This increasingly famous portrait from the US Civil War is of two men. On the left is Andrew Chandler, Confederate soldier from Mississippi. On the right is his slave, Silas Chandler, who accompanied Andrew into war. Was Silas a Confederate soldier? The question has divided two families with the same last name for a hundred years, and more recently, groups of Americans who see the Civil War differently. In 1994, the the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy held a ceremony at Silas’ grave to honor his “service” to the Confederacy.
This story might have remained, like many others, just another Civil War tale passed down from one generation to the next, if it weren’t for an astonishing tintype of the two men, armed to the teeth in Confederate uniforms, taken in 1861. The image has helped bolster the claims of the community of amateur historians, hucksters, and Confederate sympathizers committed to defending the Confederacy from the charge of racism, who insist that thousands of black men fought and died for the rebel cause. “Ever since the SCV posthumously honored Silas,” [Kevin] Levin wrote in 2012, “accounts of black Confederate troops have surged in popularity.”
That account is far from universal. Silas’ great-granddaughter, Myra Chandler Sampson, said that Silas never had a choice.
But where Andrew Chandler’s descendants recall an intimate friendship that lasted for generations, and neo-Confederates see evidence of a post-racial Confederacy, Silas Chandler’s family sees a slave forced to serve a cause he did not believe in, not only in life but also in death.
“They dressed him up like a monkey,” Sampson said, “and took him off to war.”
Read the story of what happened to Andrew Chandler and Silas Chandler in the war, and how the legacy of the photograph has served two -or more- widely varying opinions on the Civil War, at Buzzfeed.
(Image credit: Library of Congress)