The Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864

In the past month and a half, I’ve marked the anniversaries of important battles during the Petersburg Campaign (and I apologize for missing the Wilson-Kautz Raid and First Deep Bottom). When Petersburg does manage to get mentioned, arguably the most “popular” battle (you have to include Five Forks as well) is the Crater, fought on July 30, 1864. Col. Henry Pleasants and the coal miners of his 48th Pennsylvania dug a lengthy tunnel and planted several groups of explosives below the Confederate works. At 4:45 A.M., these explosives went off, creating a huge crater and blowing quite a few Confederates into eternity. The assault was a debacle. James Ledlie, the division commander expected to lead the attack, instead hunkered down in a bombproof getting quite drunk. Ledlie’s command wasn’t even supposed to be leading in the first place. Ferrero’s Division of United States Colored Troops had originally drawn that duty and had trained for weeks. Grant and Meade, fearing a backlash in the press if the Black troops led the attack and were slaughtered, put an end to this idea only a day or so before the explosion was to take place. Burnside incredibly had the commanders of his three white divisions draw straws! Unfortunately, Burnside couldn’t have picked a worse man for the job. As the Union troops milled about in and just in front of the Crater, a vicious counterattack by several Brigade’s of William Mahone’s Division crested at the edge of the massive hole. There followed a possible massacre of black troops, a massacre that seems highly likely given the ratio of killed to wounded in the USCT regiments comparedx to their white counterparts. See especially Bryce Suderow’s article in Civil War History below for specifics on the massacre. In the end, many of the Union troops surrendered or ran the gauntlet back to their lines. The IX Corps had wasted a golden opportunity to break through and shorten the war.

Rather than just give you the books, articles, and web sites I know of, I’ve decided from now on to instead use the excellent bibliographies from the United States Army Military History Institute. The Petersburg Bibliography is located at:

The list of titles and articles focusing on The Crater are listed below in alphabetical order by authors’ last name:

“Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864, Roster of the Members of the 12th Infantry, Mahone’s Brigade, Who Were Engaged.” Southern Hist Soc Papers 31 (1903): pp. 271 74.

Bernard, George S. The Battle of the Crater. Petersburg, VA: Fenn & Owen, 1892. 81 p.

_______. “Great Battle of the Crater, the Work of Mahone and Weisinger at the Fight.” Southern Hist Soc Papers 28 (1900): pp. 204 21.

_______. comp. War Talks of Confederate Veterans and Battle of the Crater. Petersburg, VA: Fenn &
Owen, 1892. 335 p. E484B5.

Bowley, Freeman S. “The Petersburg Mine.” In War Papers (MOLLUS, CA, Paper 3). 17 p.

Burbank, Horace N. “The Battle of ‘the Crater.’” In War Papers (MOLLUS, Maine, Vol. 1). Portland, ME: Thurston, 1898. pp. 283 94.

Calkins, Chris. “The Preservation Report: A History of the Crater Battlefield.” CW Regts Vol. 2, #1: pp. 156 58. Per.

Case, Ervin T. Battle of the Mine. Providence, RI: S.S. Rider, 1879. 37 p.

Cavanaugh, Michael A. The Battle of the Crater, “The Horrid Pit,” June 25 August 6, 1864. Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard, 1989. 181 p.

_______. “The Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864, Petersburg, Virginia, Includes Action at Deep Bottom, Virginia, July 26 to 29, 1864.” n.p., n.d. 60 p.

Chase, James. The Charge at Day break: Scenes and Incidents at the Battle of the Mine Explosion Near Petersburg, Va., July 30, 1864. Lewiston, ME: Lewiston Journal Office, 1873. 32 p.

Featherston, John C. Battle of the Crater. Birmingham, AL: Birmingham Pub Co, 1987. 30 p.

George, Larry. “Battle of the Crater: A Combat Engineer Case Study.” Mil Review 64 (Feb 1984): pp. 35 47. Per.

James, Alfred P. “Battle of the Crater, Petersburg, Va., June 30, 1864.” Journal of the Amer Mil Hist Foundation 2 (1938): pp. 1 25. Per MilAffairs.

Kinard, Jeff. The Battle of the Crater. Abilene, TX: McMurray U, 1998. 101 p.

Marvel, William. “And Fire Shall Devour Them: The 9th New Hampshire Infantry and the Crater.” CW Regts Vol. 2, #2: pp. 118 40. Per.

Newberry, Walter C. “The Petersburg Mine.” In Military Essays and Recollections (MOLLUS, IL, Vol. 3). Chicago: Dial Pr, 1899. pp. 111 24.

Parker, E. K. “‘The Bravest Deed I Ever Knew’: The Negro Boy at the Petersburg Enclosure.” Century Magazine.

Pleasants, Henry. The Tragedy of the Crater. Petersburg, VA: ENP&MA, 1975. 101 p.

Porter, Charles H. “The Petersburg Mine.” In Papers of the Mil Hist Soc of MA, Vol. 5, cited above. pp. 221 40.

Razza, Michael S. “The Man Behind the Mine: The Short, Unhappy Life of Henry Pleasants…” Civ War 57 (Jun 1996): pp. 22-23 & 25-27. Per.

Skoch, George F. “Thunder From Below.” America’s CW 1 (Jul 1988): pp. 26 33. Per.

Shearman, Sumner U. Battle of the Crater and Experiences of Prison Life. Providence, RI: RI Soldiers & Sailors Hist Soc, 1898. 38 p.

Slayden, William M. “The Battle of the Crater.” Army 7 (Oct 1956): pp. 41 45. Per.

Stewart, William H. “The Charge at the Crater: A Graphic Account of the Memorable Action.” Southern Hist Soc Papers 25 (1897): pp. 77 90.

Suderow, Bryce A. “The Battle of the Crater: The Civil War’s Worst Massacre.” CW Hist 43 (Sep 1997): pp. 219-24. Per.

Taylor, John M. “The Crater.” MHQ 10 (Winter 1998): pp. 30-39. Per.

Weld, Stephen M. “The Petersburg Mine.” In Papers of the Mil Hist Soc of MA, Vol. 5, cited above. pp. 205 20.

Wilkinson, Warren. “Bury Them if They Won’t Move.” [57th MA] CW Times Illus 29 (Mar/Apr 1990): pp. 24 34 & 43 45. Per.


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