Black Petersburg Remembers the Crater

File this one under the ‘better late than never’ category.  I guess every historian has experienced uncovering a gem of a reference that failed to make it into a published work.  The following editorial (“Our Colored Militia”) was published in the Petersburg Lancet on September 12, 1885 by George F. Bragg, Jr. on the occasion of a local black militia parade.

When we think of the achievements  of those brilliant knights of the middle ages; when we think of the christian armies moving onwards to Jerusalem to wrest the tomb of the blessed Saviour from the fierce barbaric hands of Saracenic hosts; when we remember the courageous conduct of the Negro troops at Fort Fisher, Fort Wagner, at New Orleans and at the CRATER near our own city, in which the limbs of may of our brethren in black lie mouldering in the dust from which they came, we may feel that this gathering to day is not an idle insignificant one, but that the colored militia men of this grand old State have determined to perpetuate the memories of that institution from which so many healthy lasting benefits have been derived.

There were a number of black militias active throughout Virginia during the postwar period.  Though their service was limited they performed an important function within the local black community by reinforcing civic pride and preserving a memory of the war that was slowly losing its hold on the public’s imagination by the late nineteenth century.  This editorial reinforces just how important it was for African Americans to keep alive the memory of their service and sacrifice in the war as a way to maintain what limited freedoms they enjoyed, especially in the wake of the end of Readjuster control of the state.

One of the topics that I briefly explore in the book is the challenge of connecting black residents of Petersburg to the history at the Crater.  Earlier this week I posted on a parade in Fredericksburg that recreates the postwar participation of local blacks in decorating and honoring Union graves.  If repeated it at least has the potential to connect a certain segment of the community to the Civil War past and its continued relevance.  Perhaps the recreation of a black militia march in Petersburg with their overt references to black participation in the war can achieve similar ends.  Just a thought.

Almost Moved to Tears in Fredericksburg, Virginia

I am delighted to hear that residents of Fredericksburg, Virginia have resurrected a civic ceremony that was lost as a result of reunion between white Northern and former Confederates.  For a number of years after the war the black residents of the city took part in annual marches on Decoration Day to the cemetery to commemorate the bravery of United States soldiers and the cause for which they fought.  Those early commemorations constituted a living reminder that the war had profound results for millions of slaves and that its memory would be incomplete without the acknowledgment of emancipation and freedom.

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“Evilizing” or Explaining Confederates at the Crater

And here is the final comment from yesterday’s SHPG thread:

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.

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Southern Heritage Community Takes Notice

It’s one thing to get advanced praise from scholars such as David Blight and Earl Hess, but you really can’t beat the honest assessment from my friends in the Southern heritage community.  Consider the following Facebook thread from my old buddy, Carl Roden (aka Amanda). It’s nice to know that my book is on their radar screen and if it makes for some comfortable toilet paper then so be it. :-)

This last comment didn’t make it into the screenshot:

“I will guarantee you that Amazon will not allow the “Reviews” to this book that will come in. Levin is just like the rest of the POG’s that Michael Phipps often refers to, for those who have no concept of what a “Military Experience in War” is like. Perhaps, that why someone like Edwin Bearss, a Marine Combat Vet was so successful in his writing about the battles that took place. Levin was trying to “Construct a Narrative” that there was an Attempt by the Southern Defenders along the Jerusalem Plank Road by the St. Johns Blandford Church in putting down a “Slave Rebellion”. How utterly Ignorant, Stupid, Moronic, and Ass-Backwards from what was happening, with the Courageous and Determined Defense of a Break in the Lines. The Fool just does not get it, not matter how many “Contortions” and “Revisions” he engineers into the Narrative.”

Rest assured that no reviews will be censored on the Amazon page.  The more attention, the better.  Keep it coming and thanks for acknowledging my book.