Civil War Battle Remembered in Petersburg
Friday will mark the 146th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of the Crater. On Saturday, The Petersburg National Battlefield will be having special educational programs.
The Rangers will be telling the story of the Union Army’s attempt to get past the Confederate lines.
Gates: Battle of the Crater, probably one of the most famous events of the siege.
Park Ranger Grant Gates:
Gates: It is General Grant's attempt, his last attempt to take the city directly.
It is the method, however, that makes this battle unique.
Gates: His men will build a 511-foot-long tunnel underneath the Confederate position, so that they were just 400 feet away from them. And, on the morning of July 30, 1864, will detonate the four tons of black powder underneath that Confederate position.
It was barely daylight when the crater was created.
Gates: In the insuing engagement, which will last from about a quarter of five in the morning til about 2:30, 3:00 that day, nearly five thousand men combined will become casualties. And, at the end of the day, no ground had been gained or lost.
It started badly for the attacking Union and quickly got worse. Soldiers of the U.S. Colored Troops, who had trained especially to get in and out of the crater and move forward, were ordered to stand down at the last minute.
Gates: They were the troops that had been training for the three weeks or so that the tunnel was being built. Within twelve hours before the attack, they were put in the rear of the attack.
Grant had tried tunneling before, at Vicksburg and failed, but, Gates says:
Gates: It was the longest tunnel at that point in military history. It was done by a group of soldiers who were from Schuykill, Pennsylvania, who were miners before the war, so they definitely had the know-how and the ability to do this.
The fighting in and around the hole made by the explosion was fierce. Only a trace of the crater remains today.
Gates: Well, you'll see now it's pretty much the center of the crater. You can still see the depression where the tunnel entered. You see the center portion of it, but, even the day of the explosion, according to accounts--there are varying accounts of the dimensions--but, even at its longest account, which is two hundred feet long on its axis, that's still not a very big crater. And, it was thirty feet deep in places. They'd blown up bomb proof and quarters of Confederate soldiers, so it was a very jagged hole. So, even at that, two hundred feet long, thirty feet deep in some places, you're still talking a relatively small to be, where at the end of the battle, you'll have thousands of soldiers in and around it fighting hand to hand.
On Saturday there will be living history groups on hand in period uniforms and clothing.
Gates: We have members of the Twelfth Virginia Infantry Company B that will be there this weekend to help out, talking about the Confederate soldiers and their role there at the crater. And, we also have some other living historians representing the Union troops, as well. Both those groups will be giving demonstrations and be part of our special tours.
The Twelfth Virginia is going to be presenting “How Civilians and Soldiers Survived the Siege of Petersburg” and “Female Spies of the Confederacy and Women of the South”. There will be demonstrations of quilting, sewing and crocheting. In addition to Battlefield and Crater tours and there will also be living history and artillery drills.