Book Review: The 48th Pennsylvania in the Battle of the Crater: A Regiment of Coal Miners Who Tunneled Under the Enemy


by Jim Corrigan

Jefferson, NC: Mcfarland & Co, 2012. Pp. xii, 186. Illus., maps, diagr., appends., notes., biblio., index. $25.00 paper. ISBN: 0786469102

From its title this work would seem to be yet another regimental history, but in fact it is a highly detailed, surprisingly engaging account of the Union effort to undermine the Confederate lines before Petersburg in the summer of 1864.

Journalist and author Corrigan opens by giving us some background on the men of the 48th Pennsylvania and their early wartime experiences.  He then delves into the origins of the idea of setting a mine under the Confederate lines, how it was received by the Union brass (who even consulted records of mining operations during the Crimean War!), the process of digging the mine and laying the charges, and the development of the Union attack plan.  Corrigan then devotes nearly half the book to explaining what happened to turn a seeming success into a terrible disaster, a combination of command blunders, including what might be termed “reverse racism,” inept – even criminal – leadership, poor communications, and a surprisingly swift enemy response.  Corrigan concludes with a look at the consequences of the disastrous attack, including the “blame game” that quickly developed.  Along the way, Corrigan tells us a lot about the technology of mining and explosives in the period, in-fighting among the brass, some interesting individuals, and the experiences of men under fire. 

A very good read for anyone interested in the war, and particularly the Virginia campaign of 1864-1865.




Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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