I am putting the finishing touches on my review of John Schmutz’s new book on the Crater for H-Net. Given my recent post on understanding the Crater as a slave rebellion you can imagine my surprise when I came across the following passage:
Weisiger’s Virginians were even more sensitive on this issue of confronting black foes than was the average Confederate soldier. A great many of these men had relatives who were slain or had aided in the suppression of Nat Turner’s Rebellion of 1831, only forty miles down the Jerusalem Plank Road in Southampton County. Most had gone to war viewing Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers as a much larger version of John Brown’s forlorn raid at Harpers Ferry (consequently, also an insurrection of slaves). Almost half of the brigade’s men were from the immediate Petersburg area and saw themselves as standing between their relatives and friends in Petersburg and utter havoc of the same sort that Nat Turner had loosed on their kin years before.
Schmutz captures all of the main points that I made in that earlier post. Unfortunately, he doesn’t expand on this brief analytical point in any substantive way. I agree that Virginians would have been sensitive given the local history, but white Southerners were reared on visions of chaos and miscegenation in the event of a successful slave insurrection. Again, I think we need to understand this in terms of the role and responsibilities that whites (slaveowning and nonslaveowing) assumed as members of a hierarchical society based on white supremacy. You didn’t have to be from Virginia to identify with these apocalyptic visions. Schmutz could have done a much better job of understanding the execution of USCTs following the battle as well as the parade of white and black Union prisoners that took place the following day.
Note: I’ve been invited to expand on these ideas for a feature article in one of the Civil War magazines. I will post my review of this book once it is up on H-Net.