Getting Right With Silas and Andrew Chandler (again)

Update: Looks like the post has been removed. I am going to chalk this up to another example of simply not knowing how to respond to my critique.

To say that I am excited for the New Year and the publication of my book, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth (UNC Press) would be an understatement. The book certainly is not intended as the last word on the subject, but I do hope it helps people think through this subject and some of the popular historical figures that often emerge.

No one is more central to this story than Silas Chandler. I have written extensively about Silas and Andrew on this blog for the past ten years and both men appear throughout the book. The famous tintype of the two will grace the cover as well. Thankfully, there appears to be more understanding of the history of this relationship in recent years thanks to a PBS History Detectives episode that appeared in 2011.

Unfortunately, not everyone has stayed up to date on the Chandler saga. Consider Lani Burnette’s Facebook page, Black Confederates and Other Minorites in the War of Northern Aggression, which yesterday featured the famous photograph of Silas and Chandler along with Lani’s “analysis.”

Where to begin. We should start by noting that Silas’s legal status is never once referenced. He was born a slave to the Chandler family in Virginia and eventually moved to Mississippi. There are plenty of other problems, but here are just a few:

  1. There is no evidence that the two were childhood friends.
  2. The weapons in this photograph were likely studio props. In fact, Silas’s uniform may also have been a prop.
  3. There is no evidence that Silas saved Andrew’s leg in a hospital.
  4. As to why Silas never ran away, the author never mentions that he had a wife and newborn baby back in Mississippi.

Like most of the stories I explore in my book, we know very little about their relationship. What is shared in the historical record almost always comes through the pen of the slaveowner, but this does not prevent Burnette and others from drawing conclusions that have no basis in the available evidence. When Andrew Chandler came around to writing his own account of the war for Confederate Veteran magazine he made no mention of Silas. The story of Silas saving Andrew’s leg supposedly took place at Chickamauga.

The lack of curiosity about this story is reflected in the photograph of Andrew Battaile, Jr. and Bobbie Chandler, who appeared in the PBS episode cited above. Both of them were disappointed by the findings at the end of the investigation. In other words, neither person would find anything of value in Burnette’s profile.

Let’s end with a taste of the comments, which referenced my own work on this subject.

I think this says it all. In just a few months I won’t have to write posts like this. My response will simply be: “READ THE BOOK.”


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15 comments… add one
  • Connie Chastain Jan 2, 2019 @ 4:45

    “The weapons in this photograph were —>likelymay<— also have been a prop.”

    You don’t know for certain they were studio props? But you expect certainty from people who interpret things differently than you do.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 2, 2019 @ 5:00

      Happy New Year, Connie. Glad to see that 2019 Connie is just as insecure as in previous years. 🙂

  • Josh Jan 1, 2019 @ 15:46

    Little, if anything, intelligent comes from those who still call it the “War of Northern Aggression” in the 21st century. They are so grossly ignorant or disingenuous on the American Civil War as to be without value.

  • Rob Wick Dec 30, 2018 @ 13:39


    Just curious. Are you WILLINGLY ignorant, or were you actually forced to be? And has anyone ever met a smart fool? Just curious. Seriously, still looking forward to your book.


  • Meg Groeling Dec 30, 2018 @ 11:41

    WOW! You win a prize of some sort for ticking off the chiv! I am impressed, and a tad jealous. I guess I will have to learn to deal with my issues, while you, on the other hand, should be expecting a package marked “FRAGILE” from some parent company. Huzzah!

    • Kevin Levin Dec 31, 2018 @ 2:29

      I’ve had a lot of practice. 🙂

  • Rob Paxton Dec 30, 2018 @ 8:51

    Thank you for your work in finding the truth and dispelling myths of the war.

  • Andy Hall Dec 30, 2018 @ 7:34

    The old Confederate Veteran magazine regularly ran stories of “faithful slaves” saving their masters from the battlefield, bringing them home, etc., so it’s passing strange that Silas Chandler’s supposed service to Andrew Chandler didn’t make it into print there, especially if (as we are told in the legend) that they remained friends for years after the war.

    The detail visible in the high-res scan from LoC is remarkable. Silas is wearing corduroy trousers, that I doubt were military-issue. He has a pepperbox pistol stuffed into his jacket, and I think the long arm across their knees is a shotgun. Maybe these were studio props, or maybe they brought them from home, but either way, they don’t say much about Silas’ military service.

    But this is how those folks roll — they take a mute, still photograph and project onto it what they want to see, and ignore all the other evidence that is available, and the fact that there’s nothing to support their claims. Images like that of Andrew Chandler and Silas Chandler are the beginning</> of research, not the conclusion.

    Philip Thomas Tucker devotes roughly a page and a half in his book to this image, describing it in detail and waxing poetic about its deeper meaning — “two Confederate soldiers, one black and one white and side-by-side about to meet the Yankee invaders.” He then segues into a screed about “politically correct historians, who have lacked the necessary required expertise,” and “influential Black Confederate deniers.” He’s crammed everything into that passage except, you know, a single primary source reference to anything Silas Chandler did during the war.

    It’s quite the mess.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 30, 2018 @ 7:37

      Don’t get me started about Tucker’s mess of a book. Good point re: Silas’s trousers.

    • Bryan Cheeseboro Dec 30, 2018 @ 10:05

      I’m not sure Silas’ trousers are corduroy. They look like kersey-weave wool trousers to me. I have a pair of sky blue, Federal-issue soldiers’ trousers with this same diagonal weave pattern.

      Anyway, I think the thing that most convinced me that he wasn’t a soldier is that he has no Compiled Military Service Recordings. But Andrew does have one.

    • HankC Jan 2, 2019 @ 11:29

      Soldiers then, as today, were not allowed to carry government weapons out of camp.

  • Keith Harris Dec 30, 2018 @ 7:11

    Kevin…you say read the book as if they are going to read the book 🙂

    • Kevin Levin Dec 30, 2018 @ 7:36

      I do think curiosity will get the better of a few, but I do question whether they will read it with an open mind.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Dec 30, 2018 @ 4:59

    Your response will be to “READ THE BOOK” but, of course, these people would never do that in a million years… even if they were paid to do it. One has to wonder why they have so much hatred for anyone who offers disagreement of their claims of Silas Chandler as a soldier. But they are unable to prove anything about his military service beyond this photograph, which could have been taken for any number of reasons.

    Lani Burnette is right about the need to stand completely still for photographers (often known as “artists” back then) for these old pictures. And you are right about the possibility of weapons and uniforms as props, though I think that is something very hard to prove 150+ years later. Some pictures were taken in a photographer’s studio building; others were taken “in the field, i.e., by photographers following an army. While in camp, a soldier with his gun could have simply walked over to a photographer, sat in front of a canvas backdrop, and had his picture taken.

    I do think some photos have been shown to be cases where uniforms, etc. were borrowed, as is the case of several Confederate officers wearing the same coat for a photographer. This was written about a few years ago in a Civil War magazine. But who knows for other cases? All I know is that a photograph alone is not enough for proof of a man’s military service. To be sure, a man who was not even enlisted could have borrowed a whole uniform and a weapon to take a photo as a joke.

    And just an observation but I noticed in Burnette’s piece that when he writes about the two men, he correctly mentions Andrew as a Sergeant. But he does not mention Silas by any rank. Just sayin’.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 30, 2018 @ 5:03

      Curiosity may get the better of a few, but whether they read it with an open mind is another issue entirely. There are plenty of questions about the photograph that cannot be answered, but the claim about the weapons as possible props was made by a consultant on the PBS episode mentioned in the post.

      Another point that is often lost is that Silas followed Andrew’s brother Benjamin during the last year of the war. This fact reinforces the point that Silas was there to serve his masters, which included both brothers equally.

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