James Clark Remembers The Crater (117th New York Infantry)

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post on neo-Confederates and the Crater.  One of my readers was kind enough to forward me a short excerpt from James Clark’s The Iron Hearted Regiment which tells the story of the 115th New York Infantry and was published in 1865. 

A colored division mount the works, and they too go forward on the charge. We watch them eagerly; it is their first fight, and we wonder if they will stand the shock. Noble fellows! Grandly they cross the field; they are under a withering fire, but still rush on regardless of fallen comrades, and the storm of pitiless lead and relentless grape that pours upon them from three sides, and gain the works with a ringing cheer. Now they sweep everything before them. Prisoners are taken, and are forced to run the fearful gauntlet of fire. A fellow comrade said he saw a colored soldier in an agony of frenzy, bayonet a rebel prisoner, and his own captain justly shot him dead. Others place wounded comrades in blankets and shelter tents, and compel the chivalry at the point of the bayonet to carry them from the field. The colored troops are greatly elated at their success, and wildly mass and crowd together regardless of all order or position." (p. 148)

It would be very interesting to survey the evolution of Union accounts of the Crater and the performance of U.S.C.T.’s.  As I suggested yesterday, a significant number of accounts penned by Union soldiers were critical of their performance.  I obviously do not know whether Clark’s 1865 account was pulled from an earlier diary or letter written at the time of the battle.  To what extent – if at all – does the date of publication in 1865, along with the strong emotions of victory and the passage of the 13th Amendment influence this account?

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