You didn’t really think that I would allow the publication of a column on Silas Chandler in The New York Times to pass without comment, did ya? Thanks to Ronald Coddington for bringing the story of Silas (r) and Andrew (l) to the Disunion blog. [Ron and I shared a stage last year at the Virginia Festival of the Book to discuss our research.] As many of you know it is the story of Silas and Andrew that launched me down the road of taking the myth of the black Confederate soldier seriously. My relationship with Myra Chandler Sampson and our subsequent essay published in Civil War Times about her famous ancestor reinforced for me on so many levels why it is important that we correct these stories of loyal and obedient slaves that continue serve the interests of a select few.
Given the photograph above it should come as no surprise as to why Silas became the poster boy for some of the wildest claims about the presence of black soldiers in the Confederate army. It should also come as no surprise that the 1994 ceremony at Silas’s grave site organized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans convinced at least one member of the family that he was indeed a soldier.
The event prompted mixed reactions from descendants of Silas and Andrew. Silas’s great-granddaughter, Myra Chandler Sampson, denounced the ceremony as “an attempt to rewrite and sugar-coat the shameful truth about parts of our American history.” She added that Silas “was taken into a war for a cause he didn’t believe in. He was dressed up like a Confederate soldier for reasons that may never be known.”
But Andrew Chandler Battaile, great-grandson of Andrew, met Myra’s brother Bobbie Chandler at the ceremony. He saw the experience a bit differently. “It was truly as if we had been reunited with a missing part of our family.”
Bobbie Chandler, for his part, accepts the role his great-grandfather played in the Confederate army. He observed, “History is history. You can’t get by it.”
It was an episode of The History Detectives back in 2011 that prompted Bobbie Chandler’s “History is history” comment only after he had been introduced to the evidence that demonstrated conclusively that Silas had never served in the Confederate army. No one in the Sons of Confederate Veterans has ever formally acknowledged this fact. Unfortunately, the SCV continues to manipulate the past for its own purposes and in the process has taken advantage of others, who want nothing more than to see their ancestors acknowledged.
Last month the SCV once again honored Mattie Rice, who is a descendant of Weary Clyburn, with the Horace L. Hunley Heritage Defense Award. That name should ring a bell because I’ve spent almost as much time writing about Clyburn as I have about Silas. Their stories overlap in numerous ways. The SCV claims that both were soldiers. In this video of the ceremony SCV Commander in Chief Michael Givens says as much at the beginning.
The state of North Carolina never acknowledged Clyburn as a soldier. He was a slave, who like Silas, followed his master to war. He didn’t legally serve or fight for the Confederacy. He was owned by a Confederate officer, who was engaged in a war that, if successful, would have kept Weary Clyburn in bondage.
It would be nice to see this story corrected out of respect for Ms. Rice and the rest of her family.