Category Archives: William Mahone/Crater

A Settled Question

I am making my way through the new collection of postwar accounts that George Bernard likely intended to be a follow-up volume to his War Talks of Confederate Veterans (1892).  Bernard served in the 12th Virginia, was present at the Crater, and remained very active in the A.P. Hill Camp, Confederate Veterans.  War Talks is an invaluable source, especially when it comes to the Crater so I was very pleased to hear that a collection of reminiscences by Bernard and others was being readied for publication.

There are only a few accounts of the Crater, including Bernard’s dedication address at Blandford Church in which a tablet was placed to remember the men from the Virginia brigade who died in the battle.  The address follows a pattern which I explore in my new book on the Crater.  While private reminiscences written by Confederate veterans continued to address the strong emotions re: the presence of black Union soldiers, public addresses took little notice.  In fact, Bernard steers completely clear of what was pervasive in the letters and diaries of Confederate in the immediate wake of the battle.  According to Bernard, “Our dead comrades fought and died in defense of their rights, their homes and their firesides.”  No surprise there.

Toward the end of the speech Bernard offers some thoughts that are often overlooked by those who claim to live politically in their footsteps:

The results have been many and far reaching, but none more striking than the growing conviction among thoughtful minds of the world, those of the North included, that the people of the South, however unwise or inexpedient may have been their act of secession, were, under the circumstances that surrounded them, justified in resorting to arms to maintain the right of their States to withdraw from the Union, if they saw fit, as they did to exercise this right.  But it is proper to add here that the same omnipotent power, in His infinite wisdom has allowed future events so to shape themselves that all now regard the question of secession as finally settled against the right as claimed by the seceding states and no people of our re-united country are more loyal to it or would go further to defend it than the people of the South and especially the Confederate veterans.

We too easily lose sight of the fact that while the activities of Confederate veterans during the postwar decades reinforced their connection to the 1860s and with one another it did not prevent them from moving forward.  These men ought not to be interpreted as stuck in time.  It may not be a stretch to suggest that their experiences in the war eventually enhanced their love and attachment for the United States.

 

Crater Book Now Shipping

Update: Just learned that 426 copies have been sold thus far. Not bad.  Word on the street is that the SCV purchased copies for all camp commanders.

Just a quick note to say thanks to all of you who have written emails congratulating me on the release of Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.  It’s incredibly humbling to know that folks are paying good money for my book so I do hope you enjoy it.  The book is now shipping from all major distributors, including Amazon.  I would love to get a review or two up on the Amazon page at some point soon.  Let me know what you like and what you don’t like.

Thanks again, everyone. :-)

 

It’s a Crater Book

Following an exhausting seven hour drive from Gettysburg I returned home to find my author copies waiting at the door.  I actually saw the book for the first time at CWI, where I was able to sign a number of copies for some of the participants and close friends.  It made the entire trip that much more enjoyable.  I have so many people to thank, which I do in the Acknowledgments section, but let me include one paragraph that is meant for all of you.

A good deal of the material contained in this book was first introduced on my Weblog, Civil War Memory, which I began in November 2005.  The site has given me the opportunity to test new ideas with a core group of loyal readers who bring a wealth of knowledge and perspective to my work.  Rarely did a day go by that I did not receive a blog comment or private e-mail that included sound criticism or pointed me in the direction of new sources.  My readers not only helped to further my understanding of the Crater, they enriched my understanding of some of the central issues surrounding how Americans have chosen to remember the Civil War.  There are too many people to thank by name and the vast majority I have never met in person, but I hope they will embrace this book as a token of my gratitude.

The book should be officially released within the next ten days.  Thanks once again to all of you, who have traveled this road with me.  Now it is time to celebrate with the most important person in my life.

 

Read a Preview of My Crater Book

The book should be available in a matter of a few weeks, but you can now read the entire first chapter and snippets of the rest at Google Books.  The first chapter focuses on the battle itself and pays specific attention to how Confederates assessed having to fight black soldiers.  Other blogger/authors have expressed their frustration about these previews and I am certainly sympathetic.  That said and apart from the legal issues involved I am not too concerned.  In fact, I don’t think it will have much of an impact, if any, on sales.  Times are tough for many people and if those interested can at least get a taste of what is in the book than I am happy.  Ultimately, I wrote the book for it to be read and to stimulate discussion and hopefully lead to some understanding of this event.

I am pleased to see that the first chapter is previewed in its entirety.  It covers material that has led to some pretty heated debates on this blog and has even reinforced the belief in a small number of people that my motivations for writing are based on a hatred of all things southern.  Yes, how silly.  The nice thing about a book is that you have to lay it all on the line.  I did my best to interpret the battle based on the evidence collected and my thorough reading of relevant secondary sources.  Ultimately all interpretations are incomplete and subject to correction.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

Oh…and if you would like to order the book now is your chance to purchase it at 40% off.  Just click the image at the top right of the sidebar and use the code at checkout.  Looking for an autographed copy?  I am scheduled to appear at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop’s Virtual Book Signing program on July 28.

 

Black Petersburg Remembers the Crater

File this one under the ‘better late than never’ category.  I guess every historian has experienced uncovering a gem of a reference that failed to make it into a published work.  The following editorial (“Our Colored Militia”) was published in the Petersburg Lancet on September 12, 1885 by George F. Bragg, Jr. on the occasion of a local black militia parade.

When we think of the achievements  of those brilliant knights of the middle ages; when we think of the christian armies moving onwards to Jerusalem to wrest the tomb of the blessed Saviour from the fierce barbaric hands of Saracenic hosts; when we remember the courageous conduct of the Negro troops at Fort Fisher, Fort Wagner, at New Orleans and at the CRATER near our own city, in which the limbs of may of our brethren in black lie mouldering in the dust from which they came, we may feel that this gathering to day is not an idle insignificant one, but that the colored militia men of this grand old State have determined to perpetuate the memories of that institution from which so many healthy lasting benefits have been derived.

There were a number of black militias active throughout Virginia during the postwar period.  Though their service was limited they performed an important function within the local black community by reinforcing civic pride and preserving a memory of the war that was slowly losing its hold on the public’s imagination by the late nineteenth century.  This editorial reinforces just how important it was for African Americans to keep alive the memory of their service and sacrifice in the war as a way to maintain what limited freedoms they enjoyed, especially in the wake of the end of Readjuster control of the state.

One of the topics that I briefly explore in the book is the challenge of connecting black residents of Petersburg to the history at the Crater.  Earlier this week I posted on a parade in Fredericksburg that recreates the postwar participation of local blacks in decorating and honoring Union graves.  If repeated it at least has the potential to connect a certain segment of the community to the Civil War past and its continued relevance.  Perhaps the recreation of a black militia march in Petersburg with their overt references to black participation in the war can achieve similar ends.  Just a thought.