Battle of the Crater, a “Stupendous” Union Failure

July 25, 1864/2014
Volume 5, Issue 30 (198 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

The Battle of the Crater, a “Stupendous” Union Failure, Featured in the 2003 Movie Cold Mountain

July 30, 1864. In an effort to break the Confederate defenses at Petersburg, Virginia, soldiers from the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Regiment, which included many coal miners, suggested an audacious plan. They dug a 511-foot tunnel from their lines to beneath the Southern trenches, rigged them with 8,000 pounds of powder, and, at 4:45 A.M. on July 30, blew a hole in the defensive line, killing about 300 Confederates. However, the attack turned into a disaster when Northern troops charging into the breach moved directly into the deep and steep-sided crater made by the massive explosion, instead of advancing around it. Confederate forces fired down on the trapped soldiers, targeting African American soldiers in particular.

Grant called it a “stupendous failure”; it cost him nearly 3,800 men, compared with about 1,500 Confederate casualties. Someone had to take the blame, and in this case it was Ambrose Burnside, the former commander of the Army of the Potomac who had then given good service as a commander in Tennessee; this ended his military career.

The popular 2003 movie Cold Mountain, based on the bestselling novel by Charles Frazier and starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger, includes a reenactment of the Battle of the Crater.

Scene of the explosion, Saturday, July 30th by Alfred R Waud, courtesy Library of Congress

Scene of the explosion, Saturday, July 30th by Alfred R Waud, courtesy Library of Congress

– Submitted by Vermont Humanities Council executive director Peter A. Gilbert


Pro-Confederate Press in the North Says It’s Lincoln Who’s Assaulting the Government

Northern Democrat C. Chauncey Burr edited a pro-slavery, pro-secession monthly magazine titled The Old Guard and published in New York City. He typically defended slavery and attacked Lincoln in his editorials as in this one published in early August 1864.

Are we not tired of hearing so much about “supporting the government,” “resisting the government,” “destroying the government,” and a great deal of like nonsense? Who resists the government? Before we can answer that question, it is important to settle the matter as to who is the government. Mr. Lincoln is not the government. Congress is not the government. The Supreme Court is not the government. All these united do not form the governing power of our country. Under our system The People is the government; and the President, the Congress, and the Supreme Court, are only official agents to execute the will of the sovereign people, or to administer their laws under carefully guarded Constitutional limitations. All of Mr. Lincoln’s usurpations are assaults upon the government. He is the guilty party, who is opposing, and seeking to destroy the government! . . . If we take sovereignty from the people of America, there is nothing left of our government. . . . So if it be true, as these noisy imbeciles declare, that those who are opposing, and trying to destroy our government, ought to be hanged, Mr. Lincoln’s neck is the one to which they must fit their halter. He is the traitor who is opposing the government established by the people of the United States.

SOURCE

Sheehan-Dean, Aaron, ed. The Civil War: The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It. New York: The Library of America, 2014, 295-296.

INTERESTING LINKS

The Old Guard, Cornell University Library

– Submitted by Dwight T. Pitcaithley, New Mexico State University

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1864

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