Battle of the Crater

July 30th 1864

The Battle of the Crater was one of the most bizarre and truly ineffective Civil war encounters during the entire war. The brainchild of a highly intelligent and rather mole-like man, Lt. Colonel Henry Pleasants of the 48th Pennsylvania infantry, the crater was the result of a massive explosion that left an impression in the earth that can still be seen today.

The goal of the Union army officers was to blast the bottom out from under the well-fortified Confederate troops that were manning the defenses after Petersburg, Virginia.

The series of underground mines that were dug as trenches were some 400 feet long and not as wide as two men.

The tunnels had to be dug using the most silent of means, a spade. The goal of the explosion was to break the rebel defenses around Petersburg, which would allow the Union army to capture the city.

Battle of the Crater

The Crater outside of Petersburg in 1864

On the morning of July 30th at 4:44am the Rebels never knew what hit them as simultaneously four explosions rocked their slumber killing upwards of 250 to 350 confederate soldiers. The blast was so massive that it could be felt 50 miles away.

After the explosion Union troops were ordered to attack the gap in the rebel lines. Unfortunately the troops sent in the first wave had no training on how to make this assault. They decided it would be best for them to rush into the huge crater because it would offer them protection and concealment. This would not be the case. The confederates regrouped and sealed up their broken line.

They moved toward the lip of the crater and began shooting down onto the men below with rifles and artillery. It was a turkey shoot. Other regiments were sent in to help however they did not fair much better, some troops went around the mine like they were suppose to others were forced to flee into the mine because of the intense rebel fire.

Union troops were eventually forced to flee the crater and retreat from the attack. Although the idea was grand the execution of the plan was a disaster for the Union. General Burnside who was in over all command of this attack was relieved shortly after the failed assault.