Civil War Book Review: The Battle of the Crater: A Novel

The Battle of the Crater: A Novel
by Newt Gingrich, William R. Forstchen & Albert S. Hanser

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books November 2011
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312607105
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312607104


TheBattleoftheCraterForstchenGingrichThe Battle of the Crater is not one of the Army of the Potomac’s best moments.  Conceived as the attack that would break the stalemate at Petersburg it became a bloody fiasco.  A regiment of coal miners dug under a Confederate fort several hundred feet away.  They place a large amount of black powder in the mine.  You can still see the resulting crater at the park.  A specially trained USCT Division would attack as the dust settling, break through and cut a vital road.  Lee’s army, split in two would be force to withdraw, Richmond would fall and Lee’s surrender would occur in 1864.  A series of bad decisions disrupted the plan turning a masterstroke into a bloody disaster.  This battle is the first time Lee’s army fought Black men in uniform.

Historians writing non-fiction face limitations on what they write.  While they may speculate, they may not state.  They cannot create conversations, no matter how logical or realistic.  They cannot tell what motivates the participants nor can they state why they took the action they did.  Historians writing fiction are not as limited.  While staying within accepted historical facts, they may include what is suspected but not proven.  This allows for a more dramatic, personal and definite look at an event.  The more the authors know about history, the better they can make the story.

Gingrich, Forstchen & Hanser have been working together for several years.  They can couple training in history with excellent writing skills.  This produces a very accurate novel that sits on a firm historical foundation.  Their books can be enjoyed by history buff and general readers.  I feel that the more the reader knows the more enjoyable the book is.

Lincoln, Grant, Meade, Burnside and a host of historical and fictional characters hope, plan, bicker, fight and die.  The relationship between Meade and Burnside is excellent.  The authors capture the seniority and position problems with certitude.  The portrayal of each man is excellent.  Meade, smarting under the sting of Gettysburg, his army “commanded” by Grant served under Burnside at Fredericksburg.  He has definite feelings about the man and his abilities.  Burnside has his own set of problems.  Early in the war, he was a genius.  Antietam and Fredericksburg ruined that.  His good work in Kentucky forgotten.  Burnside reports to Grant but receives instructions through Meade.  Burnside’s corps is the “bastard child” at the Army of the Potomac’s family dinner.

We follow the USCT through the eyes of Sergeant Major Garland White.  From digging graves at Arlington to fighting in the Crater, we see what being Black was like.  In training, we see the Irish and the African-Americans interact in honest, frank writing that can be uncomfortable.  Combat is brutally honest, bloody and deadly.  The actions of white Union soldiers are well documented and presented factually, with no apologies.

This is a “Historical Novel” not a history.  The Crater is informative, entertaining, challenging and very enjoyable.

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