The Crater by Tom Lovell
I am almost finished reading Newt Gingrich’s co-authored historical fiction on the Crater and I have to admit that it’s not half bad. The attack has commenced and not going well. The book is almost entirely about the 28th United States Colored Troops with Major Garland White as one of its principal characters. There are a few scenes set in Confederate earthworks and a very short section set in Lee’s headquarters following the explosion, but the rest of it focuses on the black soldiers with the help of a fictional character by the name of James Reilly, who works as a sketch artist.
Even without having finished the book, what is clear is that Gingrich and Forstchen do everything they can not to offend, which is quite an achievement given the nature of the subject. Let me just give you one example. All of you have read that the Fourth Division went into the battle with the cry of “No Quarter.” That reference appears twice in the battle sequence, but take a look at how it is framed by the authors:
There was no quarter. The pent-up rage, the insanity of a world that had driven them to this moment, was unleashed, both sides screaming “No quarter, no prisoners! as they shot , cut, and slashed at each other. [p. 259]
Both sides were screaming foul oaths of hatred and rage. Centuries of slavery and the cruelty and fear it engendered, combined with three years of bitter war with no end in sight, unleashed a pent-up fury on this day as both sides screamed: No quarter, no prisoners!” [p. 266]
They certainly were, but we also know based on the historical record that the black troops screamed, “Remember Fort Pillow.” That, of course, is conveniently left out as is pretty much any reference to the racial hatred that animated Confederate troops during the battle. There is a context for understanding cries of “No quarter” that animated the black men in blue that is crucial to this history. They knew what was at stake if captured. The same holds true for Confederates who faced the attack of the black troops as well as those who heard about it. Their rage took a specific form that had its roots in white supremacy and fears associated with slave rebellions that extended back into the antebellum period. Unfortunately, it looks like this theme will continue to be ignored in what remains of the book. More later.