Petersburg/Richmond The Crater assault at Petersburg

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
The USCT regiments that had drilled & practiced for the operation were pulled out by Meade. His exact reasoning involved worries over the political blowback of the assault was a failure. In one of the colossal command failures of the war, Burnside did not standup for his people. Instead, he knuckled to Meade & then drew straws for who would replace the carefully prepared USCT’s.

The man who drew the short straw was drunk & cowered under cover during the assault on FT Sanders in Knoxville TN. His reputation was no secret. A similar situation occurred at Franklin where an officer filled with liquid courage cost a lot of good men their lives. The tolerance for drunken incompetence during the CW always mystifies me.

Had the UDCT’s been allowed to lead the attack, they would have passed on either side of the crater turning both flanks. The follow on regiments would have penetrated, preventing the establishment of a second line. The potential for that rarest of CW events, an actual breakthrough of an entrenched position. What if’s are filled with unknowables, so what would have followed is anybody’s guess.

On a purely personal level, I am fortunate that the tragedy played out as it did. My wife’s forefather was on the flank of the crater, a private in the 3rd Georgia Infantry. I don’t know what I would have done with myself the last 30 years had the USCT’s swarmed over the 3rd’s flank.
 
Joined
Aug 7, 2019
Location
Orléans, France
Grant considered it one of the worst battles ever fougt, but the project was potentially the most brilliant military idea of the war, according to James M. McPherson. With the U.S.C.T. spreading throughout the confederate line, led by competent officers and supported by enough reserve troops, Grant can fight Lee out of the trenches with a huge numerical advantage.
The main problem was Meade's (and Grant's) decision to replace the Colored Division, which was well-drilled to execute the manoeuver, by another division, poorly led and not trained to achieve such a tactical move.
The second problem was Burnside's indecision as a commander, when leading his troops in action.
 

19thGeorgia

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Grant tried this at Vicksburg too...with similar results.

"Late in the siege, Union troops tunneled under the 3rd Louisiana Redan and packed the mine with 2,200 pounds of gunpowder. The explosion blew apart the Confederate lines on June 25, while an infantry attack made by troops from Logan's XVII Corps division followed the blast. The 45th Illinois Regiment (known as the "Lead Mine Regiment"), under Col. Jasper A. Maltby, charged into the 40-foot (12 m) diameter, 12-foot (3.7 m) deep crater with ease, but were stopped by recovering Confederate infantry. The Union soldiers became pinned down and the defenders rolled artillery shells with short fuses into the pit with deadly results."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Vicksburg
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
The original plan was a good one. The detonation of the mine (albiet 1.5 hours late due to having to relight the fuse), blasted a hole and essentially wiped out Elliott's Salient, thereby opening the pathway to the main objective, the Jerusalem Plank Road. But after the explosion, the entire operation was botched as already noted by other posters. As Grant stated afterward, "It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war."
 

Rebforever

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Oct 26, 2012
The Confederates did not detect the mining, but that didn't lead to success.

The explosion blew a hole in the middle of the Confederate line, as planned. The Union assault failed because it wasn't executed quickly enough, resulting in the Confederates gaining enough time to plug the gap.
When I was down there I was told the Confederates new there was digging and sunk some holes and just didn’t locate them in time.
 

bschulte

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 31, 2005
The USCT regiments that had drilled & practiced for the operation were pulled out by Meade. His exact reasoning involved worries over the political blowback of the assault was a failure. In one of the colossal command failures of the war, Burnside did not standup for his people. Instead, he knuckled to Meade & then drew straws for who would replace the carefully prepared USCT’s.

The man who drew the short straw was drunk & cowered under cover during the assault on FT Sanders in Knoxville TN. His reputation was no secret. A similar situation occurred at Franklin where an officer filled with liquid courage cost a lot of good men their lives. The tolerance for drunken incompetence during the CW always mystifies me.

Had the UDCT’s been allowed to lead the attack, they would have passed on either side of the crater turning both flanks. The follow on regiments would have penetrated, preventing the establishment of a second line. The potential for that rarest of CW events, an actual breakthrough of an entrenched position. What if’s are filled with unknowables, so what would have followed is anybody’s guess.

On a purely personal level, I am fortunate that the tragedy played out as it did. My wife’s forefather was on the flank of the crater, a private in the 3rd Georgia Infantry. I don’t know what I would have done with myself the last 30 years had the USCT’s swarmed over the 3rd’s flank.
To me, Burnside's colossal command failure was drawing straws in the first place. There is plenty of debate (see Will Greene's first book of his new trilogy, for instance) about how much extra training the USCT's really received. Short answer? Not a lot. Ledlie's Division should have never been allowed to be chosen in the first place. I'm reading Meade's Army right now, which is an edited version of Meade's ADC Theodore Lyman's private notebooks, compiled almost daily during the entire 20 months he was with Meade. It was well known to leadership prior to the Crater that Ledlie was the worst division commander in the entire army.

Edited to Add: Meade had good reason not to send in the USCTs first. If they had failed Meade, Grant, and Lincoln would have been absolutely massacred by the Democratic press just months before a Presidential Election. They would have had a field day. It wasn't a risk worth taking.
 
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bschulte

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 31, 2005
When I was down there I was told the Confederates new there was digging and sunk some holes and just didn’t locate them in time.
They absolutely knew digging was going on and had multiple countermines going in front of multiple salients. They just didn't dig deep enough quickly enough. In addition, the Confederates had multiple mines of their own moving towards the Union lines. On August 5, they sprung one, but it was something like 40 yards short of the main Union line.
 

R. Porter

Private
Joined
Oct 6, 2020
Similar mining operations were conducted in WW1. With good, or mediocre, results, depending on the exploitation of success.
I was thinking of those WWI mines myself. As I recall, they didn't all blow up like they were supposed to and decades later at least one exploded during a thunderstorm in the middle of the night in the middle of a farmer's field. The farmer was lucky he hadn't built his house over it.
 

R. Porter

Private
Joined
Oct 6, 2020
The USCT regiments that had drilled & practiced for the operation were pulled out by Meade. His exact reasoning involved worries over the political blowback of the assault was a failure. In one of the colossal command failures of the war, Burnside did not standup for his people. Instead, he knuckled to Meade & then drew straws for who would replace the carefully prepared USCT’s.

The man who drew the short straw was drunk & cowered under cover during the assault on FT Sanders in Knoxville TN. His reputation was no secret. A similar situation occurred at Franklin where an officer filled with liquid courage cost a lot of good men their lives. The tolerance for drunken incompetence during the CW always mystifies me.

Had the UDCT’s been allowed to lead the attack, they would have passed on either side of the crater turning both flanks. The follow on regiments would have penetrated, preventing the establishment of a second line. The potential for that rarest of CW events, an actual breakthrough of an entrenched position. What if’s are filled with unknowables, so what would have followed is anybody’s guess.

On a purely personal level, I am fortunate that the tragedy played out as it did. My wife’s forefather was on the flank of the crater, a private in the 3rd Georgia Infantry. I don’t know what I would have done with myself the last 30 years had the USCT’s swarmed over the 3rd’s flank.
My father's side of the family has a story of two boys who were lieutenants in the Confederate army and who were killed at the Battle of the Crater. I've tried to document the story but I just haven't found anything that fits what I have been told. I suspect that the best bet is that they were in a home guard unit from Portsmouth, VA, made up of old men and boys. I haven't found a roster for the unit or any discussion of who was in it. Apparently this unit did some actual fighting and proved itself in the eyes of the veterans in the regular army units. So, in my case the relatives, who were not direct ancestors, were killed in the fighting but it had no effect on me.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I was thinking of those WWI mines myself. As I recall, they didn't all blow up like they were supposed to and decades later at least one exploded during a thunderstorm in the middle of the night in the middle of a farmer's field. The farmer was lucky he hadn't built his house over it.
That was in 1955. The mine was “lost” along with others. The series of mines that were detonated on the first day of the Battle the Somme were the loudest non - nuclear explosions ever. Utterly grotesque.
 

bschulte

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 31, 2005
My father's side of the family has a story of two boys who were lieutenants in the Confederate army and who were killed at the Battle of the Crater. I've tried to document the story but I just haven't found anything that fits what I have been told. I suspect that the best bet is that they were in a home guard unit from Portsmouth, VA, made up of old men and boys. I haven't found a roster for the unit or any discussion of who was in it. Apparently this unit did some actual fighting and proved itself in the eyes of the veterans in the regular army units. So, in my case the relatives, who were not direct ancestors, were killed in the fighting but it had no effect on me.
As far as I know, there were no home guard units anywhere near the fighting on July 30. Do you have names? If they were from Virginia, they would have likely been in either Mahone's Brigade or Wise's Brigade. Both Virginia brigades were present.
 

R. Porter

Private
Joined
Oct 6, 2020
As far as I know, there were no home guard units anywhere near the fighting on July 30. Do you have names? If they were from Virginia, they would have likely been in either Mahone's Brigade or Wise's Brigade. Both Virginia brigades were present.
From what I remember from the VA regimental history series volume on the Battle of the Crater, the home guard unit was under the command of Col David A. Weisiger and came up from Portsmouth, VA. There was no roster for the unit. I don't know when it formed or what it was called, I'll have to go back and find the book again. It was the only place I saw that mentioned the unit, if I am recalling correctly. The two individuals were named Willie and Charlie Jones. They were supposed to be brothers and lieutenants in the Confederate army. They were also supposed to be named on a monument. So far I haven't found a monument or a unit roster with those two names together even if you ignore the rank. What I have found suggests two cousins who would have been about 15 and 16 at the time but there is no information connecting these cousins to the Confederate army, the Civil War, or even to our family line. I'd have to double check on that last item about evidence that they were connected to the family line. It was a while ago that I last did some research and I don't remember exactly what I decided on that.

I did come across a really good book on the battle, but I can't remember the title or author. I think I have it somewhere but I might have given it to my son to read a few years ago when I finished with it. I was very impressed because it discussed things about the military and actual behaviors during battle that were enlightening about the War in general and not just tied to this specific engagement. I would recommend the book without reservation, if I could remember what it was. I was also able to find on line, I believe, a listing of all of the graves and monuments at Blandford Church, which was just up the hill from the crater and, I believe, an objective to be taken during the attack. I didn't find the two soldiers, but I did find some relatives on my mother's side. One of them helped establish the church. I also found the information on the Confederate memorial in Portsmouth that was supposed to list every son of Portsmouth who died during the War, but I couldn't confirm their presence on that either. It might help if they had been older and had more unique names.
 

bschulte

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 31, 2005
From what I remember from the VA regimental history series volume on the Battle of the Crater, the home guard unit was under the command of Col David A. Weisiger and came up from Portsmouth, VA. There was no roster for the unit. I don't know when it formed or what it was called, I'll have to go back and find the book again. It was the only place I saw that mentioned the unit, if I am recalling correctly. The two individuals were named Willie and Charlie Jones. They were supposed to be brothers and lieutenants in the Confederate army. They were also supposed to be named on a monument. So far I haven't found a monument or a unit roster with those two names together even if you ignore the rank. What I have found suggests two cousins who would have been about 15 and 16 at the time but there is no information connecting these cousins to the Confederate army, the Civil War, or even to our family line. I'd have to double check on that last item about evidence that they were connected to the family line. It was a while ago that I last did some research and I don't remember exactly what I decided on that.

I did come across a really good book on the battle, but I can't remember the title or author. I think I have it somewhere but I might have given it to my son to read a few years ago when I finished with it. I was very impressed because it discussed things about the military and actual behaviors during battle that were enlightening about the War in general and not just tied to this specific engagement. I would recommend the book without reservation, if I could remember what it was. I was also able to find on line, I believe, a listing of all of the graves and monuments at Blandford Church, which was just up the hill from the crater and, I believe, an objective to be taken during the attack. I didn't find the two soldiers, but I did find some relatives on my mother's side. One of them helped establish the church. I also found the information on the Confederate memorial in Portsmouth that was supposed to list every son of Portsmouth who died during the War, but I couldn't confirm their presence on that either. It might help if they had been older and had more unique names.
Weisiger commanded Mahone's Brigade at the Battle of the Crater. He was the first colonel of the 12th Virginia Infantry, and some former militia units made up portions of that regiment. The 12th Virginia was part of Mahone's Brigade at the Crater. I'd start by looking at the roster of the 12th Virginia to try to find these men. If that doesn't work, I'd look at the rosters for the rest of Mahone's Brigade:

6th Virginia Infantry

12th Virginia Infantry

16th Virginia Infantry

41st Virginia Infantry

61st Virginia Infantry
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
We know the operation was botched with horrible result for the soldiers engaged. My question is was the op a good idea or a bad idea . Didn't success depend on the confederate not detecting the mining and then counter mining.

When I first read about the Battle of the Crater and visited there, it seemed like a bizarre, hare-brained scheme. Maybe it was, but lately I've read about mining as an aspect of siege warfare in the 17th through 19th centuries. Now I see references to military mining even going back to the ancient Assyrians. I assume this tradition would have been known by academy-trained officers. I've read also about the employment of mining and counter-mining at Vicksburg, but it sounds as if overall it wasn't used much during the Civil War. Maybe it would have only been likely attempted at a longer-term siege?

Roy B.
 
Joined
Jun 27, 2017
There is plenty of blame to go around. Burnside. The drunk Colonel laying in bed as his troops attacked willly nilly. But as I understand it both Grant and Meade were on the battlefield. Saw what was happening and neither intervened. To do so would violate chain of command. IF SO there is not a place in Hell hot enough for either of them.

I know that military procedure regards chain of command as inviolate. To breach it is to invite chaos. However to stand by and let neglect result in needless casualties while simultaneously allowing defeat to snatch victory out of clueless attacking soldiers was criminal.
 
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