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37 Chapter Two Camp Slaves on the Battlefield Over the course of two days in September 1863, Union and Confederate forces faced off in northwest Georgia along Chickamauga Creek in a battle thatwouldcometodeterminecontrolof thestrategicallyvitalcityof Chattanooga ,Tennessee.Union major general William Rosecrans and the Armyof the Cumberland proved victorious over General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, but not before the two armies suffered roughly 35,000 casualties —the most ofany battle after the threedays of fighting at Gettysburg just two months earlier. After the war Andrew Chandler recalled in the pages of ConfederateVeteran the 44th Mississippi’s role in a chargeon the second day of fighting that “broke the Federal line and drove them nearlyone mile,”only to be “recalled and reformed, and marched back to the old field, which was literally covered with dead and wounded Yankees.” Later that same day, the regiment was “ordered to the foot of a long ridge, heavily wooded,” to meet a “Yankee” countercharge.1 The regiment went into battle with 272 officers and enlisted men on September 19 and came out having suffered 81 casualties, one of whom was Andrew Chandler. A bullet had torn into Andrew’s right leg and ankle, a near-­ crippling injury that took him out of action.2 What happened next is not entirely clear, but it is likely that Silas Chandler came to Andrew’s assistanceon the battlefield during or shortlyafter the fighting had ceased.Today websites are filled with colorful stories about Silas’s braveryon the battlefield and the escorting of his master to a military hospital for treatment. According to one website, when the doctor advised amputation, “Silas pulled out a gold coin that the boys were saving to buy somewhiskey. Bribing thedoctors to let Chandler go, he then carried the injured boyon his back to the nearest 38 Camp Slaves on the Battlefield train.”3 Otheraccounts claim that the coin had been sewn into his coat to be used in case of an emergency, but there is no wartime evidence to confirm any of these stories. Questions about these reports are compounded by the fact that Andrew failed to mention Silas in his description of the battle for a publication that was brimming with stories of loyal slaves who risked their lives to come to the aid of their masters. What is known is that Andrew left the hospital with both of his legs and that the two returned to West Point, Mississippi. Confederatesfilledtheirlettersanddiarieswithaccountsof campslaves, like Silas, who placed theirown lives at risk to aid their wounded masters on the battlefield. Others told of the emotional response of slaves to the sight of their masters’ lifeless bodies and the commitment to fulfill their final responsibility to transport personal effects or the remains home to their families for a proper burial. The narrative of the loyal slave that would become so prevalent in the postwar period and that served as the foundation of the Lost Cause was rooted in these wartime stories. Observers also acknowledged camp slaves who marched into battle alongside white soldiers or who even picked up a rifle and shot at charging Yankee soldiers. Such accounts are almost indistinguishable except for the battle in question and the names of the principals involved. For each author, however, these moments of unquestioned slave fidelity pointed to masters’moral characterand constituted indispensable proof of the special bond that was believed to connect master and slave even in the most harrowing moments. Reports of armed slaves marching into battle alongside masters and assisting them on the battlefield remain the most contentious aspect of the memory of these men. Many in the Confederate heritage community today insist that these stories demonstrate that the army recruited blacks as soldiers into integrated units long before the Confederate Congress authorized slave enlistment in March 1865. For others who approach the subject with a sincere interest in understanding howenslaved people and free blacks functioned in the Confederate army, the historical record can be difficult to penetrate. Company cooks, for example, were occasionally listed on muster rolls and paid between ten and twentydollars a month.The goal of honoring these so-­called black men in gray, however, results in little more than a simplistic and self-­ serving picture that ignores the impact of extended military operations that both challenged and stretched the master-­slave relationship to the breaking point. It also ultimately fails to acknowledge the extent to which slaveholders themselves struggled with the implications of their servants setting foot on the...


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MARC Record
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