Ohio Men Cheer For the USCTs at Petersburg

Earlier today I was going through my collection of original Civil War era newspaper and came across an issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated from July 9, 1864. The first page includes this wonderful illustration of the charge of General Hinks’s “colored troops” outside of Petersburg in mid-June. Ohio troops cheer them on in the background. It’s a wonderful find as I continue to explore how white Union soldiers responded to the use of USCTs a few weeks later at the Crater.

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It’s a powerful image, but we should proceed carefully in interpreting it. For some it is an image that fits into a popular and satisfying narrative that is framed around slavery, emancipation, military service, freedom, postwar promises of civil rights, and the eventual slide into Jim Crow. From this perspective we may be tempted to dismiss the cheering of the Ohio men as something fleeting or, in hindsight, even insincere. Such an interpretation, however, misses a salient point about white Union soldiers. They were not engaged in a civil rights struggle. Continue reading “Ohio Men Cheer For the USCTs at Petersburg”

Northern Soldiers, Race, and the Crater

battle of the craterI am really enjoying the opportunity to go back and review the letters and diaries of white Northern soldiers who fought at the Crater. Now that I’ve done so I regret not going deeper into these wartime accounts in the book. Hopefully, this little essay project will make up for it. In this post I want to share a couple soldier accounts from the battle and solicit some feedback.  Continue reading “Northern Soldiers, Race, and the Crater”

Interpreting the White Scapegoating of the 4th Division at the Crater

Chandra ManningI 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 “Interpreting the White Scapegoating of the 4th Division at the Crater”

The Year of the Crater/Upcoming Talks

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.

“Blue-Gray Gush” From the Bay State

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 ““Blue-Gray Gush” From the Bay State”