New book on the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg


Author John F. Schmutz has penned a new book on the Battle of the Crater, an ill-fated attack during the Siege of Petersburg. Conceived by a Pennsylvania colonel named Henry Pleasants using a tunnel dug by the coal miners of the 48th Pennsylvania, the subsequent attack was nungled almost from the start and accomplished little except provide employee for the gravediggers. I discussed this attack briefly during my talk at Fall-In 2008 on the Petersburg Campaign. Here are some comments from the author on this new publication:

I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce your organization to my new book, entitled The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History. The Battle of the Crater is one of the lesser known and understood, but most intriguing battles of the Civil War. It is set amongst the brutal and unendurable trench warfare at Petersburg , Virginia , which served as a remarkable foreshadowing of the situation faced by the adversaries in France fifty years later. The battle itself, and the machinations leading up to it, present a plot worthy of the most creative piece of fiction – so much so that one might find it incredulous if it was not all proven fact. The plot has all the elements necessary for the weaving of a great novel – political correctness run amuck, the commander of the critical lead element drunk and hiding in a bomb shelter as his troops pass into harm’s way, a titanic clash of egos and petty jealousy at the high command, and an unusually colorful cast of characters. Add to this mix the employment of unique military tactics and movements, war atrocities, the destruction of the military career of one of the war’s most famous generals, the blundering of an officer considered the war’s worst general, and then throw in a Congressional investigation, and one has the makings of remarkable novel, though perhaps one that strains credulity. However, these elements are all documented facts. The battle itself grew in familiarity recently with the release of the movie Cold Mountain , which opened with an eleven minute, spell-binding segment on the battle.

This new book delves into the military and political background of the battle by tracing the rival armies from the early months of 1864, through their bitter conflicts of the Overland Campaign, and ending with the crossing of the James River and the onset of the siege of Petersburg . A hard look at the way the war was perceived by both sides after over three years of blood letting is carefully laid out in order for one to appreciate the relative impact the battle had on the body politic of both sides. Thus, while this work is lengthy for an analysis of a battle which lasted less than ten hours, there is a considerable investment of time in placing the battle in its proper perspective in history. No work to date has so treated this important, intriguing conflict which has received far less than its due in serious academic analysis.

Given the vital role that troops from you state played in this unique battle, I felt that the book would have added significance to your members. I believe you will find the book very interesting.

Please feel free to contact me at any time with questions.


John F. Schmutz

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