Thanks again to all of you who helped with suggesting a title for my Crater book. It needed something that conveyed the overall theme of race and memory without coming off as too academic. As I mentioned to a friend last night, I want this book to appeal to folks who rarely look at anything beyond a stiff interpretation of Gettysburg. Here are a few more titles that friends have suggested: “Big Hole in the Ground,” “A Change in the Landscape: Race, Politics, and Memory at the Battle of the Crater,” “Crawling From the Wreckage,” “The Crater of Race,” and “Lies White People Tell.” My wife suggested that I call it, “First in Flight: A Southern History of a Different Kind”.
After serious consideration I decided to go with, “Murder Remembered as War: The Battle of the Crater”. Thanks to Peter Carmichael for the suggestion. It’s relatively short, to the point, and I like that it completely avoids the academic jargon. My wife is finishing proofreading the ms. in time for delivery tomorrow.
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.
I am pleased to report that I have a completed manuscript. Over the next few days I need to run through and check the endnotes. More importantly, my wife needs to read through the entire manuscript with the critical eye that she brings to everything I write. No doubt, Michaela will find some things that I need to address. The plan is to send the manuscript back to the publisher by Wednesday followed by what I would like to think is a well-deserved vacation. How I got here:
“William Mahone, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History,” [Essay completed for Robert Kenzer's Research Seminar at the University of Richmond, 2003].
“‘On That Day You Consummated the Full Measure of Your Fame:’ Confederates Remember the Battle of the Crater, 1864-1903,” in Southern Historian 25 (2004): 18-39.
“The Battle of the Crater, William Mahone, and Civil War Memory, 1864-1937,” [M.A. Thesis, University of Richmond, 2005].
“William Mahone, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History,” in Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 113 (2005): 379-412.
“‘The Earth Seemed to Tremble’: Confederate Reactions to the Battle of the Crater,” in America’s Civil War (May 2006): 22-28.
“The Battle of the Crater, National Reunion, and the Creation of the Petersburg National Military Park, 1864-1937,” in Virginia Social Science Journal 41 (2006): 13-34.
“‘Is There Not Glory Enough To Give Us All a Share?’: An Analysis of Competing Memories of the Battle of the Crater,” in Aaron Sheehan-Dean ed., The View From The Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 227-248.
“‘Until Every Negro Has Been Slaughtered’: Did Southerners See the Battle of the Crater as a Slave Rebellion?” in Civil War Times (October 2010): 32-37.
This has been a long and, at times, draining process. In all honesty, this project should have been completed two years ago and a few people have even been critical of me for not publishing a book sooner. Hopefully, the extra time spent and the critical feedback received on previous publications have improved the overall ms. One thing I’ve learned is that writing history that is meant to contribute to the scholarly community is a joint effort and a matter of meeting high standards. We shall see if this final version meets those standards. For now I just want to enjoy the feeling of not having the weight of this project bearing down on me.
[Note: ms. length is not quite as long as above image]
This full-page advertisement appeared in the February 1991 issue of Ebony magazine. There was clearly a resurgence of interest in the history of black Civil War soldiers following the release of Glory. Numerous articles/reviews of the movie can be found in Ebony and Jet magazines.
Apparently, Tim Lewis lives here in the Charlottesville are, but I have never heard of him. In this video, Lewis offers his own understanding of Civil War memory as it relates to slavery and a poem, “The Great Lie.” The poem is from his book, The Virginiad: 400 Years of Virginia History in Poetry. Make of it what you will.