On This 146th Anniversary of the Battle of the Crater…

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]

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The Intersection of Historical Memory, Hollywood, and Commercialism

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.

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Tim Lewis’s “Great Lie”

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.

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George Washington Williams’s Crater

One of the most important sources within the early historiography of the early black counter-memory of the Civil War and the Crater is George Washington Williams’s, A History of the Negro Troops in The War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 (1888).  Williams benefited from publication of the Official Records and includes entire reports to supplement the narrative.  [Click here for a short biographical sketch.]  A History of the Negro Troops is an incredibly detailed history of black volunteers that covers all of the major engagements from the Civil War in which they were involved.  Williams discusses discrimination in the army, the difficult relationship between enlisted men and white officers, as well as their performance on the battlefield.  Along the way Williams takes every opportunity to wax poetic about the significance of his subject:

The part enacted by the Negro in the war of the Rebellion is the romance of North American history.  It was midnight and noonday without a space between; from the Egyptian darkness of bondage to the lurid glare of civil war; from clanking chains to clashing arms; from passive submission to the cruel curse of slavery to the brilliant aggressiveness of a free soldier; from a chattel to a person; from the shame of degradation to the glory of military exaltation; and from deep obscurity to fame and martial immortality.  No one in this era of fraternity and Christian civilization will grudge the Negro soldier these simple annals of his trials and triumphs in a holy struggle for human liberty.  Whatever praise is bestowed upon his noble acts will be sincerely appreciated, whether from former foes or comrades in arms.  For by withholding just praise they are not enriched, nor by giving are they thereby impoverished.  (xiii-xiv)

On the Crater

At the critical moment, when the enemy could not only hold this opening in his works, but threatened to sweep through and rout Meade, the Black Division was ordered to charge and gain the crest beyond the crater.  Three veteran white divisions had been hurled back in confusion, but these Negro troops were sent forward to contend with an infuriated, brave, and numerous foe.  They were gallantly led, and nobly followed where duty and devotion were terribly tested…. They had borne themselves with conspicuous gallantry, and having done all that was required of them were withdrawn to their works….(249) The Negro soldiers’ valor was, after this engagement, no more questioned than his loyalty, and the reputation secured at such a high price was kept untarnished to the end of the campaign. (250)

What I find interesting is that Williams does not reference the slaughter of black soldiers after the battle.  Based on the sources utilized for his study it is clear that he was aware of it.  Perhaps Williams wanted to keep the focus on the bravery and manliness of the men, which would have been lost with descriptions of helplessness at the hands of angry Confederates.  I am going to have to give it some more thought.

Of course, I refer to Williams in my manuscript, but it is sad to think of just how much of what I have collected over the past few years will not make it into the book.  Oh well, I guess that is what the blog is for.

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Not Important You Say?

Every once in a while my blogging buddy, Richard Williams, reminds his readers not to take me seriously and not to exaggerate my importance within the blogosphere and beyond.  I appreciate that advice as it helps me to keep my ego in check.  The only problem is that Richard has the strangest way of showing it.  My WordPress dashboard contains ten of the most recent links to my blog, six of which can be traced back to Richard’s site.   Let’s see, today he took me to task for some comments I made about a book concerning black Confederates.  Last Thursday Richard expressed his disapproval of some comments I made in an interview with the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.  Last week I was the beneficiary of an extensive critique for a short post I did concerning a talk I heard by James Robertson.  And to round it out, check out these two posts from last month.  [See here and here]

If I didn’t no any better I would venture to suggest that Richard Williams is my biggest fan.

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