With the publication of three books on the battle of the Crater in the past two years, one might reasonably ask if there is a need for yet another. These previous treatments (written mainly by non-academic historians) have collectively addressed the tactical complexity of the battle, including the early morning explosion of 8,000 pounds of black powder under a Confederate salient and they have provided an exhaustive account of the close-quarter combat and blood-letting that ensued for close to eight hours on a battlefield that was ripped open by the initial blast. Such a focus is a staple of traditional military history. But as much as we have learned about the nature of combat in the trenches around Petersburg in the summer of 1864 there are key aspects of this battle that have not been sufficiently addressed by the previous literature.
The following post originally appeared on December 12, 2005
Being Ed Ayers
In the most recent issue of North and South there is a very interesting exchange between Ed Ayers and a letter to the editor in the Crossfire section. The writer responded to Ayers’s article, “What Caused the Civil War” which appeared in a previous issue (Vol. 8, #5); the article is essentially a reprint from his most recent book of essays titled, What Caused the Civil War: Reflections on the South and Southern History. I think Ayers is one of the more talented historians writing today.I’ve read through his Pulitzer-Prize nominated book, The Promise of the New South so many times that it has a rubber band around it to keep it together.The only other book in my library in that condition is Plato’s Republic.More recently Ayers won the Bancroft Prize for In the Presence of Mine Enemies which is based on his Valley of the Shadow project out of the University of Virginia.
Not too long ago I commented on a popular homeschooling textbook on the Civil War by John J. Dwyer, titled, The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War. This is the video promo for that textbook. It is a truly remarkable modern day Lost Cause inspired account of the war. It essentially pits a God-fearing South against a Godless and barbaric North that accomplished nothing during the war except for the terrorizing and destroying of southern homes and farms. A wonderful example of mental child abuse pure and simple.
Like many of you I’ve read John Keegan’s Face of Battle (1976) and can appreciate the contribution it made to the historiography of military history and its influence on countless Civil War historians who have written about the experience of the common soldier. Other than that, however, I haven’t read much of Keegan’s scholarship. I’m just not that well read in military history outside of the Civil War. I have to admit that I was just a bit excited about Keegan’s new military synthesis of the Civil War until I came across James McPherson’s review. This is a pretty tough review as McPherson reviews go. The mistakes cited by McPherson are that much more damaging given that Keegan is seen by many as an expert on geostrategic analysis. Even the characterizations of Grant, Sherman, Lee, and Jackson seem to be quite weak. Why do I have a feeling that we will see this book remaindered within a year.