I am a big fan of Chandra Manning’s book, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War. It’s an incredibly thought-provoking book and especially helpful when it comes to understanding how Confederates conceptualized the importance of slavery throughout the war. However, I am less convinced by her analysis of how the bitter fighting in the spring and summer of 1864 effected the attitudes of Northern soldiers regarding slavery and civil rights.
While I agree with Manning that by the summer of 1863 many of the men in the ranks accepted the necessity of ending slavery for the sake of the war effort and the Union she goes on to argue that these men had also been inspired to “consider more thoughtfully their own obligations to overcome racial prejudice and promote at least some basic rights for black Americans…” (153). By 1864, according to Manning, military setbacks and other problems caused these men to “back away” from “a world of increasing racial equality and black rights.” Continue reading
Commemorating 1864 means, among other things, commemorating and remembering the battle of the Crater. As you might imagine the highlight for me will be the opportunity to speak in Petersburg on the anniversary of the battle itself on July 30. Beyond that I wanted to take a minute to share where I will be discussing the Crater in the next few months both here in Boston and elsewhere.
- February 7: “Lincoln, Race, and the Battle of the Crater,” Boston Union Club, Boston, MA.
- February 9: Book Signing and Talk, “Remembering the Battle of the Crater,” Sons of Union Veterans, Concord, MA.
- February 17: Book Signing and Talk, “Remembering the Battle of the Crater,” University of North Carolina at Pembroke/Workshop with area teachers on digital literacy and the myth of the black Confederate soldier.
- March 15: Confederates Assess the Battle of the Crater, Longwood University, Civil War Seminar, Longwood, VA.
My calendar is quickly filling up, but I am still open to additional speaking engagements as long as they don’t conflict with my teaching responsibilities. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.
On November 13, 1911 Union and Confederate veterans met on the Crater battlefield to dedicate a monument to all Massachusetts units that took part in the Petersburg Campaign. Alfred S. Roe delivered the dedication address and, not surprisingly, used the occasion to reinforce a public face of reconciliation with a narrative that reminded the audience of their shared history. We are talking major “gush”. I am using this event to open my essay on Massachusetts soldiers who fought at the Crater. Continue reading
Massachusetts Monument at the Crater
One of the individuals that I am looking forward to learning more about for this new article on the Crater is Colonel James Anderson of Springfield, Massachusetts, who was very active during the postwar period in organizing veterans reunions and monument dedications. His collaboration with George Bernard of the A.P. Hill Camp Confederate Veterans resulted in a visit of Confederate veterans of the battle of the Crater to Springfield in 1910. The following year the residents of Petersburg welcomed the veterans from Massachusetts to the Crater to dedicate a new monument.
During their visit Anderson shared the following story:
On a gala night in the Petersburg armory, when veterans were swapping stories above buried hatchets, Colonel James Anderson, chairman of the Massachusetts Commission, told of the many commendatory letters that had come to him after the visit of the Southern soldiers. But, he added, a lady from Paterson, New Jersey, had written chiding him for permitting a “vile band of Rebels” to walk through the streets of a fair Northern city to the tune of that “rebel song, Dixie.” Colonel Anderson returned the letter to its sender with these words appended: ‘There will be Confederates in Heaven. If you don’t want to associate with Confederates, go to Hell.”
Quite the character.
Note: When the Massachusetts monument at the Crater was dedicated in 1911 visitors entered the battlefield from the Jerusalem Plank Road.
57th Massachusetts at the Crater with William Mahone at center (1887)
One of the things that I regret about my book on the Crater is that I failed to spend sufficient time exploring Union accounts of the battle, both during and, especially, after the war. Given that I wrote the book while living in Virginia I was always primarily interested in Confederate accounts (wartime and postwar) and what they had to say about issues related to slavery and race. Continue reading