No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864

Richard Slotkin, Author . Random $28 (411p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6675-9

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)

Reviewed on: 05/04/2009
Release date: 07/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
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