nov 1, 2011 @ 4:19

    “This one has got it all from the claim that Silas was a soldier…”

    The caption does not say he was a soldier.

    “…to the assumption that they remained life long friends. There is absolutely no evidence for such a claim.”

    Well, what do you count as evidence? Do you have evidence they were enemies?


    “Chandler.” Silas could have chosen any name for a last name- Smith, Jones, etc. -but he chose Chandler. Why?

    • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2011 @ 4:30

      I think we all know exactly what Dixie Outfitters is suggesting given their relationship with H.K. Edgerton. No, I don’t have any evidence that they were enemies, but I never suggested that they were. Your last claim is just silly. Why do you assume Silas chose his last name? And even if he did it was quite common for slaves to assume the surname of his master. Once again, you have absolutely nothing to add to this discussion.

      • Andy Hall Nov 1, 2011 @ 7:12

        Why do you assume Silas chose his last name? And even if he did it was quite common for slaves to assume the surname of his master.

        Just as a side note, it’s worth mentioning that even some African Americans who participated in Confederate reunions decades later did so under their former masters’ surnames, while using entirely different last names in their day-to-day lives. That suggests to me that, whatever their thoughts or motives in participating in those reunions, they understood well that were conforming to a specific role.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2011 @ 7:16

          The most ridiculous part of the BR’s question is the assumption that historians have not addressed slave life in any significant detail or that the posing of a question somehow counts as serious analysis.

          Hey BR, go out and pick up a copy of Herbert Gutman’s The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom: 1750-1925 and then get back to me.

          • BorderRuffian Nov 3, 2011 @ 4:37

            Herbert Gutman? He was a communist. You don’t expect me to read a book written by a commie, do you?

            • Kevin Levin Nov 3, 2011 @ 4:45

              Actually, I don’t expect you to read much of anything that will help you answer the questions that you put forward as somehow constituting answers.

        • Margaret D. Blough Nov 5, 2011 @ 9:12

          And, of course, in more than a few cases, slaves had a moral claim to the name as unacknowledged biological members of the family. I worked for many years with a lovely lady who is a member of the black branch of the Hairston family immortalized in Henry Wiencek’s book

    • Andy Hall Nov 1, 2011 @ 7:04

      “Do you have evidence they were enemies?”

      That question sums up very well the Southron heritage worldview — everything, everyone, is either all one thing, or all another. If Kevin argues that there’s no evidence that Andrew Chandler and Silas Chandler were lifelong friends, you demand evidence that they were “enemies.” If slaves didn’t organize an armed insurrection, they can be counted as content with their situation. If a soldier’s body servant wasn’t physically chained or beaten, he must have “served” of his own, free will. Lincoln was a tyrant, Sherman was a monster, and Robert E. Lee was, well, you know. It’s an exceedingly childish way of looking at the world, that ignores the messy reality of human interactions and relationships.

      You’ve shown over and over again that you’re actually smarter than this, BR. Unlike others who post here, you actually know the primary source material, and understand both its strengths and limitations. Why do you insist on trolling with silly, argument clinic-style contradiction and rhetorical games?

      • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2011 @ 7:08

        It’s also an indication that he simply does not understand what it means to do serious historical analysis. He won’t be satisfied until I prove a negative. Really?

        I think you are being too kind, Andy. BR may have access to the primary sources, but he clearly doesn’t have the necessary secondary source understanding to make much sense of it.

        • BorderRuffian Nov 1, 2011 @ 7:52

          Andrew signed as witness on Silas’ pension application. This is not evidence of friendship?

          • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2011 @ 7:54

            Instead of posing a question as evidence why not provide a more mature analysis of how it reflects friendship? In other words, make your case. That is what historians do. Try it.

            • BorderRuffian Nov 1, 2011 @ 8:04

              I didn’t think I would have to explain it to you. I would count it as evidence of friendship. Andrew doesn’t have to sign as witness.

              • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2011 @ 8:13

                Look BR, I am really sorry that you don’t understand even the most rudimentary guidelines surrounding historical inquiry. Evidence must be interpreted and as we all know it can be interpreted in multiple ways. Your job is to convince others that your preferred interpretation ought to be believed. To do that you need to make your case. I don’t know why Andrew signed as a witness. Perhaps they were best buddies. Perhaps Andrew believed that it was the least he could do given the dangers to which Silas had been subjected to during the war. I don’t know and until you provide an explanation NEITHER DO YOU.

                • Kate Halleron Nov 2, 2011 @ 15:19

                  Well, the simplest answer is that Silas asked him to. Only an absolute jerk would have refused.

                  It’s like a job reference – it doesn’t indicate anything about the relationship whatever.

    • Ray O'Hara Nov 1, 2011 @ 13:48

      “…to the assumption that they remained life long friends. There is absolutely no evidence for such a claim.”

      Well, what do you count as evidence? Do you have evidence they were enemies?”

      not being A doesn’t not mean B must be the alternative.

  • Lady Val Oct 31, 2011 @ 14:47

    Well, whatever errors might be committed on the Southern side by Dixie Outfitters or other Southern apologists, they pale into insignificance when you realize that on the Union side you have the likes of John Brown, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Hunter and Custer listed as noble heroes and Lincoln put forth as the 19th Century’s Christ incarnate. Now those are what I call lies worthy of the name! A mistake is one thing, but these are just plain whoppers and I don’t mean the kind you get at Burger King!

    • Kevin Levin Oct 31, 2011 @ 15:47

      Thanks for another incoherent rant. This has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the post, but I assume you now feel much better.

      • Connie Chastain Oct 31, 2011 @ 18:24

        It’s not a bit incoherent, and certainly it has something to do with the content of the post. Untruths of history are untruths of history, right?

        BTW, is there anything about Silas’s legal status that makes the image in the T-shirt impossible? I know you Confederacy bashers see slavery as rendering slaves incapable of loyalty and affection or feeling anything except misery, (because slavery, as you’ve identified it, Mr. Levin, consisted of nothing but rape, beatings and family separation)… Odd that so many people who honor the Confederacy seem far more willing to see slaves as whole, functioning human beings in an unfortunate circumstance than those of you who “champion” slaves and denigrate Confederates seem willing to do. I realize that rendering slaves as miserable and incomplete human beings is necessary in your righteous cause of evilizing Southerners but it sure makes you look… Well, never mind….

        • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2011 @ 1:41

          You really are an obnoxious woman. Without sufficient evidence I guess you can believe whatever you choose. Why not wait for the article and offer a coherent and mature response instead of another one of your silly rants.

          I know you Confederacy bashers see slavery as rendering slaves incapable of loyalty and affection or feeling anything except misery, (because slavery, as you’ve identified it, Mr. Levin, consisted of nothing but rape, beatings and family separation)…

          Perhaps you can point to where I’ve characterized slavery in such simplistic terms? Do you even read my posts? Do you have anything of interest to add to this discussion? What definition of friendship are you using that would allow for an understanding of loyalty and affection in the normal sense? You haven’t spend a single minute researching this individual and yet you feel inclined and even comfortable rendering judgement on someone who has. You really are a mean old woman.

        • Mark S Nov 1, 2011 @ 2:15

          Slavery was an “unfortunate circumstance”?? An unfortunate circumstance is when they run out of milk at the grocery store. My God woman – if ignorance is bliss you must be be ecstatic.

          • Kevin Levin Nov 1, 2011 @ 2:18


            You must keep in mind that we are dealing with an individual who has admitted that she is not really interested in the history behind these stories. That comes out in just about every statement she has made here and elsewhere.

          • Mike R Nov 1, 2011 @ 4:29

            What’s unfortunate is that the “many people who honor the Confederacy ” who are ” far more willing to see slaves as whole, functioning human beings” are honoring a group of people who not only did not see slaves as whole, functioning human beings, but created legislation to make the very idea of slaves as being whole, functional human beings, with the rights of the same, illegal, then fought a war to defend that legislation.

        • Michael Douglas Nov 1, 2011 @ 6:16

          Ms. Chastain, given the moonlight and magnolias scenarios that you and your folks paint for southern slaves in the antebellum period, I am still waiting for an answer as to why the erstwhile rebels turned upon their former chattel with such bitterness, vehemence and violence after their emancipation. By the way, loyalty and affection are subjective. And complex. Being held in bondage (despite y’all’s high-flying claims of “cradle-to-grave” care) can do strange things to the psyche. All that loyalty and affection didn’t seem to stop the thousands who were able from removing themselves from the vicinity of that bondage both during and after the war.

  • Mike R Oct 31, 2011 @ 9:54

    Would they really have to? The title above the picture clearly state “Legends of the Confederacy”.
    Wikipedia states:
    The Brothers Grimm defined legend as folktale historically grounded. A modern folklorist’s professional definition of legend was proposed by Timothy R. Tangherlini in 1990
    Legend, typically, is a short (mono-) episodic, traditional, highly ecotypified historicized narrative performed in a conversational mode, reflecting on a psychological level a symbolic representation of folk belief and collective experiences and serving as a reaffirmation of commonly held values of the group to whose tradition it belongs.

    In other words, akin to a fairy tale, but within a historical framework with a kernal, however tiny, of truth.

    Had the T-shirt stated “Facts about the Confederacy” or “Incredible Truths of the Civil War” you might have a better argument.

    Perhaps it should say: “Believe it, or not.”

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