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No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 21, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Three decades after publishing a novel on the Battle of the Crater, Wesleyan professor emeritus Slotkin offers a historical analysis of an event meant as a turning point in the Civil War but remembered instead as one of its greatest failures. Most accounts focus on the slaughter of hundreds of black Union troops; Slotkin takes a broader perspective. The Crater was intended to draw on the Union's strengths, like the mastery of industrial technology, and the physical energies liberated by black emancipation. A regiment of coal miners dug a 500-foot tunnel under a Confederate strong point and packed it with four tons of blasting powder. A division of African-Americans was to exploit the blast to open the way to the Confederate capital, Richmond. The Civil War might have ended by Christmas. Instead, Slotkin describes a fiasco. Jealousy, intransigence, incompetence, and even cowardice among Union generals resulted in a combination massacre and race riot, as white Union and Confederate troops turned on the blacks. Slotkin depicts all this and the army and Congress's subsequent whitewashes with the verve and force that place him among the most distinguished historians of the role of violence in the American experience. (July 21)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

In July, 1864, after the Battle of the Crater, Ulysses S. Grant wrote to his chief of staff, “It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war.” The sadness had many aspects: the squandered effort to dig a mine, packed with gunpowder, under enemy lines; drunken, incompetent Union officers; rookie black units thrown into battle, to be slaughtered by Confederates determined to take no black prisoners. Most horribly, some white Union troops, driven by fear of Southern retribution and their own racism, attacked the black troops on their own side. The gaping pit left when the mine exploded became the scene of a race riot. Slotkin is aware of the great lack in his otherwise interesting book: the voices of the black soldiers, whose perspectives, unlike those of the whites on both sides, are not detailed in letters or regimental histories. The battlefield is now “a hollow in the grassy slope,” dotted with memorials—none of them to the black troops who died there.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (July 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066751
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066759
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,139,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on July 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Richard Slotkin's new "No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864" is a fine addition to the ever-growing mountain of American Civil War literature. The July, 1864, incident is perhaps the best-known episode of the entire lengthy Petersburg Siege - a massive mine under Confederate entrenchments was exploded and a follow-up assault, principally carried out by Ambrose Burnside's IX Corp of the Army of the Potomac, was launched, but turned into a bloody fiasco. The viciousness of the fighting was undoubtedly intensified by the participation of a Union division of "colored" troops, something certain to raise the ire of Confederate defenders. As might be expected from a Professor of American Studies, this racial aspect of the affair is given considerable attention by Slotkin, but what might not be anticipated is the highly detailed tactical analysis of the combat action, with brigade and regimental movements carefully described to develop a full picture of a complex military event. Too often, the Battle of the Crater has been presented as basically a horrendous, confused melee, without form or reason; Slotkin makes it clear that while there certainly was confusion and chaos and incompetence, at the same time there were activities displaying clear tactical thinking and skill. And the author delves deeply into primary accounts to present a vivid picture of what went on. Slotkin makes no apologies for Confederates (and at least a few Union soldiers) who murdered, in cold blood or hot, many of the black troops, but he does present the atrocities in a broader context, noting that when the black units advanced into battle, they were exhorted to "remember Fort Pillow" and to expect and to give no quarter themselves.Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Steven Daedalus on February 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Several imaginative officers and men in the Union siege of Petersberg, near the end of the Civil War, undertook the extremely dangerous job of digging a tiny shaft hundred of yards under the Confederate lines and detonating a monstrouse mine that tore a hole in the Confederate defenses. It was a nearly perfect operation, despite hesitancy and confusion at the top.

But the Federals lost the battle and by the end of the day the bottom of the huge crater caused by the explosion was so drenched in blood that it could almost be compared to a bath tub.

What worried me a little as I began Richard Slotkin's book was that it might turn out to be excessive in its political correctness. African-American soldiers, known at the time as US Colored Troops (USCT) were heavily involved in the fighting. The ratio of dead to wounded was much higher than among the white troops who participated. The last thing I wanted to read was that it was the UCST who stood their ground to the end, the white Federals who ran away and deserted them, and the white Confederates who rushed in and slaughtered every black in sight.

Thank God Slotkin is a professional historian and sticks to the rules. There are few editorial interpolations. They come at infrequent intervals and are thoroughly balanced. Of course the USCT were singled out for execution on the field. (There were incidents in which white Federals bayoneted their black comrades.) Some of the black POWs were killed while being marched back behind Confederate lines. It's understandable. How do you avoid race as a variable in a Civil War battle between the Union troops and those representing a slave-holding society.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Wooley in PSL VINE VOICE on March 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Most American can not tell you much about battles. Most students and adults can tell you what the teacher emphasises. But even in the study of the Civil War most people are only exposed to the fact that Grant seiged Petersburg and Richmond Virginia. Professor Slotkin gives us a fine study of a battle within the seige, the Battle of the Crater. Some folks get information on this battle because it is so unique, dig a tunnel under Confederate lines and blow a hole in the lines and pour troops through. The battle was not huge, a few thousand killed, but it was a fiasco. Slotkin as a American Studies professor give us wonderful detail and shows us open racism involved in the use of black soldiers by the Union. Black troops were trained to do the assault and replaced at the last minute then thrown into the battle and actually shot at by both sides. The battle is a nasty and unfortunate piece of Civil War History. Well worth reading and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jordan Henderson on August 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
We often hear that The American Civil War was the last war between gentleman. However, upon reading "No Quarter" by Mr. Slotkin we see a very different view of the war, especially once Black troops were introduced. My first view after reading this book was that the battle of the Crater was primal in its very core. Between men hurling their bayonneted muskets like spears once they were out of ammunition, to men turning on their own comrades to escape the possible death or harsh treatment by the enemy for their association with Black troops. The Glorious and often romanticized view of war and battle is far removed in Slotkin's book as he relates the war to arguably one of the greater social experiments of history. The book is a very hard read, not in terms of structure or grammar but in its content. I myself had to put it down a few times to reflect on the sadness of seeing how the "duality of man" comes through, clear as day. Union troops bayonetting and clubbing their darker, blue coated comrades to escape retribution from their soon to be Gray and butternut coated captors, Black troops put in a No Quarter frenzy yet when battle was joined their white officers who had urged them on, restrained them. The Confederates on the other hand, meant it when they shouted No Quarter and unleashed themselves on what they saw as a direct slap in the face (The North's usage of black troops). I would say that for a Civil War historitan this book is a must read, not so much for the battle but for the Social and political aspects represented in this battle, as much as for the gore and bloodshed. One aspect of it intrigued me and showed that while in the heat of the moment hatred may burn, that down the line enmity may be forgotten and replaced with reckoning and progression.Read more ›
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