A Victory For the Good Guys

Last week I shared the news that the iconic image of Andrew and Silas Chandler had been donated to the Library of Congress. Over the weekend The Washington Post picked up the story. The title of the article makes it perfectly clear that the image does not show two men going off to war voluntarily. What it depicts is one of the many horrors of slavery.

Chandler, Washington PostThe title of the Post article is a clear victory over the self-serving agendas of certain heritage groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy and a broader unwillingness and/or inability to engage in the most basic historical research.

Those who still have difficulty accepting this can huff and puff all they want. It doesn’t change anything.

I am pleased that Ron Coddington got some press coverage in the article, but I want to acknowledge the crucial work that Myra Chandler Sampson did years before Ron or I came into contact with her. Myra did a wonderful job of gathering the relevant sources that left no doubt as to Silas’s legal status. If I did anything as part of our co-authored essay for Civil War Times it was to bring some organization and context to these materials.

Chalk this up as a victory for the good guys.

Civil War Memory has moved to Substack! Don’t miss a single post. Subscribe below.

17 comments… add one
  • fantasticiquattro Aug 26, 2014 @ 11:52

    Is it not possible that slaves would have served willingly in the Confederacy? Can we so easily dismiss such claims as ludicrous? History shows us that the people of the past acted in ways we today find perplexing.

    The Nazis for example had a few Jews(who they were trying to exterminate) serve. This despite the Jews being the Nazis bete noire. Most famously Hitler’s chauffeur, Emil Maurice, was Jewish. There also were half-Jews or what the Nazis called “Mischlinge” who served in the Wehrmacht. http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/righit.html

    (The Nazis also had a divisions filled with other “undesirables” like Muslims and Russians. Slavs were a close second to Jews for most hated status in Nazi Germany.)

    If Jews could serve in the army of a country trying to exterminate them I could see slaves fighting for the South. The South and plantation was all that they knew. They were psychologically conditioned through brute force to accept their status. It would have been something along the lines of a 19th century version of the “Stockholm Syndrome” where the hostage or captive develops feelings of loyalty and/or warmth towards their captor.

    I do believe that if this did occur–and hard evidence is lacking to support it–it would have been a tiny minority. The available data shows that when given the chance(e:g: absence of master and breakdown of the rings of control) slaves followed the Union armies in order to escape bondage.

    What is also left out of this story by the SCV is that the Confederate government itself refused to arm the slaves until a few months before Appomattox. If so many slaves felt a desire to defend the South than why didn’t their masters arm them and send them off to war?? We know the answer to this. It’s one the SCV does not want to hear.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2014 @ 12:52

      If Jews could serve in the army of a country trying to exterminate them I could see slaves fighting for the South.

      That’s nice, but that is now how serious people go about researching the past. It just so happens that I am reading the book that you linked to in your comment.

      • fantasticiquattro Aug 26, 2014 @ 18:23

        Where did I state that was the case? Admitting a possibility is not the same as saying it actually happened. As neither you or I were there we cannot dismiss that it COULD have happened. That’s all I was saying.

        I actually am in agreement with you on this particular case. I was not trying to dispute your article.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 27, 2014 @ 1:30

          I was simply pointing out that it could have happened doesn’t get us very far. I also don’t think that the Nazi comparison gets us very far since they constitute two very different explanations. Thanks for the follow up.

  • Connie Chastain Aug 26, 2014 @ 9:52

    From the slave narrative of Charlie Aarons:

    When the Master’s son John Harris went to war, Charlie went with him as his body guard, and when asked what his duties were, he replied: “I looked after Marster John, tended the horses and the tents. I recalls well, Madam, the siege of Vicksburg.” The writer then asked him if he wasn’t afraid of the shot and shell all around him. “No, Madam,” he replied, “I kept way in the back where the camp was, for I didn’t like to feel the earth trembling ‘neath my feet, but you see, Madam, I loved young Marster John, and he loved me, and I just had to watch over that boy, and he came through all right.” http://www.gutenberg.org/files/36020/36020-h/36020-h.html#charlie-aarons

    Dang. Somebody shoulda told Charlie not to tell this truth, because contradicting the preferred view of master/slave relationships would not be appreciated eighty years later… I guess this makes Charlie a bad guy…

    • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2014 @ 10:01

      Once again, we learn more about the bizarre world of Connie Chastain than anything having to do with history.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2014 @ 11:26

      Oh, and how about that critique of the article that I co-authored with Myra Chandler Sampson that you promised? Luckily, I knew better than to hold my breadth. You just keep on designing those new book covers.

    • Muhammad E. Lee Aug 27, 2014 @ 7:24

      Wrong again Chastain. If anything the extent to which Black southerners were still catching hell from white southerners through the 1940s often encouraged WPA respondents to give rosy accounts to their interviewers, especially in the cases of white interviewers. It would behoove you to learn how to read these sources correctly and critically. Check out Ira Berlin, et als., intro material for “Remembering Slavery” or any of Donald Ritchie’s work on collecting oral history. You won’t read them but, horse to water etc.

  • Myra Chandler Sampson Aug 26, 2014 @ 7:07

    Thanks Kevin

  • GDBrasher Aug 25, 2014 @ 11:15

    The headline is definitely a victory, but I have one concern. As we know, photos that the Library of Congress has the rights to can be reproduced and published without paying for the rights. My fear is that the pic will thus get picked up by the Neo-cons and find its way into even more publications as “proof” of black-confederates. Maybe?

    • Andrew Raker Aug 26, 2014 @ 6:25

      The photograph was already most likely in the public domain. There could be some debate that it was not published until it appeared on Antiques Roadshow, and could be under copyright now, although that’s moot since it’s owned by the Library of Congress. Even if it was under copyright before its donation, Kevin has shown in previous posts that it was already being misused by Dixie Outfitters. So I don’t think this donation will make it more accessible to such groups. The only difference is the irony that they’re using the property of the federal government to make their stance against that government.

      • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2014 @ 7:03

        I’ve definitely noticed a leveling off, if not decline, in the number of online claims that Silas was a soldier. I attribute that to the attention the story has received in recent years.

        • Andy Hall Aug 26, 2014 @ 7:46

          There’s been a subtle-but-real sea change over the last few years — Black Confederate are still out there, but their assertions have become noticeably more vague, mostly avoiding specific numbers and claims about enlisted soldiers in the ranks.

          • Andy Hall Aug 26, 2014 @ 8:04

            Missing a word — should be “Black Confederate advocates are. . . .”

          • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2014 @ 8:55

            I agree. I was only speaking of the frequency of references to Silas as a soldier.

  • James Harrigan Aug 25, 2014 @ 4:58

    That is EXACTLY the correct headline for the article. It is right of you to give credit to Ron Coddington and Myra Chandler Sampson, but you deserve a good share of the credit too, Kevin. One thing I have learned from reading your blog is that historical memory is a battlefield, and this episode is indeed a victory over the white supremacist forces of the Lost Cause. Give yourself a pat on the back.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2014 @ 5:06

      The posts under the Silas Chander tag go back to 2010, but I suspect you can find even earlier references on the blog.

      It is a battlefield, but in this case it didn’t have to be. Like I said, the problem is that most people simply don’t know enough history to properly interpret these documents.

Leave a Reply to Muhammad E. LeeCancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *