Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder

University Press of Kentucky [2012 (paperback, 2017)]

CraterThe Battle of the Crater is known as one of the Civil War’s bloodiest struggles—a Union loss with combined casualties of 5,000, many of whom were members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) under Union Brigadier General Edward Ferrero. The battle was a violent clash of forces as Confederate soldiers fought for the first time against African American soldiers. After the Union lost the battle, these black soldiers were captured and subject both to extensive abuse and the threat of being returned to slavery in the South. Yet, despite their heroism and sacrifice, these men are often overlooked in public memory of the war.

Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War is Murder, Kevin M. Levin analyzes the shared recollections of a battle that epitomizes the way Americans have chosen to remember, or in many cases forget, the presence of the USCT. The book focuses specifically on how the racial component of the war’s history was portrayed at various points during the 140 years following its conclusion, illuminating the social changes and challenges experienced by the nation as a whole. Remembering The Battle of the Crater gives the members of the USCT a newfound voice in history. University Press of Kentucky, 2012.


“In this stunning and well-researched book, Kevin Levin catches the new waves of the study of memory, black soldiers, and the darker underside of the Civil War as well as anyone has. That horrible day at the Crater in Petersburg, its brutal racial facts and legacies, all tangled in the weeds of Confederate Lost Cause lore, have never been exposed like this. Levin is both superb scholar and public historian, showing us a piece of the real war that does now get into the books, as well as into site interpretation.”— David W. Blight, author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

“Levin has done a superb job of charting a course through the complex and sometimes perplexing details of this story. His research is exhaustive, and his critical eye encompasses such diverse elements as John Elder’s famous painting of the battle, the many reunions and reenactments held on the battlefield, the creation of the Petersburg National Battlefield, and the ways in which park personnel have tried to interpret the engagement to succeeding generations since 1932.”-–Earl J. Hess, author of The Mine Attack at Petersburg

“So-called ‘memory studies’ have come to the forefront in recent years, thanks to the work of distinguished scholars like David Blight, Lesley Gordon, and Carol Reardon. Add to their number now Kevin M. Levin, whose new book Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, provides an outstanding look at how people North and South, participants and their cultures, dealt with the awful recollection of those hours of carnage and brutality in the Crater.”–William C. Davis, author of Crucible of Command

Reviewed in: Civil War History / H-Net / Civil War Book Review / History News Network / Journal of Southern History / The Civil War Monitor / North Carolina Historical Review / Virginia Magazine of History & Biography / Journal of American History / The Journal of the Civil War Era