Washington Post Reports on the Chandler Tintype Donation

chandlerReporter Mike Ruane wrote about the unusual photograph of Andrew Martin Chandler of the 44th Mississippi Infantry and family slave Silas in today’s Post. The image was donated to the Library of Congress by Tom Liljenquist, who learned about the image from my book, African American Faces of the Civil War. The image originally appeared on a 2009 segment of PBS Antiques Roadshow.

The Antiques Roadshow segment was brought to my attention by Richert Salondaka, with whom I became acquainted when my wife, Anne, and I lived in Northern California back in the late 1980s and early 90s. I remember Richert noting that this has got to be in my book! he was right. I tracked down the owner of the photograph, and eventually obtained permission to publish it in African American Faces.

Since then, the photo has appeared on PBS History Detectives, and it continues to be the subject of conversation about slavery and the Confederacy.

Now it is in the Library of Congress—and it belongs to the American people.

An excerpt from Ruane’s story:

Liljenquist bought the photograph from descendants of Andrew Chandler on Aug. 15 and immediately gave it over to the library. “I owned it for about 10 minutes,” he said last week.

He declined to say how much it cost or identify the owner. But five years ago, on the “Antiques Roadshow” television program, the picture was said to be worth $30,000 to $40,000.

In an interview at the library, he said the photo captured “two remarkable young men … (who) look very sincere, maybe a little bit scared, maybe not.”

Read the full story.

Confederate Soldier, Family Slave Now in the Library of Congress

Chandler-Silas-AndrewOne of the most unique Civil War images to surface in recent years is now part of the Liljenquist Family Collection at the Library of Congress. According to Tom Liljenquist, the sixth-plate tintype of Sgt. Andrew Martin Chandler of the 44th Mississippi Infantry and his family slave, Silas, was delivered to the Library this afternoon.

Liljenquist, accompanied by Chandler Battaile Jr., a descendent of Sgt. Chandler, were met by senior staff and other Library employees to receive the photo about 3 pm today.

The image has been a focus of attention since it was shown on PBS in a 2009 episode of Antiques Roadshow, and again in a 2011 segment of History Detectives. The photo has been put forth by some as proof that Silas was a “Black Confederate” who fought for the South, while others have provided primary research that establishes Silas was no more than a slave who served two of his master’s soldier sons during the war.

The Chandler story has been the subject of numerous books and articles. Battaile has requested that the version included in my 2012 book, African American Faces of the Civil War, be posted with the image on the Library’s site along with the image. I wrote another version that appeared as part of the New York Times Disunion series, “A Slave’s Service in the Confederate Army.”

The image included here was taken from a scan that I made from the original tintype with permission of Chandler Battaile Jr. in 2009.

The Unpublished Diary of John Freeman Shorter, 55th Massachusetts Infantry

photo 1Today I will be visiting the offices of the National African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington to deliver the diary pictured here. It was kept by 2nd Lt. John Freeman Shorter in 1865—his last year with the 55th Massachusetts Infantry and the last of his life. Shorter, who is descended from Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings, through her daughter (and Sally Hemings’s sister or half-sister) Betty Brown, died of disease a few weeks after he returned to his home and fiancé in Ohio.

I spent three months working on the diary, with the help of my wife Anne and several friends who were truly generous with their time: Julie Baker, Susan Sukys Evanko and Phyllis M. Sukys. The transcription would not have been completed without their efforts.

photo 2The diary was purchased by Tom Liljenquist earlier this year at a Civil War show. He and I will make the visit to the Museum to formally donate the precious volume today.

Shorter was in a South Carolina hospital recovering from a crippling foot wound he suffered at the Battle of Honey Hill, S.C., on November 30, 1864. His daily entries record visits by comrades, friends and dignitaries including Martin Robison Delany. Shorter describes his recovery, notes wounded and sick soldiers from Sherman’s army arriving at the hospital during the march through the Palmetto State, the surrender by Gen. Lee of the Army of Northern Virginia, and the assassination of President Lincoln.

Each entry averages 30-35 words, and starts with a description of the weather before noting details of the day. Shorter does not share his feelings, and I can’t help but wonder if he intended someday to write a memoir of his wartime experience with this diary as a reference to remind him of day-to-day activities.

His last full entry was recorded on Friday, September 22, 1865. It is a typical entry, lacking punctuation and capital letters:

the morning clear and
pleasant quite a
number of the Officers
went to Boston on
business, nothing going
on on the Island
worthy speaking
is written a letter
to my Father
reported that the
paymaster is by
command Paying off the
Regiment in the
morning

This sketch of his life and service appears in the regimental history, Record of the service of the Fifty-fifth regiment of Massachusetts volunteer infantry:

RMC2006_0011John Freeman Shorter was born in Washington, D.C., in the year 1842. His father was for a long time messenger in the United-States Senate. At the time of his enlistment, Lieut. Shorter was working as a mechanic in Delaware, Ohio. With few early advantages, he had acquired by hard study a good English education. In the spring of 1863, hearing of the organization of the Massachusetts regiments, he left home, and joined the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, then recruiting at Readville. June 24, 1864, he was appointed First Sergeant of Company D. In this position, he proved himself to be an excellent Orderly. Quiet, reserved, modest, he yet held his company in the firmest control. With every soldierly quality, from scrupulous neatness to unflinching bravery, he well merited the reputation of the best non-commissioned officer in the regiment. As such, he was selected for the first promotion from the ranks, and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant by Gov. Andrew, March 24, 1864. The department commander (Brig. -Gen. John P. Hatch) refused him a discharge as Private and muster as Lieutenant, because ” men of African descent could not be commissioned in the United-States Volunteers ! ” While occupying the anomalous position of an officer commissioned and not yet mustered, he was wounded in the foot, at Honey Hill, S.C., Nov. 30, 1864. By this wound he was so severely crippled, that, when the Secretary of War finally decided to recognize colored line-officers, a special order was necessary to authorize his remuster. Notwithstanding this wound, he continued on duty with the regiment after returning from the hospital, and was finally mustered as Second Lieutenant, July 1, 1865. When the Fifty-fifth returned to Massachusetts, he accompanied them, and was discharged with his company, Aug. 29, 1865. He set out directly for Delaware, Ohio, where the young lady resided to whom he was engaged to be married. On the way, he was exposed to the contagion of the small-pox, which his constitution, weakened by wounds, could not resist ; and, soon after arriving at his destination, he died of varioloid.

The officers and men of the regiment will retain him in very pleasant and honorable remembrance. In person he was tall, of muscular build, with head carried a trifle forward, hair light, complexion almost white, and blue eyes, whose lively expression brightened a face otherwise somewhat grave. He was very reticent ; but his few words were crisp, earnest, and to the point. A thorough soldier and a thorough man, he earned and worthily filled the grade to which he was promoted, and amply justified the friendship of the officers of the regiment and the State authorities of Massachusetts, who had urged upon the United-States Government the justice and the policy of the final recognition of the rights of his race, implied in opening to them promotion from the ranks.