One of my favorite sites is a Facebook page made up of folks who style themselves as defenders of Southern Heritage. There isn’t much serious history being discussed. Once in a while someone will ask for a quote’s source or the reference to a particular book, but more often than not members simply reassure one another of their own worth in the continuing struggle against folks, who they believe are out to destroy all things “Southern”. Here is a wonderful example that begins with a posting by Ann DeWitt, aka “Royal Diadem”.
I have a very knowledgeable friend who said that during the assault on Confederate lines at the battle of the Crater, colored troops where yelling that they intended to murder any whites that they captured and that when they reached the city with its civilian population, their intentions were even less honorable. According to Bill, this was the reason that those troops were killed when they were captured, not because they were black but because their intentions were made known to the men they were fighting when they thought that they had the upper hand.
Yes, black soldiers at the Crater charged shouting, “No Quarter” but I have never seen a source that suggests that they planned on murdering civilians in Petersburg. Perhaps Bill can cite a source.
Valerie, the Crater was a very unusual battle, in that the Colored Troops were selected to lead the charge at the Crater, and then Grant and Meade, perhaps afraid that they would be seen as using them for battle “fodder” replaced them with Ledlie’s and Ferraro’s troops, who were poorly led – As, Ledlie and Ferraro, under the influence of bottled spirits, hid out in one of the dug in bomb proofs – sucking up “shots of courage” as the battle raged around them. Kevin Levin tried to recently “Rewrite” history as he said that the whites in the Confederate Army were “Putting Down a Slave Rebellion”. What he continually “Ignored” were that the “Colored Troops” had used the “Black Flag”, and as you Mentioned in the Battle were Continuously shouting “Remember Fort Pillow”. The Federals kept firing at the Southern Troops, well after they had the upper hand in the battle, and were asking for the Federals to Surrender.
It’s true that Ferrero’s black division was selected to lead the charge, but were removed at the last minute. It is also true that Meade and Grant worried about the implications of their being hit hard in the coming attack, but it is also true that Meade doubted their abilities. Yes, I did argue in a recent Civil War Times essay that Confederates at the Crater believed they were putting down a slave rebellion. A number of soldiers, including William Pegram, were explicit about what motivated their actions. It’s at least a very poor reading of my essay.
I am aware of the dynamics of the Crater because an author of a book on the battle spoke at our CWRT. His “take” on the change from the black troops leading to the white troops was different, however. Grant wasn’t afraid that they would be seen as “cannon fodder” (they had been trained to avoid going into the “crater” made by the detonation something that the white troops did not know and hence their situation when they went into the soft earth and were trapped) – rather he was afraid that they would be GLORIFIED at the expense of the white soldiers. Grant didn’t want that personally, but more to the point, he didn’t want to set up any more internal conflict than already existed in his army. With the blacks “mopping up” – whatever they did to Southern whites, there would be no problems in the North. With the blacks as VICTORS in a huge battle – well, that was something else again. I don’t think that the Yankees were any more able to control black troops than the Confederates would have been. Difference is that the Confederates had real volunteers, not conscripts or men bullied into service. Also, they served WITH the whites, not as separate companies. Thus, as individuals, there were few problems but as larger groups – often containing individuals of less than noble character who would descend to barbarism with little temptation – the matter was quite different.
I don’t know where to begin with the above passage. The author seems to forget that black troops were involved in the initial assaults against Petersburg in mid-June and had every chance to succeed. The reference to Grant’s attitude and integrated Confederate units are not based on a serious reading of the available evidence and not worth a serious response.
Here is my earlier response to a article on the crater. “I am reminded of his article “Until Every Negro has been Slaughtered” in the October 2010 issue of “Civil War Times”, while he possesses to be a well rounded historian he presented a one sided view. Stating that “I argue that this Confederate rage was a function of a cultural outlook that stretched back into the antebellum period. Acknowledging the long-standing fears among white southerners regarding the management of a slave society and the dangers of slave rebellions (real and imagined) helps us to better understand the treatment of USCTs following the battle. From this perspective there is very little that is surprising about the massacre of upwards of 200 black soldiers”. I found he was and is not entirely honest as in “No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater”, 1864 by Richard Slotkin he uses the official records of both armies and states when Union forces charged they were shouting “No Quarters; remember Fort Pillow”, which resulted in just that no quarter. He also conveniently failed to mention that white Union troops killed as many black troops as did the defenders. One could ask who and how this was suppose to influence the negro still in captivity? Communication was spotty at best and there were few men or weapons availability to keep these slaves in check, at best the whites were outnumbered 10 to 1. Which should make anyone ask why then were there any slaves left working at all, why had they all not ran off”?
While the author of this comment accurately quoted from my article he doesn’t directly respond to it. Rather, he goes on to reference Richard Slotkin’s recent book on the Crater. No one denies that black soldiers shouted “No Quarter”, but Slotkin never suggests that white Union soldiers killed as many black soldiers as Confederates. He doesn’t say it because it isn’t true. I found a few accounts that suggest a few black men were bayoneted as they gave way to Mahone’s counterattack and fell back from the most forward positions. Some of this was no doubt caused by the confusion of battle. I found plenty of accounts among white Union soldiers who placed the blame for defeat on Ferrero’s black division even though these men managed to gain some of the most advanced positions in the Confederate chain of earthworks. The accounts point to the deep racism within Union ranks. I suggest that the author of this comment reread my article as well as Slotkin’s book.
It goes without saying that you should not use these sites as historical sources. The danger for participants is that they feed off one another by agreeing with comments and even adding to them based on faulty knowledge or just a desire to continue the thread. I guess that’s what happens when you turn people into authority figures simply because they “liked” or “joined” the same page.