Editor’s Note: Gary Skinner sent along this letter from an anonymous member of the 11th Massachusetts Battery (we’re working on finding his identity) to his friend Mille Stevens just after the Battle of the Crater. Gary makes the letter available from his private collection. This transcription is used with his express written consent and may not be reproduced without Gary’s permission. All rights reserved.
Letter from Member of 11th Massachusetts Describing the Battle of the Crater:
I had originally though this could have been written by one of the commissioned officers but the writer makes reference to officers as if he is not one but he is well educated and speaks as if he has some level of command. There are several good choices, but as of this transcription, I cannot make a solid determination.
About Lieut. George W. Booth, Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen., Artillery Brigade, Ninth Army Corps. Residence Watertown MA; a 35 year-old Salesman. Enlisted on 8/25/1862 as a 1st Sergeant. On 8/25/1862 he mustered into MA 11th Light Artillery, He was Mustered Out on 5/25/1863 at Boston, MA. On 1/2/1864 he mustered into MA 11th Light Artillery, He was Mustered Out on 6/16/1865 at Camp Meigs, Readville, MA (Residence listed as “Cambridge, MA”). Promotions: 1st Lieut 1/2/1864 (As of 11th MA Light Artillery)
Official Account by Captain Jones of the events described in the letter
ELEVENTH MASSACHUSETTS BATTERY, Before Petersburg, Va., August 5, 1864.
LIEUT.: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 4th instant this forenoon, and in answer I have the honor to inform Col. Monroe that my command was actively engaged during the whole of the attack on the 30th ultimo, and simultaneously with the explosion of the mine destroying the enemy’s fort on the left flank of the position occupied by my guns and those of Capt. Rogers. We opened fire with my whole battery upon the enemy’s lines, firing rapidly, by special orders, for about two hours, the range having been accurately ascertained with great precision by previous practice upon the same lines. I need hardly say no shot failed to be effective and the whole working of the guns was executed with great cheerfulness, spirit, and skill be the officers and men in immediate charge. The right piece expended 179 rounds of shot and shell and the whole battery expended during the entire attack 517 rounds shot and shell. In consequence of suffering with intermitted fever and First Lieut. Morrill being confined to his quarters sick the immediate command of the battery devolved on Second Lieut. Woodsum, who discharged his duties in a creditable manner and with the approval of Capt. Rogers, chief of artillery of this (Second) division, who had general direction of both batteries. I am most grateful to good Providence that no men of my command were injured during the day, and have the pleasure to report no casualties in this attack.
General Edward Ferrero (January 18, 1831 – December 11, 1899)
Transferred eastward again in 1864 with the corps, he served in the Siege of Petersburg, commanding a division of black troops. His men were involved in the ill-fated July 30 charge on the Crater, where they suffered significant losses supporting the initial attack of Brig. Gen. James H. Ledlie’s division. Both Ferrero and Ledlie received criticism for remaining in a shelter behind the lines through most of the battle, passing a bottle of rum between them. A court of inquiry headed by Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock cited Ferrero for “being in a bomb-proof habitually, where he could not see the operation of his troops [nor know] the position of two brigades of his division or whether they had taken Cemetery Hill or not.”
Ferrero commanded the Ninth Corps’ Fourth Division, which consisted of 4,300 United States Colored Troops. According to the early plan for the Battle of the Crater, Ferrero and his black troops were to lead the Union assault on the Confederates in the wake of a massive underground explosion, but that original strategy was overruled by generals Ulysses S. Grant and George G. Meade. Instead, Ferrero’s troops followed the initial assault and got trapped in intense fighting. General Ferrero, meanwhile, stayed behind the lines in a bunker, drinking rum with fellow commander James H. Ledlie.
After weeks of preparation, on July 30 the Federals exploded a mine in Burnside’s IX Corps sector beneath Pegram’s Salient, blowing a gap in the Confederate defenses of Petersburg. 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. The Confederates quickly recovered and launched several counterattacks led by Maj. Gen. William Mahone. The break was sealed off, and the Federals were repulsed with severe casualties. Ferrarro’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. Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside was relieved of command for his role in the debacle.
About the 11th Battery Mass. Light Artillery. The 11th Batty. Mass. Vol. Lt. Arty. (3 years) had for its nucleus the 11th Batty. Lt. Arty. Mass. Vol. Mil. (9 months). On December 1, 1863, Captain Jones, who had commanded the battery during its 9 months service, received verbal orders from Governor Andrew directing him to recruit his command up to war strength. In twenty-eight days the recruitment was completed and the command again rendezvoused at Camp Meigs, Readville. Here it was mustered into the service January 2, 1864.