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Friday, October 16, 2015

"The Battle of the Crater: The Horrid Pit"

I just finished reading William Marvel's and Mike Cavanaugh's "The Battle of the Crater:  The Horrid Pit."  It reads very well, with a lively stile that moves along briskly.  The book covers all the bases of the Crater affair, not all of them very deeply, but at least it mentions them.  I would like to have seen more about the relationship between the Vicksburg mines and the Petersburg mine.  IX Corps, which dug the Petersburg mine, had been present at Vicksburg at the time of the mines there.  How did General Burnside decide that his troops must push outward from the Crater to clear the trenches on either side before pushing forward to the crest beyond the Crater?  Was that simply reasoning or was it based on observations made of the mine attacks at Vicksburg the previous year, where the advances bogged down as soldiers crowded into the craters and dug out buried foemen?  And was there any communication at all on this subject between General Grant and Burnside?  I would also have liked to see more about First Deep Bottom and its relationship to the Crater.  The authors appear to think that Grant planned rather than merely improvised a one-two punch, advancing first north of James River, and then, after drawing a significant number of enemy troops there, pushing forward on the south side of the James.  The only factual error of any significance I found was that a map has the Georgia Brigade of Mahone's Division on the left of the Virginia Brigade at the beginning of its charge, when the text (correctly) has part of the Georgia brigade on the right of the Virginia Brigade.  I agree that Grant and General Meade bear much of the responsibility for the Crater fiasco for interfering with Burnside's arrangements.  The authors go a little easy on Burnside, though.  The use of lots to select which of Burnside's white divisions would lead the charge was an admission that Burnside did not care who was his best division commander.  That was General Potter, who had performed so well on June 17 in the initial assaults on Petersburg.  Burnside knew or ought to have known that the best division commander in IX Corps was Potter, and Potter's division ought to have led the way.  I'll be reading some more recent and expansive books on the Crater and "The Battle of the Crater:  The Horrid Pit" will furnish a standard for comparing them.  This book remains an excellent introduction to the Crater disaster.