Category Archives: William Mahone/Crater

Remembering Louis Martin

Louis MartinA couple of years ago Mike Musick – who as many of you know was for a long time the go-to guy for anything Civil War related at the National Archives – contacted me about a recently discovered photograph of Louis Martin of the 29th U.S.C.T. He kindly arranged to have a copy of the photograph and pension application sent to me, which eventually ended up in my Crater book.

At that point the photograph was still not available online. I remember staring at it for what seemed like hours when it first arrived. You can clearly see why. In many ways this image served as a visual reminder of why I thought it was important to use the battle of the Crater as a case study on race and historical memory in American history.

I did a bit of research into his postwar life, but found very little. I knew the year he died and that he struggled with alcohol, but I was unsure as to where he was buried. There is also a question about Martin’s necklace and whether it has an African origin. Continue reading

William Mahone Spends Night With “Deformed People”

In a letter written in 1890, William Mahone recalled spending the night before the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House with an unusual family.

We marched all next day and went into camp in the evening not far from Appomattox Co. Ho. in the most God forsaken neighborhood or can well conceive. My Headquarters were
in a miserable log hut occupied by a family of deformed people – that made one shudder to behold, and whose deformity and condition forcibly suggested that we were near the end. My waggons rich with supplies for a campaign had been captured. It contained nearly a full house of all that one needs [for] sustenance and comfort and my [ ] had been captured and we had no [ ]. The bed in this miserable cabin on which I remember to have spread my oil cloth and blanket was only about four feet long.

Would love to know more about this particular family.

What A Real Review Looks Like

CraterThe other day I blogged briefly about a disagreement over a reference I made to a “real [book] review” as opposed to what I would call reader feedback on Amazon book pages.  Sure, there may be some dedicated Amazon reviewers out there, but I tend not to go there for substantive and thoughtful critiques. It just so happens that earlier today my publisher passed along what is clearly the most critical review of my book published to date. Thanks to Jason Phillips, who is the new Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies at West Virginia University, for reading it and reviewing it for the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Jason has a reputation for hard hitting reviews. There are aspects of his review that I agree with and a few with which I disagree, but overall I have no complaints. I certainly think that I could have done much more with the white Northern memory of the battle. I have no intention of writing a formal response here since that would be bad form. My goal is simply to highlight what I think is a pretty good example of a “real review.”

Kevin Levin has selected an excellent subject to study Civil War memory. Among other things, the battle of the Crater marked the first time that units in the Army of Northern Virginia fought (and massacred) United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.). Levin insightfully explains how the presence of black soldiers signified everything that Confederates fought for and against without excusing the atrocity. His analysis of the career of Gen. William Mahone, the Confederate hero of the Crater, may be Levin’s greatest contribution. As leader of the biracial Readjuster Party after Reconstruction, Mahone threatened white supremacy and the Lost Cause myth. Levin shows how postwar Virginians’ memories of the Crater not only pitted whites against blacks and northerners against southerners but also former Confederates against each other at a time when political divisions fractured the state. Tracing the memory of the battle into the twentieth century, Levin describes the rise of white memory and efforts, since the civil rights movement, to add a black counter- memory to scholarship and site interpretation. Public historians in particular will benefit from this book. Continue reading

The Battle of the Crater and Reconstruction Memory

crater lovellToday I read a very thoughtful post by John Rudy at his Interpreting the Civil War blog. He added his voice to the recent chorus of posts on the challenges and importance of properly commemorating the final two years of the Civil War. I agree with much of what he has to say.

But the war after Gettysburg morphs into that long, bloody, messy slog across Virginia or Tennessee and Georgia. It changes from prisoner exchanges into prison camps and the bloodiest ground on the American continent. Politics gets ugly, as Peace Democrats make a true, concerted effort (and nearly succeed) at unseating one of modern America’s most beloved historical figures. Battles become racialized, as men are massacred in battle not simply because of the color of their uniforms, but because of the color of their skin. The war gets ugly.

I’ve expressed optimism from the beginning and continue to hold out hope for the final two years, though I agree with John that it is going to be a challenge. This is, indeed, not your grandfather’s Civil War, but as Brooks Simpson rightfully notes, that does not mean that we should declare victory. I’ve noted multiple times, for example, that we need to reign in our embrace of an emancipationist narrative that is much too reductionist. I see it all the time here in Boston. You would think that everyone was an abolitionist, though the monuments in and around the city tell a slightly different story. Continue reading

149 Years Ago Today

Battle of the Crater Painting

The battle of the Crater was fought 149 years ago today. Here is a letter written by Henry A. Minor, who served as a surgeon with the 9th Alabama Volunteers. The 9th Alabama took part in William Mahone’s counterattack, which proved to be decisive in achieving a Confederate victory that day. The letter is one among scores of Confederate accounts I have in my collection that didn’t make it into my book. It offers a great deal of detail as to what transpired on that day and how the battle was assessed.

H.A. Minor to sister, M.A. Moseley: Field Hospital, 9th Alabama Regiment near Petersburg, Va., August 1, 1864 [Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.]

We have been here over six weeks, have had several fights with the enemy but as I have written to Brother Lute concerning all up to the middle of July, I will only tell you of one we had the day before yesterday.  I send papers giving an account of the affair and will be very brief in my remarks.  Peter was not in the charge, he being a sharp shooter.  He with his comrades were left to hold the line on our right while the Division went to the center to retake our lost position.  It is said to have the most brilliant charge of the War, the charge of our brigade.  The line was kept properly, the men moved rapidly and quietly reserving the fire until close up and then delivering it with terrible effect.  Here for the first time our men fought negroes.  The Yankees put the negroes in the front and are said to have forced them forward.  The massacre was terrible.  The ditches were almost filled with dead.  Men had to walk on the dead, could not find room for their feet.  Such a sight was never seen before. Continue reading