The Battle of the Crater, 1864
Random House, Hardcover, 9781400066759, 432pp.
Publication Date: July 21, 2009
In this richly researched and dramatic work of military history, eminent historian Richard Slotkin recounts one of the Civil War’s most pivotal events: the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. At first glance, the Union’s plan seemed brilliant: A regiment of miners would burrow beneath a Confederate fort, pack the tunnel with explosives, and blow a hole in the enemy lines. Then a specially trained division of African American infantry would spearhead a powerful assault to exploit the breach created by the explosion. Thus, in one decisive action, the Union would marshal its mastery of technology and resources, as well as demonstrate the superior morale generated by the Army of the Potomac’s embrace of emancipation. At stake was the chance to drive General Robert E. Lee’s Army of North Virginia away from the defense of the Confederate capital of Richmond–and end the war.
The result was something far different. The attack was hamstrung by incompetent leadership and political infighting in the Union command. The massive explosion ripped open an immense crater, which became a death trap for troops that tried to pass through it. Thousands of soldiers on both sides lost their lives in savage trench warfare that prefigured the brutal combat of World War I. But the fighting here was intensified by racial hatred, with cries on both sides of “No quarter!” In a final horror, the battle ended with the massacre of wounded or surrendering Black troops by the Rebels–and by some of their White comrades in arms. The great attack ended in bloody failure, and the war would be prolonged for another year.
With gripping and unforgettable depictions of battle and detailed character portraits of soldiers and statesmen, No Quarter compellingly re-creates in human scale an event epic in scope and mind-boggling in its cost of life. In using the Battle of the Crater as a lens through which to focus the political and social ramifications of the Civil War–particularly the racial tensions on both sides of the struggle–Richard Slotkin brings to readers a fresh perspective on perhaps the most consequential period in American history.
Richard Slotkin is widely regarded as one of the preeminent cultural critics of our times. A two-time finalist for the National Book Award, he is the author of Lost Battalions, a New York Times Notable Book, and an award-winning trilogy on the myth of the frontier in America–Regeneration Through Violence, The Fatal Environment, and Gunfighter Nation–as well as three historical novels: The Crater: A Novel, The Return of Henry Starr, and Abe: A Novel of the Young Lincoln. He is the Olin Professor of English and American Studies at Wesleyan University and lives in Middletown, Connecticut.
“Having written an earlier novel and now a deeply researched historical narrative of the Battle of the Crater, Richard Slotkin knows more about this vicious and tragic fight than anyone. Particularly impressive is his ability to place tactical details in the larger military, political and racial context of the Civil War. The analysis of the role of black soldiers in the battle is the best such account anywhere.”—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize winning author and George Henry Davis1886 Professor Emeritus of American History at Princeton University
“In this harrowing, clear-eyed account of the battle U.S. Grant himself called ‘the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war,’ Richard Slotkin vividly evokes the brutal reality of Civil War combat–and recaptures the crucial role played by race in creating the Battle of the Crater’s special fury.”—Geoffrey C. Ward, author of The Civil War and The War: An Intimate History, 1941—1945