I am just about finished reading Richard Slotkin’s new book on the Crater, No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864, and have enjoyed it immensely. The book is very different from the two previous studies of the battle in that Slotkin provides a much needed analysis of the racial components of the battle rather than a traditional military history. Yes, there is more to a battle than moving from place to place. I am in the process of writing up a formal review for Civil War Book Review, but wanted to share something that I learned for the first time.
Although I wish Slotkin had gone a bit further in his analysis of the massacre of USCTs he does an excellent job of presenting both the immediate and long-term conditions that help explain the scale and complexity of the violence. First, Slotkin correctly references the proportion of dead to wounded in the battle in comparison with other Civil War battles. On average, the ratio of wounded to dead was 4.8 to 1. At the Crater, the overall ratio for Union troops was 3.7 to 1, though for black soldiers it was 1.8 to 1. Slotkin’s analysis of the tactical ebb and flow of the battle reveals a number of moments where soldiers on the battlefield were executed and not just black soldiers. [It should be pointed out that Slotkin is not the first historian to point this out. In 1987 Bryce Suderow published an article in the journal, Civil War History, which was later included in a collection of essays on Civil War massacres.] The first massacre actually occurred by black soldiers in Sigfried’s brigade, who advanced into battle with the cry of “No Quarter.” According to Slotkin, the battle cry was intended “to overcome that supposed docility and motivate them to fight with absolute determination.” (p. 339) White officers quickly intervened once their men became engaged with the enemy.
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