With The Battle of the Crater, New York Times bestselling authors Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen take readers to the center of a nearly forgotten Civil War confrontation, a battle that was filled with controversy and misinterpretation even before the attack began. Drawing on years of research, the authors weave a complex narrative interweaving the high aspirations of African American troops eager to prove themselves in battle and the anxiety of a President who knows the nation cannot bear another major defeat.
June 1864: the Civil War is now into its fourth year of bloody conflict with no end in sight. The armies of the North are stalled in fetid trenches outside of Richmond and Atlanta, and the reelection of Abraham Lincoln to a second term seems doomed to defeat—a defeat that will set off the call for an end to the conflict, dismembering the Union and continuing slavery.
Only one group of volunteers for the Union cause is still eager for battle. Nearly two hundred thousand men of color have swarmed the recruiting stations and are being mobilized into regiments known as the USCTs, the United States Colored Troops. General Ambrose Burnside, a hard luck commander out of favor with his superiors, is one of the few generals eager to bring a division of these new troops into his ranks. He has an ingenious plan to break Fort Pegram, the closest point on the Confederate line, defending Petersburg—the last defense of Richmond—by tunneling forward from the Union position beneath the fort to explode its defenses. Burnside needs the USCTs for one desperate rush that just might bring victory.
The risks are high. Will Burnside be allowed to proceed or will interference from on high doom his plan to failure? The battleground drama unfolds through the eyes of James Reilly—famed artist, correspondent, and friend of Lincoln, who has been employed by the president to be his eyes and ears amongst the men, sending back an honest account of the front. In so doing, he befriends Sergeant Major Garland White of the 28th USCT regiment, an escaped slave and minister preparing his comrades for a frontal assault that will either win the war, or result in their annihilation.
The Battle of the Crater is Gingrich and Forstchen's most compelling fact-based work yet, presenting little known truths, long forgotten in the files of correspondence, and the actual court of inquiry held after the attack. The novel draws a new and controversial conclusion while providing a sharp, rousing and harshly realistic view of politics and combat during the darkest year of the Civil War. This must-read work rewrites our understanding of one of the great battles of the war, and the all but forgotten role played by one of the largest formations of African American troops in our nation's history.
Later published as To Make Men Free.
Former Speaker of the House Gingrich and historical fiction author Forstchen craft an expertly plotted page-turner that examines the events leading up to the Battle of the Crater, a minor Confederate victory that took place in July of 1864 near Petersburg, Virginia. Weeks into the stalemate, some Union infantrymen former coal-miners from Pennsylvania suggest tunneling under the Confederate trenches in order to detonate several tons of dynamite under the nearby Confederate fort. The authors make this plan seem ingenious and, if successful, likely to facilitate the end of the war, so that the reader empathizes with General Burnside, Harper's artist James Reilly, and other characters who have faith in the strategy. The authors' writing is clear and concise, though the metaphorical language can occasionally be awkward and ill-fitting in taking the city of Petersburg, the authors predict that "Richmond will fall within days, like a decaying apple dropping from a tree whose roots have been torn out," which doesn't convey the tactical purpose of engaging in battle. The novel's well-paced plot allows the reader to overlook the occasional unevenness in the writing and enjoy the story as it excitingly unfolds. As with these authors' previous works, this book should satisfy fans of historical fiction and Civil War aficionados alike. Illus.