The battle of the crater, July 30, 1864.
I will with some care describe this terrific battle, for it seldom falls to the lot of a regiment to act such a conspicuous part in saving an army.
The Seventeenth, with the assistance of a small number of the Twenty-sixth regiment, with the cooperation of Wright
's battery, prevented Grant
from entering Petersburg
that day and capturing the whole of Beauregard
's salient, where four guns, under Captain Pegram
, forming part of Major Coit
's battalion, was in the centre of
The brigade was arranged in the following order, from left to right-Twenty-sixth, Seventeenth, Eighteenth, Twenty-second and Twenty-third regiments.
had massed 65,000 men opposite this brigade.
's whole force in the line was only three-and-a-half brigades.
The theory of the assault, as stated by General Meade
in the Court of Enquiry
, held by the Federals
soon after, was for General Burnside
, with 15,000 men to rush in the opening made by the explosion, and dash over to Cemetery Hill
, five hundred or six hundred yards to the rear; this corps to be followed by General Ord
with 10,000 men. He states he had 40,000 to 50,000 for the attack of the place, and to rush in the rear of the Confederate
The mine was exploded one-quarter of 5 A. M. 30th July, 1864, with eight thousand pounds of powder.
It overwhelmed the battery, the whole of the Eighteenth, three companies of the Twenty-third and part of company A, Seventeenth regiment.
For some minutes there was the utmost consternation among our men. Some scampered out of the lines; some, paralyzed with fear, vaguely scratched at the counter-scarp as if trying to escape.
Smoke and dust filled the air. A few minutes afterwards General Ledlie
's division began to charge.
This aroused our officers; they began to cheer, and our men bounded on the banquette and commenced firing on the ranks of men who were rushing in without firing a gun. By this time some of the men of the gallant Eighteenth, who extricated themselves from the bank which covered them, came rushing down the trenches, and as many as could picked up guns and began firing.
For a considerable time the firing was done entirely by the infantry.
In a few minutes after the explosion Major Coit
, who commanded the most effective artillery on our side, came up to see if any of his guns were uninjured.
As soon as he could reach Wright
's battery of four guns, in the ravine to the rear of Ransom
's brigade, which was at least half an hour after the explosion, he began to fire, and shot six hundred balls into the divisions of Potter
, which succeeded Ledlie
These guns were the only ones on our lines which, besides enfilading the enemy at close range, could also fire on the crater and part of our lines
, who had only one gun on the right of the Confederate
line capable of enfilading the enemy, began with this gun about one hour after the explosion, and killed many of the enemy.
One or two
hours later, Major Gibbes
and Major Haskell
moved their mortar batteries and dropped a number of balls in the crater and lines.
In fifteen or twenty minutes after the explosion General Elliott
came up through the crowded ditch, followed by Colonel Smith
of the Twenty-sixth regiment, with a few of his men, and ordered the Twenty-sixth and Seventeenth to form a line on the crest of the hill, and charge the crater.
He and a few men gallantly jumped up on the crest of the hill, about fifty yards of the crater, he pointed out the line, and was in less than five minutes shot down and brought back.
The command then devolved on your Colonel
, who countermanded the order to form on the crest of the hill, which was utterly impracticable, and formed some of the men in the ditches, which went to the rear and commanded some yards in the rear of the crater.
Courier after courier was sent to the division commander, and one courier to the regiments on the right of the crater.
I ordered Colonel Smith
to take his regiment, with three companies of the Seventeenth, under Captain Crawford
(which then were larger than the Twenty-sixth regiment) to form in the ravine in the rear of the crater, and cover up the gap, there to lie down and to rise up and fire when necessary, so as to prevent the enemy from rushing down the hill and getting in the rear of our lines.
This order was promptly executed, and gave the remainder of the Seventeenth in the main trench more room to use their guns.
The damage done — let the enemy tell.
says the assault came principally from his right
(our left) of the crater.
The enemy brought guns from all points and threw shells into the crater.
began his movement towards the crest, and was met by another force of the enemy, and was compelled to fall back.
says: “The next fire I saw came from the right; there was a battery behind some timber, which it was very difficult for our batteries to reach.
I ordered my own batteries to turn their whole attention to that one, but they apparently produced no effect.”
Many officers testify that repeated assaults were made to secure the crest; some say they saw them make two distinct charges early in the morning, but were repelled by men who rose up in the ravine.
One fixes the number of these men at 200, some as high as 500. These men
who repelled these charges were the Seventeenth and part of the Twenty-Sixth.
The negroes, numbering 4,300 muskets, under General Ferrero
, rushed to the mine at 8 o'clock, and one distinct charge, as alleged, occurred soon after.
Some of the officers allege their men got 200 yards towards the crest, which was 500 yards to the rear, but this is a clear
None ever advanced 50 yards beyond, for I watched their efforts with great anxiety up to about 9 o'clock; as I believed the fate of Petersburg
depended on it. The officers frequently attempted to urge their men forward, and some would rush across a few yards and then run back.
informed me after the battle, that the enemy made a charge, and upon his men rising and pouring in a volley, they did not make the attempt again.
, who commanded the detachment of the Seventeenth, says, the Federal
officers succeeded in getting about 200 men, three different times, outside of the crater, and they never advanced more than 30 yards before his men drove them back.
We saw at one time fourteen beautiful banners waving in the crater and gallant officers, trying to urge their men on in the direction of Cemetery Hill
But all efforts to reach this point, from the rear of the crater, failed by 9 o'clock. And they then attempted to effect their purpose by taking the lines north of the crater, which would secure them a chance to reach the point of their destination, by the ravine which passed through Ransom
This, together with the conformation of the ground necessarily forced the burden of the battle on the Confederate
line, north of the crater and in close proximity to it. And especially on Elliott
's brigade; the right of Ransom
's brigade and the artillery under the command of Major Coit
The enemy, thus having changed their tactics, would occasionally rush on our right flank — we made barricades to oppose them; then they would run down the front of the line and jump over and were met with the bayonet and clubbed with the musket.
Generally they were repelled, occasionally they succeeded and captured some men. Private Hoke
, of Company A, was thus cut off, and refused to surrender, and struck down several of the enemy before he was bayonetted.
Few battles could show more bayonet wounds than this.
After a severe hand to hand fight, disputing every inch, and losing the gallant Lieutenants Lowry
, and Captain Dunovant
, whose arm was shot off, and many brave men, we were driven down the the hill to Ransom
's brigade, which at this time was pouring in an enfilading fire.
The fourth division, in front of the lines of Elliott
's brigade, must have numbered 16,000.
Besides this, General Turner
with 4,000 men charged Ransom
's brigade on our left, and was driven back.
At 10 o'clock I was ordered to the brigade Headquarters to see General Bushrod Johnson
, our division commander.
Sometime after Mahone
came up, the Seventeenth under Captain Steele
, the ranking
officer present, was turned over to him by order of General Johnson
's troops were formed in the line already there.
It took probably two hours before Mahone
's men all came and then a splendid charge was made.
The final charge which captured the works was made about 1 o'clock P. M. The testimony of the enemy is that the troops retreated at 2 o'clock, but this refers to the many who ran back before our men got the prisoners out of the crater — our dutiful Lieutenant-Colonel
was on the brink of the crater and came from the hospital, when he was ill, in time to join in the charge, when the prisoners surrendered, and had the opportunity of receiving a number of banners, but cared not for such honors.
Our adjutant more ambitiously received two of them, but subsequently allowed some of Mahone
's men to spirit them away.
's brigade lost 677 men that day, according to the estimate made by Adjutant Fant
a few days after the battle.
This was more than half the Confederate
loss on this day:
|The 18th South Carolina Volunteers lost||205||men.|
|The 22nd South Carolina Volunteers lost||216||men.|
|The 23rd South Carolina Volunteers lost||49||men.|
|The 26th South Carolina Volunteers lost||72||men.|
|The 17th South Carolina Volunteers lost||135||men.|
| || |
| ||677|| |
The enemy's loss, according to General Grant
's estimate a short time afterwards, was above 5,000 men, including 23 commanders of regiments and two commanders of brigades.
These desperate trenches became the abode of the Seventeenth for the rest of the war.