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PBS series features Petersburg’s Battle of the Crater

The tunnel that Union soldiers dug to blow a crater under Confederate defenses at Petersburg is not usually juxtaposed with, say, the Great Wall of China.

But the Battle of the Crater makes the cut in the new PBS series “Ground War,” thanks to a Longwood University dean who examines the Civil War from the perspective of a physicist.

Charles Ross, dean of Longwood’s College of Arts and Sciences, had been a Civil War buff as a boy and found his interest renewed when he came to Longwood as a physics professor in 1992.

He began looking at ingenious uses of technology in the Civil War, he said, and “seeing things with a different eye than I did as a kid.”

The war “personifies the rise of the popularization of scientific knowledge,” said Ross, who wrote about this democratization in his book “Trial by Fire: Science, Technology and the Civil War.”

Technology was changing rapidly, and officers who had been educated in engineering and physics were applying that knowledge on the battlefield.

What intrigues Ross about the Battle of the Crater is not so much the tunnel but the way it was ventilated by Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants, a mining engineer who was the commanding officer of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment.

“No one had ever figured that out before,” Ross said of how Pleasants was able to supply air to the men digging the tunnel without giving away the military operation.1

To read the entire article at The Richmond Times-Dispatch, click here.

  1. “PBS series features Petersburg’s Battle of the Crater.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. Richmond Times-Dispatch. Web. 25 May 2010.
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