Battle Of The Crater - Petersburg, July 30, 1864

Jim Klag

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General Ulysses Grant lamented, “it was the saddest affair I’ve witnessed in this war.” Planned as a lightning assault following the explosion of the mine, the Union attack on the Crater degenerated into a disjointed fiasco with no breakthrough and with many needless casualties.

The explosion displaced about 400,000 cubic feet of earth, leaving a 30-foot deep crater that was 100 feet wide and 175 long. It is estimated that the explosion directly caused the deaths of 250 Confederate soldiers.

Here is a link to the American Battlefield Trust article on the Battle Of The Crater.

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/crater
 

5fish

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Craters at Vicksburg...

Link: there are more details at the link: https://www.historynet.com/americas-civil-war-digging-to-victory-at-vicksburg.htm

While the land approach to Vicksburg presented many problems, a river-borne Union assault on the city was also out of the question because Southern batteries on the bluff commanded the horseshoe bend in the Mississippi above the town. On May 23, Grant decided, as he put it, to ‘out-camp the enemy and dig into Vicksburg. That would be no easy undertaking. Numerous deep ravines cut the high ground on the landward side of Vicksburg, and the slopes of the hills surrounding the town were so sharp and covered with fallen timber that an unarmed man would have the greatest difficulty climbing them, let alone a soldier under fire, burdened with the gear of war. The only level areas were at the deep bottoms of the ravines, where the Confederates had littered the ground with more fallen trees.

Snip...

The Southerners also had the advantage of interior lines, so they had shorter distances over which to shuttle troops to threatened points. This, coupled with the difficult terrain, helped offset the Union army’s superior numbers. Grant also had to use some of his troops to guard the rear of his investing forces and keep an eye out for troops sent from the east by General Joseph E. Johnston. Additionally, the Army of the Tennessee’s generals fretted that a siege might be protracted by bad weather or by an outbreak of disease. The quicker the Union army entered Vicksburg, the better.

Snip...

By midday on June 25,
the miners had completed their work and the Union forces prepared for the attack. Yankee artillery opened an intense barrage on the enemy works, and all along the line, sharpshooters kept Rebel soldiers pinned in place. Just before 4 p.m., the mine was detonated.

The explosion blasted a crater 35 feet wide by 12 feet deep and carried away a section of the 3rd Louisiana Redan, but did not destroy the cannon platforms of the Confederate fort. A soldier in the 3rd Louisiana recalled: Suddenly the earth under our feet gave a convulsive shudder and with a muffled roar a mighty column of earth men poles spades and guns arose many feet in the air. About fifty lives were blotted out in that instant.

Then... The union troops do not rush the breach because the last one ended ugly... so why to a second...

Continuing their desperate efforts to stop the Federals from tunneling under their lines, the Confederates frantically dug and exploded smaller countermines. But those efforts all failed. On July 1, a second Yankee explosion ripped into the 3rd Louisiana Redan. A Confederate officer described the damage: The charge must have been enormous, as the crater made was at least 20 feet deep, 30 feet across in one direction and 50 in another. The earth upheaved was thrown many yards around, but little of it falling back into the crater. The faces of the redan were almost completely destroyed, and the blast destroyed part of the parapet that the Confederates had built across its open end. Although the Confederate works had been breached, the Union troops, remembering the bloodbath of June 25, made no attempt to assault the Rebels, who immediately set to work to repair the damage.


snip... last...

On July 3, Union sappers had nearly completed their work in the dark tunnels when the word was passed down the line that the Rebels had asked for surrender terms. Later that day, Generals Grant and Pemberton met under a tree a short distance from the devastated 3rd Louisiana Redan. Later, after an exchange of terms, Pemberton agreed to surrender Vicksburg.

 

jgoodguy

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Craters at Vicksburg...

Link: there are more details at the link: https://www.historynet.com/americas-civil-war-digging-to-victory-at-vicksburg.htm

While the land approach to Vicksburg presented many problems, a river-borne Union assault on the city was also out of the question because Southern batteries on the bluff commanded the horseshoe bend in the Mississippi above the town. On May 23, Grant decided, as he put it, to ‘out-camp the enemy and dig into Vicksburg. That would be no easy undertaking. Numerous deep ravines cut the high ground on the landward side of Vicksburg, and the slopes of the hills surrounding the town were so sharp and covered with fallen timber that an unarmed man would have the greatest difficulty climbing them, let alone a soldier under fire, burdened with the gear of war. The only level areas were at the deep bottoms of the ravines, where the Confederates had littered the ground with more fallen trees.

Snip...

The Southerners also had the advantage of interior lines, so they had shorter distances over which to shuttle troops to threatened points. This, coupled with the difficult terrain, helped offset the Union army’s superior numbers. Grant also had to use some of his troops to guard the rear of his investing forces and keep an eye out for troops sent from the east by General Joseph E. Johnston. Additionally, the Army of the Tennessee’s generals fretted that a siege might be protracted by bad weather or by an outbreak of disease. The quicker the Union army entered Vicksburg, the better.

Snip...

By midday on June 25,
the miners had completed their work and the Union forces prepared for the attack. Yankee artillery opened an intense barrage on the enemy works, and all along the line, sharpshooters kept Rebel soldiers pinned in place. Just before 4 p.m., the mine was detonated.

The explosion blasted a crater 35 feet wide by 12 feet deep and carried away a section of the 3rd Louisiana Redan, but did not destroy the cannon platforms of the Confederate fort. A soldier in the 3rd Louisiana recalled: Suddenly the earth under our feet gave a convulsive shudder and with a muffled roar a mighty column of earth men poles spades and guns arose many feet in the air. About fifty lives were blotted out in that instant.

Then... The union troops do not rush the breach because the last one ended ugly... so why to a second...

Continuing their desperate efforts to stop the Federals from tunneling under their lines, the Confederates frantically dug and exploded smaller countermines. But those efforts all failed. On July 1, a second Yankee explosion ripped into the 3rd Louisiana Redan. A Confederate officer described the damage: The charge must have been enormous, as the crater made was at least 20 feet deep, 30 feet across in one direction and 50 in another. The earth upheaved was thrown many yards around, but little of it falling back into the crater. The faces of the redan were almost completely destroyed, and the blast destroyed part of the parapet that the Confederates had built across its open end. Although the Confederate works had been breached, the Union troops, remembering the bloodbath of June 25, made no attempt to assault the Rebels, who immediately set to work to repair the damage.


snip... last...

On July 3, Union sappers had nearly completed their work in the dark tunnels when the word was passed down the line that the Rebels had asked for surrender terms. Later that day, Generals Grant and Pemberton met under a tree a short distance from the devastated 3rd Louisiana Redan. Later, after an exchange of terms, Pemberton agreed to surrender Vicksburg.
Interesting, I wonder if any artifacts are left from this.
 

5fish

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Interesting, I wonder if any artifacts are left from this.
Here at Vicksburg... I can not tell where the crater is located...

The Third Louisiana Redan was built to help guard the Jackson Road entrance into the city of Vicksburg. The redan was named after the regiment that garrisoned it, the Third Louisiana Infantry. The Confederates were aware of the Union approach trench and mine digging, but despite efforts of sharpshooters, were unable to stop the Federals.
Approach to the Third Louisiana Redan


Another...


The nonextant Third Louisiana Redan was located in this area. It was a major Confederate fortification for the defense of the Jackson Road entrance to Vicksburg. Trenches and craters were created and mines were used here in battles between Union and Confederate forces. The Confederate line was never breached.

The day June 25th 1863... what followed the blast...

Before the dirt settled, Captain Hickenlooper and his pioneers charged into the crater to clear the way for the infantrymen who surged down the Jackson Road in a densely packed column. While the engineer and his men cleared away debris, the 45th Illinois raced forward and Color Sgt. Henry Taylor planted the Stars and Stripes upon the enemy works.
Scores of Union soldiers poured into the crater determined to exploit the breach in the Confederate works, while Southern soldiers responded to the emergency with equal determination to block their advance into Vicksburg. For 26 hours the battle raged in unabated fury as clubbed muskets and bayonets were freely used by the soldiers of both armies. Grant sent in one fresh regiment after another trying to punch his way into Vicksburg, but to no avail. The great gamble failed and the Union commander was compelled to recall his troops.
Undaunted by the failure, the chief engineer of the XVII Corps immediately began construction of another gallery under what remained of the fort.
 

5fish

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Here is a link to the American Battlefield Trust article on the Battle Of The Crater.
I am talking Vicksburg... a crater is a crater, only size matters...

Interesting, I wonder if any artifacts are left from this.
I found out why the second explosion was not followed up with an attack... 13 mines at once that would have been a sight to see... July 6th could have been historic...

https://www.erdc.usace.army.mil/Media/News-Stories/Article/1225290/the-engineers-at-vicksburg-part-24-blasted-to-freedom/

The detonation of the second mine was not followed up by an infantry assault—it was not necessary. On June 30, Grant had been appraised by his chief engineer that all of the Union approaches were within 120 yards of the Confederate lines, with some as close as five yards away. Thus, given just a few more days of digging all 13 approaches would be completed at which time 13 mines could be charged and detonated simultaneously.

This was the moment that he and his soldiers had been working toward throughout the siege. Grant initiated plans to widen the approaches to permit the passage of infantry and artillery to the front, planks and sandbags were readied to throw across the ditches fronting the city’s defenses, and troops were shifted into position for the attack he scheduled to launch on July 6.

All his preparations, however, were rendered useless as within 48 hours of the July 1 explosion, white flags appeared along the lines and Generals Pemberton and Grant met one another between the lines to discuss the surrender of Vicksburg.

But before the final hours of the siege are detailed, there were other engineers in Union blue and Confederate gray who, along with Hickenlooper and Lockett, played prominent roles in the siege and defense of Vicksburg. Sadly, many of these men and the service they rendered have been lost to history. If but a fleeting reference, their stories must also be told.

Here is a question or two? Did they blow up the second mine to send a message or use it as a terror weapon? Did the second mine explosion influence Pemberton decision to surrender?
 
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Al Mackey

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IMO, discussion of Vicksburg is off topic in this thread unless one is making a comparison. I haven't seen a comparison being made.
 

Jim Klag

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IMO, discussion of Vicksburg is off topic in this thread unless one is making a comparison. I haven't seen a comparison being made.
I think it's OK to talk about Vicksburg in this thread by way of comparing the two battles. If one wants to go deep into Vicksburg, open a new thread, please.
 

jgoodguy

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Here at Vicksburg... I can not tell where the crater is located...

The Third Louisiana Redan was built to help guard the Jackson Road entrance into the city of Vicksburg. The redan was named after the regiment that garrisoned it, the Third Louisiana Infantry. The Confederates were aware of the Union approach trench and mine digging, but despite efforts of sharpshooters, were unable to stop the Federals.
Approach to the Third Louisiana Redan


Another...


The nonextant Third Louisiana Redan was located in this area. It was a major Confederate fortification for the defense of the Jackson Road entrance to Vicksburg. Trenches and craters were created and mines were used here in battles between Union and Confederate forces. The Confederate line was never breached.

The day June 25th 1863... what followed the blast...

Before the dirt settled, Captain Hickenlooper and his pioneers charged into the crater to clear the way for the infantrymen who surged down the Jackson Road in a densely packed column. While the engineer and his men cleared away debris, the 45th Illinois raced forward and Color Sgt. Henry Taylor planted the Stars and Stripes upon the enemy works.
Scores of Union soldiers poured into the crater determined to exploit the breach in the Confederate works, while Southern soldiers responded to the emergency with equal determination to block their advance into Vicksburg. For 26 hours the battle raged in unabated fury as clubbed muskets and bayonets were freely used by the soldiers of both armies. Grant sent in one fresh regiment after another trying to punch his way into Vicksburg, but to no avail. The great gamble failed and the Union commander was compelled to recall his troops.
Undaunted by the failure, the chief engineer of the XVII Corps immediately began construction of another gallery under what remained of the fort.
Thanks for the pictures in response to my apparently off-topic question.
 

5fish

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I found this.. article it is well more than worth a read... the opening has a good description of the fighting in and around the crater...

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/why-unions-attempt-use-tunnels-against-confederate-troops-failed-98137?page=0,3

In these last minutes, Union resistance centered at the Crater’s western edge crumbled in vicious fighting. Federal muskets with their bayonets still attached lay scattered about everywhere, and opportunistic Confederates picked them up and launched them like javelins into the teeming blue crowd. Confederate soldiers surged over the Crater’s rim and into the pit, slashing their way forward. Bayonets, knives, and muskets used as clubs were the weapons of choice as the dense mass of humanity left little room for maneuver. The Rebels again refused to accept the surrender of black troops, dispatching them with brutality. Once more, fearing Rebel reprisals, many white Federals killed their black comrades in a craven attempt to ensure their own survival.

With Confederates pouring over the top, Griffin and Hartranft yelled for any Northerners within range of their voices to retreat. The Union perimeter disappeared as a flood of survivors crawled out of the pit and headed back through no-man’s-land. With Rebel mortars and artillery bracketing the area, more Federals were killed and wounded in the retreat than in Ledlie’s morning attack. Those at the back of the pack turned and faced their pursuing tormenters, the fighting as savage as any witnessed in the entire war. “Our fellows seized the muskets abandoned by the retreating enemy,” wrote one Confederate soldier, “and threw them like pitchforks into the huddled troops over the ramparts. Screams, groans and explosions throwing up human limbs made it a scene of awful carnage.


It has the ending of the affair as well...

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/why-unions-attempt-use-tunnels-against-confederate-troops-failed-98137?page=0,3

The battle was over, but the repercussions were still to come. During a battle that reeked of command malfeasance on a scale that equaled that of Cold Harbor—two drunken Union division commanders sitting out the battle behind the lines—the Union Army suffered 3,798 casualties, including 504 killed and 1,881 wounded. Fully one third of the casualties were suffered by black troops, including 219 killed in action and almost 1,000 wounded, the worst day for USCT troops in the entire war. A large number of Union casualties occurred after Meade and Grant had ordered a withdrawal, but both commanders were too far from the lines to realize Burnside had delayed sounding the recall. Meade had now suffered almost 6,000 casualties for the month with almost nothing to show for it (Lee could take a little comfort that Confederate casualties were less than half of Meade’s). Most of the Confederate dead at the Crater were killed in the explosion that opened the battle; the defenders lost 361 men killed, 727 wounded, and 403 missing or captured for the day. The Confederate victory didn’t change the strategic situation, which meant that the siege of Petersburg would drag on for another eight bloody months.

snip...

There was plenty of blame to go around on the Union side. Meade and his chief engineer had failed utterly to support Pleasants’ mining efforts, and Meade and Grant had changed Burnside’s attack plans at the last minute for political reasons. Burnside had failed to issue new and specific attack orders to Ledlie and delayed sending orders for his corps to retreat. Ledlie (but not Ferrero, who amazingly was overlooked in the aftermath) was soon sent packing, condemned by a court of inquiry along with Burnside, Willcox, and Colonel Zenas Bliss, for his part in the mismanagement of what Grant called “the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war.” Burnside left on the heels of a violent argument with Meade, who wanted his corps commander court-martialed for incompetence. Grant, preferring a quieter procedure (and with the memory of his own misguided attack at Cold Harbor still fresh in his mind), sent Burnside home on leave, summing up the battle as “a stupendous failure, all due to inefficiency on the part of the corps commander and the incompetency of the division commander who was sent to lead the assault.”

snip...

The Petersburg campaign—it wasn’t a siege in the true sense—encompassed 292 days of combat, maneuver, and trench warfare between June 15, 1864, and April 3, 1865. After the fiasco at the Crater, Grant spent the next eight months focusing on severing Petersburg’s many road and rail connections to the south and west. He launched a total of nine offensives—the Battle of the Crater taking place during the third—in the campaign, striking both north and south of the James River. After six weeks of vicious fighting, the combat subsided into a prolonged stalemate in the trenches before Petersburg and Richmond that anticipated the gruesome conditions on the Western Front during World War I.
 

5fish

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discussion of Vicksburg i
Another description of the action in the crater... https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/crater_battle_of_the

The scene inside the Crater was hellish. The day was a scorcher, and a mist of humidity and smoke hung over the hole. "The heat drove some men literally mad," Marvel has noted. One New York soldier tripped over the naked bodies of the South Carolinians originally blown up by the explosion on his way to what appeared to be "a large body of Union soldiers lying as though in line of battle waiting for the command to move forward." To his horror, they were all dead. Men of the United States Colored Troops, from Ferrero's Fourth Division, were in there, too. This was their first combat, and some of them cried, "Remember Fort Pillow!"—referring to an April battle in Tennessee in which black troops had been murdered by their Confederate captors. Their cheer inspired more than they intended it to, however.

Robert E. Lee had ordered up two infantry brigades under William Mahone to fill the gap in the lines. "Small and lean as a starvation year," in the words of Douglas Southall Freeman, "Little Billy" Mahone was a Virginia Military Institute graduate and a veteran of all the major Army of Northern Virginia campaigns since the Seven Days' Battles (1862). His Virginians, who were busy firing down into the Crater and in some instances even hurling bayonet-fixed muskets in the manner of spears, saw the black troops as an ugly provocation. Said one Virginia officer: "Boys, you have hot work ahead; they are negroes and show no quarter.

Even as the battle turned in the Confederates' favor and Meade and Burnside squabbled over when and how to retreat, the fighting—which had spread across a square mile, centered on the Crater—took on a new and savage intensity. Black troops who tried to surrender were not always spared, and those who were captured were sometimes murdered. "Many a dusky warrior had his brains knocked out with the butt of a musket, or was run thru with a bayonet while vainly imploring for mercy," recalled one of the black regiments' white officers. The Confederate artillery general Edward Porter Alexander confirmed this: "Some of the Negro prisoners who were originally allowed to surrender … were afterward shot by others, & there was, without doubt, a great deal of unnecessary killing of them."

William Pegram, a Confederate colonel whose cousin's battery was blown up by the initial explosion, wrote in a letter to his sister that "it seems cruel to murder [the black soldiers] in cold blood, but I think the men who did it had very good cause for doing so." From Pegram's point of view, part of that cause included his own troops' morale. "I have always said that I wished the enemy would bring some negroes against this army," he wrote. "I am convinced, since Saturday's fight, that it has a splendid effect on our men."
 
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