Interpreting the Crater

The Petersburg Crater – Then and Now (Park Service Publication Vol. 3, No. 1 [July 1939])
By Raleigh C. Taylor
Junior Research Technician

Background
: Raleigh C. Taylor worked for the Petersburg National Military Park (1933-1940) and oversaw the publication of many of the Park Service’s tour and information guides. He supervised the publication of material for the 1937 Crater reenactment, which celebrated the addition of the Crater battlefield to the PNMP. This short article is an excellent example of the types of sources that I am using in the final chapter of my Crater manuscript. Taylor presents what had become the standard story of the battle. By 1939 most stories of the battle had been stripped of any overt racial references, which allowed for a more sanitized interpretation that emphasized the heroism of Civil War soldiers and allowed for a direct connection with the more recent experiences of WWI veterans. In reference specifically to the Crater, the reader is left with little more than the impression of mindless digging in the face of harrowing conditions. In fact what remains of the topography sets the terms for how visitors experience the battle rather than a more complete appraisal of the divisive issues that animated the men in the ranks and their military and political superiors. Ultimately, what mattered
most was the “product of the Blue and the Gray soldier-excavators.” Click here for an outline of my Crater manuscript.

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