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Posted November 8, 2011
The Battle of the Crater is Gingrich and Forstchen¿s fourth historical novel on the Civil War, and the first that is not a ¿what-if¿ or ¿alternative¿ history¿but it is also one of their very best. The Battle of the Crater is the heroic story of the largest combat deployment of African American troops in the Civil War. The 28th Indiana regiment was composed largely of freemen born in the north, who volunteered to fight at a time in the war when it was increasingly difficult to recruit white soldiers to the Union war effort. The regiment was highly trained for a top-secret, spec ial mission concocted by miners from Pennsylvania who dug under a Confederate fort in order to blow it up from below. The story of these men is inspiring, heroic, and tragic, as bickering in the highest ranks of the Union army results in last-minute changes that lead to disaster. Gingrich¿s and Forstchen¿s training as two historians with Ph.D.¿ s shines through, with fascinating and often jarring details that drive home the incredible horror of the war as well as the sacrifice that so many made. When we see, in the first chapter, soldiers pinning their names addresses to their backs in advance of a perilous charge, we understand the human dimensions of history in ways we cannot through history books. And when we meet Abraham Lincoln in an hour of self-doubt and political vulnerability, we begin to grasp something of the personal trials he faced as he tried to restore the union. The story itself is told through the eyes of James Reilly, an illustrator for Harpers Weekly, one of the most important magazines of the time, who has an additional, secret mission when he is on the front lines of battle observing the for his sketches. Perfectly placed to provide honest reports revealing the true state of the war his magazine attempts to rose-up, Reilly doubles as a correspondent for someone else¿someone at the highest levels in Washington. Battle of the Crater is a fast, well-written book that tells one of the great, untold tragedies lost in American history. That it can be so thrilling while remaining based on historical fact is a testament both to the authors¿ skill as storytellers and to the bravery of the men who undertook one of the most ambitious missions of the war.
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Posted August 22, 2011
Brilliant! This is another compelling novel that draws you into the dynamic and moves you along with the action. Gingrich and Forstchen are gifted and talented writers who can exceed the expectations of the most discriminating reader. Each meticulous detail is perfectly placed in this story and you will never again view the Civil War as you had. You will be convinced you were there!
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 15, 2011
Posted April 30, 2012
History comes alive once again in Newt Gingrich and William R. Fortchen’s Battle of the Crater, a return to their Civil War interests in a novel that delves into an under-recognized episode in ego, shame, and politics resulting in the deaths of a great many brave men. The authors’ feelings about the men who died there—many needlessly—were so strong that they established a foundation to create a memorial to them and to their sacrifice.
It is late in the Civil War, June, 1864, and around Petersburg, VA, the Union Army is mired in trenches reminiscent of WWI. Lincoln is running for re-election against an anti-war faction, and he fears that losing will lead the United States into a death spiral, fracturing the nation and continuing slavery.
The disheartened Army’s morale is at an all-time low when a group of Pennsylvanian soldiers, former coal miners, suggest tunneling under the Confederate-held fort and dynamiting it.
Only one group of soldiers is eager to continue the battle toward freedom and re-unification. These men are the United States Colored Troops, the USTCs, primarily free Black men who traveled from their safety around the country to fill the enlistment quotas of other states and to prove that they are Americans. Only General Burnside, out of favor at the time, wants to bring these troops into action rather than have them languish in menial duties behind the lines.
The narrator of this story is an exhausted artist/journalist and personal private spy for President Lincoln. He embraces the plan as Burnside explains it. He has also become a friend of Sergeant Major Garland White of the 28th USCT Regiment who will have a major role both as soldier and minister in preparing the troops for battle.
As the story unfolds, we get a close view of the conflicts of interest probably ever-present in most human beings and probably always present in times of war and in politics when one’s place in history is also the consequence—good or bad. How does one look at the big picture and consider each individual move toward a desirable conclusion? How does one get past the results of a bad decision and prove oneself capable again? Can prejudices of a lifetime relax enough to see the truth when so much is at stake? Can egos be sidelines long enough to see objectively? These are not questions just for that time and battle; these are questions for all times.
Years of research went into the Battle of the Crater. It is Gingrich’s and Fortchen’s first novel without the tweak in history (the change of one detail that leads to a different conclusion), and it is not only an exciting page turner but also a plea to recognize an episode long forgotten.
If you are looking for a great story, well-written, and set in a political context, this is the book for you. BTW, its length makes it a good book for travel. Enjoy it.
Posted November 16, 2011
This is a great book and well worth the read. I am not a particular fan of historical fiction but Battle of the Crater was fascinating and a compelling portrait of leaders and soldiers during the Civil War.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 11, 2011
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