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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could be a great movie!, November 8, 2011
This review is from: The Battle of the Crater: A Novel (Hardcover)
Once again, Newt Gingrich and Bill Forstchen collaborate to weave another best seller historical novel, The Battle of the Crater. The title conjures up images of large holes in the ground, but where and how? The authors chronicle the build up to and the terrifying consequences of a little known American Civil War battle between units of the Union and Confederate Armies.

Centered in the Eastern Theatre of action in Virginia and the battle for Petersburg, a key stronghold of the South protecting the confederate capital, Richmond. The novel focuses on a young man from Ireland, James Reilly, who is thrust into the war as an illustrator for Harper's Weekly, a New York based magazine that featured political cartoons, illustrations and news of the day.
Reilly has long had an association with Abraham Lincoln, first as a young law office assistant for Lincoln, and later as a confidant for the President reporting his observations and drawings of battles. Reilly notes that men of the Union Army, fearing death, pinned hand written notes to their shirts so they might be identified following a battle. They seldom were.

The novel introduces the USCT, United States Colored Troops, thousands of black soldiers fighting for the North who were trained for a special mission involving an intricate tunnel designed to deliver explosives under the rebel fort, to pierce and divide the defenses of the South. The men who designed and constructed the tunnel were a mining engineer and experienced coal miners from Pennsylvania. They used their experience with mining tools such as a theodolite, a survey instrument designed to provide information about angles and distances. Few other essential tools were provided, but the digging continued. The idea was novel, and in a perfect world, might have worked.

The tunnel digging was colorfully detailed. Cave-ins, construction of the ventilation shafts, and the sheer magnitude of the operation was carefully described. In contrast, the storyline continued with several paragraphs from the confederate point of view. They thought they heard voices and coughing from beneath the soil. They nervously suspected a tunnel was being dug under their feet. After about a month of digging with inadequate equipment and faulty explosive, the fuse was finally lit in the very early hours on July 30, 1864. Nothing happened. After some time, as they suspected, the fuse was flawed and volunteers crawled into the tunnel to relight the fuse. When the blast finally occurred, hundreds of confederate soldiers were killed and a gaping crater cut through the South's stronghold.

The Union battle preparation is filled with heroics, courage, command stupidity and most of all, the lack of communication. At the last minute, the black soldiers, well trained for the mission, were replaced by white, untrained troops. Major General George Meade, the apathetic overall commander of the operation, had doubt in the black soldiers ability and feared that if the operation failed, he would be accused of wanting to "get rid of the blacks." The 9th Corps of USCT were given a reserve role. That decision would prove to be a fatal error.

Instead of charging ahead, the replacement white unit fell back. Finally, some slowly walked forward in a highly disorganized fashion. It was like a bad dream for the North. Meanwhile, the trained 9th Corps were enraged at the sight of the panicked white soldiers before them. After hours of confusion, the South, under good leadership, surrounded the rapidly collapsing attack by the North. Slaughter was at hand, blacks murdered, whites murdered, like shooting fish in a barrel.

This battle, like so many, illustrated the frustration on both sides and the war continued.

Unlike many novels, painted with a broad brush and leaving the reader's imagination to fill in the cracks, Gingrich and Forstchen paint with a fine brush, filling in detail that might otherwise be missed. Their rich description of events would make for a wonderful screen play. The description of the training of the black troops provide the reader with all the emotion, frustration and reality of the real event. The frequent interludes with James Reilly flesh out the story. History can't be changed, but the story, told with exacting care, is a great read.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 9, 2011 2:40:46 PM PST
F. Hollister says:
Mr. Matheson:

It already was a movie - "Cold Mountain."

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 10, 2011 8:50:30 AM PST
Thanks, but I think not.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 29, 2013 3:55:01 PM PDT
Bunch of PC nonsense that never took place on such a scale.
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