Category Archives: William Mahone/Crater

Interview With The Civil War Monitor

Thanks to David Thomson for the opportunity to interview with The Civil War Monitor’s new series, Behind the Lines.  We talked mainly about my Crater book and toward the end I babble on a bit about blogging and social media.  If you are curious the book is doing very well.  Some of you are familiar with the standard academic press contract and I am now confident that within a few months I will make enough profit to take my wife out to a nice dinner.  You can still pick up the book at a 40% discount.  Just use the coupon code on the book page.  [The code will override the 20% discount that you will see on the publisher's book page.]

The book has received some favorable reviews.  Jim Cullen reviewed it for History News Network earlier this summer and I was especially pleased to see Caroline Janney’s positive review in The Civil War Monitor.  I first learned about William Mahone in a summer seminar for history teachers at the University of Virginia taught by Gary Gallagher and William Thomas. Carrie was one of the teaching assistants for the course.  I am very much looking forward to her forthcoming study of Civil War memory, which will be published next year as part of the University of North Carolina Press’s Littlefield Series.

A couple of shorter blog posts have appeared with mixed reviews.  Brendan Wolfe offered a thoughtful and critical assessment at the Encyclopedia Virginia blog on parts of the first chapter.  I offered some feedback, but have not seen anything on the rest of the book.  More curious is Tim Talbott’s review at Random Thoughts on History.  It seems I overlooked a Confederate account of the battle that even he can’t reference.  Again, most of the focus is on the first chapter.  In the end I appreciate that they took the time to read at least parts of the book.

Appearance on Civil War Talk Radio

Earlier today I was interviewed on Civil War Talk Radio by Gerry Prokopowicz of East Carolina University.  We talked mainly about the book, including the battle, William Mahone’s political career, the two Crater reenactments, and briefly about interpretation at the Crater today.  This is my second appearance on CWTR.  The first time was back in 2006 when I had just published a short article about the battle in America’s Civil War.  Nice to be able to return to talk about the book and a much broader story.  Thanks to Gerry for another enjoyable experience on the radio.

Listen to the interview here.

Interview at Abraham Lincoln Book Shop

A few weeks ago I was interviewed, along with Glenn LaFantasie, at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago.  It was a real honor to be invited to take part in their Virtual Book Signing program.  The interview and book signing was recorded and is now available on their YouTube channel.  The store still has a few signed copies of my Crater book and I encourage you to support the store if interested in a first edition.  All four parts can be found below.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

148 Years Ago Today

At about this time the USCTs of the Ninth Corp’s Fourth Division had entered the battle.  Part of one brigade ended up in the confusion of the crater itself, but much of the division managed to maneuver to its right and into the confusing and complex chain of earthworks that extended outward.  A couple of regiments pushed their way to some of the most forward positions that any Union regiment would occupy this day.  They performed admirably in what was a difficult situation.

That said, there remains some confusion as to their role in the outcome of the battle of the Crater.  Part of the story about the Crater and the men of the Fourth Division rests on a counterfactual or an assumption about the preparedness of the men under Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero’s command. Consider the following from an article in the Petersburg Progress-Index:

“This breakthrough would have likely ended the war,” said Park Ranger Randy Watkins, who blames incompetent Union commanders, who in a last minute decision pulled a well-trained group of U.S. Colored Troops from the frontlines to replace them with less experienced white soldiers. “The Union should have won this battle,” Watkins said.

It’s as if we want the difference between victory and defeat to rest on the racism of the Union high command.  “If only Meade had more confidence in these men….”  Meade simply did not believe that these men stood a better chance of success compared to the white soldiers and their use came with political risks.  Much of this is based on the well told tale that the Fourth Division had been trained specifically for this attack.  It is true that they trained, but it must be remembered that this would be their first real taste of battle.  While a few regiments may have performed drills tailored to a cratered landscape the evidence suggests that much of their training was done as part of any attempt to prepare green troops for battle.

Even before Mahone’s counterattack commenced Confederates in the area around the crater kept up stiff resistance and did much to stymie the Union advance.  One reenactor quoted in the Progress-Index commented on the bravery of these men:

“The Battle of the Crater stands for the resolve of the Southern man,” said re-enactor Michael Peacock, a Texas native who now calls Midlothian his home. “To Confederate soldiers, there was no surrender. This ran deep in their veins and still does,” he said.  Sam Watkins, who portrayed a private in the Confederate artillery, said that the Battle of the Crater was more important than the Battle of Gettysburg. “This right here was the defense of Petersburg,” he said.

Indeed, there was no surrender…no surrender that is for many of the black soldiers in the Fourth Division.  And this had everything to do with the fact that they were defending a civilian population in Petersburg.  Whatever ran “deep in their veins” it was excited by the fact that the site of black men in uniform solidified what the war was about and what the consequences would be if a Confederate victory in this battle and the war were not secured.

Note: For those of you visiting the battlefield my book is now available at the Petersburg National Battlefield book store.

Back From Chicago

Just a quick shout out to Daniel Weinberg (l) and Bjorn Skaptason (r) of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop for inviting me to Chicago as part of their Virtual Book Signing series.  I had a wonderful time.  Dan did a great job interviewing me along with Glenn LaFantasie.  We didn’t get into any great detail having to do with the book, but I appreciate his laid back style and the chance to reflect on some broader issues related to historical memory.  I signed around 25 copies and we even had a nice little audience in the story, which made it that much more intimate.  The store has a small number of signed copies available for purchase and I strongly encourage you to buy from them if interested.  It’s important that we do what we can to keep independent book stores like ALBS in business.  The interview should be uploaded at some point soon and will be posted here at that time.

My wife and I had a great time in Chicago, though our stay was much too short.  We did meet up with old friends and had an incredible dinner in Greek Town yesterday evening.  We did a great deal of walking and spent plenty of time looking up at the beautiful architecture.  That said, it was nice to touch down earlier tonight in Boston.  I’ve spent much of the past month on the road so it will be nice to relax and get back to a regular routine.

Upcoming Talk:  This Saturday I will be speaking and signing books at the Grand Army Hall in Scituate, MA.  The event is being sponsored by the Sons of Union Veterans and it promises to be a fun time for all.  I am going to talk about USCTs at the Crater.  My talk will take place at 11am.