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NP: August 1, 1864 Richmond Examiner: The War News, July 27-30, 1864


In our last issue, without pretensing to superiour discernment, we stated that Grant was at last, about to do something.  It required neither a military genius nor a prophet to tell this.

Let us see what this mighty operation was, and how Grant executed it.

Having mined one of our most important positions a mile and a half east of Petersburg, and laid his train in readiness to blow it up, he, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday [July 27, 28, and 29, 1864] withdrew a large portion of his army from in front of Petersburg, and threw them to the north bank of the James, as if about to attack Richmond from the east.  He supposed that we would follow him with the bulk of our forces, and leave Petersburg weakly garrisoned. It was then his intention to slip quietly back over the James, present himself suddenly in great force in front of Petersburg, spring his mine, and in the incidental confusion, to rush his army through the breach and secure the city.1

A part of his designs he executed faultlessly—His mine was a tremendous affair.  He carried his army to the north side and brought them back on Friday night [July 29, 1864].  He exploded the mine [on the morning of July 30], and a PART of his army rushed through the breach; but not enough of them got in, as will be seen.  Why a larger force did not enter our broken line we will soon hear from the Northern press.  The Yankees will blame some unlucky wight for being too fast or too slow, too early or too late.  The whole truth though is that the Confederate generals are the parties who are alone to blame.  They are too early always for General Grant.2

Between four and five o’clock Saturday morning [July 30, 1864] Grant sprung his mine under one of our earthworks a mile and a half east of Petersburg.  The mine went thirty feet below the surface.  By the explosion our breastwork was demolished and the earth for a space of thirty yards square torn and thrown into the air.  Branch’s battery of Petersburg, and three companies of infantry belonging to the Twenty first [sic, Eighteenth South Carolina]  and Twenty second  South Carolina regiments, altogether one hundred and eighteen men, who occupied the redoubt, shared its fate; men and earth were tossed into the air together—The four guns of Branch’s battery were buried in the ruins of the redoubt.  Where the redoubt had stood the explosion left a cavity thirty yards square.  This cavity was from twenty to thirty feet deep.

Before the dust and smoke of the explosion had cleared away, Burnside’s [Ninth] corps [IX/AotP] who had been held in readiness, charged through the breach, the negroes in the van, while the Yankee batteries opened on the town and on our lines.  Our troops immediately on either side of the breach were thrown into some confusion by the explosion, but soon rallied and closed up and fought Burnside as coolly as though nothing had occurred.  The Yankees made good their entrance only by force of overwhelming numbers, directed, unexpectedly to us, upon this one point.  Our troops never fought more courageously.  They were at length beaten slowly back and the enemy, continuing to pour in through the breach, occupied two or three hundred yards of our works.3

At nine o’clock General [William] Mahone attempted to dislodge the enemy and drive him out, and was partially successful, re-taking a considerable portion of the works, and capturing a number of prisoners.  4 About two o’clock, with a heavier force, he renewed the attack, this time with the most complete and glorious success.5  He drove the enemy from the entire line and back through the breach with heavy loss, and captured Brigadier-General [William F.] Bartlett, his staff and five hundred of his men.—This [?]as not occupied scarce half an hour.  Bartlett and his men when taken were huddled in the excavation made by the explosion, and with some negro troops in front of them.6

With our driving the Yankees back through the breach ended the battle, and with it all the hopes built by Grant and his admiring nation on this grand movement on the little town of Petersburg.

The enemy’s loss was strangely heavy in the battle.  Our men say they have filled up with dead Yankees and negroes the hole made by the explosion.  We have in our hands one thousand prisoners.  We have heard no estimate of their wounded.

Our whole loss in killed, wounded and missing will not exceed six hundred and fifty.  Some of our men, believed to have been blown up, are reported by prisoners taken at the close of the day, supposed to be in the enemy’s hands.7


“An official despatch received at the War Department states that at 5, A. M., on Saturday [July 30, 1864], the enemy sprung a mine under one of the salient on our front and opened his batteries upon our lines and the city of Petersburg.  In the confusion caused by the explosion he got possession of the salient, which was afterwards retaken and the enemy driven back to his lines with loss.

‘A later official telegram gives some interesting particulars.  When we drove the enemy from the salient we recovered the four guns with which it was armed, captured twelve stands of colours, seventy four officers, including Brigadier General Bartlett and staff and eight hundred and fifty-five enlisted men.  Upwards of five hundred of the enemy’s dead are lying unburied in the trenches.—Our loss slight.”

The press telegrams treating of this battle may be found under our telegraphic head.  Except the casualties mentioned in the telegrams referred to we have learned very few.  The following occurred in the Richmond Light Infantry Blues:  W. T. Lipscomb, killed; Robert Reid and J. J. Dodson, seriously wounded; L. T. Trueheart, J. W. Smith and J. J. Wilkinson, slightly wounded.

David Wright of the Sixth Virginia regiment, formerly of this city, and J E Lawton were killed.  George M. Savage, of the Otey battery, was shot through the foot.


A gentleman from the Northern Neck informs us that, on Thursday and Friday [July 28 and 29, 1864], large numbers of transports loaded with troops from Grant’s army passed up the Potomac.8  The number of these troops is put at twenty thousand.9

SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Examiner neatly gives a concise summary of Grant’s Third Offensive against Petersburg and Richmond.  The feint north of the James River was the July 27-29, 1864 First Battle of Deep Bottom. The part where Grant would “spring his mine” is of course the famous July 30, 1864 Battle of the Crater.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: In this case it was a little from column A, a little from column B.  Ninth Corps commander Ambrose Burnside had the commanders of his three White divisions draw straws, and James Ledlie, by far the worst commander of the bunch, and probably the worst division commander in the entire Army of the Potomac, “won.”  He stayed behind in the entrenchments and did not direct his division in person.  The Union soldiers naturally sort of piled up in the Crater and did not advance to Cemetery Hill beyond.  All of that said, without the quick reaction from three brigades of Mahone’s Division, the Union might still have pulled off a victory.  As it was, they suffered a bloody, humiliating and controversial defeat. Burnside and Ledlie were both ultimately sacked as a result of this performance.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: Elliott’s South Carolina Brigade, McAfee’s North Carolinians, and Goode’s Virginians were the infantry brigades maning the lines in the vicinity of the Crater.  They immediately started pouring fire into the flanks of the Union breakthrough, trying to delay them until reinforcements arrived.
  4. Mahone sent in his former brigade of Virginians, now led by David Weisiger, along with some Georgians of Wright’s Brigade.  While this attack had at least contained the Yankee breakthrough, the battle still hung in the balance.
  5. SOPO Editor’s Note: John C. C. Sanders’ Alabama Brigade swept in and finished the battle in this afternoon attack.
  6. SOPO Editor’s Note: Bartlett commanded the First Brigade of Ledlie’s First Division, Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac.
  7. SOPO Editor’s Note: Per the American Batttlefield Trust’s page on the Crater, the Union suffered 3,798 casualties (504 k, 1,881 w, and 1,413 missing/captured) while the Confederates suffered 1,491 casualties (361 k, 727 w, and 403 missing/captured.
  8. SOPO Editor’s Note: Many of these troops were from the Union XIX Corps.  Part of that Corps had gone directly to Washington, D. C. earlier in July to help prevent Jubal Early’s Confederate Army from taking city.  The other half went to the Siege of Petersburg and was stationed with the Army of the James during the latter half of July.  In late July, these men were also shipped to D.C. and became part of Phil Sheridan’s new Army of the Shenandoah.
  9. “The War News.” Richmond Examiner. August 1, 1864, p. 1 col. 1
{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Lisa Fulton October 2, 2020, 2:16 pm

    Brett, This article gives me a great resource for the Battle of the Crater.

    I can add a little bit – about Grant’s “diversion” at Deep Bottom in the days before the explosion at the Crater. I feel sure I have posted some of this before, along with your articles about First Deep Bottom, but here is the perfect place again.

    Regarding the “diversion” – the Richmond Examiner editor said: “[Grant] withdrew a large portion of his army from in front of Petersburg, and threw them to the north bank of the James, as if about to attack Richmond from the east. He supposed that we would follow him with the bulk of our forces, and leave Petersburg weakly garrisoned.”

    Below is an excerpt from a letter by Henry Jeffers of the 7th SCC (Gary’s Brigade), written on July 31, 1864. He told his father about the fights near Richmond on July 27-29, 1864; what he wrote is similar to the conclusions in the article:

    “On Friday [July 29, 1864] same thing. On Saturday morning [July 30, 1864] rumors that the enemy gone back to South side. Everybody surprised. Our Infantry ordered to make a forced march back to Petersburg. We sally forth and sure enough we find it true – only a few Yanks on this side & they at Deep Bottom. We camp at Fussells Mills – take off our saddles for the first time since Tuesday morning.

    It is very quiet this morning on this side. Yesterday they were fighting in Petersburg & most of us think Grant intended this as a diversion merely, provided he found a strong resistance. If he had been successful in making much progress on this side, he would have no doubt reinforced on this side and crossed over most of his army. It seems strange to us, that we should day before yesterday have in front of us on this side of the River twenty-five or thirty thousand Yanks and every prospect of a lively time for some time to come, and today everything so quiet and so few Yankees here.”

    Lisa Fulton

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