BLACK CONFEDERATES WERE REAL PEOPLE, The Unknown Icon'
This image from the Library of Congress is iconic. Young Andrew Chandler joined the Palo Alto Guards & soon found himself a member of the 44th Mississippi Infantry attached to the Army of Tennessee. Like all 17 year olds, he quickly went to a photographer to have his "image floated'. Intending the image to be sent home, Andrew brought his body servant Silas with him. (Until after the war, he was not known by Silas Chandler.) Compared with images floated at the same time, the three pistols, giant knives & very long shotgun were the photographer's props that appear in numerous images.
The men of the 44th Mississippi had been presented with large double edged knives made by a local blacksmith. The image above is of one of the few examples of those knives that Andrew Chandler & his comrades marched off to war strapped onto their belts. This one exists because the owner sent it home. One of the first lessons that the callow soldiers of 1861 learned was that giant knives, pistols & Don Quijote breast plates were decorator items that belonged on a wall, not on the sweat soaked person of a soldier marching in the hot sun. Abandoned campsites & ditches along the line of march were littered with anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. Almost all of these knives were simply thrown away.
This tattered flag was captured from the 44th Mississippi at the Battle of Nashville in 1864.
Andrew looks a little startled in the photo. Well he might be. The privileged life of the white son of a prosperous man who owned thirty-five slaves & had an estate worth $40,000 at his death in 1854 was about to come to an abrupt end. The relic in the image above is the bookend for the other end of the 44th story. The 44th's record reads like an abbreviated history of the Army of Tennessee. Like all the original regiments of 1861, "almost nobody came home whole."
Two year old Silas had been carried by his mother overland from Virginia to Mississippi. As the accounts of both slave drivers & the female slaves themselves document, his mother would have been subject to repeated sexual assault along the way. Silas must have been an exceptional individual. At the age twenty two when his image was floated, he was a skilled carpenter. That probably meant that he was literate, at least at a rudimentary level. Carpenters need to have more than basic math skills. As such, Silas was worth a premium price of as much as 25% more than a prime buck. Andrew Chandler was taking what amounted, in modern terms, a Mercedes with him to war.
While subject to the vicious physical beatings believed necessary to keep slaves in their place, it is unlikely Silas had experienced much of it. The recommended punishment on deep south plantations was staking out the spread eagled naked slave face down & beating them 50 times with a cow hide strap. A pregnant woman was afforded a hollow in the ground to protect her valuable baby. By way of establishing a comparison, during Nelson's time the Royal Navy's normal punishment was six to twelve lashes. 50 lashes was reserved for offenses of the worst kind or the whim of brutal captains. Disabling a valuable carpenter with fifty lashes would have been bad business. Never the less, Silas had no illusions as to his fate if he fell afoul of the rules. Be that as it may sitting next to his obviously tense master, Silas looks relaxed & at ease.
We do not actually have much personal data on Silas or what he thought about becoming a camp slave. What we do know is that after Chickamauga Silas became Andrew's brother's man for the rest of the war. The post war relationship between Silas Chandler & the white Chandlers is unknown. Silas' present day status as a poster boy for the Black Confederate advocates would astound both him & his owner. The world in which they lived was very different than the ones depicted on the many websites that cite Silas's photographer prop shotgun as proof that slaves in large numbers were enlisted in the Confederate Army.
In his address to the Missouri legislature in March 1861, Mississippi commissioner Luther J. Glenn made his state's reasons for going to war unmistakably clear.
"(Lincoln's) ... purposes, objects, & motives (were crystal clear)... hostility to the South, the extinction of slavery, & the ultimate elevation of the negro to civil, political, & social equality with the white man... (causing Mississippi) to dissolve he connexion with the General Government."
Commissioner Luther J. Glenn.
Alabama commissioner Stephen F. Hale made the position of his state's government in language that leaves no doubt as to their reasons for seceding.
"... amalgam or extermination... (were the South's choices)... all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection (with white Southerners) degraded to a position of equality with free negroes... (Southern) sons & daughters... associating free negroes upon terms of political & social equality."
"(Southern citizens would suffer)... assassinations & her wives & daughters to pollution & violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans."
Commissioner Stephen F. Hale
Is this why young Andrew Chandler believed he was going off to war, to protect Southern womanhood from "...pollution & violation to gratify the lust,,," of Silas? We don't know. All we know is that he marched into the recruiting office & signed his name on the line to do just that. As to Silas, he really had no choice, his God ordained master ordered him to put on a suit of new clothes & do his camp chores for him. Apparently, like the good craftsman he was, Silas performed his camp duties for the entire war. In 1865 Silas became Silas Chandler, taking his former master's name would have been a show of respect. According to Freedman's Bureau records, about 80% of newly freed people chose names unrelated to their former masters. At that point Silas Chandler goes off & lives his own life.
The ubiquitous image of Andrew & Silas has graced hundreds, perhaps thousands of books & articles written about the Civil War. It is worth your while to pause & take a long look at the floated image. There is no processing, no touching up, no photoshop, no nothing to a floated image. Sunlight bounced off the boys & was focused flopped left to right onto chemicals on a metal plate. There is nothing more immediate than a floated image.
Why, exactly, anybody conversant with civil war soldier images would look at this one & conclude that Silas was a soldier baffles me. Silas is holding the same knife & preposterously long shotgun as hundreds of white boys. The pepperbox pistol tucked into his jacket is a nice touch. On top of it all, Silas' service as a body man camp steward is amply documented. You gotta wonder, if this is the poster boy for Black Confederate combatants...well, you can draw your own conclusions.
I am a blacksmith. At a friend's request, I made a replica of the 44th's knives. I used dimensions taken directly from a surviving example. It is straight forward blacksmith work, not fancy knife smithery. A member of our local forge, who is a very skilled knife smith, did the grip & guard. The man I made it for recreated the scabbard. I wore it during one of our weekend battery programs at Stones River Battlefield. I was extremely happy to stow the thing into the back of my car on Sunday afternoon. The constant tug of that much weight on my belt gave me a nasty backache. At that time I wore a tool belt all the time, there is something about that dead weight hanging there all day that made me miserable. I suppose I would have been one of the first to toss the thing into a ditch.
"the horrors of Santo Domingo" often referenced by orators in 1861 referred to the fate of white Frenchmen in Haiti. During the Napoleonic wars, the slaves on the French half of the Island of Santo Domingo rose up. Napoleon reassigned the regiments that had been intended for the occupation of New Orleans to suppress the servile uprising. A combination of well organized implacably hostile attacks by the self-liberated slaves & yellow fever exterminated Napoleon's regiments & virtually every white or vaguely white person of any age on the island. No longer needing the farm produce of the Mississippi valley to feed the slaves & soldiers of Santo Domingo, Napoleon sold Louisiana to Thomas Jefferson. The fate of the French slaveholders haunted the nightmares of every Southerner.