Richmond Newspapers Assess the Crater

The Richmond Dispatch included a great deal of commentary that referenced the presence of black soldiers in the battle to both warn its readers of possible dangers and as a means to maintain support for the war effort.  By including such detail readers on the home front were made aware of the dangers that black soldiers represented and, by extension, the threats posed by their own slaves.  According to one editorial, “Negroes, stimulated by whiskey, may possibly fight well so long so they fight successfully, but with the first good whipping, their courage, like that of Bob Acres, oozes out at their fingers’ ends.”  The attempt to deny black manhood by assuming they were “stimulated by whiskey” to fight reinforced stereotypes while the reference to “whipping” took on a dual meaning between the battlefield and home front as a way to maintain racial control.   In addition, the North’s use of black troops allowed the newspaper to draw a sharp distinction between “heartless Yankees” who brought themselves to a “barbarous device for adding horrors to the war waged against the South” and “Robert E. Lee, the soldier without reproach, and the Christian gentleman without stain and without dishonor.”  Highlighting Lee’s unblemished moral character highlighted his role as the Confederacy’s best hopes for independence, but also served as a model for the rest of the white South to emulate as the introduction of black troops represented an ominous turn.

The Richmond Examiner not only acknowledged the execution of black Union soldiers, but went a step further and encouraged Mahone to continue the practice in the future:

We beg him [Mahone], hereafter, when negroes are sent forward to murder the wounded, and come shouting “no quarter,” shut your eyes, General, strengthen your stomach with a little brandy and water, and let the work, which God has entrusted to you and your brave men, go forward to its full completion; that is, until every negro has been slaughtered.—Make every salient you are called upon to defend, a Fort Pillow; butcher every negro that Grant sends against your brave troops, and permit them not to soil their hands with the capture of a single hero.

10 thoughts on “Richmond Newspapers Assess the Crater

  1. Mike Noirot

    Kevin,

    Very interesting article. I just finished reading a review copy of Earl Hess’s new book, “In the Trenches of Petersburg.” He covered this topic fairly well, but did not use the Richmond newspaper article as a source. Thanks for making me aware of this.

    Mike

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Mike,

      I am also making my way through the Hess volume. You will notice in the acknowledgments section that I collected most of his archival sources for this particular book. Keep in mind that Hess is much more interested in the influence of earthworks on the Crater and broader campaign rather than the racial aspect. In my opinion it’s what makes his three-volume treatment of the war in the East so important. Glad you found the post to be of some interest.

      Reply
  2. Mike Noirot

    I agree with you, Mark. Taken singularly, Hess’s books on field fortifications are a nice read. Taken as a three volume work, they break new ground on the use of field fortifications in the east. I recently interviewed Earl, and hope to have the interview on my blog in the next week. He is very interesting and I believe the interview is very revealing.

    Reply
  3. James F. Epperson

    When I read Carmicheal’s bio of Willie Pegram some years ago, I recall similar sentiments from him in some letters home. (That’s why I asked the other day if he was from Southampton.) IIRC, he explained and justified (or tried to) the extra killings that went on.

    The irony, of course, is that the men in the USCT formations weren’t drunk; their commander, alas, was.

    Reply
  4. Kevin Levin Post author

    Mike,

    I look forward to the intereview. By the way, it’s Kevin and not Mark. :)

    James,

    Pegram’s account is definitely one of the more sophisticated and revealing accounts on this issue, but overall his fits easily into the rest of the lot.

    Reply
  5. Gregg Jones

    Excellent article. It’s factual, verified and proven to say the least. However, so many times when one brings out the fact that the South was racist during this time (and other times too) it is almost as if only the South had this horrible issue. The rest of the World was racist too. For one example Mexico has many slave revolts. In Mexico City during one revolt all the slaves that were recaptured (over a thousand) were executed. I don’t think you could list all of the slave revolts in East Africa, Brazil, Hati, etc. There were many and most failed. Prior to the Civil War this was their world and for the people of the Americas, Europe and Africa it was their time and their belief that slavery was acceptable. The North was not in love with anyone who was not white; they had slave revolts and committed acts of hate (look at the New York Draft Riots during the Civil War where Blacks were killed outright and the only orphanage for African American homeless children was destroyed and orphans killed during the riots). How about the 54th Mass regt? It was one of the early all Black regiments to fight in the Civil War. The 54th let the attack on the Confederate Fort and was suppose to be followed by other regiments (whites) but somehow, they went in alone and were failed by their own comrads that did not follow in. Why do so many writers make broad, out front in the face of every American with accurate statements that the South was racist to the extreme but will not give the atrocities committed by the North on African Americans equal attention?

    However, I thank you for how you have handled many sensitive issues that we still are prickly about today. Keep writing.

    Gregg

    Reply
  6. Kevin Levin Post author

    Gregg,

    Your point is that white southerners did not have a monopoly on racism and I couldn’t agree with you more. I can’t tell you how many times one of my readers feels a need to point this out as if I am somehow trying to engage in a morality play that singles out the South as the “bad guys.” Let me first say that nothing could be further from the truth. Much of what I write about is simply a reflection of my area of interest as a historian. I want to better understand the history of slavery and race in the South. It’s a fascinating topic.

    The manuscript that I am close to finishing on the Crater and historical memory tells a story that is centered mainly in the South since it was white southerners who took an interest in this battle after the war. I do cover the treatment of USCTs at the hands of white Union soldiers in the manuscript and I even included a few accounts in a recent post that you can check out: http://cwmemory.com/2007/08/09/white-union-soldiers-race-and-the-battle-of-the-crater/

    Finally, you said: “Why do so many writers make broad, out front in the face of every American with accurate statements that the South was racist to the extreme but will not give the atrocities committed by the North on African Americans equal attention?”

    There is as extensive a literature on the problems of race in the North as there is on the South. I am more than happy to suggest a few if you are interested. There is no bias against the South despite what you may hear from people who themselves are unfamiliar with the literature.

    Reply
  7. Mark DC

    who the hello cares about which side had more racists? Are you all cowards? The truth is, as Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens both bragged about, that the CONFEDERACY was based on “the great truth” that God ordained white man to enslave the black race. Forget your lunatic racism, this is the issue. The Southern Confederate belief and actions that God ordained — ordered — directed — white men to enslave the black race. Why? Because GOd was punishing black race, according to the bible.

    The CIvil War, in a real sense, was a battle of whose God is on your side. I didn’t say it — Southern leaders did. Read Davis and Stephens speeches bragging about it.

    Not kinda, not in a way, not sorta, not a few radicals at the fringes. This was how Confederate leaders acted and spoke — and BRAGGED about. They didn’t just admit it, they BRAGGED about it at the time.A nd they acted upon it.

    Oh, did I mention, Southern leaders bragged that their new nation was founded on “the great truth” that God ordained slavery? Maybe I should mention that a few times — because Southern leaders based their new nation on it, and said so.

    Meanwhile, fools today argue about which side had more racists. What are you, crazy? Which side had more child molesters? Which side had more rapists? I don’t know. But I do know which side was based on “the great moral truth” that God ordained slavery, to punish the black race.

    Soon as you fools quit your mindless rants about which side had more racists, and instead figure out Southern leaders were serious as a heart attack when they bragged about their duty as Christians to not only enslave, but to SPREAD that slavery to the entire white world, let me know. Because that is what was going on, and that is exactly what Southern leaders said at the time.

    After the South lost, it was like “Who — us? Slavery? No no no, not us”. Yeah you, slavery, yeah you, you lunatics were on a mission to spread slavery and you said so and acted so., Quit this whitewash about which side had more racists. No other nation on earth — do you hear me — no other nation on EARTH was ever founded on this “great moral truth”. Stephens was giddy with pride about it. He loved it. He pointed out that the Confederacy was the first nation ON EARTH to be so founded. That is not what some historian said later, though they should have, that is what Southern leaders were boasting about at the time, loudly, proudly, repeatedly, clearly.

    Pull your heads out, get real., The Civil War was about slavery, and the lunatic violent attempts by Confederate leaders to SPREAD it. And they said so.

    Reply

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