The Battle of the Crater, arguably the most famous battle of the Siege of Petersburg, occurred on this date 148 years ago, on July 30, 1864. For further information on the battle of the Crater, as well as numerous first person accounts, see my Battle of the Crater page at the Siege of Petersburg Online.
Most know the basics of the story:
- Col. Henry Pleasants and his miners in the 48th Pennsylvania did what many professionals considered impossible, digging a shaft over 500 feet long and building a gallery for explosives underneath Elliott’s Salient.
- The only African-American division in Burnside’s 9th Corps, under BG Edward Ferrero, was trained for the assault after the mine exploded, though exactly what training was done is still in dispute.
- Once Meade got wind of which division was leading the assault, he told Burnside another division would have to be chosen. He was afraid that he would be accused of slaughtering Black men if the assault was a failure.
- Burnside, perhaps sulking at this intrusion, had the three white division commanders draw straws. James Ledlie, the “winner”, was perhaps the worst division commander in the entire Army of the Potomac, and he proved this on the day of the battle.
- The explosion was originally scheduled to go off a little after 3:30 in the morning of July 30, 1864, but after a mishap with the fuse, the mine finally exploded at 4:44 a.m.
- Union troops poured into the Crater after a period of delay, but never made a concerted effort to reach the high ground on Cemetery Hill closer to Petersburg.
- The Confederate survivors held on tenaciously on the flanks of the Union intrusion into their lines, long enough for portions of William Mahone’s division to organize a counterattack out of a ravine to the west and northwest of the Crater.
- Though David Weisiger’s Virginians, Mahone’s old brigade, have received the lion’s share of credit for this successful counterattack, other units played an important role as well.
- By the time the Confederate counterattack had occurred, Ferrero’s Black soldiers were among those Union troops packed into the Crater.
- The massacre at Fort Pillow had occurred earlier in 1864, and some Confederates claimed to have heard Ferrero’s men yelling “No quarter!” while advancing.
- By the time Mahone’s division attacked the Crater, they had been made aware of the “No Quarter!” shouts and were determined to act in kind.
- The result was a massacre, with some Black soldiers being killed after surrendering, and many others being treated roughly as they were herded to the rear as prisoners.
- In the end, the breach in the Confederate line was sealed, and the day was a Union disaster. Meade, who had tried to prevent the slaughter of Black soldiers for political reasons, ironically failed in this task due to ensuing events.
- The Siege of Petersburg was destined to continue for another eight long months.
Here is a list of documents over at The Siege of Petersburg Online which discuss the Crater battle:
Siege of Petersburg Documents Which Mention This Battle:
- 864gag: Union Artillery Detonation of the Mine Siege of Petersburg 30 July 1864
- Into The Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg by Earl J. Hess
- Philadelphia Weekly Times: A Campaign With Sharpshooters by Captain John D. Young
- Battle of the Crater John E. Horn Map, July 30, 1864: The Virginia Brigade Charges, 8:45 A.M.
- Battle of the Crater: Details of the Mine (Battles and Leaders)
- Battle of the Crater: Diagram of the Crater (Battles and Leaders)
- Battles of the Crater and of June 22nd
- BTC Notes: Into The Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg by Earl J. Hess
- Charge! Issue 18, Page 22: Battle of the Crater by Michael Wedding
- Civil War Book Preview: Ed Bearss’ The Petersburg Campaign, Vol. 1: The Eastern Front Battles, June – August 1864
- February 25, 1882 National Tribune: Battle of the Crater: Petersburg, July 30, 1864
- George S. Gove Letter: August 2, 1864
- Hdqrs. Army of the Potomac, July 28th, 1864 (OR Atlas 64:1)
- Henry F. Charles Memoirs: Jerusalem Plank Road and the Crater
- In the Crater by Charles H. Houghton
- MHSM Papers: The Petersburg Mine by Brevet Brigadier-General Stephen M. Weld
- MHSM Papers: The Petersburg Mine by Captain Charles H. Porter
- MOLLUS IL: The Petersburg Mine by Walter C. Newberry
- MOLLUS ME: The Battle of “The Crater” by Captain Horace H. Burbank
- MOLLUS ME: With the Seventh Maine Battery by Brevet Major William B. Lapham
- Number 4. Record of the Court of Inquiry on the Mine Explosion during The Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864
- Octave Bruso Diary: Week of July 24, 1864
- PBS series features Petersburg’s Battle of the Crater
- Petersburg Mine Explosion July 30, 1864 (OR Atlas 78:5)
- Plan Showing Part of the Line of the U.S. Forces on July 29th, 1864 (OR Atlas 64:2)
- Review In Brief: Mother, May You Never See The Sights I Have Seen
- Review: Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg
- September 10, 1881 National Tribune: Petersburg Revisited
- September 17, 1864 Binghamton Republican: Col. B.F. Tracy and Col. I.S. Catlin
- SHS Papers: Volume 05: Flanner’s North Carolina Battery at the Battle of the Crater
- SHS Papers: Volume 28: Great Battle of the Crater by George S. Bernard
- Sketch Explanatory of the Positions and Operations of the Artillery Army of the Potomac, July 30th, 1864 (OR Atlas 64:3)
- The Battle of the Crater CWPT Map
- The Battle of the Crater Elsewhere
- The Battle of the Crater Michael Wedding Charge! Map, July 30, 1864
- The Battle of the Crater NPS Map: 1 PM
- The Battle of the Crater NPS Map: 5 AM
- The Battle of the Crater NPS Map: 8:30 AM
- The Battle of the Crater NPS Map: Aftermath
- The Battle of the Crater NPS Map: Prelude
- The Battle of the Crater Wikipedia Map: July 30, 1864
- The Battle of The Crater, July 30, 1864: Positions of the 22nd and 23rd South Carolina Regiments After the Mine Explosion: Official Records
- The Battle of the Crater: 147 Years Ago Today
- The Battle of the Crater: July 30, 1864
- The Battle of the Petersburg Crater by William H. Powell
- The Colored Troops At Petersburg by Henry Goddard Thomas
- The Petersburg Campaign: The Battle of the Crater “the Horrid Pit” June 25-August 6, 1864 by Michael Arthur Cavanaugh
- Two New Maps on the Crater and Jerusalem Plank Road by Petersburg Campaign Author John E. Horn
***Check out the Siege of Petersburg Online for daily posts on battle accounts in newspaper articles, diary entries, letters and more!
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