A Campaign of Giants: The Battle for Petersburg


Welcome to the witnessing history. Education foundation podcast educating Americans to understand the history of their country and of other countries. So that they will appreciate the value of America's unique free institutions. Become an American hero. Who participates in our mission by joining us at witnessing history dot org. Download our documentaries and free teacher education materials that conform to grade level education standards at PBS learning dot org. Follow witnessing history on Facebook, Twitter and linked in. Today. Kent Masterson Brown is joined by a Wilson green author of a campaign of giants. The battle for Petersburg volume. One from the crossing of the James to the crater William marvel is an author of many books on the civil war, including Lee's retreat from Petersburg to APPA Matic's. He says I think it is safe to say that a Wilson green knows more about the Petersberg campaign than any other living person. And now let Kent Masterson Brown and a Wilson green take you on a journey to the campaign of Petersburg Virginia. Eighteen sixty four. And now let Kent Masterson Brown. Take you on a journey through American history. Well, we'll welcome. It's good to see you again. It's good to be here. Can thanks for inviting me? Well, you've been introduced as someone who knows more about the Petersberg campaign than any living person of dead. I'm sure much more about Petersburg than I do. Appreciate attack. Well, I'll call Bill marvel after this and all asking exactly what he meant by that. But no, it's really great to see you again and welcome to to our podcast here. You're you've just written the first volume of a campaign for giants of giants on the battle of Petersburg, and your this is a projected three volume work of yours. That's correct. And first of all, let me tell you. And let me tell all our listeners. What a tremendous work. It is and how well it reads. And how engrossing it is. Thank you to to read. And I totally recommend to our our public that they pick up a copy of your book. It's terrific. And these are things that have not been really well written about for well forever. And. And you're putting the whole thing together in a in a massive piece at work and congratulations. Thanks terrific. Absolutely terrific. Let me start by asking you will some of our listeners may know a lot about Petersburg some of made. No, very little give us kind of a synopsis of this campaign short short as you can go. But I mean, a synopsis of it. Well, the Petersburg campaign lasted two hundred ninety two days. So depending on how you judge the length of a campaign of the civil war. You could make the argument it was the longest continuous campaign of the entire war. It was focused around the second largest city in Virginia and the seventh largest city in the confederacy Petersburg, which got its importance in the war as a communications and transportation center. Five railroad. Cbs entered into Petersburg and four of them were integral to the supply of the army of northern Virginia and the capitol at Richmond, and when General Grant and his army of the Potomac along with general Butler and the army of the James in general, Meade course, command of the army of the Potomac ahead intended to focus on Richmond at the beginning of the spring of eighteen sixty four but didn't that bloody overland campaign? They were not able to either destroy the army of northern Virginia or capture the confederate capital Richmond in. So grant made his decision to focus on the transportation and communication center. Twenty three miles south of Richmond. Petersburg and the campaign involved nine separate union offensives couple of confederate offenses initially grant hoped be able to bowl his way into. Petersburg, the first three offensives had some kind of attempt to attack confederate fortifications and break into Petersburg all of those offenses failed. And so the fourth through eighth offensives were designed to cut off one by one moving east to west the transportation arteries leading into Petersburg, and then entertainment. It was not until the final offensive on April. Second eighteen sixty five that grant reverted to frontal assaults that of course, were successful that day and lead in a week the surrender of Lee's army at app Maddox courthouse, basically just wore them down of the confederate army. I mean, think of the days and months in those trenches. Well, it that is that is I think I would agree with you to a large extent. But one. The reasons you mentioned at the top of the show that Petersburg is not as well known many people who studied the civil wars other campaigns. And I think part of the reason is that it is too often portrayed as a static operation of trench warfare in which really nothing much happened except the armies suffered in these unspeakable trenches. There were a couple of exceptions the battle of the crater we've all heard about and then he boiled author seem to jump to the battle of five forks on April first eighteen sixty five and there really wasn't any strategy. There wasn't any operational complexity to this. It was just as boring World War One ish trench campaign. And and my contention is that there was a lot more Roche shoe action at Petersburg that is of interest to people who want to study the operations of civil war. Armies than is generally accepted now. Yeah, I me ask you will in terms of the supply. Why? And I'm thinking here mostly of Lee's army. How was that accomplished? And in if it obviously it was to some degree. But. Tell tell us what you know about that how he is being supplied. It's always been interesting to me. Well, it is. And of course, you're a master at explaining logistics of the civil war extremely important aspect of the military operations one that's often overlooked by by authors Lee, dependent on railroads like also or generals dead. There were three roads that he was interested in one was the railroad leading in from the Shenandoah valley that went to Richmond did not go to Petersburg, the second was another railroad that bypassed Petersburg called the Richmond and danville railroad keenum from south West Virginia. But his most important rail line was the Petersburg railroad that ran from Petersburg, sixty miles south to Weldon North Carolina oftentimes in the literature. People will see it as the Weldon railroad. Real name was the Petersburg railroad, which connec. Acted at Weldon in northern North Carolina with the Weldon and Wilmington railroad, which ran to the only functioning Atlantic confederate port at Wilmington, North Carolina. That was a major supply line for Lee, not only four blockade runners, but also from the produce from every place from Georgia and Alabama all the way through the Carolinas. And one of grant's offensives the fourth offensive cut that railroad. But it didn't end the supply line because Lee was able to bring his supplies by rail up to a point about twenty three miles south of Petersburg at a place called stoney creek. And then offloaded they'll supplies onto wagons brought them across country and indepedence Berg and then on the railroad from Petersburg to Richmond. But they were major logistical challenges. And grant understood this, of course, an attempted on several occasions to operate. Extensive cavalry raids designed to destroy those rail lines interdict that I mean, I is cut it off could cut it off the army dies. I mean, that's always been a source of fascination for me is how you keep an army fed, and how do you keep its animals fed? And because you know, we're we're in horse country here and a horse, you know, in in the army rigs regulations, it's fourteen pounds of oats and fourteen pounds of. Hey, a day per animal is what the armor, which takes something like sixty tons of supplies a day to sustain a civil war. Army in the field sixty tonnes a day. It's marketable logistical challenge. Yeah. And the army of northern Virginia suffered I would say incrementally. And also. Not in a continuous way. As the standard interpretation at Petersburg and said, the confederate army was starving and barefoot I think that's an exaggeration. Now. We're there periods of time. When particular units were not getting sufficient supplies. Absolutely. But it varied from unit to unit and it varied from time to time and Lee and his logistical officers is exciting John became new man in charge of logistical supplies for the army and the winter of eighteen sixty five did a much better job than his predecessor did in keeping the army of northern Virginia viable. Yeah. Our member well in our to get onto a more direct encounter between these two armies at Petersburg. I remember in in research. I was doing for George Meade that a the assistant coach. Master general road a report that I found in the papers of the quartermaster general in the national archives or he talked about the army of the Potomac in the overland campaign and on the brink of the Petersburg campaign, and how blood for the fact that there was a crops growing in Pennsylvania eastern, Pennsylvania, southern Pennsylvania and Maryland in their rear in the midsummer. The army would have been without anything, and they were relying on the grass to keep the animals of going, and I found what was interesting was that. Here's the army of the Potomac. You think is gonna be endless supplies. Yet even them. We're in trouble at times, the it's a it's really incredible. When you think about the supply situation for the union army's grants entire campaign from the wilderness to Petersburg was predicated on maintaining his supply line via water. He kept moving his supply line from tidal river title river when he left the orange in Alexandria road began the overland campaign out this was a vulnerable time because he had to move his supply line to the Rapahannock the Potomac river. I then as he moves out the ramp manic river and then to the York river and eventually to the James river where at Petersburg. He said up his logistical headquarters at city point, which became the busiest port in North America during the time the Petersberg campaign was being conducted. Being hundreds of ships coming and going every day. We have there's photographic evidence of it from the civil is as amazing the grant built a railroad behind his lines connecting city point with the front line. And just the the challenge of feeding all of those men and all of those animals was something that a competent general head to pay attention to much more often. Yeah. Then battle plans this. Exactly, right. It's like this. Exactly. Right. It's like you live in Chattanooga near Chattanooga. What Sherman did to Chattanooga to prepare his army for an advance into Georgia many turned Chattanooga into an industrial complex. Well. Absolutely. And and even before that what grant head due to lift the partial seeds of Chattanooga in the fall of eighteen sixty three opening the so-called cracker line. And we don't want to get involved all the. Mystics of the Chattanooga campaign. But but grant could not do anything at Chattanooga to relieve the siege. Until he established a reliable supply line that was mission number one. And it's always mission. Number one alarm. He's always always we, you know, one thing you do in your book is in this the first volume you've got out here as you ended at the crater, and I wanna talk a little bit about the battle of the crater. And a lot of people have heard about it. Some people know great deal. You are the one of the living historians, you're the one tell set the stage for the fighting the crater, well, the the crater resulted from action that began at the conclusion of grants, I offense of Petersburg, June fifteenth eighteenth battles and on the end of the day on the eighteenth, the fifth and ninth corps of the army of the Potomac approached the confederate line very closely. Only about. Two hundred hundred fifty to two hundred yards from the confederate forts, but they could not breach those force. They could not actually attack them in break the confederate line, but they were very close and they did not retreat. A member of the forty eighth Pennsylvania, which had a number of coal miners from northeastern Pennsylvania in its ranks looked at that confederate for it. One hundred fifty yards away on top of a hill and said, you know, if we could run a mine shaft underground beneath that fort and put powder, and we could blow it to hell, and that was the Genesis of the idea the commander of the brigade in which the forty eighth Pennsylvania served. It was the former commander of the forty eighth Pennsylvania was a man name Henry Pleasants who was a an established and esteemed mining engineer prior to the war. So he saw the feasibility of this concept and got permission from his superiors, including general Burnside. The core commander who N went to general Meade the army commander Meade and his. As engineering officer were skeptical of this can't on that the distance between where the mind would have to begin order to maintain secrecy and the confederate for it was just too long to ventilate among other challenges and more to keep the ninth corps fellows, busy than to expect anything really to come of it bead and his headquarters staff gave their permission, but not necessarily a lot of active support to the mining from. Interestingly over here in Lexington Kentucky and the forty eighth Pennsylvania. Get was garrisoned here occupied the grounds near Transylvania university. And there are four burials and our Lexington cemetery of members of the forty eighth Pennsylvania. Well, I read a letter the other day from a soldier who said that they referred to the ninth corps as burnside's geography class. I never heard that before. But he said, that's what they called the ninth corps because it had moved around everywhere from the east to Vicksburg and Kentucky's natty in. It's traveling. Oh, it really did the traveling ninth the wandering ninth. Well, let's go to June twenty fifth. This is where the mine operation begins kind of tell the our listeners what kind of issues Pleasants faced Colonel Pleasants faced in even constructing this thing. Well, the first job he had was to figure out how to align the mind, and he realized that doing so would be very dangerous when he was first assessing the feasibility of this he and one of his staff officers peak their heads up above the ravine in which the ninth corps was concealed. And Steph officer was shot in the head. And as a result. Sort of this. And so he realized that confederate marksman would shoot at anybody who appeared above the lip of that ravine, and so Pleasants had to acquire an old fashioned instrument Theodora light there was one at army headquarters, but the engineered army headquarters James Duane who did not like general Burnside decided that he wasn't alone. He had other uses for that the alight. So burns I was able to get an old fashioned one which is like a transit and Pleasants head to literally put a burlap sack on his head decorated with some Saad to make it look like turt-, and he brought three or four of his staff officers with him who he positioned about ten feet or fifteen feet away from him who then raised their kept. He's on the tips of their bayonets to attract the attention of confederate marksman, and as they confederates were shooting at those kept. He's. Pleasants peaked up over the ravine with his burlap hat and took readings and was able to actually align his mind. So that would go underneath the fort. But he had Kenny had lots of other challenges. He had to figure out a way to ventilate the shaft he had to figure out a way to hide the excavated dirt. So the confederates wouldn't see that mining was going on he had to obtain would for shoring and all of these logistical problems, which he was able to overcome the one thing he didn't do particularly. Well, and this is understandable. And not really a criticism was despite his admonitions to keep this operation secret. Of course, word got out, and he could not prevent these thousands of union soldiers who are aware either directly or by rumor of mining. Yeah. That. It was going on. Yeah. How how long did this was the shaft in? It was it was the the shaft itself was five hundred and ten feet eight inches long. And then he had a construct to thirty seven and a half foot long lateral galleries that branched off like a big wide v from the end of the tunnel underneath the confederate fort in which the black powder would be placed that would be the explosive. So all together, what is this seventy five almost five hundred and what eighty six feet of excavation in order to get this done. The tunnel was about four and a half feet high about four feet wide at the base may be two and a half feet wide at the top. I think someone once calculated the amount of earth number of cubic yards of earth at were that we're excavated. I can't recall the figure, but it was a massive amount. And these fellows. I had to take all the dirt out and they bring up hard cat hard tack boxes than they put handles on them and there'd be three minors. Can't it would go in one would have a pick that Pleasants head adapted for use inside the tunnel who had actually excavate the dirt the second fellow would take the dirt and put it in the box. The third fellow would pick up the box and take it out and the Selva work in two hour shifts. They would come out looking like, they said Brown gophers, and they'd all be given a Gill of whiskey as reward for their for their work and the forty eighth Pennsylvania. Did the excavating exclusively they were the only unit that did it. Yeah. Had there ever been a mind that extensive done. No there had not. And this was the origin of major Dwayne skepticism about Wayne the engineer at the army of the Potomac was actually the author. of the manual on. How to mine? Your listeners need to understand that. There wasn't anything particularly innovative about the strategy of mining underneath an enemy position it had been done for centuries. And in fact, grant, head on this at Vicksburg the previous year. So the idea of a mine was not unique or innovative. But the excavation of of that length five hundred ten feet was unique. And the problem was ventilating that much air without the confederates finding out about tell tell our listeners about the ventilation of this Speedo is based on principles that pleasant said used in civilian mining and Pennsylvania, very basic stuff. Can you get a locked in a room for ten weeks? And I never would have come up with. But it was based on the principle of hot air rises. And what he did was as I say you'd have to see the ground which is well preserved, and you can still understand how the mining went by visiting the site, but the mouth of the mine was down in this ravine that was not visible from the confederates on top of the hill. And as he dug his mind, I maybe forty fifty feet he would get underneath the lip of that ravine in just inside the top of that ravine. So it wasn't visible Pleasants. Doug vertical shaft was a little over twenty feet. Deep down into the base of the mine at the bottom of that shaft. He had a great in which he kept a fire going, and then he rigged up a wooden duct or pipe that connected. The end of the digging with the outside of the mine, which he closed off with an airtight Candice door. And so as the fire burned it would draw the bad air out hot air rises out the shaft like a chimney and the vacuum. Then be created in that air would be replaced by fresh air coming in through the duct. Now, a couple of things puzzle me about this that I've never seen an explanation for one thing in particular was of course, these fellas had to come and goal the time in and out of that. Time. So they had to remove the canvas door and replace it every time they did. So which I would have thought would have interfered with this airflow, but nowhere as does anyone mentioned in the literature any real problems with the quality of the air. Now, I'm sure that if you and I had been at the end of that shaft, we would have found it almost suffocating and claustrophobic I wouldn't have gone unpleasant. But obviously it was sufficiently efficient to sustain life and have these guys keep working. Yeah. And how long did it take until this thing was ready three weeks three weeks? He finished the shaft and on July seventeenth started on on June twenty fifth so just a little over three weeks. And then he dug those lateral galleries that took a few more days. And then when the powder arrived for C prefabricated all of the wooden Ellum. Of this outside of the mine, and then disassembled it and brought it into the mind, and then reassembled it, and he had the build eight a hoppers, which were basically square boxes at the bottom with a funnel like device fixed on top. And that's where the black powder would be poured in and he got eight thousand pounds of explosive powder that came in twenty five pound kids. And so some poor guy's head to get rigged up with like, a an oxen yoke, they put around her shoulders with two little bags on either side in which these twenty five pound wooden kings of powder were placed and his fellas. Head to bend over and walk. More than five hundred feet in this confined space with fifty pounds of black powder on their person through shaft that was eliminated by candle. So that took a few Kahane's. I should say, you know, in a period of only ten or twelve hours, they were able to charge all of the hoppers those eight thousand pounds powder, and then they acquired regular fuse which came in short lengths and so pleasant head to splice them together. It was about ninety eight feet fuse, which they connected to the hoppers that ran back from the lateral galleries. And then the last thing he did was to tamp the mentoring. It's the junction of the tunnel. Lateral galleries aren't with sandbags and logs. So that when the explosion occurred, the tampering would prevent it from going back down the tunnel. Instead, make sure that went up and by July. Twenty-seventh this operation was completely finished. And ready to go before we light the fuse fuses. Tell me tell the our listeners about where this this whole operation is at grant's headquarters. He's he's basically the boss here. Although meat is commanding the army the Potomac but still the final decisions going to be with grant. Where is grant? I mean is he on board with this grant and meet are on the same page in this Kent in in in which they have skepticism not so much about the technical ability of Pleasants to build this mine, but the efficacy of a an attack subsequent to the explosion, both meet and grant were skeptical that anything would come of this because of the nature of the confederate defense. Yeah. Grant was not thinking that the mine was central to his planning for what we call the third offensive Petersburg, instead grant relied on an operation that would go across the James river around June twenty second the federal army had established a bridgehead on the north side of the James river at a place called deep bottom. There was a brigade of federal soldiers that held that little beachhead. And so grants idea was to send the entire second corps when field Scott handcocks core. Arguably the best core in his army along with Phil Sheridan's cavalry. And this operation was designed for Sheridan getting back to railroads to go and break erodes leading into Richmond from the north and the west, and maybe maybe handcock could be successful in breaching the confederate defenses north of the James and inner Richmond itself. Burnside's mine was an afterthought. In fact, grant just said told me day while just have him explode the mine anyway, without anything happening flim this operation on the north side of the James it's known in civil history as I the bottom failed, but it did succeed in drawing all but three of the confederate infantry divisions at Petersburg until the north side of. The james. And so it is on July twenty eight that grant says neces- will plan a was a fizzle. But you know, now, we have plan B, and they're not that many confederates Petersburg anymore. Maybe this darn thing will work bead. Let's make it hap-. So that's where the grant, you know, who I admire in many ways, I think that grant was clearly if not the best general on the union side, one of the best generals. I'm not an anti grant fellow at all. But like almost all civil war figures embellishes in his memoirs, and he will say that this was his ideal all memoirs and most stories of picked up on this. They call deep bottom diversion. You. Gotta be careful with grant's memoirs. That's really, really. But it worked out that way. It was a happy coincidence that this happened. And so really at the eleventh hour Meade is charged with responsibility of making this darn thing happened, not only exploding the mine, but then executing burnside's plan for an attack. Yeah. Well, you know grant had seen this this similar thing happened at Vicksburg the previous year and a detonated mine underneath the third Louisiana Redan and tried to pour. Poor John Logan's division through there. And it got bogged down and then a counter attack, and it was a bloody mess and failed. So I mean he'd seen this before you gotta you gotta think in your head that this is rolling around in his brain going. Well, I don't know this. I've seen this happen before. And it didn't work then I don't know why was gonna work now. But you know, when he runs out of options, and you know, you can only you look at debottling and see the failure. There is gotta fullback somewhere, and it and it did work to extend this the the point is that the deep bottom operation did draw. Again, the jury of the federal infantry over to the north side of the James. So the only distinction I wanna make is that that was not grants original intention, but it worked out that way. So now, the confederates have two infantry divisions on the eastern front, and then one infantry division, Mahomes infantry division extending to the west of a of a road leading into Petersburg called the Jerusalem plank road, and that's all and that's all they've got. So now, hey, maybe this darn thing will work, and again, I must so sure that grant was skeptical about. The explosion coming off. I think he and Mead. We're skeptical that once the explosion occurred, they didn't have the chance to exploit it at the confederate defenses will be too strong. Yeah. But now the confederate defenses were week who were weaker. So I in my opinion, it's just an opinion. But I I think that this operation had every chance of being successful exempt for the way it was planned. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Before we get into exploding. This do this very shortly. To do this in short order. Let's let's talk just a very brave very briefly about the confederates who are over top this mind. This is Stephen Elliott's brigade. Yes. Stephen Elliott, who is a south Carolinian of some strong lineage. His gate had come up. They had spent most of the war in South Carolina around Charleston. They had been brought up in the spring of eighteen sixty four along with a number of other confederate units. As Lee was trying to bulk up defenses in Virginia, and they were part of Beauregard army general PG Tibo regard was in command of the department of North Carolina and southern Virginia by June eighteenth. He was functioning essentially as a corps commander under leave are. But there was Li was respectful of Bora guards position as a in independent. Army commander. And Elliott head of five South Carolina regiments of fifteen hundred men they protected in artillery battery commanded by name, Richard Peake room. Who was the cousin of the famous willy p willing confederate artillery for four Napoleon's? I believe we're in. We're in the Ford, and the Ford itself was somewhat is located in that this was part of Boll regards third defense line. The first line was compromised on June. Fifteenth second line was abandoned on the night of June seventeenth eighteenth and his third line was constructed. But it was done in the dark, and this salient is Elliott's p groom salient was actually located a little bit out in front of where it should have been. But the confederates did a great job of compensating for that misplace location by having artillery batteries on either side. Of Elliott's salient that could sweep the approaches to that apparently vulnerable fort. And this is why the union strategists said boy, no frontal attack is going to work here. Yeah. Because it would just be blasted by this flanking fire of confederate Tillery now the confederates there can't were. They had heard rumors about union mining and back the rumors were sufficiently credible to compel general Beauregard to send an engineer officer to not only PM salient, but to other salience, they didn't know where this reminding was going on they dug these counter mines looking for this reputed tunnel never found it and like all things in Uman endeavors when you suspect something is happening. But you don't find any evidence of it you begin to get skeptical? Yeah. And so I would say that there were very few confederate defenders that Ford who are aware they were about to be blown into heaven on that next morning July thirtieth now before he lights these fuses. Now has there been or or just explain what kind of a planning? There was to to launch the. Attack into this area. That's going to be blown up. Explain a little of that for. Well. Of course, now, this is certain to get into why this darn thing didn't work Burnside head for divisions. Three of them were compl- comprised of white troops. One was comprised of a combat innocent division of African American troops force division. Now burnside's three white divisions had been heavily involved in the attacks on June six seventeenth eighteenth. They had taken very severe casualties, and they were not in particularly great combat condition. And you could say that incidentally, about almost all of the the Potomac Ornette time, but the black vision had not been engaged in because of the bias against black troops and their commander and their officers were very eager to. To demonstrate their worth as soldiers and they were gung hole to make the attack. Consequently, Burnside designated them as the as the leaders now reputedly, your listeners will read general accounts of Petersburg, and they will read that the black troops had received extensive training for this unique operation, I'm not so sure the evidence sustains that they may have had some training, but I think you can exaggerate that a little bit. But the plan was for the black division to lead the assault to go on either side there were two brigades in this division. One. Brigade would go to the left of the hole created by the explosion one brigade we go to the right, and then they would both converge on high ground where Blandford church is located today. The soldiers call it cemetery hill, there was a big cemetery associated with the church, and that was the highest ground in the area. And theoretically if union. Infantry and artillery held at high ground. They would interdict almost the entire confederate defense line. Now, what would have happened from? There is speculative, and I can't tell you what would happen, but it would have been a much tougher day for the confederate army if that would have occurred. But at the eleventh hour on July twenty eighth when grant tells me, hey, let's do this mind thing. Now, the bottom is beneficial. Let students mind thing Burnside and meet have conference in meet tells burns, you can't use the black troops Burnside is upset by this. Why and meet explains will first of all they've never been in combat. Right. How can we trust these brand new soldiers? I mean, they was far as we know them. I just turn around and run away. And Secondly, if the attack is not successful in the black troops suffered terrible casualties. What is the press going to say they're going to say that all this emancipate, and we're fighting to end slavery. But we send these black troops into get slaughtered. We don't care about them politically. That's unacceptable. You have to use one of your white interesting. So politics do enter into this. Also, a military decision. Burnside hope said grant will. Overrule me. But grant, sustains Mead. And so literally around noon on July, the twenty ninth meet informs Burnside. Nope. You gotta pick somebody else up until this time Burnside has done just about everything right operation. But now he makes the mistake. He has to competent white division commanders commanders of white troops. I should say they're all the division commanders are white, and he has one who's awful who's drunk and coward and who has demonstrated his inability to lead troops instead of designated. One of those two competent white division commanders to lead the attack Burnside being genial fellow none of his commanders volunteering for this dangerous mission. He says, well guys, I'm not gonna make somebody do it. Let's just leave it up to chance the polls lots. And of course, the man who gets the short straw is. The word is the worst. His name is James Ledley. And so lead Lii is given responsibility for his division for leading the attack are K. And and he's gonna lead lead league's going to lead the attack. And then are the the the the two African American commands are going to be where where are their they're relegated to be in the last of the four divisions to make an attack. Okay. And they're very upset about. And so as their commander for real. Yeah. To make matters worth worst. Can't that that not only have they changed the leadership. But Ledley gives contrary orders to his brigade commanders rather than skirting the creator and heading for cemetery hill, which is burnside's plan. He tells us brigade commanders to skirt the creator and hold the ground subsequent divisions than will expand the breach and the black troops who will be fourth. To make the assault will be the ones to take cemetery hill. So you not only have the worst division commander in the army of the Potomac leading the attack with what? Eleven twelve hours of lead time, the fifteen hours of lead time the plan this, but he has given contrary orders. Yeah. So this is a formula for disaster. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So we're at three fifteen in the morning of July thirty tell us what happened. Well, the the explosion is supposed to take place at three thirty. Of course, the the ninth floor is poised to to make this assault. The fifth floor is on their left poise to follow up. Two divisions of the army of the James r to the right poise the follow up. Henry hunt has one hundred ten cannon fifty four mortars ready to open up on the confederates to keep down. Fire. And so everybody's at the edge of their seat. Mead has moved forward to burnside's old. Command post Burnside has moved forward to a position where he can see where the mine is going to explode. Colonel Pleasants and a fellow named Jacob dowdy on the forty eighth Pennsylvania. Enter the shaft go down four hundred feet late. Those ninety eight foot long fuses there's five of them for redundancy. They scramble back out of the tunnel on wait for the explosion. And wait wait for clock. Nothing happens grant rides forward to me. It says what the heck's going on? He says, I don't know. I'll tell burn IS Burnside burns as I don't know. Yeah. Grant Hill's Mead. Hey, if the thing doesn't explode till Burnside to attack anyway, which I think is incredibly reckless there. Well, Colonel Pleasants figures out that probably the fuse of burned out at a splice. So he endowed he'd go back into the mind. Yes, they burned out, but they forgot to bring any matches. So they went back out, and they came back in and they lit those fuses. And of course, they're much shorter now than they were orig-. Really? So they magin get out of that tunnel quickly and at four forty four A M this gigantic explosion occurs. How? And after after. I mean after it explodes. Then the the the infantry move right into the bridge pretty much so Burnside gets I think unfair criticism for being accused of not preparing for his troops to get out of the trenches to make the attack the evidence sustained that three hundred fifty two confederates are casualties immediately. As a result of the explosion. And then lead lead division goes forward. Not with Ledley, however, allegedly has sought succor from a bottle of medicinal liquor. He says he's suffering from the ill effects, bad water and has been slightly wounded and he needs some additional liquor. So he is hiding in a bomb proof shelter during the attack. The brigade commanders move. Forward. They see this incredible unprecedented. Mayhem created by. This explosion thirty foot deep hole hundred twenty six feet long, sixty some feet wide bodies all over the place half buried men. No leadership. And so they spend time extricating some of these poor confederates out of their graves, and then obeying their orders to hold the position. And they missed the window of opportunity could have changed the course of the Petersberg. So they they get finally get into the crater, and and what's the confederate response. Well, the confederates are disorganized for baby fifteen or twenty minutes. But then they do a pretty good job of recovering their wits and begin closing. The gaps is about a five hundred yard evacuated area of the confederate line explosion in its. Relative impact has created of five football field long gap in the confederate line, but the federals aren't moving forward and the confederates begin lobbing artillery shells at the crater area lobbing mortars at the crater. And as soon as Lee and Beauregard are informed of this event. Leeson's orders to general Mahone who has been his go to guy has been his shock troops located farthest away from the crater to take two of his brigades and to try to regain lost ground. So Mahone will surreptitiously have two or three guys at a time leave the front line. So they look like they're just going back to get water. He assembles about two thousand men Georgians Virginians, and they take a securities route that's invisible to the federals, and then they. Use ravines to get into a position about two to three hundred yards from the crater in order to launch their counter attack describe for our listeners. What what this looked like what happened? Well, the confederates this gets into the rather ugly aspect of of the creator of in in which there's a racial component. Now. The black division fourth division is the last to go forward. They do they do it with enthusiasm, and they actually go a little farther forward than any of the other white troops to not. I mean that talking twenty yards beyond the federal line or so, and he's confederate counter attackers are now made aware for the first time that they're going to be fighting black troops and their American soldiers would shout as they made their attack. No quarter remember for pill now, no quarter as your listeners know means. We're not gonna take prisoners. Yeah. We're going to kill you. And remember for pillow was a reference to a celebrated much publicized event in west Tennessee, April in which Nathan Bedford Forrest was accused of authorizing the slaughter of surrendered black soldiers in this fort on the Mississippi River, north of Memphis. It was conventional wisdom amongst confederate soldiers that there would be no quarter shown them by black troops. So you have this setup in which both sides believe that it is war to the death or two. And that's the mindset that the confederates go forward with well long story short these two confederate brigades make their assault of jillions go first, they recapture a large section of the line. Just north of the crater. The Georgia's come in. But their attack is rather disorganized. And they they are pretty much repulsed. So by noon, the confederates are in scon- near their old blown up lines to the north of the crater. Several thousand of these leaderless. Federal soldiers are in and around the crater itself without any real tactical organization Meade and grant have given up on the operation, and basically told Burnside get out of there done we're done. And so the temperature is hundred degrees. The confederates are lobbing mortar shells into the federal lines. So there's random mayhem the federals are stacking. Corpses of their own men and dead confederates as breast works against these confederate attackers. And Mahone has realized that by this time that his tuber Gaid's made gains, but they did not regain all lost ground. He needed more troops. And so he had some it is a third brigade of alabaman's commanded by very young former student at the university of Alabama named John C Sanders. Twenty four years old Sanders brings six hundred thirty two of his Alabama soldiers on the same securities route moans, I two brigades followed. They went into that ravine and at one o'clock the their orders to make an attack. Gosh almighty, what tell us keep keep keep going. Well, little for how I think, you know, we talk about leadership civil war is a great exemplar for how to lead people in one of the great things that Sanders and his officers did from a leadership standpoint was to employ psychology. And these fellows are sitting there looking at this chaos and mayhem in front of them. Generally in general Beauregard, I think incredibly head position themselves a little White House called the gay house. Just on the other side of the Jerusalem plank road, not five hundred yards from the crater, which I think is remarkably reckless on their part of your that close to the action here, but they're they're watching what's going on in Sanders in his officers. Tell these young Alabama boys in those five Alabama regiments that if they fail in their attack. The general Lee has volunteered to lead them to a second effort. Now, there's no evidence that Lee ever said that. No, no. But but knowing how devoted the army was generally in how the idea of pudding leeann position where he'd have to risk his life. Yeah. Because they failed. Yeah. Was tremendous motivator. Yeah. And so at one o'clock Sanders men go forward, and this is where some of the most brutal and horrifying hand to hand combat of the entire civil war takes place. Yeah. Yeah. And there is a a wholesale slaughter of the union troops. Particularly the black troops. The confederates. Are there's all sorts of evidence that I present in my book. There's no question that there was a calculated plan by the confederates to murder, surrendered confederate surrendered black union soldiers. And they did so. Impunity. And it didn't take all that long and Sanders. Head was able to regain the position with only about a thousand union survivors, left to surrender and credible. It's awful. Yeah. What? What would what would have been the total number of casualties on both sides still hard as you know from your own work. Can't you know casualty figures that are reported are are just estimates. Presented us as facts. But I found that. There's just no way that you can really know. Now, the federals reported three thousand seven hundred ninety eight casualties. I think there were many more than that. Yeah. Yeah. The the confederates lost sixteen hundred men more or less, which was almost the same percentage of troops engaged as the federals as they own the confederate only had three brigades involved in this in this battle. So the casualties were were very heavy particularly on the union side of about seventeen to eighteen percent of the soldiers engaged here. We're casualties, but amongst the black troops an interesting statistic was for most of the civil war the ratio of kill to wound in a battle would be about one killed for every four point eight men wounded at the crater for the black troops. It was one man killed for every one point eight men wounded which. It shows you that these wounded and surrendering relax olders were just murdered. And there's just so much evidence for this that it's just indisputable that this happened. And what to me is sad. And remarkable and begs questions is why did this happen and there were no repercussions. In fact, there's lots of evidence, and I was shocked frankly can't define us in doing research for this for this book, lots of evidence to indicate that everyone from southern civilians to newspaper editors to members of the army entirely approved of what happened now Mahone at at one point apparently, and there's enough evidence here, I think this really did happen that he called it off. He said, stop stop it. Stop it. Yeah. And there was an editorial in one of the leading Richmond newspaper several days later that took Mahone to task and basic. Said general and the next time black soldiers come to attack us have some brandy and water strengthen your stomach and do the work that God intended you to slaughter every black soldier comes against us. So that was the ugly vicious mindset, but I want to I say that not to be condemnatory of confederate soldiers, although any human being would be condemnatory of them. But try to understand why in the mindset was this would be the way that either side would would the other. If they didn't the other was going to do it. And there's evidence to indicate that when the black troops had the chance they murdered confederate captured confederates too. Yeah. So it was you know, we like we like in our in our history to sugar coat, everything and think that these guys really didn't dislike each other. And when the war ended, they all got up. Attics and saying Coon by but it was an ugly. Business is an awful lot of of out hatred between blacks and whites and confederate and union soul and between in between the the on those confederates and their union counterparts their white counterparts. I mean, this this war going on a long time. Well, yes. One of the shocking things, I don't know how much this happened apparently had happened a little bit. The evidence is not overwhelming on this. But enough to convince me that it did happen that as the confederates came into the crater, and we're killing all these black soldiers the white soldiers who were about to be captured shot some of their own black comrades lie because they wanted to demonstrate to the confederates that they didn't like the blacks anymore than they. Then the confederates did. And so don't kill me. Because I'm with you, buddy. Yeah. I don't like these African American soldiers either. And so there were evidence of that. And there was also some offhand comments made after the battle by witnesses union witnesses who were clearly not upset by the fact that the black troops were slaughtered like this. So this racism, racial attitude was pervasive on both on both sides. Yeah. Gosh, they so the confederates regained the the crater the counter attacks drove him back, and they would hold physician the rest of the campaign. Yeah. And just think how long that would go this is July thirty and when does Lee evacuate. Peter's Lil we have another what eight months ago more. Yeah. Of this to go. And and again, casualty figures Petersburg are only estimates. But you know, there were probably north of a hundred and twenty five thousand total casualties. Peter's Clin you imagine, which no even dwarfs Gettysburg Manal get his extre- day days and Petersburg's two hundred ninety two days. But I hope that your listeners who are interested in civil or military history will try to suspend their disbelief that Petersburg was a boring trench like Dottie. Yeah. I don't like to use the word. Siege. I think that just implies a very uninteresting military operation, and sort of invested in the premise that this is an interesting. Since I've spent years of my life writing about well, you've made it. So you've made I hope our listeners understand how how much you've made it. So in your talk with me today. A little note of personal experience of mine in in in this some years ago. I was called by auto fella in Petersburg. Who was the son of a veteran of the twelfth Virginia infantry in Mahone JR. Brigade. Didn't run across very many sons of confederate veterans. I ran across a son of a union veteran once in a parade at Alonzo cushing's birthplace, della feel Wisconsin all you must be old. Knowing these better. Well, I mean, it was the guy was he he he was born when his dad was dad had him when he was really an older, man. I mean in his late sixties early seventies. And at any rate he called me up, and he said I had done some work with him before. And he called me and asked me can't we we have uncovered some remains of a of a confederate who came from here and who was killed in the counterattack in the crater. And would you would would it be possible for you to come out and give a eulogy by the grave in Blandford cemetery, right up Druce lem plank road and cemetery hill. And I said, you know, I would love to. And I said I happen to be in Albion the area around the same time, and I'll make the point so. So my wife, and I went over to Blandford cemetery. There was they had identified this man through something they found in the in the hastily dug grave that they located and the family was there, and I'll never forget giving talk in Blandford cemetery over the grave of someone who fell having been invited by the son of one of his comrades about the battle of the crater and told him how the detonation went up in the air, and it was just down there. And it was the most I don't know kind of spine tingling thing. I think I've ever done. He reminds us it really the civil were wasn't that long. No, his why bring it up. I mean, it's because it isn't that long ago. It's I mean. I'm sixty nine going on seventy. And I think when I was a kid we celebrated the centennial hundred years L EDNA longtime. I've lived seventy years, and that doesn't seem like very long and yet here we are in our lifetime. You know, will we were born, you know, eighty some odd years after the war. Well, I knew a fellow whose father was in the civil or to in PS Burgas father was in pickett's charge in just like the gentleman that you were talking about his mother at a young age, married, est. This eighty year old confederate veteran he's had enough in them. Father a child. Yeah. Because the confederate veteran head of pension. Yeah. And he had means and this poor woman did not have many prospects. I mean, if you if you're a southern woman at that time, if you weren't married life was going to be very difficult in so this did happen. But this is why I think this is also important to us, and what you do in all of your endeavors can't is keeping the memory and the relevance of the civil war alive to current and future generations. And I think that's really what all of us who are engaged in public history. Want to do because this is an incredibly important period in our history. I don't know how you can understand contemporary America without understanding are precedents. Yeah. And the civil war was so central to who we are today. It is positively central and and while we're here. Talking right before we have to close here will and you too. You have been a public historian for how many years about forty five four five. Yeah. Yeah. And look at all you've done. I mean, you've basically created pamphlet park in at Petersburg. And you have spoken to so many audience is you have done so much publicly about the war that the same goes back to you. I mean, you have done a tremendous service. Well, I appreciate it. And I think we, you know, I know that you share my feeling that we have an almost an obligation. I don't wanna get to emotional about it. But I think if we spent a great deal of our life's studying this, and we have obligations to share it. And I think that's what history does is not to not to belittle. Our academic colleagues. Oftentimes talk to each other. Yeah. But not so much to a wider audience. What you and I try to do is bring this fascinating and important aspect of our very being as Americans to as wide an audience as we can if we're historically illiterate. As a culture, I don't think our culture has much of a future agree with you. It's the whole reason we have this witnessing history. -education foundation is to bring it to his wide audience as possible. It's a terrific rim. And I and I thank you for allowing me to be a part of it. Well, you've been a friend of mine since what was it? We calculated last night nineteen Eighty-four as a log town. Eighty clear was. Nineteen Eighty-four will thank you so much for for being here. Thank you for your friendship, and thank you for your wonderful description. I appreciate the clarity. Can't. Thank you. He come in American hero. Who participates in our mission by joining us at witnessing history dot ORG. Download our documentaries and free teacher education materials that conform to grade level education standards at PBS learning Archie follow witnessing history on Facebook, Twitter and linked in.

Coming up next