Battles and campaigns

The Battle of the Crater (Siege of Petersburg) 30 July 1864.

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Mike Cavanaugh began by summarising briefly Grant's 1864 Overland Campaign, which led by 19 June 1864 to Petersburg coming under siege. The Ninth Corps, including the 48th Pennsylvania consisting of miners, was in the centre of the line. Col. Henry Pleasance, of the 48th, had ideas for a tunnel for three reasons; he could ply his trade, keep his men busy and if successful shorten the war.

 

 


His idea went up the chain of command to Col Potter who liked it, to Ambrose Burnside who saw a way to overcome the stain of Fredericksburg, to Meade who was not in favour - he had doubts about ventilation - and finally to Grant who gave the go-ahead.

 

At noon on 26 June, the 48th started digging. Mike described the mining and countermining and Burnside's plan of attack.

 

Burnside's plan called for 4 divisions, one being a black division, which would be fresh to lead the assault. General Ferraro, a former dance teacher, was in charge. Seventeen hours before the attack, Meade said he did not want black troops to lead it. Brigadier Ledlie's division was chosen by straws to lead the assault. Although 12 thousand pounds of explosives were asked for, only 8 thousand were provided.

 

At 3.00 a.m. on 30 July, Pleasance lit the fuse. By 4.00 a.m. nothing had happened. Grant ordered that the attack be made anyway! The explosion however did occur 16 minutes before 5.00 a.m. Mike then described the fighting in and around the crater and General Mahone’s successful counterattack. Union casualties amounted to 3,800 (1,100 as prisoners) while Confederate losses were about 1,600.

 

A Union Court of Enquiry found Burnside, Ferraro and Ledlie at fault. All were encouraged to leave the service. A disgusted Henry Pleasance went back to Pennsylvania (where later he was involved in crushing the 'Molly Maguires').

 

The subsequent question and answer session discussed the role of black troops, the political pressure on Grant not to use them and the absence of scaling ladders.

© ACWRT (UK) 2000 & 2001