On a trip to the Petersburg Battlefield Park we arrived at the site of the Crater just as a Park Ranger was giving his version of what happened there on that fateful day on July 30 1864.
I thought his knowledge was great as he talked about the building of the tunnel, the placing of the gunpowder and the explosion itself.
The problem came when he described to a group of people about 25 or 30 strong about what occurred during the battle that followed the explosion. He stated that the Confederate Soldiers killed all the Black Union Soldiers who took part in that battle!
That is simply not true, as many Blacks as well as White Union soldiers were taken prisoner that day. In his book, "The Last Citadel" Noah Andre Trudeau writes: Federals captured in the Crater fighting were marched through Petersburg on July 31. Southern soldiers, still angry over the use of black troops in the attack, lined the Union POWs up in alternate rows of black and white. "In this manner we were marched through the principal streets of Petersburg," one Vermont soldier recalled "and received many taunts and scoffs as we journeyed along."
In his book "Petersburg in the Civil War" (War at the Door), William D. Henderson writes: Many Union wounded from the Crater, black and white, fell into Confederate hands. These were taken to the Pavilion Hospital at Poplar Lawn Park. [Also see Dr. Claiborne's account below] Dr. John H. Claiborne had been emptying this facility for a month in response to General Lee's directive on removing patients from any hospital under even occasional shelling. Quickly the Pavilion, a large building, became filled beyond capacity with Union wounded, Black and White. Men lay outside on the park grounds.
Claiborne, overwhelmed with work, asked five Federal surgeons attached to Wilson's and Kautz's Cavalry and captured on June 29, at the first Battle of Reams Station to help with the operations at the Pavilion Hospital. This they agreed to do.
The next day Petersburg attorney George Bolling who lived across the street from the park, sent a message to Dr. Claiborne indicating that he had better look into matters at Poplar Lawn Park. When Claiborne arrived he found around a hundred and fifty Black soldiers still lying on the ground, unattended, screaming and moaning. It was only after Dr. Claiborne threatened to send these Union surgeons to Andersonville prison instead of Libby, a prison with a much lower death rate, that they were convinced to go back to work.
So, what is the price of a lie? Is this just another attempt to discredit the South of having any humanitarian sympathies for Blacks during the Civil War or just a government paid employee not well versed on his subject matter?
"War is Hell."
"...As usual with the [Northerrn] enemy, they posted their Negro regiments on their left and in front, where they were slain by hundreds, and upon retiring left their dead and wounded Negroes uncared for, carrying off only the whites, which accounts for the fact that upon the first part of the battle-field nearly all the dead found were Negroes." - Federal Official Records, Vol. XXXV, Chapter XLVII, pg. 341 - Report of Lieutenant M. B. Grant, C. S. Engineers, Savannah, April 27, 1864 - Battle of Ocean Pond (Olustee)
"There were five Federal surgeons, prisoners taken not at the Crater, but belonging I think to Wilson's Cavalry Raiders, which Fitz Lee had cornered and cut to pieces, or captured, near Reams Station a few days before. I approached these doctors and asked them if they would not like to take a hand in some surgery offering them as inducement all the liberty and privileges compatible with the rules of war."
"They said they would be glad to do so and I put them to work in he hospital under Dr. Robert Page, who was the Confederate surgeon."
"I did not visit the hospital until the next day about noon , when I received a message from Mr. George Bolling that "I had better look after matters there." On reaching the place I was shocked beyond expression to find about a hundred and fifty wounded Negroes who had been brought in since I left and were lying about on the grounds, most of them naked; and with every conceivable form of wounds and mutilation, shrieking, cursing, and praying in their agony and delirium, their wounds undressed and festering under a summer sun. "
"The Federal surgeons whom I had engaged the day before were lounging in front of their quarters, doing nothing. Pointing to the scene of horror, the result of their neglect, I asked them what it meant, reminding them of their promise to take charge of their wounded and of the essential privileges afforded to them."
"Their spokesman replied that they "were sick, and tired, and disgusted and that they were prisoners of war, and were not in duty bound to do any work". "Very well," I replied, "but you should have said this yesterday when I approached you. As prisoners of war I know very well what to do with you," and asked for a sergeant and a guard to be sent to take away five medical officers."
"One of them asked, "Major, where are you going to send us?" "To the prison at Andersonville, Georgia, tomorrow morning," I replied. "Do not send me", he said, "give me another opportunity", a request which they all joined in."
"The next morning, everything was in ship-shape order and all survivors comfortably bedded in the hospital......"
"The captured surgeons later complained to Major Claiborne about having to eat out of tin cups & dishes and that white & colored soldiers were linked together indiscriminately in adjoining beds.
Claiborne submitted their written complaint to General Lee who sent Major Breckenridge of his staff to investigate. They were told that the complaint came with bad grace from men who had marauded the surrounding country with Wilson's Raiders, destroying the food of innocent, unarmed people, pillaging and stealing spoons and table ware and even communion services from churches.
Further, General Lee had ordered that no distinction be shown between white soldiers and colored soldiers, that if they could fight side by side, they could sleep slide by side."