As I make my way through my manuscript on historical memory one last time before sending it in, I am reminded of the dramatic changes that have taken place in the way we remember and commemorate the battle of the Crater. Much of that change has taken place over the past forty years as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. Before 1970 you would be hard pressed to find references to the story of USCTs in both written accounts and in the way the battlefield itself was interpreted. My manuscript ends with a few reflections about the Civil War Sesquicentennial, but when I peer into the future it is this image that I see. This is a photograph of Emmanuel Dabney, who works as a park ranger at the Petersburg National Battlefield. He is a native of Dinwiddie County and has fully embraced its rich history. Emmanuel has a degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington and recently completed an advanced degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. If Emmanuel has his way he will spend his career educating the public at PNB.
In many ways, Emmanuel is a big part of the story that I tell about the Crater. On the one hand, the fact that he is African American situates him at a crucial moment in the overall life of the battlefield and our broader understanding of the Civil War. At the same time Emmanuel has been a huge help to me throughout the research and writing process. Even this past weekend he helped to track down information about one of the Crater’s wayside markers. One of the joys of working on this project has been the opportunity to meet people, like Emmanuel, who share my passion for history and education.