Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder


Paperback version to be released spring 2017.

CraterThe Battle of the Crater is known as one of the Civil War’s bloodiest struggles—a Union loss with combined casualties of 5,000, many of whom were members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) under Union Brigadier General Edward Ferrero. The battle was a violent clash of forces as Confederate soldiers fought for the first time against African American soldiers. After the Union lost the battle, these black soldiers were captured and subject both to extensive abuse and the threat of being returned to slavery in the South. Yet, despite their heroism and sacrifice, these men are often overlooked in public memory of the war.

Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War is Murder, Kevin M. Levin analyzes the shared recollections of a battle that epitomizes the way Americans have chosen to remember, or in many cases forget, the presence of the USCT. The book focuses specifically on how the racial component of the war’s history was portrayed at various points during the 140 years following its conclusion, illuminating the social changes and challenges experienced by the nation as a whole. Remembering The Battle of the Crater gives the members of the USCT a newfound voice in history. University Press of Kentucky, 2012.


“In this stunning and well-researched book, Kevin Levin catches the new waves of the study of memory, black soldiers, and the darker underside of the Civil War as well as anyone has. That horrible day at the Crater in Petersburg, its brutal racial facts and legacies, all tangled in the weeds of Confederate Lost Cause lore, have never been exposed like this. 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, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

“Levin has done a superb job of charting a course through the complex and sometimes perplexing details of this story. His research is exhaustive, and his critical eye encompasses such diverse elements as John Elder’s famous painting of the battle, the many reunions and reenactments held on the battlefield, the creation of the Petersburg National Battlefield, and the ways in which park personnel have tried to interpret the engagement to succeeding generations since 1932.”-–Earl J. Hess, author of The Mine Attack at Petersburg

“So-called ‘memory studies’ have come to the forefront in recent years, thanks to the work of distinguished scholars like David Blight, Lesley Gordon, and Carol Reardon. Add to their number now Kevin M. Levin, whose new book Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, provides an outstanding look at how people North and South, participants and their cultures, dealt with the awful recollection of those hours of carnage and brutality in the Crater.”–William C. Davis, author of Crucible of Command

Reviewed in: Civil War History / H-Net / Civil War Book Review / History News Network / Journal of Southern History / The Civil War Monitor / North Carolina Historical Review / Virginia Magazine of History & Biography / Journal of American History / The Journal of the Civil War Era

From Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Caroline Janney

Contributing Author: “The Devil Himself Could Not Have Checked Them”: Fighting With Black Soldiers at the Crater

forthcoming, September 2015Between the end of May and the beginning of August 1864, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. Robert E. Lee oversaw the transition between the Overland campaign—a remarkable saga of maneuvering and brutal combat—and what became a grueling siege of Petersburg that many months later compelled Confederates to abandon Richmond. Although many historians have marked Grant’s crossing of the James River on June 12–15 as the close of the Overland campaign, this volume interprets the fighting from Cold Harbor on June 1–3 through the battle of the Crater on July 30 as the last phase of an operation that could have ended without a prolonged siege. The contributors assess the campaign from a variety of perspectives, examining strategy and tactics, the performances of key commanders on each side, the centrality of field fortifications, political repercussions in the United States and the Confederacy, the experiences of civilians caught in the path of the armies, and how the famous battle of the Crater has resonated in historical memory. As a group, the essays highlight the important connections between the home front and the battlefield, showing some of the ways in which military and nonmilitary affairs played off and influenced one another. University of North Carolina Press, 2015.

Virginia at War: 1865, edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson

Contributing Author: “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”: The Demobilization of Lee’s Army

Virginia at WarBy January 1865, most of Virginia’s schools were closed, many newspapers had ceased publication, businesses suffered, and food was scarce. Having endured major defeats on their home soil and the loss of much of the state’s territory to the Union army, Virginia’s Confederate soldiers began to desert at higher rates than at any other time in the war, returning home to provide their families with whatever assistance they could muster. It was a dark year for Virginia. Virginia at War, 1865 closely examines the end of the Civil War in the Old Dominion, delivering a striking depiction of a state ravaged by violence and destruction. In the final volume of the Virginia at War series, editors William C. Davis and James I. Robertson Jr. have once again assembled an impressive collection of essays covering topics that include land operations, women and families, wartime economy, music and entertainment, the demobilization of Lee’s army, and the war’s aftermath. The volume ends with the final installment of Judith Brockenbrough McGuire’s popular and important Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War. Like the previous four volumes in the series, Virginia at War, 1865 provides valuable insights into the devastating effects of the war on citizens across the state. University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

The View From the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, edited by Aaron Sheehan Dean

Contributing Author: “Is Not the Glory Enough To Give Us All a Share”: An Analysis of Competing Memories of the Battle of the Crater


With an Afterword by Joseph T. Glatthaar The View from the Ground brings together the perspectives of Civil War soldiers on all aspects of the conflict, revealing as much about nineteenth-century America as it does about the war itself. The contributors investigate the issues engaged by soldiers during the war, including slavery and racial tensions, the isolation that many men of faith felt in the early months of the war, the divide between soldiers and civilians, and the inherent difficulty in reconciling the act of killing with Christian precepts of charity and peacefulness. They also explore the ways veterans remembered the war. The View from the Ground shows that soldiers willfully shaped the course of the war, as soldiers and as citizens. The result is a collection that illustrates how new questions and fresh analyses of participants’ lives and writings can expand our knowledge of our nation’s greatest conflict. University Press of Kentucky, 2007.