Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder

Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder

Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder

Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder

Excerpt

In December 2003 moviegoers were treated to a vivid re-creation of the battle of the Crater in the movie Cold Mountain, directed by Anthony Minghella. Though the battle, which was fought just outside Petersburg, Virginia, on July 30, 1864, was not included in the original work of fiction by Charles Frazier, it was used in the film as a dramatic opening to set the stage for Inman (played by Jude Law) and his decision to leave the Confederate army and head back to his lover (played by Nicole Kidman), still living in western North Carolina and working desperately to make ends meet. The opening sequence presents the important stages of the battle, including the initial massive detonation of explosives under a Confederate salient, the advance of Federal soldiers into the crater, and the hand-to-hand combat that left thousands dead and wounded, resulting ultimately in a decisive victory for General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

The movie accurately portrayed the bloody fighting in and around the crater and probably satisfied the demands of most Civil War enthusiasts. The movie also briefly acknowledged the presence of United States Colored Troops (USCTs). At one point in the battle sequence, a black Union soldier and a Native American in Confederate uniform exchange glances. Minghella’s negotiation of the race issue, however, avoids any references to the well-documented executions of many black soldiers after their surrender.

Minghella’s historic representation of the battle of the Crater takes its place in the long and complex history of race and Civil War memory stretching back to the accounts that the soldiers themselves wrote after the battle.

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