The first time I took my wife to visit the Crater she was less than impressed. If I remember correctly she said something along the following lines: “This is it? This is what you’ve been spending your time on?” Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but not by much. There are a number of points in the broader history of this site that I would of liked to have visited. Of course, to see the actual battle would have been interesting, but I also find the 1903 and 1937 reenactments to be attractive as well. Perhaps a round of golf in the 1920s would have been enjoyable. The only other time that I find attractive is right after the war. From all the reports I’ve read the battlefield was still an absolute mess, littered with weapons, bones, and other signs of the horrific fight. I’ve collected a number of accounts from various sources that are included in my manuscript, but nothing comes close to the following description from The Southern Opinion on June 29, 1867:
The crater was between twenty and twenty-five feet deep before it was closed over the dead, but now the average depth of the cavern is not more than eight feet or ten feet, with walls of slippery clay, in which has lately been discovered some valuable properties, equal in every respect to meerschaum clay. Tim Griffith, youngest son of the proprietor, has become a very artistick worker in the material, and has taken many impressions of relicks, such as United States belt plates, the eagle, and the corps mark of Burnside’s army corps, of which great numbers were to be found. Colonel Moore, of one of the government departments, Washington, has examined the clay, and pronounced it unequaled for modeling purposes–the best in the world. Some visitors affirm that the clay received its moulding and adhesive qualities from the blood of the slain buried there, which assertion seems to receive some support from the fact that veins of red permeate the compost. One fact has been demonstrated, which is undeniable, that the soil possesses great preserving qualities. On the 30th of July, 1866, three hundred bodies were taken out of the crater, and the corpses were as perfect in flesh as the day they were consigned to the pit, two years before. They were fresh and gory, the blood oozing from their wounds, and saturating still perfect clothing.
I have numerous accounts of bodies being re-interred into the 1930s, but nothing comes close to the descriptive quality here. The Griffith family, which owned the land on which the battle was fought, took full advantage of public interest in the site following the war. They kept a register book, which in 1866 alone includes the names of 8,000 visitors, which suggests that the number was even higher – a testament to its early popularity as a tourist site.. A visit to the Crater today really is a walk in the park.