Silas Chandler Once Again Ripped From History

Today I woke up to learn that historian Phillip Thomas Tucker is slated to publish a book on black Confederate soldiers next month with America Through Time publishing, a division of Arcadia and The History Press. This is any author’s worst nightmare. Here I spent years trying to complete a book manuscript on the subject only to be beaten to the punch by another author. Well, having read the book description I am not too concerned.

In fact, from the looks of it this book will run roughshod over crucial distinctions that are essential to tracking Confederate policy related to the utilization and eventual recruitment of African American by the army.

This ground-breaking book takes an insightful and close “New Look” at one of the most fascinating subjects of the Civil War–the long-overlooked battlefield contributions of the most forgotten fighting men of the Civil War, Black Confederates. With the release of the popular 1989 film Glory, the American public first learned about the heroism of the black troops of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and their courageous assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in July 1863. But what the American public failed to learn in viewing this popular film was the equally compelling saga of Black Confederates, including at least one defender, a free black soldier of the 1st South Carolina Artillery who defended Fort Wagner in July 1863.

Significantly, large numbers of Black Confederates, slave and free, had already been fighting on battlefields across the South for more than two years before the famous assault of the 54th Massachusetts on Fort Wagner, including the war’s first major battle at Bull Run. Although the vast of majority blacks served the Confederacy in menial and support roles, Black Confederates, free and slave, fought from 1861 to 1865 in regiments (infantry, cavalry, and artillery) that represented every Southern state.

This doesn’t bode well for a careful study, but this is not my main concern. It’s the cover art. Once again, Silas Chandler is used to demonstrate the existence of black soldiers in the Confederate ranks. It’s one thing when this is done by neo-Confederates, but the author holds a Ph.D in history and has a long track record of Civil War books.

I plan on using this image for the cover art of my own forthcoming study, but I would never use it in a way that blatantly ignores the facts. As I have demonstrated more than once – in print and on this blog – Silas was not a soldier or a ‘forgotten combat’ soldier. He was a slave from the beginning of the war until the very end when the unit he was attached to was disbanded in Georgia while escorting Jefferson Davis south following the fall of Richmond.

There is very good reason to believe that the weapons in the photograph above were studio props and I suspect that the uniform may have been as well.

It is certainly a compelling image, but authors and publishers have a responsibility to use it wisely if they expect to be taken seriously.

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32 comments… add one
  • Mike Furlan Feb 13, 2018 @ 15:38

    I’m sorry Kevin, you are correct, we have learned a lot more details.

    But the issue of Black Confederate Soldiers has never been in doubt in our lifetime, if ever.

    Kind of like how in 240 BC Eratosthenese measured the circumference of the earth. Since that time we have improved the accuracy of the measurement. We discovered that the earth is not quite round, but is an oblate ellipsoid. And most recently we have pictures taken of the whole earth from many different perspectives in the solar system. But there are still people who say the earth is flat. (Most Online Today: 158. Most Online Ever: 3720 (June 17, 2017, 08:19:18 PM))

    The Black Confederate Soldier issue likewise is beyond reason.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 14, 2018 @ 2:41

      It’s not that we have “more details.” Our understanding of the role of enslaved people and free blacks as well as the place of slavery within the Confederacy has greatly improved. We understand better.

    • Andrew Selkirk Feb 16, 2018 @ 11:29

      I am quite shocked at the responses on this post. Extreme positions are being voiced which have horrible echoes of 1930 Germany. Where has our civilization taken us to? Do we need yet more school massacres in Florida? The fact is that within Confederate fighting forces there were some people who were not white. Whether they truly wished to fight or felt forced is not clear. Whether they felt that protecting their own families was better served by fighting along with their ‘owner’/master is equally not clear. More research is needed and whether or not this book will take us a little further along our road of knowledge is equally unclear. What is more sickening than anything is the white supremacist streaks within the responses which takes it as an insult to the glory of the Confederacy that anyone with a black skin may have been said to have been within the ranks. I am now old, but I fear the world is moving backwards and I long for tolerance everywhere before I die, but I doubt if it will happen.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 16, 2018 @ 11:48

        No one is denying that African Americans were not present with Confederate armies. They were and in significant numbers performing a wide range of jobs. The point of this post is to caution potential readers given the title, the cover art and the description. We’ve seen this description before in books that appeal to the neo-Confederate community.

        What is more sickening than anything is the white supremacist streaks within the responses which takes it as an insult to the glory of the Confederacy that anyone with a black skin may have been said to have been within the ranks.

        How ironic.

  • Mike Furlan Feb 12, 2018 @ 16:55

    “In fact, from the looks of it this book will run roughshod over crucial distinctions…”

    And there are a lot of distinctions in the topic of mythical Black Confederate Soldiers.

    Black people were not monolithic. A lot of the “Black” soldier stories are about the Free People of Color who would have been insulted to be called “Black” at the time.

    A lot of the stories are about local, ad hoc, or militia groups that were never allowed to into the National army.

    And then there is the confusion that since a truck driver today might be a soldier, that a teamster then must have also been a soldier.

    Finally, I don’t think that there isn’t a lot new in the field since Bell Irving Wiley wrote and then published his thesis, “Southern Negroes” back in the 1930s. But I’ll be hoping that Kevin’s book surprises me.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 12, 2018 @ 17:01

      Finally, I don’t think that there isn’t a lot new in the field since Bell Irving Wiley wrote and then published his thesis, “Southern Negroes” back in the 1930s.

      I would suggest reading Glenn Brasher’s book on the Peninsula Campaign, Bruce Levine’s book on the slave enlistment debate, and Clarence Mohr’s study of Civil War Georgia. That’s just a start.

      • Mike Furlan Feb 14, 2018 @ 6:16

        Thanks Kevin. All of those books are available at affordable prices at Abe Books, or free through interlibrary loan. Since you recommended them, I bought them.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 14, 2018 @ 6:18

          Happy reading, Mike.

  • Jim McGhee Feb 9, 2018 @ 9:10

    According to the book cover, the author’s middle name is Thomas rather than John.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2018 @ 9:13

      Thanks, Jim.

  • Andrew Selkirk Feb 9, 2018 @ 3:54

    What a huge amount of hot air and sour grapes. These blog posts also demonstrate a lamentable lack of knowledge on several fronts, not least how book publishing works. University Presses are subsidized charities, they can afford to have things “peer reviewed”, but being an academic author myself I know how meaningless such peers reviews can be as they are often written by competitors, such as the griping Kevin Levin. Bloggers have a responsibility to act properly, to damn a book before it is read is completely out of order. The two Kevins appear to me to have behaved no better than the Ayatollah Khomeini. Let’s read what Dr Tucker has to say and then comment afterwards in a civilized manner.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2018 @ 3:57

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I am sorry to hear that you have had such a bad history with peer review. Fortunately, I have had the opposite experience over the years. I don’t work in academia so having the opportunity to respond to outside readers in the field has greatly improved past book and journal article projects.

      I made it a point to say that I have not read this book. My concern is with the use of the cover art, which is greatly distorted for the reasons I mentioned in the blog post. The book description is not much better.

      Interestingly, you have nothing to say about that. Oh well.

    • Andy Hall Feb 11, 2018 @ 10:40

      Where can I read some of your peer-reviewed work, Andrew?

    • Paul Taylor Feb 11, 2018 @ 16:06

      University presses may have been “subsidized charities” in the past, however, that seems to be changing, at least at some colleges. I have been told directly by the acquisitions editors at two such presses that within the past 5 to 7 years, their publishing dynamic has altered dramatically. Books that would have been eagerly published then due solely to their perceived “importance” may now be passed on if the press believes it will not be a profitable venture. In essence, the university will no longer accept the press as a financial loss leader and it must now carry its own weight.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 11, 2018 @ 16:08

        I think he was blowing off some steam. 🙂

  • Kevin Dally Feb 8, 2018 @ 16:02

    Pat Young mentioned the CWTBB, and a question was posed in a new thread by me, asking: “What made any of the blacks in the ranks “Confederate”????? They were not citizens, equal with the white’s, that I know of, or by any Confederate law.”
    Well, 275 post’s latter, no one convinced me they were “Confederate”! I see this “Black Confederate” title coming up more often, and I cannot understand how folk can know the history of the Confederate States, and honestly THINK that slaves/blacks were somehow equal to the whites in the Confederate ranks!

    • HankC Feb 10, 2018 @ 14:50

      It should really be “Confederate’s Blacks” and, yes, that is the possessive, in the most literal sense.

  • Andy Hall Feb 8, 2018 @ 15:58

    I’m not familiar with the America Through Time imprint, but my two short books were published through History Press and I can speak to their business model, at least as it was until relatively recently.

    As noted above, the publisher does not do any sort of peer review or (as far as I am aware) detailed checking of references. Their business model is to publish short works on historical topics of narrow (and usually local) interest. They generally print to a very standardized format — 38,000 words, 30-40 images — that streamlines editing and production on their end. Authors are responsible for delivering a near-finished product, including locating images and obtaining permissions for their use. It was a good model for me, is the first time book author, because it gave me a very rigid structure to write to, which helped me a lot. But History Press was geared to putting out a very large number of titles every year, something like two or three new books every week. Some titles they’ve put out are deeply researched and a very good quality, while others are superficial and unreliable.

    Although I have not seen Tucker’s work in this case, my expectation is that it will be very much like other “black Confederate” books, similar to those by Charles Kelly Barrow, J. H. Segers et al. — largely a collection of disconnected factoids and anecdotes, without much attempt at developing an overall narrative, or doing in-depth research on any of the men he discusses. That wouldn’t contribute much to the discussion, but I have no doubt it will be well received in certain quarters.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 9, 2018 @ 3:42

      There are some very good books in their catalog, but as you suggest here it really does come down to the vigilance of the individual author.

  • David Kent Feb 8, 2018 @ 10:55

    It’s one thing when this is done by neo-Confederates, but the author holds a Ph.D in history and has a long track record of Civil War books. I’d say he’s a person who has a PhD in history, and who is also a neo-confederate that very much wants to sell lots of books to his “base”. I don’t suppose there will be any muster rolls, payroll documents, etc, in his book. Someone said he uses Wikipedia as a reference???……I think I’ll wait for your book. Honesty is at a real premium in this “maga” influenced country we live in now. I feel I know exactly how the anti- fascist people in the thirties and forties felt at the time.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2018 @ 16:49

      I’d say he’s a person who has a PhD in history, and who is also a neo-confederate that very much wants to sell lots of books to his “base”.

      Lots of people buy into this narrative outside of the neo-Confederate community.

  • Meg Feb 8, 2018 @ 10:54

    I feel your pain, said a few of us, once in a while. Just stay the course. Maybe someone will send me the book to review and I will rip it to shreds. But yeah–this is a writer’s worst nightmare. Remember Ellsworth!

  • Yulanda Burgess Feb 8, 2018 @ 10:40

    I think the publicity blurb toting a factually flawed movie speaks to the lack of merit in this forthcoming book. What the public DID learn from that movie was the thousands of African Americans fought for their freedom and that it was not given to them. Mr. Tucker standing on the goat tails of the 54th Mass to promote the bases of book is beyond words. It’s like he is crying in a windstorm hoping that someone will hear him. Of course, using the 54th Mass will spark the interest of some unsuspecting soul looking for African American Civil War soldiers. Tucker’s use of the photo depicting Silas Chandler, despite his descendants cry to stop misusing it, should have a lot of backlash. That said, I am often one to read and then later comment, but the subject breaks that rule. Therefore, I believe I have the liberty to say upfront about this publication: “Ignorance is forever busy and requires constant feeding.” I hope the day comes soon when the black confederate monster myth dies from gluttony.

    Again, waiting for your upcoming publication.

  • woodrowfan Feb 8, 2018 @ 8:02

    The History Press has published some good books, but they do NOT peer review. That they published this book is embarrassing and horrifying

  • Patrick Young Feb 8, 2018 @ 5:54

    Phillip John Tucker is a notorious character over at the Civil War Talk message board. Back in 2016 Tucker threatened to sue the site over a thread discussing his book on Pickett’s Charge. You can read the response by Civil War Talk here:

    The thread in question was not even a book review, just a member criticizing some alleged errors in the book, its Lost Cause frame, and pointing out that Wikipedia had been cited by the author as a source.

    • Kevin Dally Feb 8, 2018 @ 15:36

      Pat! Wow, THAT posting on CWTBB somehow went under the radar with me, never read that thread, and can only appreciate MORE what Mike Kendra and everyone involved went thru with this Tucker feller! Thanks for bring it up!
      Kevin Levin, I’m anxious for you to get your book out so I can read it, please keep updating us!

      • Pat Young Feb 9, 2018 @ 14:00

        Imagine that! Our friend E puts up a hundred words of criticism about a book and the next thing the book’s author is threatening to sue Mike. When does an author threaten a suit over a comment on a message board?

  • Msb Feb 8, 2018 @ 5:16

    I hope his research skills are better than his knowledge of capitalization practice. Also interesting that the real 54th doesn’t get caps when the imaginary Black Confederates do.

  • Paul Taylor Feb 8, 2018 @ 4:40

    Kevin – I was slowing shaking my head in utter amazement while reading your post, especially the book’s description. And I completely empathize with your frustrations as an author. Is it possible that a (relatively) few black slaves quickly pulled on grey jackets and pointed a musket at Union troops in the heat of battle while tending to their masters? Sure. But to then imply that placing black men in grey uniforms was Confederate policy throughout the war is ridiculous. I can assure you that a book on the topic published by the Univ. of North Carolina Press will be far more likely to find a permanent home in my library’s overcrowded bookshelves than the other one.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2018 @ 4:44

      Hi Paul. Great to hear from you and congratulations on your own forthcoming book. I look forward to reading it.

      I am honestly not at all concerned about being overshadowed by this book. What I find frustrating is the blatant distortions that continue in reference to Silas. I have published on Silas and PBS’s *History Detectives* even dispelled this myth a few years ago. Enough already.

      • Waymon Hinson Feb 8, 2018 @ 4:55

        I have been reading slave narratives of late in preparation for an article on black land acquisitions and dispossession. In several of the narratives there is mention of a slave going with a younger master into the confederate army and then returning. There is seldom any mention of precisely what the enslaved African was doing and certainly no mention of fighting. This is just a retrospective from this morning’s post.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 8, 2018 @ 5:06

          I have been reading slave narratives of late in preparation for an article on black land acquisitions and dispossession.

          I really like the way you began this comment. These stories ought to be treated as part of the genre of slave narratives, authored by white southerners, that stretch back into the antebellum period.

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