I am pleased to announce that I will once again be participating in the annual Civil War seminar sponsored by The George Tyler Moore Center at Shepherd University. In the summer of 2007 [here and here/photos] I took part in the center’s conference on Civil War Memory. It was a wonderful experience and I couldn’t be happier to be joining Mark Snell and the rest of the staff this summer in Petersburg, Virginia. This is the first year that the conference will take place away from its home base on the campus of Shepherd University. The conference is being co-sponsored by Pamplin Park. This year’s theme is, “Petersburg: In the Trenches with the Common Soldier” and it includes a first-rate line-up of scholars and two days of touring the various sites and battlefields in the Petersburg area. Will Greene will be conducting all of the tours and lectures will be presented by Earl Hess, Christopher Stowe, Dennis Brandt, and Walter Powell. I am looking forward to the chance to finally meet Earl Hess. In many ways he is responsible for my interest in Petersburg and the Crater specifically. Back in 2003 I collected a broad range of archival materials for what became Prof. Hess’s third volume in his series on earthworks. That material on Petersburg proved to be extremely helpful in shaping my own work on memory and the battle of the Crater.
My own lecture is titled, “Mahone’s Brigade and the Defense of Petersburg.” While this talk is based on my extensive research of Mahone’s brigade at the Crater, I hope to present a broader picture of the unit throughout the summer and fall of 1864. Over the past five years I’ve read scores of letters and diaries from these men and this will give me a chance to try out some ideas that fall outside the purview of my Crater project. The exploration of the connection between the battlefield and home front is nothing new to historians, but often the discussion comes across as overly abstract. The Petersburg Campaign, however, is one of the few moments during the Civil War where the battlefield and home front were indistinguishable. For the men of Mahone’s Brigade Petersburg and the surrounding area was literally their home. I am convinced that their close contact with a civilian population shaped the way these men responded to the presence of black Union soldiers at the Crater. How else did close proximity to civilians and family shape the outlook of these men on the war? Stay tuned.