Tag Archives: Crater

Remembering the Battle of the Crater Reviewed in Journal of Southern History

Journal of Southern HistoryI’ve been very pleased with the reception that my book has received from the scholarly community since its publication in June 2012.. My goal was to write something that would be accessible to a wide audience, but would also be of interest to historians of memory, the Civil War and the American South. Even the critical reviews have been fair and have given me much to think about. I have to say, however, that getting a positive review in The Journal of Southern History [February 2014 (pp. 214-15)] is really something special. For many historians it is considered to be the premier journal in the field. The journal can’t review every new study in Civil War history so thanks to the editorial staff for selecting my book and thanks especially to Bonnie Loughlin-Schultz for writing the review.

Kevin M. Levin’s insightful work opens with the battle of the Crater as depicted in the 2003 film Cold Mountain, which presents the battle as most Americans think of it: Union detonation of explosives under a Confederate fortification followed by terrible hand-to-hand combat and Confederate victory. It is no fluke that the film glossed over the pivotal role of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Instead, its interpretation is the culmination of a nearly 150-year-old contest over how the battle should be remembered.

Levin, known to many historians for his acclaimed blog Civil War Memory, deftly explores the role of race in this battle for memory. In reality, the USCT played a pivotal role and fought bravely in the face of terrible conditions. Petersburg was the first time that General Robert E. Lee’s soldiers faced former slaves on the battlefield, and they responded that day with a violence that held “no tactical purpose” (p. 29). Many captured black troops were executed by Confederate soldiers bent on preserving racial hierarchy in the South. Continue reading

Sketch of an Argument About the Crater

What follows is a very rough draft of the opening section of an essay that explores white Union perceptions of United States Colored Troops who fought at the Crater. Please feel free to comment and be as critical as you like. I very much appreciate it.

On July 9, 1864 Frank Leslie’s Illustrated featured on its front page a dramatic image of the 22nd United States Colored Troops carrying the first line of rebel works as part of the initial assaults by the Army of the James against the city of Petersburg, Virginia on June 15. The image depicts the men joining together to haul off a captured Confederate cannon while two dead soldiers serve as a reminder of the sacrifice paid for this prize. It is a moment of triumph that artist, E.F. Mullen, did not want readers to think went unnoticed on the field of battle. In the backdrop white Ohioans doff their hats, wave regimental flags, unsheathe swords and cheer in an open display of support for their black comrades.  Continue reading

Alvin C. Voris Connects Military Service to Race Relations

Alvin C. VorisAlvin C. Voris rose through the ranks in command of Ohio troops and by the end of the war was brevetted major general. Below are a few excerpts from his letters which were published a few years ago as A Citizen-Soldier’s Civil War: The Letters of Brevet Major General Alvin C. Voris and edited by Jerome Mushkat.

I find the evolution of Voris’s thinking on the conduct and service of black soldiers to be quite interesting and reflective of a broader trend within the Army of the Potomac and Army of the James. By November 10 Lincoln had been reelected and Voris had taken temporary command of a black unit. The Crater represents the nadir of white perceptions of their black comrades in arms. There is no questioning the fact that Ferrero’s Fourth Division was scapegoated by both those who were on the battlefield that day and those who learned later about it later, but a closer look suggests that the condemnations were relatively restrained and short-term.

It’s a more complex story and one that I am currently exploring for an essay that I need to finish in the next few weeks.  Continue reading

Longwood University’s 15th Annual Civil War Seminar

There were a few details to work out, but I can now announce that I will definitely be taking part in Longwood University’s annual Civil War Seminar on March 15 in Farmville, Virginia. The theme this year is 1864 and my topic – not surprisingly – will be the battle of the Crater. I am going to talk specifically about how Confederate soldiers assessed the battle. Other presenters include Eric Wittenberg, Gordon Rhea, Stephen Engle, and Brian Steel Wills. That’s a great line-up if you ask me and best of all, IT’S FREE.

This is turning out to be a busy speaking season here in the Boston area, but there is nothing better than heading back to my old home to talk about the Civil War, especially this year. Hope to see some of you in Farmville in March.

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