The Irrelevance of Silas Chandler

News comes via Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory that his long awaited (and much-mentioned) article on Silas Chandler, coauthored with Myra Chandler Sampson, is about to appear.  I’m sure that the article will offer a far richer context about Silas Chandler’s story than did the episode on PBS’s History Detectives, which offered little in terms of information that anyone armed with a computer, a search engine, and access to the internet would not have found on their own.

However, I have a sneaky feeling that however compelling this article may be, it will be far from the last word on Silas Chandler, let alone on the tales of African Americans, enslaved and free, who flocked to serve the Confederacy as soldiers and who embraced the goals of the Confederacy.  In fact, I take that as a sure bet after reading this post, including the comments section, where someone who sounds a bit like a proslavery apologist declares that slavery was no more than an “unfortunate circumstance.”

Well, that’s one way to put it.

So now that we are at this point in time, I think it behooves serious scholars to discuss what, if anything, they might have to say about the experience of black people in the Confederacy.  What lines of inquiry do you think should be followed?  How much of this research should be driven by a debate among non-scholars, many of whom show no interest in actual scholarship, and how much should be driven by scholarly curiosity and a quest for understanding?

Yes, I understand that it’s important to deal with debates on the public sphere, no matter how tangential those debates may be when it comes to historical reality.  I’m not discounting that (or its impact on issues of history education).  However, I’m not interested in privileging it, either, and I think it’s a different discussion to wrestle with that issue, about which I have some different ideas and a well-circulated proposal.