Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Robert C. Kenzer

Second Advisor

Dr. John D. Treadway


The battle of the Crater, which took place outside Petersburg, Virginia on July 30, 1864, proved to be one of the bloodiest engagements in the final year of the Civil War. The attempt on the part of Union commanders to break the growing siege between the two armies by tunneling under a Confederate position and exploding 8,000 pounds of explosives created a battle environment unseen elsewhere. The novelty of the mine explosion, the close hand-to-hand fighting, extensive casualties, the decision to include United State Colored Troops in the attacking columns, and a decisive Confederate victory guaranteed that the battle would not soon be forgotten by those involved. This thesis examines the ways Southerners reinterpreted the battle of the Crater throughout the postwar years through 1937. Memories of the Crater and Confederate Major General William Mahone proved flexible enough to encompass multiple meanings relating to issues surrounding postwar state politics in Virginia, the contentious issue of race, and the drive towards national reunion. By analyzing the various and often contradictory interpretations of important Civil War battles, we more clearly can understand how history is frequently mixed with various elements of public memory and myth.

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