I am just about finished reading Richard Slotkin’s new book on the Crater, No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864, and have enjoyed it immensely. The book is very different from the two previous studies of the battle in that Slotkin provides a much needed analysis of the racial components of the battle rather than a traditional military history. Yes, there is more to a battle than moving from place to place. I am in the process of writing up a formal review for Civil War Book Review, but wanted to share something that I learned for the first time.
Although I wish Slotkin had gone a bit further in his analysis of the massacre of USCTs he does an excellent job of presenting both the immediate and long-term conditions that help explain the scale and complexity of the violence. First, Slotkin correctly references the proportion of dead to wounded in the battle in comparison with other Civil War battles. On average, the ratio of wounded to dead was 4.8 to 1. At the Crater, the overall ratio for Union troops was 3.7 to 1, though for black soldiers it was 1.8 to 1. Slotkin’s analysis of the tactical ebb and flow of the battle reveals a number of moments where soldiers on the battlefield were executed and not just black soldiers. [It should be pointed out that Slotkin is not the first historian to point this out. In 1987 Bryce Suderow published an article in the journal, Civil War History, which was later included in a collection of essays on Civil War massacres.] The first massacre actually occurred by black soldiers in Sigfried’s brigade, who advanced into battle with the cry of “No Quarter.” According to Slotkin, the battle cry was intended “to overcome that supposed docility and motivate them to fight with absolute determination.” (p. 339) White officers quickly intervened once their men became engaged with the enemy.
I’ve said before that I do not see any significant change in the high quality of Civil War studies. Young historians such as Barton guarantee that we will have much to learn and mull over in the coming years.
I just returned from a brief trip home to see the folks in Jersey. My wife and I spent one day walking the beautiful beaches in Ventnor and Margate before meeting up with the family for Chinese food. With a few hours to kill and a hearty appetite we decided to go for a little appetizer at the world famous White House Subs in Atlantic City – just one of my many old stomping grounds. Hey, I can get Chinese food anywhere, but where I am I going to find a decent sub outside of Jersey? Forget about it.
A few blocks past the large parking lot that once included my high school on Albany Avenue, I noticed what appeared to be a typical Civil War monument that you will find in many parks in the northeast. A quick stop revealed that it was indeed a Civil War monument and I am embarrassed to admit that I never noticed it before. All I know about it is that the monument was dedicated in 1916. Given that the city did not exist in the 1860s it would be interesting to know why the community decided to honor the veterans. Perhaps enough of them moved to the city for health reasons that it was warranted.
I have no doubt that as a high school delinquent I smoked a few cigarettes while sitting at the monument’s base before trying to sneak into the closest casino.
My summer break is quickly winding down as I try to put the finishing touches on a chunk of my Crater research, including an article on understanding the battle as a slave rebellion from the perspective of Confederate soldiers for one of the Civil War magazines. With that in mind, I came across a very interesting essay by historian, Steven Hahn on the lack of scholarly attention concerning Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association. Hahn offers two points of reassessment that are needed if we are to better understand the dearth of scholarship. First, we need to move from viewing emancipation as two separate events – one in the North following the American Revolution and the other one in the South during the Civil War. According to Hahn, it “should be be viewed not as two discrete events but as a single protracted process (more protracted than anywhere else in the Atlantic world), associated most closely with state formation—the rise, developing capacity, claims to authority, and consolidation of a nation-state—rather than with an “irrepressible” conflict between free and slave societies.”
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"Levin is both superb scholar and public historian, showing us a piece of the real war that does now get into the books, as well as into site interpretation.” –David W. Blight, Yale University