His mother was a white woman, daughter of a German farmer named Kansler. She bore over five children by a slave. All the sons were very light skinned. James' brother, Henry, was able to "pass over the line," and served as a Private in the regiment.
Another brother, Hugh Lawson Cansler, a Knoxville Wheelwright, served as a personal servant to the Col. & Lt. Col. of the 43rd Tenn. He was not enrolled.
The Federal troops did not allow these men to remain with their regiments when they departed Vicksburg on parole.
Henry Cansler, Private, Company E, 59th Tennessee Infantry, surrendered at Vicksburg, July 4, 1863 and subsequently paroled.
James Cansler, Cook, Company B, 59th Tennessee Infantry, enlisted October 6, 1862 at Madisonville, Tenn. by Col. W. L. Eakin for 12 months, last recorded present on the May & June, 1863 muster roll, held at Vicksburg May 31, 1863, there is no parole certificate in his file.
"I had a freedman [James Cansler] who did the cooking for my mess. A sharp shooter, who we supposed was in a tree, succeeded in striking one of the vessls he was using on the fire. He did not stop--only cursed the 'Yankees' went on preparing such meal as we were able to indulge our appetites. He was a brave fellow. I was unable to get permission to bring him away after the surrender." (Letter from Col. William L. Eakin, 59th Tennessee Infantry to Capt. W. T. Rigby, Chairman Nat. M. P. Commission, Vicksburg, Miss. dated March 12, 1904, Vicksburg National Military Park