The Crater In The Classroom
As many of you know my Civil War elective has both a research and reading component. In reference to the latter my students read a series of articles that address many of the important interpretive debates of recent years. We’ve read articles by Gary Gallagher, James McPherson, Peter Carmichael, James Marten, David Blight, and Drew Faust. A few weeks ago one of my students asked if we could read one of my publications. I resisted at first, but a few of the other students chimed in in support of the request. So today the class came prepared to discuss "On That Day You Consummated the Full Measure of Your Fame": Remembering the Battle of the Crater, 1864-1903" which appeared in the 2004 issue of the journal Southern Historian (pp. 18-39).
I have to say that it felt just a little awkward at the beginning. As they pulled out the article I noticed that a number of students had highlighted and/or written notes in the margins. It was strange to see my own work dissected by my own students. I always start by asking the class to explain the author’s thesis in the clearest terms. As you can imagine it was a bit uncomfortable to ask, "What is Levin’s thesis?" The article gave the class a clear sense of the broader project that I am close to finishing. They asked about specific interpretations of evidence and clarification of other points. As we discussed the main themes I showed some images of the Crater, Mahone, and the 1937 reenactment. We had a nice discussion which revolved around the contrasting images of John Elder and Don Troiani and their depictions of black soldiers during the battle. I spent a good chunk of time discussing Mahone’s political career and its effect on his war record. I am willing to bet that the 11 students in this class will be the only students in the country to learn about the Readjusters. All in all it was a fun class.
The semester is coming to an end in a few days and the class is finishing up research projects. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the students in this section and will miss them come January.