“Blue-Gray Gush” From the Bay State

On November 13, 1911 Union and Confederate veterans met on the Crater battlefield to dedicate a monument to all Massachusetts units that took part in the Petersburg Campaign. Alfred S. Roe delivered the dedication address and, not surprisingly, used the occasion to reinforce a public face of reconciliation with a narrative that reminded the audience of their shared history. We are talking major “gush”.  I am using this event to open my essay on Massachusetts soldiers who fought at the Crater. Continue reading ““Blue-Gray Gush” From the Bay State”

“There Will Be Confederates in Heaven”

Massachusetts Monument at the Crater
Massachusetts Monument at the Crater

One of the individuals that I am looking forward to learning more about for this new article on the Crater is Colonel James Anderson of Springfield, Massachusetts, who was very active during the postwar period in organizing veterans reunions and monument dedications. His collaboration with George Bernard of the A.P. Hill Camp Confederate Veterans resulted in a visit of Confederate veterans of the battle of the Crater to Springfield in 1910. The following year the residents of Petersburg welcomed the veterans from Massachusetts to the Crater to dedicate a new monument.

During their visit Anderson shared the following story:

On a gala night in the Petersburg armory, when veterans were swapping stories above buried hatchets, Colonel James Anderson, chairman of the Massachusetts Commission, told of the many commendatory letters that had come to him after the visit of the Southern soldiers. But, he added, a lady from Paterson, New Jersey, had written chiding him for permitting a “vile band of Rebels” to walk through the streets of a fair Northern city to the tune of that “rebel song, Dixie.” Colonel Anderson returned the letter to its sender with these words appended: ‘There will be Confederates in Heaven. If you don’t want to associate with Confederates, go to Hell.”

Quite the character.

Note: When the Massachusetts monument at the Crater was dedicated in 1911 visitors entered the battlefield from the Jerusalem Plank Road.

Massachusetts at the Crater

Massachusetts Reunion at Crater
57th Massachusetts at the Crater with William Mahone at center (1887)

One of the things that I regret about my book on the Crater is that I failed to spend sufficient time exploring Union accounts of the battle, both during and, especially, after the war. Given that I wrote the book while living in Virginia I was always primarily interested in Confederate accounts (wartime and postwar) and what they had to say about issues related to slavery and race. Continue reading “Massachusetts at the Crater”

Remembering Louis Martin

Louis MartinA couple of years ago Mike Musick – who as many of you know was for a long time the go-to guy for anything Civil War related at the National Archives – contacted me about a recently discovered photograph of Louis Martin of the 29th U.S.C.T. He kindly arranged to have a copy of the photograph and pension application sent to me, which eventually ended up in my Crater book.

At that point the photograph was still not available online. I remember staring at it for what seemed like hours when it first arrived. You can clearly see why. In many ways this image served as a visual reminder of why I thought it was important to use the battle of the Crater as a case study on race and historical memory in American history.

I did a bit of research into his postwar life, but found very little. I knew the year he died and that he struggled with alcohol, but I was unsure as to where he was buried. There is also a question about Martin’s necklace and whether it has an African origin. Continue reading “Remembering Louis Martin”

Recognition For William Mahone

mahoneYesterday’s post about the unveiling of three plaques honoring Virginia’s post-Civil War black politicians has me thinking about my old buddy, William Mahone. While Mahone is best remembered as the “Hero of the Crater” his role in launching and leading the state’s most successful third-party political movement has largely been forgotten. In Virginia it was intentionally ignored because what came to be known as the Readjuster Party (1879-83) was bi-racial. The arc from Mahone’s role in preventing a Union breakthrough outside Petersburg that left scores of black Union soldiers massacred on the Crater battlefield to creating an opportunity for the largest number of black Virginians to vote, go to school and serve in positions of local and state government just a few short years later could not be more striking. Could anyone in 1865 anticipate that it would be a former Confederate general who would bring Reconstruction to Virginia?

Is it time to recognize William Mahone publicly in some shape or form? I say yes, if for no other reason than it would help to bring into sharper focus a piece of Virginia’s history that places yesterday’s dedication in its proper context. In other words, post-Civil War Virginia makes absolutely no sense without a reference to Mahone and the Readjuster Party.  It matters, not simply because it’s part of Virginia’s history, but because it has something important to teach us as well. The period following the official years of Reconstruction (1865-1877) did not inevitably lead to Jim Crow. Interracial cooperation was not only possible in the South between 1877 and the turn of the twentieth century but a reality for a few short years in Virginia. Virginia’s Reconstruction was not forced on it by “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags” but by legitimate stakeholders, who believed that a brighter future could be forged for both races. Finally, there is something juicy about all of this being introduced by a former Confederate general. Continue reading “Recognition For William Mahone”