The Crater at Vicksburg

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#1
Image1.jpg
Illustration by Frederic B. Schell for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper




So I've been doing some reading recently, and I stumbled upon something I had completely forgotten about. During the siege of Vicksburg, much like would happen at Petersburg later, the besiegers dug a tunnel and blew a huge crater beneath the 3rd Louisiana Redan. Though the first assaults were repulsed, it seems that the engineers were doing a creditable job of widening the breach to allow an attack to follow up the crater and create even more breaches in the line.

As a general question, what is different about this crater attack from Vicksburg and the one at Petersburg? Was this kind of operation doomed to fail?
 
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ucvrelics

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#2
One of the things that has always amazed me the effort that had to be put into even getting to point where you could tunnel under the 3rd La position. "Logan's Approach" as it was called was a major undertaking just to get to the base of the hill.
1551723821524.png
 

James N.

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Vicksburg 007.jpg


It's hard to make much sense of this, but the view is looking generally toward the Union line and what was called Logan's Approach (because it was units from John Logan's Corps that were holding this part of the Federal siege works) along the Jackson Road (the unpaved road at right). The tunnel ran parallel to the road from the ravine full of trees and brush (not there in 1863!) where it started to a point to the left just out of this photo where it exploded. The buildings visible in the distance are the Illinois State Monument in the form of a Grecian temple and the wartime Shirley House at right. The house sits on the edge of another deep ravine where Union troops dug into the hillside to build "bombproof" dugouts. Note the extreme closeness of the lines here - all the cannon mark Confederate battery positions aimed into the Union works from this slight elevation. The many small monuments are dedicated to brigade commanders of both sides, while the NPS tablets mark unit positions.
 
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Irishtom29

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#4
As a general question, what is different about this crater attack from Vicksburg and the one at Petersburg? Was this kind of operation doomed to fail?
Mining was often successful, going back to ancient times when the besiegers would dig under a wall then burn the props in the mine holding the wall up, thus collapsing the wall. Around 1500 an enterprising Spaniard came up with the idea of putting gunpowder in the mine and blowing it up.
 

AUG

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I have a few threads on the Vicksburg Crater:
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/map-of-approaches-to-the-vicksburg-mine.118810/
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/accounts-of-the-vicksburg-crater.152587/

In comparison to the one at Petersburg everything was on a much smaller scale, from the mine, the crater and the infantry assault. The first mine was detonated on June 25, followed by the attack, the Federal troops trying to hold their position inside the crater throughout the day. Then a second mine was detonated on July 1 but without an assault.

As posted in that first thread, this is a map of the approach, or sap, running up to the 3rd Louisiana Redan. Capt. Andrew Hickenlooper, chief engineer of Gen. McPherson's XVII Corps, was in charge of the operation.
jp2-py-jpg.jpg


This is a good illustration of the attack by Frederic B. Schell for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, who was actually there to witness it. The lines were even closer than at Petersburg, the Federal troops having sapped right up to the foot of the redan. Even after the initial attack was repulsed both sides were still dug in only feet away from each other. The Confederates holding the position were in a pretty desperate situation there right before the surrender, and another, much larger assault probably could have overrun the position after the mine explosions.
vicksburg-crater-jpg.jpg
 

James N.

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#6
Notice the location at the bottom of the map of the Shirley House, the only wartime structure remaining within the boundary of the park:
DSC01681.JPG


These Union guns are part of Union Battery Hickenlooper on the map:
Vicksburg 004.jpg


There are four cannon in this photo; it can't be seen from this angle but the Jackson Road is in a declivity between the two farthest guns:
Vicksburg 005.jpg


The entrance to the mine is in the ravine between these cannon and the Confederate lines.
 
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#10
The main difference is between the sizes of the Vicksburg and Petersburg mines. The Vicksburg mine gallery was about 45 feet, with branches running an additional 15 feet: the Petersburg mine was 511 feet long, with 75 feet of galleries to hold the powder. The Petersburg mine was so much longer that it required an ingenious ventilation system: conventional wisdom said that air shafts would have been necessary, but Colonel Pleasants devised a system that used fire to circulate air and did not require ventilation shafts between the trench lines. The Vicksburg mine used 2200 pounds of powder: the Petersburg mine 8000 pounds.

The sizes of the assaulting forces were also very different. The Vicksburg assaulting force consisted of parts of two regiments: the Petersburg force consisted of three divisions.

The Vicksburg mine was similar to those that had been used in siege warfare for centuries. The Petersburg mine was an unprecedented engineering achievement.
 

John S. Carter

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#11
View attachment 295292

It's hard to make much sense of this, but the view is looking generally toward the Union line and what was called Logan's Approach (because it was units from John Logan's Corps that were holding this part of the Federal siege works) along the Jackson Road (the unpaved road at right). The tunnel ran parallel to the road from the ravine full of trees and brush (not there in 1863!) where it started to a point to the left just out of this photo where it exploded. The buildings visible in the distance are the Illinois State Monument in the form of a Grecian temple and the wartime Shirley House at right. The house sits on the edge of another deep ravine where Union troops dug into the hillside to build "bombproof" dugouts. Note the extreme closeness of the lines here - all the cannon mark Confederate battery positions aimed into the Union works from this slight elevation. The many small monuments are dedicated to brigade commanders of both sides, while the NPS tablets mark unit positions.
You have to give the Yanks credit ,they had some very good miners .
 
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#14
Tunneling in loess soils would be much easier than in clay based soils. The digging would take less effort and the excavated area much less prone to caving in. The Chinese dug homes into the loess bluffs near the Yangtze River. Loess soils also occur within the hills and bluffs along the eastern side of the Missouri River bottoms from Kansas City northward to about Council Bluffs. The farmers in northwest Missouri call it 'sugar clay'. These wind blown soils tend to erode near vertically and hold their structure for many years.
 

Tompre

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#15
Tunneling in loess soils would be much easier than in clay based soils. The digging would take less effort and the excavated area much less prone to caving in. The Chinese dug homes into the loess bluffs near the Yangtze River. Loess soils also occur within the hills and bluffs along the eastern side of the Missouri River bottoms from Kansas City northward to about Council Bluffs. The farmers in northwest Missouri call it 'sugar clay'. These wind blown soils tend to erode near vertically and hold their structure for many years.
Easier for digging cannonballs too.
 

John S. Carter

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#16
Notice the location at the bottom of the map of the Shirley House, the only wartime structure remaining within the boundary of the park:
View attachment 295304

These Union guns are part of Union Battery Hickenlooper on the map:
View attachment 295305

There are four cannon in this photo; it can't be seen from this angle but the Jackson Road is in a declivity between the two farthest guns:
View attachment 295306

The entrance to the mine is in the ravine between these cannon and the Confederate lines.
Was the explosion here as effective as the one at Cold Harbor's turkey shot ?
 

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