I just put the finishing touches on my paper and accompanying visual presentation for the George Tyler Moore Center – Pamplin Park Conference that begins tomorrow afternoon. Back in 2007 I took part in this conference, but this is the first year that Mark Snell and the rest of the gang at Shepherd University have decided to take the conference on the road. Teaming up with Will Greene and Pamplin Park was a smart move given that the conference has sold out. We will spend three days exploring the battlefields around Petersburg and discussing the experiences of the men in the trenches. Will Greene is the scholar-in-residence and will be be leading the tours. Additional presentations will be made by Earl Hess, Christopher Stowe, Dennis Brandt, Walter Powell, and Mark Snell.
You may remember a series of posts I did last summer that explored the ways in which the Confederate response to the presence of USCTs at the Crater connected to the challenges of maintaining slavery during the antebellum period as well as reports of slave rebellions both in the South and Caribbean. Since then I’ve developed these ideas for inclusion in the first chapter of my Crater manuscript as well as in an article that will appear in the October issue of Civil War Times. I am going to present a version of that article on Friday. I want the audience to think beyond the trenches as did the soldiers themselves. It is important to remember that during the final year of the war the Army of Northern Virginia was defending a civilian population. Many of the men in Mahone’s Virignia brigade were from Petersburg and the surrounding counties. Aaron Sheehan-Dean makes a compelling argument in Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia (UNC Press, 2007) that during that final year soldiers and civilians grew increasingly alienated from one another. He suggests that many of the men believed that civilians had failed to appreciate the sacrifices that Lee’s men were making on a daily basis outside of Petersburg. I argue that the Crater reinforced their connection with the home front and served to remind civilians of just what was at stake in the event of a Confederate defeat. I am looking forward to the opportunity to try out some of these ideas on Friday.
While I am looking forward to seeing a number of old friends, I am especially looking forward to meeting Earl Hess for the first time. Back in 2004 I conducted some research on William Mahone for a seminar class at the University of Richmond. It’s funny how word gets around, but somehow Chris Calkins, who was then the chief historian at Petersburg National Battlefield Park (PNB) found out about it and suggested to Prof. Hess that I might be able to help gather source material for his study of the Petersburg campaign. I was more than happy to help out since I was planning on turning that essay into an M.A. Thesis on historical memory and the battle of the Crater. Professor Hess had me working at the University of Virginia, Virginia Historical Society, Library of Virginia, Museum of the Confederacy, and PNB. The source list was extensive and provided me with a great start on my own project. It definitely saved me a great amount of time and ultimately went into what I consider to be a pretty good thesis. It will be nice to be able to thank Prof. Hess in person. By the way, Prof. Hess is slated to release his own study of the Crater in September. That makes four books on the Crater in the last few years, but why do I have a feeling that Hess’s book will be the best of the lot.
I hope to blog a bit from Petersburg, but from what I understand there is a happy hour scheduled for each night.