Battle of the Crater

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Campaign

The Battle of the Crater was a battle of the American Civil War, part of the Siege of Petersburg. It took place on July 30, 1864, between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Major General George G. Meade (under the direct supervision of the general-in-chief, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant).

After weeks of preparation, on July 30 the Federals exploded a mine in Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's IX Corps sector, blowing a gap in the Confederate defenses of Petersburg, Virginia. From this propitious beginning, everything deteriorated rapidly for the Union attackers. Unit after unit charged into and around the crater, where soldiers milled in confusion. Grant considered the assault "the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war." The Confederates quickly recovered and launched several counterattacks led by Brig. Gen. William Mahone. The breach was sealed off, and the Federals were repulsed with severe casualties. Brig. Gen. Edward Ferrero's division of black soldiers was badly mauled. This may have been Grant's best chance to end the Siege of Petersburg. Instead, the soldiers settled in for another eight months of trench warfare. Burnside was relieved of command for his role in the debacle.[2]

Contents

Background

During the Civil War, Petersburg, Virginia, was an important railhead, where four railroad lines from the south met before continuing to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. Most of the supplies to Lee's army and to the city of Richmond funneled through this point. Consequently, the Union regarded it as the "back door" to Richmond, without which defending the Confederate capital would be impossible.[3] The result was the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, in which the armies were aligned along a series of fortified positions and trenches more than 20 miles (32 km) long, extending from the old Cold Harbor battlefield near Richmond to areas south of Petersburg.

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