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Saturday, November 21, 2015

No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864

I have rarely read a book with as many errors as Dr. Richard Slotkin's No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864.  This book came from Random House, not some obscure publisher.  The author dates the Cold Harbor assault as June 7, 1864, when it was June 3.  He has IX Corps at Petersburg on June 16, 1864, under Baldy Smith when in fact it did not arrive until Meade had taken command and if if had arrived earlier Hancock would have been in command.  The last of the initial Federal assaults on Petersburg took place on June 18, not July 18.  Hill's Corps arrived at the Petersburg June 18, not June 19.  The Federals did indeed experience a "panic rout" on June 22,  The 12th Virginia Infantry had ten companies, not twelve.  In 1864, George S. Bernard (a member of the 12th Virginia Infantry and author of War Talks of Confederate Veterans and Civil War Talks: The Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and his Fellow Veterans) was a private, not a sergeant--he had given up his billet as a sergeant in the 12th's Company I when he transferred back to Company E in early 1863.  The author on page 127 writes June 21 when he means July 21, the last day Confederate counter-miners heard Federal mining toward Pegram's Salient.  On the next page, the author writes June 24 when he means July 24 in regard to Early's rout of Hunter.  On page 140, the author writes July 18-19 when he means June 17-18 in regards to Meade's inability to coordinate his attacks at the end of the initial assaults on Petersburg.  The author gets backwards at page 247 Private Bernard's belief that a man belongs in his proper place--Bernard did not switch positions with Private Butts to get out of his proper place but to get into it.  Weisiger's Brigade had a sharpshooter battalion, not just a company--each of the brigade's five regiments contributed a company to the battalion.  Part of Hall's Georgia Brigade participated in Mahone's first charge.  Burnside was hardly responsible for the delay in implementing a truce after the Battle of the Crater--Grant and Meade well knew from the negotiations at Cold Harbor that they would have to admit defeat before a truce would be allowed.  United States Colored Troops participated minimally in the fighting north of James River and not at all south of James River in August 1864.  United States Colored Troops did not fight at all at Fort Sedgwick, Poplar Grove Church or Hatcher's Run in the autumn of 1864.

Again and again and again quotations are unattributed in the text.  The reader wants to know who uttered the words the author thought important enough to quote.  The book should also have been properly indexed--when the source of a quotation does appear in the text, he often does not appear in the index.  An example is Private Bird of the 12th Virginia Infantry, who is quoted and mentioned in the text but not indexed.

Dr. Slotkin makes valuable observations on the command decisions in the Battle of the Crater, the command structure of the Army of the Potomac, and the importance of United States Colored Troops to the Federal war effort.  He finds at work in the Battle of the Crater the same animosities that wrecked Reconstruction.  Even here, though, he seems at a loss:  Nat Turner's rebellion took place just down the Jerusalem Plank Road from Petersburg in 1831 and it had an impact on how the Confederates--particularly the Southside Virginians in Weisiger's Brigade--reacted to the employment of United States Colored Troops in the assault of July 30, 1864.

In his next book, Dr. Slotkin must get the facts straight, name his sources in the text, and properly index them.