Douglas Southall Freeman Visits the Crater

I have culled a number of helpful sources from Google Books.  Today I am sharing a wonderful image of Douglas Southall Freeman that was taken from a Life magazine article published in May 1940.  The article takes the reader to various places from the Petersburg Campaign, including the Crater and follows Freeman as he attempts to make sense of the growing conflict in Europe and its likely outcome based on his understanding of the Civil War.  It’s an interesting piece and the photographs are wonderful.  The article begins with that famous photograph of Freeman saluting the Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond.

I believe that the photograph of the remains of the Crater was taken facing north.  The modern day trail follows the far side to the left and behind the Confederate position.  If you look closely you can see the South Carolina marker in the rear and to the right behind the tree.  I should mention that Freeman’s fascination with the Civil War began at the Crater.  In 1903 he attended the famous Crater reenactment with his father, who served in the 41st Virginia Infantry.  After watching the veterans of Mahone’s Virginia brigade march by the young Freeman pledged to his father that he would tell their story.  Another great find.

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10 comments… add one
  • Jane Johansson Jul 14, 2010 @ 17:31

    Douglas Southall Freeman is one of my favorite historians as well. Several years ago, I happened to visit the Cold Harbor battlefield and came across a interesting item in their bookstore. You may already be familiar with this, but several years ago a scholar named David E. Johnson wrote a biography simply titled Douglas Southall Freeman. The book was published by Pelican Publishing in 2002. I thought it was a fascinating read–the author delves into Freeman’s background, his writing habits, how he did his research, etc. He made heavy use of various collections of Freeman’s papers–according to the book jacket the Library of Congress has 244 boxes of Freeman’s papers! Although Johnson writes of Freeman in a quite positive light, he also included some criticisms as well such as his sometimes troubled relationship with his children. This book ranks as one of the best biographies that I have read in the last few years.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 15, 2010 @ 0:46

      Hi Jane,

      I have read that book. It’s actually one of the few books by Pelican that is readable. Thanks.

  • Larry Cebula Jul 14, 2010 @ 13:41

    Wow, the image of the upright historian surveying this of all battlefields as his black servant crouches at his feet says a world about where Freeman was coming from. Very powerful.

  • Emmanuel Dabney Jul 14, 2010 @ 9:15

    I wonder who Herbert really is. More than just Freeman’s “servant.”

  • John Maass Jul 14, 2010 @ 2:45

    Interesting the the magazine had a photospread about a historian! Would they do so today? We’ve gone past the days when historians were public figures (in the USA), with the exception of those who get in trouble.

    • Doc Holiday Feb 2, 2011 @ 8:28

      I have seen several CW Historians mentioned in magazines and showing their visits and interpretations recently. Even the CWPT has it’s own little mag with the same.

  • toby Jul 13, 2010 @ 13:00

    I read somewhere (must chase down the reference) that Winston Churchill had a tremendous admiration for Freeman, and that Freeman was one of the people he asked to meet when visiting Washington after Pearl Harbor (Dec 1941). He is said to have had a tour of the Virginia battlefields from Freeman – was it on this occasion? I wonder how Freeman felt about that.

    Churchill, of course, was a great historian in his own right, and a Nobel Prize Winner, though the history in his work has been much debated. He did write the biography of another great general, his own ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. So it was probably the admitation of one great practitioner for another.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 13, 2010 @ 13:07

      Freeman walked the battlefields of the Seven Days with Churchill, though the dates escape me right now. He also spent two days with David Lloyd George.

      I agree that aspects of Freeman’s research have been questioned, but that is to be expected given his output and his talent. That we continue to debate Freeman’s work reflects historians continued respect for the man.

  • Andy Hall Jul 13, 2010 @ 12:18

    Interesting that Freeman kept a private shrine in his own home. That speaks (four) volumes about his interpretation of Lee, and the ever-expanding view of the Confederacy as an explicitly Christian cause.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 13, 2010 @ 12:27

      Wasn’t that a great photograph. Freeman is one of my favorite Civil War historians. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to L’s Lieutenants or the Lee biography for a reference or just to enjoy his writing. He definitely emphasized that aspect of the Lost Cause, but Freeman’s understanding of Lee and his army is incredibly rich and remains useful to this day.

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