I received my author copies of the most recent issue of Civil War Times magazine, which includes my feature story on the Crater, so I assume it is now available at your local newsstand. A few days ago Dana Shoaf passed on an email and asked me to respond for the next issue. It’s an interesting comment and one that I suspect others have struggled with.
I was very disappointed in Kevin M. Levin’s article on the execution of black Union soldiers by the Confederate Army after the Battle of the Crater during the Petersburg siege. Mr. Levin gives quite a good accounting that explains the motivation of the Confederate troops. However, he utterly fails to differentiate between explanation and excuse. The Confederate troops perpetrated a war crime, as there is no other way to describe the wanton murder of captured American soldiers in uniform. As such, these Confederates join the ranks of the German SS troops who murdered American prisoners at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge and those Japanese soldiers who did the same on countless occasions to captured Americans in the Pacific Theatre. I fail to see any difference between these incidents. I can only imagine the disgust felt by your African-American readers; mine is fairly high.
PS: I view slave revolts as the legitimate right of the enslaved.
Thanks to Jack for the thoughtful response to my essay. The reader criticizes me for failing to distinguish between an explanation and an excuse in my analysis of why Confederates massacred black Union soldiers at the Crater. While the essay received a positive assessment for the explanation offered, this reader was left with the impression that I had excused the actions of Confederates at the Crater. Nothing could be further from the truth. My essay was intended as an explanation of what happened and why and should not be interpreted in any way as condoning or condemning what took place. Such conclusions and/or comparisons with related incidents from other wars are best left to the readers of this essay. That said, I suggest that this reader runs the risk of obscuring the complexity of historic events by reducing the killing of black Union soldiers to the murder of American soldiers by foreign soldiers. I consider this article a success if it assists readers in better understanding the nature of fighting at the Crater in July 1864. Finally, it may be helpful to point out that this article is part of a much larger project on the Crater and historical memory, titled, Remembering Murder As War: The Battle of the Crater.