The Gospel Army

Big Bob
Battle of Port Hudson
Millikens Bend
Fort Wagner
Gen. Wild Expedition
Battle of Honey Hill
Fort Pillow
Poison Springs
Petersburg Va.
The Crater
New Market Heights
Battle of Nashville
Battle of Saltville
Richmond Va.


The Battle of the Crater


At the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1964, General Burnside developed an elaborate plan to tunnel under the Confederate defenses at Petersburg, blow up the defenses then rush in with black troops to seize the town. Black troops had gained a reputation of fighting with significant determination and tenacity when charging Confederate works. General Grant however was not satisfied with Burnsides reason for using black troops and substituted them with a more experience but a untrained white division. The switch resulted in a disaster. The black troops were trained to go around the creator following the explosion. The white troops went into the creator instead of going around it and suffered heavy casualties. General Grant sent the black troops into the creator to save the white troops but the element of surprise was lost. Black troops pushed the rebel line back but suffered heavy losses when the rebels were reinforced. General Grant was called by Congress to come to Washington and explain.


Earlier in his testimony Grant had said: "General Burnside wanted to put his colored division in front, and I believe, if he had done so, it would have been a success."

 Henry Pleasants, Inferno at Petersburg, p163


Battle of the Crater, Authors Collection


General Grant took the blame for the failure of the attack on his decision to switch black troops for white troops. The Joint Committee agreed with General Grant and suggested that black troops should be used in advance if dictated by the situation.


 "Your Committee desire to say that, in the statement of facts and conclusions which they present in their report, they wish to be distinctly understood as in no degree censuring the conduct of the troops engaged in this assault. While they confidently believe that the selection of the division of colored troops by General Burnside to lead the assault was, under the circumstances, the best that could have been made, they do not intend thereby to have it inferred that the white troops of the Ninth Corps are behind any troops in the service in those qualities which have placed our volunteer troops before the world as equal, if not superior to any known to modern warfare."

I Henry Pleasants, inferno at Petersburg, , p163-164


General Grant also testified that he switched the use of black troops for white troops in the battle to avoid excessive losses of black troops. A more plausible reason is that General Grant's white troops suffered over 40,000 casualties (The Battle of the Wilderness) on the way to Petersburg just two month earlier. Letting black troops carry the ball into the end zone because they may be better, could have been too humiliating to accept.




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Revised: 08/22/08.