Top critical review
9 people found this helpful
on May 27, 2012
I'm rating this novel as a '3' based on two factors i.e. historical detail and literary quality. The historical detail and research seems reasonably good but the literary quality leaves a lot to be desired. In my critical opinion, the story of the Battle of the Crater should be an exciting page turner from the first to the last. This book is the exact opposite of that. There is abundant non-action material that amounts to mere filler. I skimmed over half of this book to get to the real action. I was also confused about some of the history. Do the telegrams still exist? If so, did Lincoln actually read them and, if he did, who presented them to him? How do we know about the real interactions between Burnside, Meade, Grant and division commanders? Do we have first hand information or detailed first person notes? If not, have the authors simply assumed a lot of things based on subsequent results?
I thought the combat scenes could have been better constructed. Granted that the Crater was a particularly confused 'battle' but this should be a reason for the authors to unravel the action for the interested reader. The emphasis, instead, is politically correct. The emphasis is on advancing 'the cause' of the Colored 28th.
Let's go to some of the actual facts of what happened. The tunnel and explosive destruction of Pegram's fort was, in fact, an excellent idea. Conducted even semi-competently the attack should have caused the collapse of Petersburg and likely Richmond, itself. From the get-go, however, the breakthrough was planned poorly and, despite the fact that the authors don't [refuse?] to discuss it, the problem is with 1860s 'political correctness'. Somebody [Burnside?] must have really, really wanted black troops [28th] to spearhead the breakthrough that would likely end the war. This was an incredible and demonstrably foolish decision. Given the fact that there were plenty of veterans available, it was stupid to rely on green, non-veteran troops to spearhead the attack. This has nothing to do with black and white but everything to do with combat experience.
Granted the fact that these green troops were given specialized training to exploit the massive gap in the Confederate lines following the explosion, but such training could and should have been given to veteran troops. The authors imply that the white veterans were 'played out'--almost mutinous--but such is probably untrue. When told that they would be advancing through a gap devoid of Confederate defenses, many would have been eager to go. Still the decision was made to use more-or-less green troops. Why? Probably because of abolitionist instincts on the part of some members of the high command. It is possible that such a decision originated with Abraham Lincoln, himself.
Still, at the very last minute, black troops were pulled out of the spearhead and white troops lacking in specialized training were thrust into the spearhead. The results were a militarily inexcusable disaster. Had the black troops been left in place would the results have been better? I don't know. The trauma of the explosion itself, even had troops been mentally prepared for its massive nature, was apparently nearly unsustainable. Training or not, it is likely that assault troops would have delayed their attack until masses of earth and equipment stopped falling from the sky and the air cleared up enough to see. Still the unaware Confederate troops experienced a far greater shock and were present in far fewer numbers than their Yankee enemies. Despite the fact that they were completely unprepared for the Federal 'dirty trick', they ended up slaughtering their would-be conquerors.
Therefore the genuinely remarkable thing about this battle was the rapid Confederate reaction i.e. the quality of the Confederate troops. This is something the authors almost entirely glossed over. For the vast majority of Confederate troops along that portion of the line, the massive explosion was completely unexpected. Several hundred died instantly and many more must have been injured, shell shocked, ear drums blown out. Nevertheless they reorganized quickly and their fire, from either flank, is precisely what drove so many Yankee troops into the Crater. And let me add that no Confederate troops had any kind of 'specialized' training to deal with the trauma. There reaction seems to have been automatic.
Was there murder in the Crater. Almost certainly. The authors lead us to believe that special hatred was directed at black troops which is certainly correct...BUT...we must remember that Civil War troops were largely naive about land mines, IEDS and similar treacherous devices. They would have been outraged that the Yankees--white and black--had detonated a mine under their feet.