Sgt. Andrew Martin Chandler of the 44th Mississippi Regiment, left, and Silas Chandler pose in this tintype, circa 1861. The tintype was recently donated to the Library of Congress. (Library of Congress)

It is 1861 and the two men are going off to war. They sit side-by-side before the camera, their elbows and knees touching. They wear the uniform of the Confederacy and are armed with pistols, knives and a shotgun.

But one is white, the other black; one the master, the other his slave. Both stare at the photographer, as if told to be still, and there seems to be a faint look of weariness in the eyes of the slave.

The striking 150-year old tintype, one of the most enigmatic images from the Civil War, has just been donated to the Library of Congress by a local collector who bought it to give to the library.

The photograph shows Sgt. Andrew Martin Chandler of the 44th Mississippi Regiment and his “servant,” Silas Chandler, who was one of 36 slaves owned by the soldier’s mother.

Andrew Chandler is about 17 in the picture, according to records. Silas Chandler is in his mid-20s.

Tom Liljenquist, right, shows some of the photographs he has recently donated to the Library of Congress to, from left, Ron Coddington, Karen Chittenden and Donna Urschel. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

The photograph is a tiny window into the past, but it also presents modern Americans with an enduring image of the role of race in the United States. It portrays two men who are bound, willingly or unwillingly, in a common story.

And it raises the question: Why does a slave appear to be in arms against the crusade that would gain him his freedom?

“It is an extraordinary photograph,” said Helena Zinkham, head of the library’s prints and photographs division.

It is remarkably clear, although the surface is cracked like an old painting and there is rust around the edges. It had been in Andrew Chandler’s family since the Civil War.

In the picture, Andrew Chandler sits erect, his coat unbuttoned to the chest, a cap on his head. He holds a large knife in one hand, a pistol in the other, and has a second pistol stuck in his belt.

Silas Chandler appears shorter, slouching slightly in his seat. He wears a broad brim hat, and his coat is buttoned to the neck. He holds a smaller knife in one hand, and a shotgun that rests across his lap and that of his master.

“You look at those faces and you want to know more,” Zinkham said at the library on Wednesday. “Just look at the expressions. . . . Look at their body language.”

Ron Coddington talks about the back story of the photograph of Andrew Chandler and his slave Silas Chandler in Washington. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Civil War photo historian Ronald S. Coddington, who researched the picture for his 2012 book, “African American Faces of the Civil War,” said it is one of the most important photographs to come out of the conflict.

“There’s not another image like it, in terms of having an identified soldier and identified servant, that you can track,” he said.

“There’s some bond that brought these guys together and held them together,” he said. “Was it fear? Was it friendship? . . . We don’t know.”

Lonnie G. Bunch III, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, said he was familiar with the picture.

“It’s an image that historians have debated because of the discussions of whether or not African Americans voluntarily served in the Confederacy,” he said.

“The overwhelming sentiment is that African Americans who participated in the Confederacy were really coerced,” he said. “They were owned. They were enslaved.”

But could the two men have been friends?

“There’s no doubt that there were relationships between owners and the enslaved,” Bunch said. But they were unequal relationships. “Even if they played together as boys, they clearly were told there were distinctions based on race,” he said.

The photograph was donated by McLean collector Tom Liljenquist, who has turned over 1,200 exquisite Civil War era photographs to the library in the past four years.

Almost all are pictures of average soldiers or civilians, rather than generals, and are available online.

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.”

Liljenquist said he learned of the photograph about six months ago when he read Coddington’s book, where the image is reproduced.

Although it’s called a tintype, the original photo is actually on a thin sheet of iron.

Liljenquist said he wondered if the owner might sell it to him for the Library of Congress collection.

He said he had a series of meetings with the owner, who has been identified elsewhere as Andrew Chandler Battaile, of Alexandria, the Confederate soldier’s great-great-grandson.

And he arranged for the owner’s parents, who live in Mississippi, to get a look at the library’s Civil War photo collection and a tour of its ornate Jefferson Building.

“I tried to convince them that this image should be part of the Liljenquist collection at the Library of Congress, which I’m biased toward,” he said.

He noted that the picture was in need of conservation, which the library could provide.

The family agreed to sell it, and the exchange took place in front of the Jefferson Building on Capitol Hill. Reached by telephone, Battaile declined to comment.

Since its appearance on “Antiques Roadshow” and later on an episode of “History Detectives,” the photo has generated debate over Silas Chandler’s depiction as a willing Confederate.

“Enslaved people learned how to wear masks, how to cover their true feelings,” Bunch said. “So I would argue that what this image is somebody saying, ‘I’ve got to do this. I’m forced to pose. But I will not look like I’m forced to pose, because that might get me in trouble.’ ”

Coddington, the historian, said he had found no evidence that Silas Chandler was ever a combatant, and Mississippi pension records indicate his wartime role was that of a servant.

Several Southern states offered pensions to African Americans who were servants of Confederate soldiers, Coddington said.

Andrew Chandler was “very young when he went to war,” Coddington said. “And his mom, who was the owner of the slaves in the family, sent (Silas) along with Andrew.”

Coddington said it appears that the Chandler family hailed from Halifax County, in south central Virginia, along the North Carolina border, where Silas Chandler was born. The family migrated to northeastern Mississippi.

By the time of the Civil War, Silas Chandler was married, had a child and was a skilled carpenter.

Family history has it that Andrew Chandler, who was known as “A.M.,” was badly wounded in the leg at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863, Coddington said. Silas Chandler is said to have prevented surgeons from amputating the limb and helped his master get home.

Silas Chandler was then dispatched back to the war with Andrew’s younger brother, Benjamin, who joined a Mississippi cavalry regiment, Coddington said.

The regiment, accompanied by Silas Chandler, wound up being one of the outfits that escorted Confederate President Jefferson Davis in his failed escape attempt in 1865, he said.

About 50 years later, in July 1916, Silas Chandler, then 78, filled out via typewriter Mississippi’s pension application for “Indigent Servants of Soldier or Sailor of the late Confederacy.”

He indicated his “nearly four years” of wartime service to the Chandler brothers, swore that he was indigent and could not support himself. At the bottom of the form, where it read “signature of applicant,” he made his mark — an X.

Andrew Chandler, then 72, signed an affidavit verifying that the application was accurate.

A month later, the pension was approved.