Tag Archives: Petersburg

The Battle of the Crater and Reconstruction Memory

crater lovellToday I read a very thoughtful post by John Rudy at his Interpreting the Civil War blog. He added his voice to the recent chorus of posts on the challenges and importance of properly commemorating the final two years of the Civil War. I agree with much of what he has to say.

But the war after Gettysburg morphs into that long, bloody, messy slog across Virginia or Tennessee and Georgia. It changes from prisoner exchanges into prison camps and the bloodiest ground on the American continent. Politics gets ugly, as Peace Democrats make a true, concerted effort (and nearly succeed) at unseating one of modern America’s most beloved historical figures. Battles become racialized, as men are massacred in battle not simply because of the color of their uniforms, but because of the color of their skin. The war gets ugly.

I’ve expressed optimism from the beginning and continue to hold out hope for the final two years, though I agree with John that it is going to be a challenge. This is, indeed, not your grandfather’s Civil War, but as Brooks Simpson rightfully notes, that does not mean that we should declare victory. I’ve noted multiple times, for example, that we need to reign in our embrace of an emancipationist narrative that is much too reductionist. I see it all the time here in Boston. You would think that everyone was an abolitionist, though the monuments in and around the city tell a slightly different story. Continue reading

149 Years Ago Today

Battle of the Crater Painting

The battle of the Crater was fought 149 years ago today. Here is a letter written by Henry A. Minor, who served as a surgeon with the 9th Alabama Volunteers. The 9th Alabama took part in William Mahone’s counterattack, which proved to be decisive in achieving a Confederate victory that day. The letter is one among scores of Confederate accounts I have in my collection that didn’t make it into my book. It offers a great deal of detail as to what transpired on that day and how the battle was assessed.

H.A. Minor to sister, M.A. Moseley: Field Hospital, 9th Alabama Regiment near Petersburg, Va., August 1, 1864 [Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.]

We have been here over six weeks, have had several fights with the enemy but as I have written to Brother Lute concerning all up to the middle of July, I will only tell you of one we had the day before yesterday.  I send papers giving an account of the affair and will be very brief in my remarks.  Peter was not in the charge, he being a sharp shooter.  He with his comrades were left to hold the line on our right while the Division went to the center to retake our lost position.  It is said to have the most brilliant charge of the War, the charge of our brigade.  The line was kept properly, the men moved rapidly and quietly reserving the fire until close up and then delivering it with terrible effect.  Here for the first time our men fought negroes.  The Yankees put the negroes in the front and are said to have forced them forward.  The massacre was terrible.  The ditches were almost filled with dead.  Men had to walk on the dead, could not find room for their feet.  Such a sight was never seen before. Continue reading

Our Confederate Dead

Blandford Cemetery

Update: Just received a private email stating that I am “incapable of feeling anything but hate for Confederate soldiers.” As always, thanks for taking the time to comment.

This weekend I was in Petersburg, where I gave a talk to a group of educators as part of teachers conference sponsored by the Civil War Trust.  I had a great time. It’s always nice to be able to catch up with my good friend, Garry Adelman, and meet new teachers.  Yesterday morning I had a chance to walk the Crater battlefield, where I got to see the incredible new view shed from the Crater back toward the guns at Fort Morton and the staging area for the battle.  After that, I headed on over to Blandford Cemetery for a quiet stroll.

I am a sucker for Blandford.  It’s not the cemetery’s importance to the battle or the fact that I can identify many of the names on the markers or even the beautiful Tiffany Windows in the church that I find so impressive.  When I walk through the arch to the Confederate section I am truly moved by what I see.  It’s a bit deceptive, especially if you have already visited the Confederate section at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.  Blandford doesn’t have the grandeur or sophistication of Hollywood and that is probably why I prefer this place.  You won’t find a pyramid at Blandford.  In fact, there are relatively few markers in the Confederate section, but it doesn’t take long to realize that those markers outline row upon row of unidentified Confederate soldiers buried by their respective states.  This section of the cemetery is a testament to the profound sense of grief and loss experienced by the community in the years following the war.  So many young men buried without any identification and far from home.  The monument to the unknown Confederate is perfectly positioned at the top of the ridge overlooking these men.  How can you not be touched on a deeply emotional level? Continue reading

Three Crater Photographs

Here are three photographs of the Crater from the Petersburg Museum that did not make it into my book. The first was taken inside the mineshaft itself and is dated 1926, though it is difficult to estimate exactly where.  Notice the sunlight that is coming in from above.  I assume the photograph was taken close to the entrance.  The second one shows a depression in the soil that follows the mineshaft up to the Crater itself, which is located by the cluster of trees just over the ridge line.  It doesn’t look much different from today.  It was taken sometime between 1926 and 1934. The final photograph, I believe, is from a point just west of the Crater looking northwest.  The tree line is much fuller today and extends all the way to the Jerusalem Plank Road.  It was taken in 1906.  I would love to find a photograph of the battlefield in the 1920s that showed the actual golf course.

Spielberg’s Lincoln and the Sesquicentennial

Over the weekend I took some time to answer a few questions about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln as part of a forum for the journal Civil War History.  The roundtable discussion that will come out of it will be published in the September 2013 issue.  One of the questions focused on the movie’s connection to the sesquicentennial.  I offered a few thoughts, but one thing I noted is that we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it was filmed in Richmond and Petersburg.  It appears that both communities embraced the opportunity to host a film about Lincoln.  Of course, we can attribute much of the enthusiasm to the financial benefits that both cities enjoyed, but it is worth acknowledging that in the former capital of the Confederacy there were no major protests undertaken re: the filming of a movie about Lincoln.  Lincoln was welcomed in Richmond 150 years ago and it is nice to see that this is still the case.

The Virginia Department of Tourism has set up a website that allows visitors to trace Lincoln’s steps through Virginia.  Today I came across this collection of videos that focuses on Petersburg and vicinity, which provides visitors with even more information.

“It is altogether fitting and proper that we should this.”