Confederate Master & Slave Tintype, ca. 1861
The gentleman on the left is Andrew Martin Chandler, my great-great-grandfather. The gentleman on the right is Silas Chandler, his slave, or as we've always called him, manservant. Andrew Chandler fought with the 44th Mississippi Cavalry, as did Silas. They're about the same age, joined the Confederate army when Andrew was 16, Silas was 17, and they fought in four battles together. What I'm told is unusual about this is that both men are obviously in Confederate uniforms, and that images of African Americans in Confederate uniforms during the war are particularly rare. I think they were seen more prevalently at veteran’s reunions and things wearing Confederate uniforms. But it was, I think, a very interesting relationship. The men grew up together; they worked the fields together, and continued to live closely throughout the rest of their lives.
Photographs of African Americans dressed in Confederate uniforms are really rare.
This is the third image that I know of that shows an enslaved African American in a Confederate uniform. What makes this even more extraordinary, though, is that he's armed with this great Bowie knife. And they both have Bowie knives, and he's got a shotgun across his lap, and there's a pepperbox revolver tucked into his jacket. What do you know about the battles that they fought in?
They fought at the battles of Belmont, Mississippi, Shiloh, Tennessee, Chicamauga, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
And at one of these battles, he was wounded, right?
My ancestor, Andrew, was wounded, shot in the leg. They were both taken to Camp Chase, Ohio, to a federal prison, traded in a prisoner of war swap, ended up in Atlanta. And tradition says that Silas prevented the doctors from amputating my great-great-grandfather's leg by giving them a gold piece that was sewn into his jacket for any kind of emergency that came up.
Now, there's more to this story, though, I know, because your families have reconnected recently, right?
Exactly. Again, these men lived in close proximity and remained friends throughout their lives. But, I guess, for three generations, the families lost touch. A copy of this picture appeared in a Washington D.C.-area newspaper, and was sent to me by an uncle. And so I did some research and found out that Silas' great-grandson lives in the DC area and placed a call to him about 20 years ago. And it really was like reconnecting with a member of the family. I think it was '96 that the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Mississippi presented Silas with a Confederate Medal of Honor. Silas' great grandson, Bobby Chandler, went from Washington to West Point, Mississippi, where Silas is buried, to receive that medal on behalf of his great-grandfather.
And Silas actually received a pension from the Confederate government for his service during the war, isn't that correct?
Yes, sure did.
The issue of African Americans in the Confederate army is a controversial one. At first, when Southerners went off to war, it was not unusual for a Southern officer to take his servant with him, his manservant with him. And that may be what happened here. In March 1865, the Confederate government was considering allowing slaves to register to serve in the Confederate army. The Confederate Congress actually did pass a law that African Americans could serve in the Confederate army, but there was no discussion about what they got, if they would be manumitted or set free if they served in the army. Initially the government was saying, "Well, we ought to... if they're going to do this we ought to set them free." But as the ordinance was finally drafted, it left the decision entirely to their masters. I would tell you that this image, I would insure it for around $30,000 to $40,000.
It's an extraordinary piece, and I just can't believe that I saw it.
Well, thank you. It's very interesting to learn more about it, and I'm honored to be able to steward this on behalf of my family and Bobby's family.
The photograph, we subsequently discovered, is more well-known and open to interpretation than we understood when the segment was taped during the summer of 2009. Nevertheless, because the photograph of Silas Chandler and Andrew Chandler remains an important artifact from this period in our nation's history, and a useful catalyst for ongoing discussion about the Civil War, we have decided not to edit the guest's oral history.
However, we do encourage viewers to explore more about the stories behind the image.
Appraiser Wes Cowan pursued the story further himself during an investigation for an episode of PBS's History Detectives that aired in October 2011. To find out what he discovered, visit the History Detectives website:
For even more information, below are a selection of websites that present differing opinions on this subject:
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