Kevin Levin assesses Newt Gingrich's historical novel The Battle Of The Crater which, at once, seeks to award manly honor to the black soldiers that fought there and avoid any slight toward the Confederates who massacred so many afterward:
While in one respect the desire to introduce a long-neglected story to the general public is laudable, the particular shape of this narrative raises questions related to Newt Gingrich's current run for the presidency, as well as the increased influence that black Americans now wield on all levels of political life. It is impossible to imagine a presidential candidate writing such a book 50 years ago, during the Civil War Centennial, not simply because the stories were unknown, but because African Americans did not form a crucial political constituency.However, increased access to voting booths following the civil rights movement not only led to broader representation in state and national government, but made it possible for African Americans to advocate more directly for a more inclusive history. This is not to suggest that the authors' stated goal for this book is disingenuous, but that the choice of subject and perspective, as well as the timing of its publication, ought not to be viewed as an accident...The presence of black soldiers at the Crater confirmed for slaveowners and non-slaveowners in the ranks just what was at stake in the event of Confederate defeat. The massacre of black soldiers constituted a calculated response when viewed alongside the actions of white southerners throughout the antebellum period to slave rebellions both real and imagined.The authors go out of their way to remove any sense of how Confederates responded to the presence of black soldiers, even going so far as to construct a fictional meeting in which Robert E. Lee encourages General William Mahone to take steps to ensure complete victory and prevent the mistreatment of captured black soldiers: "I want the full honor of war observed. Those who surrender are to be treated as proper prisoners, with respect, their wounded tended to, their officers shown the respect due their rank."
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