Sergeant A.M. Chandler of the 44th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, Co. F., and Silas Chandler, family slave, with Bowie knives, revolvers, pepper-box, shotgun, and canteen; was Silas Chandler an enslaved camp servant, taking a photo amid movie studio props, or a bona fide black Confederate soldier?
Image Source: Library of Congress, Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-40073, also LC-DIG-ppmsca-40072
The website BuzzFeed.com has a great article about African Americans and the Civil War titled The Secret History Of The Photo At The Center Of The Black Confederate Myth. This is from the introduction to the article:
A 160-year-old tintype depicting Andrew Chandler and his slave Silas, both in Confederate uniform, has long been used as evidence that slaves willingly fought against the army that aimed to free them. Following the national backlash against Confederate iconography, Silas’s descendants seek to debunk this once and for all.
This is a powerful piece about how we, as families and communities, remember the past. It asks important questions, such as: can we ever really trust the family history that has been handed down to us, given that it might combine both fact and fancy? And also: after we die, who gets to tell the story of our life: our families, “interested” social organizations, or somebody else? Silas Chandler (see the above picture), the young, enslaved person who was a camp servant during the Civil War, would never have guessed that 150 years after the war’s end, his memory would be as contested as it is now.
FYI, I met with Bobbie Chandler (one of the great-grandchildren of Silas) a few years ago in Washington, DC. He was visiting the African American Civil War Museum. He and several family members were quite skeptical of the black Confederate soldier narrative that had been applied to their ancestor, and he was trying to find information about the subject. We now know that his skepticism was well founded.
His search for the truth was touching. He was clearly frustrated that so many people had told this story about his forefather, but now it seemed like that story could not be trusted. So he had to go on a quest, you could call it, to find the real past.
I know a lot of people think that the black Confederate “controversy” is overblown, and perhaps not worth the time it’s given in the media, or in social media. But it did matter to these descendants of Silas Chandler that they finally learned the truth about his life, and it matters to them that his life be correctly rendered wherever it is told. Ultimately, it is this concern about family and truth that drives the controversy, as much as anything.
RIP, Silas Chandler