The Crater You Don’t Know

Crater Battlefield (USAMHI-SC735-RG667S-VOL.8-MOLLUS)

Yesterday I finalized the selection of images that will appear in my forthcoming book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.  Readers will recognize a number of them, but many will be published for the first time.  They include images of the 1937 Crater reenactment that appeared in Richmond newspapers as well as a wonderful postwar image of the Griffith House, which housed a small collection of artifacts and at least one member of the family into the twentieth century.  William Griffith’s decision to preserve the area around the crater ensured that it would not be lost to development.

I am not exactly sure where this is on the battlefield, though I am pretty sure that these are Confederate lines adjacent to Elliott’s Salient, where the explosion took place.  There is another image of the skulls that will appear in the book, which can also be found in Earl Hess’s recent study, Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg.

The image above did not make the cut, but I wanted to share it with you because it represents such a sharp contrast with some of the more popular images of the landscape, many of which focus on the crater itself.  These early postwar images help us to imagine a lost landscape that has yet to be shaped by encroaching trees and the effects of a manicured 18-hole golf course that was in operation briefly in the 1920s.  If you look closely you will see at least one black individual.  Former slaves were a common sight on the battlefield collecting human remains for which they were paid based on  weight.

A Manuscript Gets a Cover

Even with all the work I’ve put into this project over the past few years, it’s funny how seeing the cover for the first time can finally make its impending publication a reality.  I absolutely love the cover and I hope you do as well.  The book is still slated for a spring 2012 release and I expect that it will be available for pre-order some time soon.  Thanks to all the wonderful people at the University Press of Kentucky for their continued enthusiasm and support.  Click here for more information about the book.

As Close To the Crater As You Can Get

One of my readers was kind enough to leave a link to this video on a previous post, which captured the explosion of the Hawthorn mine at Beaumont Hamel, Somme, France, 7.20 a.m. lst July 1916. The mine was exploded by 252 Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers using about 40,000 lbs of ammonal. The resulting crater was 80ft deep and measured 150 yds by 100 yds.  In contrast, the men of the 48th Pennsylvania loaded 8,000 lbs (320 kegs, 25 pounds in each bag) into the mine.  The explosion left a crater measuring 126 feet long at the surface, 69 feet long at the bottom, 87 feet wide at the top, and 38 feet wide at the bottom.  Henry Pleasants estimated that it was 25 feet deep.

Update on Crater Book

While I have had an opportunity to begin work on a few new projects, much of my time has been spent getting my Crater ms. ready for publication.  The folks at the University Press of Kentucky have been incredibly helpful in providing the necessary support and encouragement to this first-time author.  I finished collecting the images and securing the required permissions to publish.  A number of the images have never been published, though they are easily accessible on various websites.  I am hoping that the production staff will be able to use copies of images printed from microfilm that depict the 1937 Crater reenactment at Petersburg.  They are very cool.  In addition, I am including what may be the only image of the William Griffith house, which functioned as a small museum and helped to ensure the preservation of the battlefield until it was acquired by the federal government in the 1930s.  [Thanks to NPS historian, Jimmy Blankenship, for providing copies of this particular image.]

The next stage will involve the heavy lifting of reading through the page proofs and creating the index.  Things are moving along and we are still on schedule for a spring 2012 release.  At the top is another fascinating image of the Crater that was shared with me and which can be found at the U.S. Army Military History Institute at Carlisle.  It’s a postwar photograph of what I believe are Confederate works adjacent to the Crater.  Notice the two skulls and bones.  I found accounts of the discovery of human remains as late as the 1930s.

Do They Just Make This Stuff Up?

One of my favorite sites is a Facebook page made up of folks who style themselves as defenders of Southern Heritage.  There isn’t much serious history being discussed.  Once in a while someone will ask for a quote’s source or the reference to a particular book, but more often than not members simply reassure one another of their own worth in the continuing struggle against folks, who they believe are out to destroy all things “Southern”.  Here is a wonderful example that begins with a posting by Ann DeWitt, aka “Royal Diadem”.

Here are some of the more interesting responses:

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