Horrid Pit: The Battle of the Crater, the Civil War's Cruelest Mission

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The story of one of the most violent yet least-known episodes of the Civil War — the daring excavation of the longest military tunnel in history.
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Overview


The story of one of the most violent yet least-known episodes of the Civil War — the daring excavation of the longest military tunnel in history.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

One of the American Civil War's most horrific events took place on July 30, 1864: the slaughter of thousands of Union troops, including many African-Americans, in a giant pit outside Petersburg, Va. The pit was created as a result of a poorly planned and executed Union mission to tunnel under Confederate lines and blow a hole in them, thereby opening the gates to a full frontal assault on Petersburg that, if successful, could have helped decide the war. Instead, after several hundred Confederates perished in the initial mine explosion, the Union troops entered the crater-later known as "The Pit"-and were gunned down. (The scene is re-created in the novel and film Cold Mountain.) Civil War specialist Axelrod (The War Between the Spies, et al.) offers a concise, readable and creditable recounting of the Battle of the Crater, which U.S. Grant famously termed a "stupendous failure." When the dust settled, the Union forces, under the inept leadership of generals Ambrose E. Burnside and George Gordon Meade, suffered more than 4,000 killed, wounded or captured. The well-led Confederates had about 1,500 casualties. The massive slaughter does not make for easy reading, but is a reminder of the horror of war at its basest level. (Aug. 7)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Prolific military historian Axelrod (Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps, 2007, etc.) takes a powerful look at one of the Civil War's more grotesque episodes. In June 1864, Confederate and Union positions dug in for what looked to be a long, intractable siege of Petersburg, Va. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants, serving under Major General Ambrose E. Burnside in the storied IX Corps, suggested that the impasse could be ended by digging a huge tunnel beneath a key section of the Confederates' 20-mile entrenchment, planting explosives in it and detonating them, then launching an offensive taking advantage of the element of surprise. What seemed simple on paper became increasingly complex and thoroughly misguided in execution. Pleasants' 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, which dug the 510-foot tunnel, was plagued by problems arising from the soldiers' ignorance of modern engineering. The Union's post-explosion plans were a classic case study in military incompetence. Descriptions of scores of Union soldiers losing their lives in a massive trench devised by their own army make for a suspenseful, devastating read. If the Battle of the Crater wasn't nearly as bloody as Antietam or Gettysburg, it was nevertheless one of the Civil War's more grisly events. Using just enough illuminating field correspondence, Axelrod details the faulty reasoning of both armies at almost every level of command, revealing no lack of human bravery and foibles among the men behind the medallions. He nicely accents his economical narrative with analyses of the main players' personalities: how rancor in the ranks led to disorganization; how grudges and jealousies undermined unity of purpose;and how poor equipment, and even poorer intelligence and racism, ensured the offensive's total failure. Another example of how miraculous the Union's ultimate win really was.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786718115
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 6/29/2007
  • Pages: 284
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Alan Axelrod is the author of three books on the Civil War: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Civil War, My Brother's Face: Portraits of the Civil War (with Charles Phillips; Chronicle Books, 1993; reissued in 1998 by Barnes & Noble Books as Portraits of the Civil War), and The War between the Spies: A History of Espionage During the American Civil War. In addition, he has written many volumes of military history and reference, popular history, biography, and general reference. He has served as consultant to numerous museums and cultural institutions and has worked as a creative consultant (and on-camera personality) for The Wild West television documentary series (Warner Bros., 1993), Civil War Journal (A&E Network, 1994), and The Discovery Channel.
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