Civil War Blog

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Touring the Petersburg National Battlefield – The Crater (Part 2)

Posted By on April 4, 2013

Today’s blog post continues a multi-part series on the Petersburg National Battlefield – that portion of the battlefield which made up the Eastern Front, where the opening assaults and the Battles of the Crater and Fort Stedman occurred.  All parts of the series can be accessed by clicking on the series title here, Touring the Petersburg National Battlefield.  Recent photographs taken at the battlefield are interspersed with the official, interpretative statements made at the various tour stops as well as statements from the National Park Service brochures and web site.  Many men from the Lykens Valley area participated in this battle and the Battle of the Crater itself was noteworthy for the participation of coal miners from Schuylkill County.

Continuing through to the location of the explosion:


A fence surrounds the depression created by the explosion (above) and two markers tell the story.


“There was utmost consternation.  Some men scampered out of the lines; some, paralyzed with fear, vaguely scratched at the counterscarp as if trying to escape.   Smoke and dust filled the air.”

At 4:40 a.m. on 20 July 1864, the men of Richard Pegram’s battery and two South Carolina regiments lay sleeping here at Elliot’s Salient.  A moment later, this place turned into a smoking hole 170 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep.  Two hundred and seventy-eight Confederates died in the blast.  Two 1,700-pound cannons were hurled completely out of the works.

The depressions of four of the magazines (rooms that held the powder) exploded by Colonel Pleasant’s men are still visible inside the Crater.

After the battle, on 30 July, the Confederates incorporated the Crater into their earthworks.


Confedrate Countermine

Suspecting a Union mine, the Confederates dug two listening galleries here.  They narrowly missed striking the Union tunnel, which was deeper.  The depressions you see were caused by the cave-in of these galleries.


Confederate Counterattack

“I counted 21 Union flags flying from the Crater and these works.  The sight gave me no hope of ever getting away alive.”

Union disorganization gave the Confederates the time they needed to respond to the crisis at the Crater.  At 9 a.m., Confederate Brigadier General William Mahone’s division rushed to the depression about 200 years to your right.  Just as the Federals were forming to renew the attack, Mahone’s leading brigade charged.

In a wild melee against great odds, the 800 Virginians capture the trenches here, just north of the Crater.  Later, other Confederates attacked the Crater itself.  By mid-afternoon the Crater and its surrounding works were again in Confederate hands.


The Confederate line was along the area of the tall grass (above picture).


Exiting from the battle area from behind the location of the Confederate line.

This is the final stop of the eight stops in this section of the Petersburg battlefield.  It was at this stop that the Union men of the 48th Pennnsylvania Infantry dug a mine and exploded it under a Confederate fort.  The infantry attack through this gap failed and, despite great loss, maintained their position on the line.

Next week, some of the monuments on the Petersburg battlefield will be viewed.



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