I hope that all of you have had a chance to read my article on Confederate military executions in the current issue of Civil War Times. It should be on the newsstands for a few more weeks, but you can also read it online. I’ve been quite pleased with the response thus far. I am also pleased to report that my essay on understanding the battle of the Crater as a slave rebellion will be published in a future issue of the magazine. Working with Dana Shoaf and the rest of the staff was an absolute pleasure and I look forward to doing it again. You may remember that this essay started as a blog post in June 2009, which received quite a bit of attention. Civil War Times is a perfect place for this particular piece. It’s an aspect of the battle that receives very little attention and I love the fact that it will be read by a popular audience. I am really excited about this one. Writing this essay has allowed me to think much more deeply about a number of issues related to the battle itself as well as the postwar process of remembrance and commemoration. The essay now serves as the core of the first chapter of my Crater manuscript.
This year is proving to be very good for me in the area of publications. I’ve got a few other projects that should be out this year in addition to the two Civil War Times articles. The final volume of the Virginia at War series edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson (University of Kentucky Press) should be right around the corner. Back in 2008 I wrote a chapter on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia. In August my talk from the 2008 meeting of the Society for Civil War Historians, which explored how I use Ken Burns in my classroom will be published in the journal, The History Teacher. Finally, I am hoping to hear more about the status of Gary Gallagher’s final volume in the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series at UNC Press. It looks like this final volume will cover the Petersburg Campaign through Appomattox and may end up being quite a large book. Last I heard my essay on how Confederate soldiers remembered the battle of the Crater was to be included, but these things can change given the amount of time that has lapsed.
At one point in the discussion today Ken Noe offered the following:
I recently completed a project that required me to read the letters and diaries of 320 CS soldiers. They wrote a lot about slavery, slave labor in camp, their opposition to emancipation, and their mixed feelings about the 1865 Confederate Congressional debates over arming blacks. But not a one of them–not one–described black men fighting beside them as armed soldiers for the Confederacy. What I’d need are a lot of letters that did describe that. I’d also need evidence that the 1865 Confederate slavery debates never took place after all, because why debate the issue if black men were already soldiers in Confederate service? Finally, some official mention from the Confederate government before 1865 would help.
Before proceeding I want to mention that the project that Ken speaks of will be published shortly by the University of North Carolina Press and it promises to be a very interesting study. All of Ken’s questions are relevant, but I was particularly struck by his emphasis on the lack of references to black Confederates from the men in his sample. One would think that at some point a Confederate solider would acknowledge the presence of black soldiers rather than servants, teamsters, cooks, etc. I don’t know one historian who has come across such a letter, though I assume that a few did serve or were able to pass as white soldiers. Continue reading →
This is a very interesting video about a recent monument that was erected in Nashville’s National Cemetery to honor the 2,000 USCTs who are buried there. The video includes reflections from black reenactors (including the individual who posed for the sculpture) who reflect on the importance of acknowledging the service of these men along with an interview with the sculptor. I wonder whether the push to honor legitimate black soldiers in the United States army explains the recent ceremony in nearby Giles County, Tennessee honoring 18 “black Confederates.” You will remember that the VA denied these men markers after determining that they were slaves.
I have become a big fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s column over at Atlantic Monthly, especially his thoughts about what the Civil War means to a young African American male. [See here, here, and here] I’ve met Frank Smith a couple of times over the past few years, most recently in 2007, when I interviewed him as part of my research on black memory of the Crater. Mr. Smith has been involved in D.C. politics over the past few decades, but he is perhaps best known for helping to bring about a monument to United States Colored Troops in the city. He also established a museum a few blocks from the monument, which explores the history and contributions of black soldiers to the Civil War.
I just love the way they shrug off talk about black Confederates. We could take issue with Smith’s claim that no free black Southerners managed to join the army, but there is something refreshing about watching these two men discuss a subject that they understand.
With the publication of three books on the battle of the Crater in the past two years, one might reasonably ask if there is a need for yet another. These previous treatments (written mainly by non-academic historians) have collectively addressed the tactical complexity of the battle, including the early morning explosion of 8,000 pounds of black powder under a Confederate salient and they have provided an exhaustive account of the close-quarter combat and blood-letting that ensued for close to eight hours on a battlefield that was ripped open by the initial blast. Such a focus is a staple of traditional military history. But as much as we have learned about the nature of combat in the trenches around Petersburg in the summer of 1864 there are key aspects of this battle that have not been sufficiently addressed by the previous literature.