The battle of the Crater is known as one of the Civil War's bloodiest struggles a Union loss with combined casualties of 5,000, many of whom were members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) under Union Brigadier General Edward Ferrero. The battle was a violent clash of forces as Confederate soldiers fought for the first time against African American soldiers. After the Union lost the battle, these black soldiers were captured and subject both to extensive abuse and the threat of being returned to slavery in the South. Yet, despite their heroism and sacrifice, these men are often overlooked in public memory of the war.
In Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War is Murder, Kevin M. Levin addresses the shared recollection of a battle that epitomizes the way Americans have chosen to remember, or in many cases forget, the presence of the USCT. The volume analyzes how the racial component of the war's history was portrayed at various points during the 140 years following its conclusion, illuminating the social changes and challenges experienced by the nation as a whole. Remembering The Battle of the Crater gives the members of the USCT a newfound voice in history.
About the Author
Historian and educator Kevin M. Levin is currently researching the history of Confederate camp servants (slaves) and the myth of the black Confederate soldier. His published work in the area of Civil War history and historical memory can be found in popular magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations viii
1 The Battle: "Until Every Negro Has Been Slaughtered" 7
2 The Lost Cause: Maintaining the Antebellum Hierarchy 33
3 Virginia's Reconstruction: William Mahone, "Hero of the Crater" 53
4 Reinforcing the Status Quo: Reenactment and Jim Crow 69
5 Whites Only: The Ascendancy of an Interpretation 87
6 Competing Memories: Civil War and Civil Rights 107
7 Moving Forward: Integrating a Black Counter-Memory 125
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Unlike Fort Pillow, what occurred at the Crater is not open to debate. Whites on both sides murdered members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). The battle is an example of what commanders should not do if they want to succeed. The entire operation from start to finish lacked support from army HQ, plan changes for political considerations hurt the operation but everyone refused to abandon it. The plan took on a life of its' own that no senior officer had the will or courage to end. Soldiers at the front suffered. Command squandered a possibly good plan but fed men into a battle with little chance of success. The Crater is the Army of Northern Virginia's first experience with the USCT and they reacted badly. Worse, white men in the Army of Potomac murdered members of the USCT in hope of protecting themselves. The Crater is a popular subject with the publication of several books and a novel in the last few months. This unique book is not another battle history but tells the story of the Crater's history. This is a look at how and what we chose to remember of an incident. Additionally, the book looks at the changes time causes in how and what we chose to remember. This is not a history of the battle but a history of the history of the battle. The book opens with a description of the battle that centering on the attack by Mahone's Brigade breaking the Union's resistance. The author insures the reader knows the important parts of the battle, without bogging down in details. With this as our point of departure, we follow two major story lines. The first deals with the preservation or lack of preservation from the end of the war to our times. Petersburg wants normal. The city wants to restore the landscape and blot out the scars of war. The owner of the Crater wants an attraction with the public buying tickets. As veterans visit the battlefields, the city leaders realize some preservation of the siege lines is good business. This leads to the establishment of the National Military Park and the current preservation efforts. A major discussion is the changes in the park's presentation over the last 80 years. We look at how the Civil War community, the public and minority groups accept or resist these changes. The second story line follows the veterans, white Virginians and Petersburg's Black community from 1865 to the current day. This is a detailed look at race relations during this time. We start with little official recognition that black men fought at the Crater. Unofficially, the Confederate veterans were very willing to talk about this. They had no problem talking about the murder of wounded and prisoners during and after the battle. While the teller of the story never seems to be the one killing prisoners, this is a common memory. Mahone's Brigade was comprised of regiments from the surrounding area. These men were very active in framing the narration and excluding Blacks. This starts to change in the 1950s as renewed interest in the USCT and the Civil Rights movement challenges the accepted narration. This well-written book looks into a different area for Civil War History. It is more social political history than military history. However, this is the story of how we understand and remember history. This book needs to be read and remembered.