Smithsonian Misinterprets Famous Civil War Image

This past week I requested that the famous image of Andrew and Silas Chandler grace the cover of my forthcoming book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which will be published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2019. This should come as no surprise. Silas and Andrew have long been the face of this mythical narrative. The image has been misinterpreted by a cross section of the historical community, from National Park Service staff to Confederate heritage groups.

What I didn’t expect was to wake up today to a tweet from historian Brooks Simpson, who came across the image at the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington, D.C.

The original tintype is located just up the street at the Library of Congress. I have no idea how one of the most famous images of master and slave headed off to war – likely in 1861 – ended up in an exhibit about black Union soldiers.

Let’s hope they fix this.

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9 comments… add one
  • Alan Skerrett Oct 7, 2018 @ 12:26
  • Mike Furlan Sep 29, 2018 @ 13:02
    • Terri Cates Sep 29, 2018 @ 15:47

      That’s the altered photograph they are using at the NYPL. It’s not even a good photoshop.

  • Terri Cates Sep 29, 2018 @ 6:25

    As of this day, the New York Public Library has in it’s digital archives a photograph of Varina Howell that has been obviously altered to make her look African American. Wikipedia used this photograph up until recently .

    • Kevin Levin Sep 29, 2018 @ 6:35

      That is certainly unfortunate. Have you contacted their staff?

      • Terri K Cates Sep 29, 2018 @ 14:41

        Yes. First, I contacted Wikipedia. That’s how I found out that they were using the NYPL photograph. They replied that they had no intention of changing it because they were confident in the NYPL for truthful information, although, it has indeed been changed to an authentic photograph on Wikipedia. Then, I contacted the NYPL and received no response.

  • rcolton3 Sep 29, 2018 @ 3:58

    I have noticed that the Smithsonian magazine sometimes is sloppy in checking the articles it publishes. Several years ago they published a cover story about Jefferson’s valuation of his slaves. The author of the article said this showed how Jefferson valued his slaves at Monticello. A former curator at Monticello, noted in the American Scholar, that Jefferson had prepared his valuation as a hypothetical case in response to an Englishman’s interest in the slave economy in the early 1790’s. Jefferson may have valued his slaves this way, but the author of the article made no mention of the background of the document he used. The Library of Congress and the Smithsonian have a competitive relationship and this may explain the failure to check with LC.

    • Andy Hall Sep 30, 2018 @ 19:43

      Smithsonian Magazine is first and foremost a magazine, with Smithsonian branding. The content is not generally written by the curatorial folks.

      • Kevin Levin Oct 1, 2018 @ 1:10

        This is in the museum. Surely their curatorial staff had their hands in this.

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