A few months ago, I saw on the History Channel some stories of earlier armies, who killed every standing soldier left in the battle. The Black Flag became a Flag – Understood by Pirates and Armies, that there would be “No Survivors” left standing – from either side. The Black Flag was raised by the Federals at Fort Pillow and again by the Black Troops at the Crater. Confederates going into battle were informed that the blacks had cried “Fort Pillow – No Surrender & were fighting under a Black Flag”. More importantly, when the blacks were trying to surrender – other men in the vicinity were still shooting from the Federal forces. A “White Flag” and a “Cessation” in Firing are two Critical Elements which would or could have caused the Confederates to Stop Shooting, however both of these were not forthcoming, until the Confederate Officers closed the door on the Fighting.
The question for Levin is – Has he ever defended the injustices done to the Indians by Federal Troops after the War Between the States? I doubt it. In his mind – it’s all about “Evilizing the South”.
I’ve grown use to these comments and I suspect they will increase in frequency once the book comes out. As much as I probably should be offended by such accusations, I’ve come to realize that they are not really about me. It’s hard to be offended once you understand that we are engaged in two different projects. For the author of this comment the goal is to defend a certain narrative of the past by striving for some sort of moral balance. Notice the references to previous wars or the query regarding whether I have any plans to explore the history of violence between the U.S. army and Native Americans. The assumption appears to be that the history of racial violence during the Civil War is no different from any other historical event. Well, if your goal is simply to maintain a moral balance sheet than the fact that there are salient differences will remain irrelevant. Historians, on the other hand, must look deeper.
The comment itself reflects very little understanding of the basic facts of the battle and especially the available primary source evidence. It is true that blacks charged yelling “No Quarter” and “Remember Fort Pillow” though I argue that it is likely most Confederates heard about it second hand given their location on the battlefield. The interesting fact is that so many included the reference in their letters and diaries, even those who were nowhere near the location of the Fourth Division on July 30, 1864. Whether their cry signaled an intention to carry out the kind of massacre perpetrated by Forrest the previous April is unknown. I suspect it served to remind them of what would happen if they ended up as prisoners.
What the author seems not to understand is that the massacre of black soldiers took place following the battle. That’s not something that I made up. Rather, it is referenced over and over in the diaries, letters, and newspaper columns written in the days and weeks after the battle. I include many of these vivid descriptions in the book, some of who are authored by soldiers who were not directly engaged in fighting black soldiers and I do my best to explain what these accounts tell us about the nature of the fighting at the Crater.
It is strange to be accused of “Evilizing the South” (just to clarify: the white South) given that my goal was to explain the actions of Confederate soldiers. All too often the racial violence at the Crater is reduced to an uncontrollable rage – another example of Southern men who are incapable of controlling their passions. [Think Charles Hamilton in his face off with Rhett Butler in Ashley’s parlor room.] Of course, the violence at the Crater engendered a great deal of rage and anger, but their emotions and actions had an intentional content that I believe can be explained. At no point do I claim that Confederates were evil or that Union soldiers occupied the moral high ground. I simply do not approach the study of the past from this perspective.
Of course, I could be wrong. I assume that at some point I will read a review of the book from someone who disagrees with my explanation of what happened and why at the Crater. That is the nature of the process of interpreting the past and it should be welcomed. No one has a monopoly on history. We learn from one another. If I thought it would work I would extend another invitation to this group to read through the book and write up a review to be posted on the blog. Some of you remember that I tried this a few months ago when my co-authored essay on Silas Chandler was published in Civil War Times. There was a great deal of huffing and puffing, but in the end no takers. It is hard to imagine someone from this group taking the time to read through a book if he/she can’t even get through a short article.
Which is just another way of saying that this is not really about me.