Crater, VA

[Scene of the explosion Saturday July 30th by Alfred R. Waud - Courtesy of Wikipedia]

Date(s): July 30, 1864

Location: Please click on link below for map.

Petersburg National Battlefield, Virginia, United States

Campaign: Richmond-Petersburg Campaign [June 1864-March 1865]

Battles in Campaign:

Situation:

  • During the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, the armies were aligned along a series of fortified positions and trenches more than 20 miles long, extending from the old Cold Harbor battlefield near Richmond all the way to areas south of Petersburg.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants, commander of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry of Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's IX Corps and a mining engineer from Pennsylvania, proposed digging a long mine shaft underneath the Confederate lines and planting explosive charges directly underneath a fort (Elliott’s Salient) in the middle of the Confederate First Corps line.

  • Pleasants believed that the explosion would kill all the defenders in the area and open a hole in the Confederate defenses.

  • Burnside approved the plan hoping that enough Union troops could fill the breach quickly enough and drive into the Confederate rear area where the Confederates would not be able to muster enough force to drive them out, and Petersburg might fall.

Commanders:

  • Union: Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside

  • Confederate: Gen. Robert E. Lee

Principal Forces:

  • Union: IX Corps

  • Confederate: elements of the Army of Northern Virginia

Description:

  • After weeks of preparation, on July 30th the Federals exploded a mine in Burnside’s IX Corps sector beneath Elliott’s salient, blowing a gap in the Confederate defenses of Petersburg.

  • From this propitious beginning, everything deteriorated rapidly for the Union attackers.

  • Unit after unit charged into and around the crater, where soldiers milled in confusion.

  • The Confederates quickly recovered and launched several counterattacks led by Maj. Gen. William Mahone. The break was sealed off, and the Federals were repulsed with severe casualties.

  • Ferrarro’s division of black soldiers was badly mauled.

  • This may have been Grant’s best chance to end the Siege of Petersburg. Instead, the soldiers settled in for another eight months of trench warfare.

  • Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside was relieved of command for his role in the debacle.

Photo Gallery:2

Digging the Mine

Map Showing the Tunnel

Entrance to the Tunnel

Ventilation Shaft

"A Stupendous Failure"

The Crater

The Crater

Memorial to South Carolina Soldiers who "turned a dreadful disaster into a glorious victory"

Confederate Counterattack

Memorial to Maj. Gen. William Mahone

 

Classification3: A

Casualties4:

  • Union:  5,300

  • Confederate: 1,032

Results: Confederate victory

Battlefield Websites:

Lodging and Restaurants: Virginia Tourism

Recommended Resources:


1 National Park Service summary.

2 Please click on the image to enlarge it. You may copy the images if you include the following note and link with each image: "Courtesy of civil-war-journeys.org."

3 Classification:

  • A - having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war

  • B - having a direct and decisive influence on their campaign

  • C - having observable influence on the outcome of a campaign

  • D - having a limited influence on the outcome of their campaign or operation but achieving or affecting important local objectives

4 Casualties are someone killed, injured, wounded, captured or missing.

Revised 04/06/2013