“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.

In our nation’s historical chain Massachusetts and Virginia form two inseparable links; Capt. John Smith regarded New England as one of his children, Virginia, the other, and in that immortal document, known as the Mayflower Compact, the adventurers describe themselves as on a “voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia.” Had their supposition proved true how differently the pages of history might have been written. Jamestown, 1607, and Plymouth, 1620, barring a Dutch interval at the mouth of the Hudson, for years divided Atlantic coast honors between them. Even the Mayflower in a subsequent voyage is said to have carried passengers of ebon hue to the southern colony and Roger Ludlow, a former deputy governor of Massachusetts, spent the last ten years of his life in Virginia.

When the Revolutionary War was impending the two colonies were as one in their attitude towards the mother country; unitedly they opposed the Stamp Act, and when the Massachusetts Joseph Hawley said, “After all, we must fight,” Virginia’s Patrick Henry, with uplifted hand and calling upon God to witness, cried out, “I am of that man’s mind.” Though Henry was foremost among those calling for a congress of colonies John Hancock of Massachusetts was its second and longest time president, and he was a Virginian Harrison who, in conducting Hancock to the chair, exclaimed, “We will show Britain how much we value her proscriptions.” When in his impassioned speech of March 25, 1175, Henry shouted, “The next gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms,” Massachusetts did not wait a single month before freighting that breeze with tidings of Concord and Lexington.

Virginia furnished the revered Commander of the American armies during the long struggle for independence, but it was John Adams of the Bay Colony, who, recognizing his superlative fitness, nominated Washington for the position, and Massachusetts Cambridge yet holds sacred the ancient elm under which command was assumed of the Colonial troops. Men of the north never blamed the great Virginian a single minute for the glow of recognition which swept over his face when, for the first time, he saw in line, within sight of Harvard College, his brave comrade of Braddock’s time, old “Dan” Morgan, and his Virginia riflemen. If Jefferson framed the Declaration of Independence the two Adamses on the floor of Congress secured its adoption, and fifty years later Adams and Jefferson, one in spirit and love of a common country though separated by many miles of distance, both ceased from earth at practically the same moment of time and together presented themselves before that God whom both revered. (pp. 150-51)

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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