News Column

Church presentations offer perspective on Civl War

August 2, 2014

By Amir Vera, The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.

Aug. 02--PETERSBURG -- Commemoration for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War continued Friday with panel discussions about the Battle of the Crater at local churches. Gillfield Baptist Church and St. Paul's Episcopal Church, with the help of Petersburg National Battlefield, invited local speakers and those from around the country to present lectures on the historic battle.

At St. Paul's, approximately 25 people arrived to hear what the effects of the battle were on the city.

At Gillfield, an overview of the battle as well as perspectives from Native American and the Colored Troops were presented to an audience of about 30 people.

"The anniversary this week of the Battle of the Crater is one of those moments that we highlight because it was unique," said Park Ranger Tracy Chernault with Petersburg National Battlefield. "It wasn't like every day here at Petersburg. It was one of those moments in time where history was literally made different from any other moment that would be spent here."

Chernault explained the history and impact of the battle in his presentation at Gillfield Baptist Church. He said the story in Petersburg was so vast that it provided a chance for many opportunities for local and traveling visitors to the city to learn more about the battle.

"This year, with the 150th anniversary of the fighting that takes place here at Petersburg, it really has come back to me just what we had here as far as a resource," Chernault said.

In addition to Chernault, two other presenters offered a different and added perspective to the Battle of the Crater. Eric Hemenway with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan told the story the Odawa Indians and their role in the Battle of the Crater. They as well as 12 other tribes in the Great Lakes Region, known collectively as the Anishnaabek, made up the largest Native American regiment in the Union Army east of the Mississippi River known as Company K.

"I want to bring awareness that there were Native Americans in the war and their contributions," Hemenway said. "Their motives and reasonings for fighting was vastly different from Blacks, Northern and Southern Whites. They had their own mission and they were fighting their own battles with the United States in order to retain their lands and rights back in Michigan."

Hari Jones, curator at the African-American Civil War Museum in Washington D.C., presented on the role of the U.S. Colored Troops in the Battle of the Crater and Civil War as a whole.

"The story of African-Americans and what they achieved has not been reported. Their participation was suppressed for a very long time as soldiers. That suppression has led many to marginalize their importance," Jones said.

Jones said African Americans were instrumental in a lot of the Civil War operations such as capturing Richmond, stopping Gen. Robert E. Lee's army at Appomattox and capturing Petersburg.

"It's important to tell that they not only participated, but what they achieved," he said.

Visitors, such as Dawne Young from Maryland, have been in Petersburg since the stamp dedication ceremony on Wednesday and are enjoying what the city has had to offer as far as the sesquicentennial celebrations. Aside from the lectures, Young said she has taken tours of historic sites in Petersburg, such as Blandford Church and Cemetery where she learned about Confederate history.

Petersburg and Petersburg National Battlefield will continue to hold city-wide events today, including live history programs and reenactments at the battlefield.

- Amir Vera may be reached at or 804-722-5155.


(c)2014 The Progress-Index (Petersburg, Va.)

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Source: Progress-Index (Petersburg, VA)

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