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 From ace historian Schultz (Over the Earth I Come, 1992, etc.), a you-are-there Civil War novel, dripping in blood, guts, and irony, that details the tragic Battle of the Crater. It's July 1864 in the Union trenches outside Petersburg, Virginia. Both sides have so fortified their positions that to attack is suicide. Though stalemate prevails, an urgency exists. If Grant can't break through Lee's lines before the November elections, Lincoln could lose. Among the besiegers is Burnside's 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Led by Colonel Henry Pleasants, in civilian life a mining engineer, his men are mostly coal-miners. An idea is put to Burnside. Why not build a mine and blow up Cemetery Hill, high point and key to Confederate position? Then pour assault troops into the gap, take Petersburg, and the war will be over. Why not indeed? Because Burnside's boss, General Meade, resents him and doesn't want him to succeed. But his career in shambles, this his last chance, Burnside gives Pleasants the go-ahead. True militarists, Meade and Grant, learning of the mine's existence, don't order a halt. Failure will cost them nothing--the mine wasn't their idea. Much goes wrong. Meade's engineering expert does all he can to hinder the project. Rains arrive and water leaks on the powder, provided in insufficient quantity anyway. Instead of electrical wire and a battery needed for detonation, scrap fuse is supplied. The rebs learn of the tunnel and are searching for it. Hallelujah, the mine gets successfully dug. All is in readiness. Then at the 11th hour Meade orders that the men trained to spearhead the assault, coloreds, being not fit for real soldiering, be replaced with war-weary white troops. Schultz's histories read like fiction. Here, he takes the next step, metamorphosing history into exceedingly realistic and suspenseful fiction. Readers who prize good war stories won't be disappointed.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1993
ISBN: 0-312-09817-0
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1993


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