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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Summary of "The Battle of the Crater" by John Schmutz

Even worse than the poor editing, the many factual errors (another one: George Templeton Strong was not a soldier), and the murkily attributed quotations are the maps.  That they do not contain a scale is not too important, because they all cover the same ground and readers can figure out the scale.  The main problem is that the maps do not go into sufficient detail given the size of the pages on which they appear and the number of times they appear, about once a chapter and there are seventeen chapters.  I would like to have seen the cavalier trench and the fields of fire of the various Confederate batteries.

Despite all the problems with this book, it is the most detailed account of the battle of the Crater that I have yet read.  I agree with Mr. Schmutz that Meade, Burnside, Ledlie and (to a lesser extent) Grant were the principal culprits.  Mr. Schmutz makes clear that Burnside would have done well to have obeyed Meade's orders to remove obstructions, including trees--Wright's Battery, so devastating to the Federals, was shielded by the trees Burnside ought to have removed.  The failure to clear the obstructions helped channel the Federal troops into the Crater, leaving them too disorganized to advance.

I am surprised that a book this detailed failed to deal with the experience of mine warfare at Vicksburg that I pointed out more than twenty years ago in The Petersburg Campaign.  Grant knew about the propensity of soldiers to collect in the crater of an exploded mine and I have yet to see any evidence that he communicated his observations to Burnside, as Grant ought to have done.  Likewise, at least part of IX Corps fought at Vicksburg, and I have never seen any evidence that those who observed the results of mine warfare at Vicksburg communicated their observations to the miners and planners at Petersburg.

I also think Mr. Schmutz ought to have given more credit to the Confederates for defeating the Federals.  The Southerners took steps to counter a breach in Pegram's Salient with artillery deployed behind and flanking the Salient.  They dug a cavalier or gorge trench to furnish the Salient's defenders with a fall back position.  For four hours, the survivors of Elliott's Brigade fought magnificently, as did Wise's and McAfee's Brigades, to hold the Federals at bay.  Then many of these extraordinary Secessionist soldiers joined Mahone's troops to administer the coup de grace.  Burnside's troops went up against some very tough troops.

I have one more book on the Crater to read, by Dr. Earl Hess.  Given his extraordinary In the Trenches at Petersburg, my expectations are up.  That is the most memorable book on Petersburg I have read so far on this trip through the Cockade City canon.

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