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123 Chapter Five Turning Camp Slaves into Black Confederate Soldiers On September 17, 1994, the General William Barksdale Camp 1220, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and John M. Stone Chapter 380, United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), placed a Southern Cross of Honor on the grave of Silas Chandler in Greenwood Cemetery in West Point, Mississippi.1 By honoring him, the SCV transformed an unknown story about an obscure slave into a full-­ blown legend. Films, art prints, T-­ shirts, and the spread of the photograph of Silas and Andrew Chandler on the Internet soon followed , all promoting Silas as a loyal son of the South who became a Confederate soldier, heroically battling Yankees alongside his white owner. The Cross of Honor, introduced in 1900 by the UDC, was intended for Confederate soldiers who performed acts of valor on the battlefield. It was about this time that Myra Chandler Sampson, the great-­ granddaughter of Silas, discovered the marker. For Sampson, it represented nothing less than the SCV’s and UDC’s goal to “perpetuate myths in attempt to rewrite and sugar-­ coat the shameful truth about parts ofour American history for political and financial gain.”2 The Confederate heritage community relied on a wide rangeofaccounts of former camp slaves that became popularized by the turn of the twentieth century rather than on Lost Cause narratives from the immediate postwar period. By the 1990s, photographs of uniformed black men as well as pension applications in which the distinction between slave and soldier was sometimes clouded became evidence that the Confederacy recruited large numbers of blacks into the army as soldiers. Interpreting black men in the army 124 Turning Camp Slaves into Black Confederate Soldiers as soldiers echoed the Lost Cause’s insistence that African Americans were loyal but also constituted a break with the claim that they did so as slaves. The reinterpretation of Silas Chandler and others as soldiers, serving in an equal capacity towhite men, was part ofa much broadercounternarrative that was first introduced by the SCV in the late 1970s in response to a growing interest among academic historians and the general public in the history of slavery, the role of African Americans in the Union army during the Civil War, and the importanceofemancipation.This resurgenceof interest picked up speed during the civil rights era as historians and black Americans challenged the central tenets of the Lost Cause, especially the unassailable belief in the loyalty of the slave population.They emphasized the central role that slavery played in causing the war and emancipation as its most important outcome. At the centerof this new narrativewere stories of blackUnion soldiers and accounts of their role in helping to destroy the Confederacy and end slavery. Popular magazines such as Jet and Ebony, literature published by civil rights organizations, and public speeches of civil rights activists embraced the blackUnion soldieras a reminderofemancipation, freedom, and the “unfinished work” of achieving equal rights. New scholarship focused attention at historic sites and museums on the historyof slavery, and popular television shows such as Roots introduced Americans to a history of slavery that did not ignore or distort its darkest aspects. This new narrative of the Civil War was later popularized in the 1989 Hollywood movie Glory, and aspects of it could also be found in Ken Burns’s 1990 award-­winning PBS documentary ,The Civil War.Taken together, these constituted the first sustained attack against the Lost Cause and placed organizations like the SCV and the UDC on the defensive. The SCV and others viewed this gradual shift as a direct threat to their preferred understanding of thewarand the Confederacy in particular, which had remained intact throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Describing slaves like Silas Chandler as soldiers countered the increased attention now being given to the roughly 200,000 black men who served in the army and navy and helped to defeat the Confederacy, end slavery, and preserve the Union. In contrast with African Americans who served in segregated regiments, they argued, black Confederate soldiers served in integrated regiments from thevery beginning of thewar to its end.The numbers constantly fluctuated. Some argued that the presence of black soldiers was relatively small, numbering only a few thousand, while others insisted that it rose to the tens of thousands. For the proponents of this narrative, these black soldiers helped to defuse a growing acceptance that the goal of the Turning Camp Slaves into Black Confederate Soldiers 125 Confederacy was the protection of slavery...


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