Monday, November 19, 2012

The Gettysburg Address 1863

His little speech is a perfect gem, deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma.
Associate Editor Josiah Holland, Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, November 20, 1863

On the night of July 7, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln addressed a crowd at the White House: "How long ago was it?--eighty odd years--since on the Fourth of July for the first time in history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that 'all men are created equal?'" With those words the seeds of what would become the Gettysburg Address were planted.

Almost as soon as the battle there had ended, plans started being made for a private cemetery at Gettysburg. David McConaughy, a resident of that town and president of the Evergreen Cemetery Association, bought "the most striking portions of the battle ground," notably around the organization's namesake cemetery on Cemetery Hill. Writing to Pennsylvania's Governor Andrew Curtin, he wanted to make "the most liberal arrangements... with our Cemetery, for the burial of our own dead" and those of "all the loyal states, whose sons fell in the glorious strife."

Then Theodore S. Dimon arrived at the little town. He had been sent by New York to look after the state's casualties. He expanded McConaughy's idea: Let's build a national cemetery for all the boys in blue on a part of Cemetery Hill, proposed Dimon. Judge David Wills, another prominent Gettysburg citizen, loved Dimon's proposition, and arranged for McConaughy to sell 17 acres next to Evergreen Cemetery that he had purchased to Pennsylvania. With that land now in the hands of the state, Judge Wills started to make his and Dimon's dream come true. Architect William Saunders designed the cemetery as a great semicircle, with the graves organized by state- Union states, of course, although Southern bodies undoubtedly made their way into list of unknown graves despite the best efforts at identification. The process of interning the many bodies of the Gettysburg Campaign would not be finished until March the following year.

(As for McConaughy, he revised his dream: "The thought occurred to me that there could be no more fitting and expressive memorial to the heroic valor... of our army than the battlefield itself." His land acquisitions would be the foundation of Gettysburg National Military Park.)

Anyway, Wills thought it necessary that this national cemetery have a national dedication. On September 23, he invited Edward Everett- a man extolled for his oratory, a former president of Harvard who was described by none other than Ralph Waldo Emerson as being "a master of elegance." The ceremony had originally been scheduled to occur exactly one month later, October 23, but Everett said that the earliest he could have a speech ready was 19th of the month after that. So it was that November 19 was designated as the day of dedication. William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and John Greenleaf Whittier were invited as well, and requested to exercise their literary talents to make some poem or ode for the event, but all of them turned down the invitation.

Oddly enough, the president was the last one to be asked to attend. On November 2, Wills penned a letter to Lincoln: "I am authorized by the Governors of the different states to invite you to be present," Wills wrote, "and participate in these ceremonies, which will doubtless be very imposing and solemnly impressive. It is a desire that, after the Oration, You as Chief Executive of the Nation formally set apart these grounds to their Sacred use by a few appropriate remarks."

Lincoln accepted the invitation, surprising his cabinet. After all, he only left Washington to visit the Army of the Potomac and had always declined such opportunities, preferring to communicate with the public through letters. What changed him? The answer lies in some advice given to him by Republican Charles Sumner, which was to pay heed to Boston industrialist John Murray Forbes' letter: "My suggestion then is that you should seize an early opportunity and any subsequent chance to teach your great audience."

Waiting at Gettysburg's depot on Carlisle Street was a delegation of three- Everett, Wills, and, the marshal and chief for the dedication, Ward Hill Lamon. In the growing darkness- the sun had already disappeared below the horizon and dinnertime was near- they saw the train approaching, smoke belching from its smokestack as it moved along the tracks. It was Wednesday evening, November 18, 1863. When the train stopped, a lanky man emerged: Lincoln had arrived. As he was stepping down, the president noticed a multitude of coffins neatly arranged on the station platform. Tomorrow he would explain how those lifeless bodies within them should be remembered...

By coach Lincoln was taken to Judge Wills' home, "the Diamond," so named by the other residents of Gettysburg because it was the most exquisite house on the town square. In the Diamond, he was led upstairs to his bedroom. Under candlelight he put the finishing touches on his address. At times in mind wandered: Tad's illness is severe... Mary will be devastated if he doesn't make it... (Lincoln, it should be noted, wasn't feeling well either.)

In front of the Diamond on the morning of November 19, Ward Hill Lamon brought the dignitaries together with difficulty. It was nice autumn day: From the blue sky, the sun brightened the land with its beams. At 10:00 A.M. Lincoln came out the front door, wearing a black suit and frock coat, and, of course, his silk stovepipe hat, with a mourning band in remembrance of dear Willie. He was given a bay horse to ride, an animal so small that the president's legs almost made contact with the ground. 
Regiment marching down a village street, Gettysburg, Pa by Mathew Brady
More and more people, pouring in from York and Carlisle Streets, gathered in the town square. The procession all formed and ready, it proceeded down Baltimore Street, headed for the new cemetery. Among those riding in this throng was Lincoln himself. "He seemed very tall and gaunt to me, but his face was wonderful to look upon," remembered 15 year-old Albertus McCreary. "It was such a sad face and so full of kindly feeling that one felt at home with him at once." All along the street were Union flags. Buildings still showed the scars of war, their walls riddled with bullet holes. Little boys and girls sold not only cookies and lemonade, but spent bullets and cannonballs as well.
Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Gettysburg [1863 Nov. 19] So succinct was the president
that the photographer never had a chance to take a picture of him giving the speech.

The crowd having reached the cemetery, the dedication commenced. It began with an invocation and hymn. Everett gave his oration first. He narrated the battle that happened where everyone stood, his speech no doubt augmented by the participants he had interviewed. At one point he slipped up significantly, perturbing the president, who was listening intently: When Everett mentioned "General Lee," Lincoln turned to his closest friend in his cabinet, Secretary of State William H. Seward, and whispered who Everett meant- "General Meade." Everett's speech was superb as usual... and very, very long, lasting two hours and eight minutes. When it was over, the band struck up a tune.
Crowd of citizens, soldiers, and etc. with Lincoln at Gettysburg. by Mathew Brady
With the song finished, Lamon spoke to the now fidgety audience: Ladies and Gentlemen, the president of the United States. As a photographer was preparing take a photograph of him delivering his address, Lincoln rose, made some adjustments to his spectacles, and took out a piece of paper with his "few appropriate remarks" from his coat's left breast pocket. Before him, and behind the audience, were the graves of those who gave their lives in the name of freedom. Then, he put the paper in his left hand, and spoke words that would forever be etched in American memory. "He spoke in a quiet, forcible, and earnest manner with no attempt at oratory," noted teenage Gettysburg resident Daniel Skelly in his 1932 memoirs: 

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. [One should note that the first sentence was inspired by Psalm 90, which states, "The days of our years are threescore and ten; And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years." Indeed, the opening of the address essentially sets the tone of the remainder of the speech, with a spiritual sort of rhetoric.]

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate- we can not consecrate- we can not hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. [The last two sentences are perhaps the most insightful remarks Lincoln made in his address. His observation still rings true today. Veterans believe that mere monuments dedicated to a particular unit are insufficient to make it more or less holy. Many of them assert that if a battlefield was to be sufficiently consecrated, there would have to be a monument for everyone that fell. Also, Lincoln does not refer to "The brave boys in blue" but "The brave men," indicating that the Rebels, too, made this ground hallow.] The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it cannot forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that caused for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The response on the Gettysburg Address by the press was typical. His proponents loved it. "Surprisingly fine as Mr. Everett's oration was in the Gettysburg consecration," wrote Josiah Holland, the associate editor of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, on the following day, the 20th, "the rhetorical honors of the occasion were won by President Lincoln." The Chicago Tribune agreed the same day: "Half a century hence, to have lived in this age will be fame. To have served it well as Lincoln, will be immortality." His opponents, of course, hated it. Again on the 20th, and only 36 miles from Gettysburg, the Harrisonburg Patriot and Union was very dismissive: "We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the nation, we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of." The Chicago Times was especially acerbic in its denouncement of Lincoln's speech on the 21st: "The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the filly, flat, and dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States. Across the Atlantic, on December 4, the Times of London, generally contemptuous towards all things American, agreed: "The ceremony was rendered ludicrous by some of the sallies of that poor President Lincoln."

Yet the highest, most incisive complement was payed to Lincoln by Edward Everett. At first, he too, was critical of Lincoln's speeches: Everett had told his diary on February 15, 1861 that they "thus far have been of the most ordinary kind, destitute of everything, not merely of felicity and grace, but of common pertinence. He is evidently a person of very inferior cast of character, wholly unequal to the crisis." Now, on November 20, he praised him:

Permit me... to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.


Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Print.

Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: a Testing of Courage. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Print.

White, Ronald C. A. Lincoln: a Biography. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Meuse-Argonne 1918: Alvin C. York

I didn't want to kill a whole heap of Germans nohow. I didn't hate them. But I done it jes the same. I had to. I was cornered. It was either them or me, and I'm a-telling you, I didn't and don't want to die nowhow if I can live.
Corporal Alvin C. York, Second Battalion, 328th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 82nd "All-American" Division.

To rescue Whittlesey and the men of the Lost Battalion in the Argonne Forest, I Corps commander Hunter Liggett ordered the 82nd Division to take up positions in the gap between the 1st and 28th Divisions, which was created by the 1st Division's advance of October 4th and 5th. Along with the 28th, which swung westward into the hole, the 82nd attacked on October 7, 1918, gaining around half a mile- 800 meters- of French soil and helping to relieve the New Yorkers and Westerners.

Not taking part in this thrust was the Second Battalion of the 82nd's 328th. Its men were in reserve on October 7, resting in muddy foxholes along a muddy road in rainy weather that kept growing more intense- "it was wet and cold and damp," attested Corporal Alvin C. York. Although the doughboys didn't participate in the war that day, they saw plenty of it. York saw wounded "on stretchers going back to the dressing stations and some of them were lying around moaning and twiching. And oh, my! The dead were all along the road and their mouths were open and their eyes, too, but they couldn't see nothing no more nohow" (Lengel, 267).

He was tall, thin, with red hair and a red mustache. He was from Fentress County, Tennessee- a pious farmer barely able to read or write from one of the United States' poorest counties. There, rifle in hand, he hunted turkeys and participated in shooting competitions, becoming a superb shot. However, the treatment he gave turkeys didn't extend to human beings. Deeply perturbed with taking human life, he requested conscientious objector status, but the War Department denied it. Having joined the army, his battalion commander and others persuaded him that there were times when fighting had to be done, whether one liked it or not. Still, as York plunged bayonets into straw dummies during training, it felt "queer to think I might have to cut up human beings. I still didn't want to kill. I still did feel somehow that it was wrong- terrible wrong for human beings to take each other's life." He also stood out in other ways among the doughboys, too: gambling nor alcohol nor tobacco nor scurrilous language had any charms for him. "I had put all of the drinkin' and fist-fightin' away behind me," he later explained.

I left it back home on the Kentucky line. I didn't have a drink all the time I was in France. I didn't have a fist fight or an argument. I didn't swear or smoke either. I wasn't any better'n any of the other boys. It was jes my way of livin', that was all. 
(Lengel, 251)

On October 5, his unit headed for the front, for the Meuse-Argonne, where the U.S. First Army was struggling against determined German resistance:

We went out on the main road, and lined up and started for the front and the Germans was shelling the road and airoplanes was humming over our heads and we were stumbling over dead horses and dead men and shells were Bursting all around me. Then it was that I could see the Power of God helped man if he would only trust him.
(Lengel, 251)

That was two days ago. Now, on the night of the seventh, York was "wet through and kinder tired." The silhouettes of officers and higher-ranking non-coms soon started moving about in the darkness, rousing the men: come on, you doughboys, time to move out! Their destination was Hill 223, from where the regiment would resume its advance. Using a shaky wooden bridged, they crossed the Aire River. Then, enemy shells started plopping all around them, and clouds started spreading and heading toward the Americans: Gas! The doughboys quickly donned their gasmasks and pressed on, their breath in their masks now more audible: huuuuuuu, wuuuuuuu. Through this poisonous gas they were "slipping and sliding, or falling into holes and tripping over all sorts of things and getting up again and stumbling on for a few yards then going down again" (Lengel, 279). Several slippings and slidings or fallings and trippings later, the doughboys made it to Hill 223, where they waited for a supporting barrage. Time went by... where the Hell is the barrage? Nevertheless, the officers ordered the men to fix bayonets; bombardment or no bombardment, the Americans were going to attack. The advance commenced at 6:10 A.M., October 8, 1918.

Lights started flashing ahead of them. As his platoon was in support, York was horrified of what was happening in front of him: His comrades were brought down in droves by German machine gun fire "like the long grass before the mowing machine at home" (Lengel, 279). The remaining Americans hugged Mother Earth as their officers, trying to urge them on, fell all around them.

That is, until York's platoon sergeant got an idea. He put 17 men, including York, under the command of one Sergeant Bernard Early. Go through that underbrush to left, he ordered over the din of battle, and flank those Heinies with their machine guns. Early and his men snuck through the undergrowth, making it all the way to a wooded promontory, where they discussed what to do next. We should hit the bastards directly in the flank by moving along this ridge, some advised. However, that was not the course of action chosen: The decision- York's and Early's idea- was made to advance even more, turn, and strike the Germans' rear.

Moving down the ridge, two Germans medics- they wore Red Cross armbands- burst from the underbrush in front of the Americans, running as if they were "scared rabbits" (Lengel 280). Surrender! the doughboys implored, and they expended a few of their rounds as well, but the Germans just kept running. The chase was on. It went down the ridge, over a stream, past trees shedding their leaves until it reached a small shack with many Germans around it; "Die Amerikaner Kommen!" the medics yelled as they approached (Mastriano). Their comrades were unarmed, a few in their shirts- officers, runners, orderlies, and stretcher-bearers. Their numbers have yet to be definitively determined, ranging, as Edward G. Lengel notes, from "several dozen" (280) to "about a hundred" (451). All of them capitulated, including their commander, Leutnant Paul Jürgen "Kuno" Vollmer.

Before the coming of the Great War, Vollmer had lived in Chicago for a time before moving back to his native Germany. Also, in his homeland, he had attained the position of assistant postmaster for the city of Ulm, which was located in the state of Württemberg. With the outbreak of hostilities in '14, he had joined the German Army, receiving the Iron Cross 2nd Class that same year. So far he had participated in ten campaigns- the Meuse-Argonne, of course, being the most recent- with 125th and 120th Württemberg Landwehr Infantry regiments. More medals came: the Knights Cross 2nd Class in 1915, followed by the Queen Olga of Württemberg Medal three years later. So did promotions: he had just taken command of the 120th's First Battalion (Mastriano).

Since the beginning of the American offensive on September 26, Vollmer had seen much action. While York was suffering from the rain and cold on October 7, Vollmer was moving his battalion- the last of the 2nd Württemberg Landwehr Division to withdraw- back ten kilometers to a valley in the vicinity of Châtel Chéhéry, where it would act as the reserve. Pulling back took most of the day, the men suffering from the American artillery and that damnable rain. Upon arrival, the Germans started to make defensive postions- trenches, machine gun nests, and the like. Their shovels went deep into the mud, scooping it out...

It was during these preparations that Leutnant Fritz Endriss, who led the battalion's 4th Company, saw something that worried him. He sent one of his platoon leaders, Leutnant Karl Kübler, to convey his concern to Vollmer. "I regard our situation as very dangerous,"  Kübler told the battalion commander as it rained all around them, "for the Americans could easily pass through the gaps in the sector of the 2nd Machine Gun Company and gain our rear" (Mastriano). Make contact with 2nd Company then, Vollmer ordered. Kübler tried, and failed. So he sent Vollmer a message: "I will, on my own responsibility, occupy Hill 2 with part of 4th Company." Vollmer, with perhaps a bit of irritation, replied, "You will hold the position to which you have been assigned" (Mastriano).

However, the Germans would not rely solely on defense. Indeed, they were to counterattack at 10:30 tomorrow morning, the eighth. General Max von Gallwitz- the commander of the namesake German Army Group Von Gallwitz, which controlled the portion of the Western Front from Metz to the Meuse-Argonne- ordered the 125th Württemberg Landwehr Infantry Regiment (it was also a part of the 2nd Division) to recapture Schöne Aussicht (Pleasant View or Hill 180) with the support of the 212th Reserve Infantry Regiment, 45th Prussian Reserve Division and 120th, aided by the 45th Division's 210th, to retake Castle Hill (Hill 223). Vollmer's battalion would be at a forefront of the attack (Mastriano).

Then the Germans started to get cold feet. At 4:50 P.M. on October 7, Rittmeister von Sick, the commander of the 120th's Third Battalion, sent a message through a carrier pigeon:

Just now a report came from my right flank that the enemy is pushing through there and has taken the greater part of 12th Company during hand to hand combat, have sent the 7th Company to counter this, but its strength is just 1 platoon. Given the circumstances I have told 1st Lieutenant Vollmer (1/120) he should delay assault on Schlossberg [Hill 223], so that the enemy will not be able to break through at his rear. My 10th Company also completely wiped out. Enemy continues to attack repeatedly

Exactly two hours later, he released another pigeon:

Situation still threatening, 6th Company, which was to advance its right flank at the North-South road to counterattack is left hanging unsecured. Not currently possible to link up with 122nd. Therefore consider Vollmer's Battalion still to be urgently needed. From knowledge of local conditions I allow myself to urgently advise giving up the assault on Schlossberg in order to maintain secure hold on main line of resistance. Repeated enemy attacks, with forces far superior to the weak remnants of the committed companies, hence the need for reserves. The company commanders report their troops at the end of their strength; I must concur, nearly all leaders and noncommissioned officers are wounded. Average strength of companies is 12 - 15 men, thus very thin crews.
(Sergeant York Project Team The German Soldier Accounts, 31)

Yet according to the records at the Reichsarchiv, it seems the attack was still going to happen.

Of course, the Americans beat them to it. As he was watching his men slaughtering York's battalion, Vollmer was approached by Leutnant Karl Glass, his adjutant. Please don't let this be another American penetration, he thought. Sir, Glass reported, more men of the 210th have arrived at your command post. It was 9:30 A.M. Come, Vollmer said; let us meet its commander. We've only got an hour before we are to assail the enemy.

Arriving at the shack that was his command post, Vollmer was dismayed by what he saw: 70 men of the 210th, having put their Mauser rifles aside, were eating breakfast. You all are unready, rebuked Vollmer. Don't you know that we are going to attack soon? "We hiked all night," answered the Prussians' spokesmen, "and first of all we need something to eat" (Mastriano). Vollmer didn't reply immediately. He turned to his adjutant: Glass, return to the front lines. Then he brought his attention back to the Prussians: Well hurry up then! With that, he started walking back to the First Battalion.

"Die Amerikaner Kommen!" Vollmer looked back. To his right, some of the Prussians threw their guns away and raise their hands, crying "Kamerad," the German cry of surrender. Vollmer, perplexed, took out his Luger from its holster. Pick up your rifles, damn you! he demanded. To his back came Early's detachment. Mistakenly thinking it was a large-scale attack, the rest of the Prussians joined in the chorus of "Kamerad." Even Vollmer joined in, a prisoner of Corporal York. Soon after, Glass came back with news for the battalion commander that he saw some Americans (Early's men) moving on the ridge behind the command post:

I rushed up to him and had hardly started to make my report when I was suddenly surrounded by a number of Americans. Not until then did I see that Lieutenant Vollmer had been captured. I am not definite whether there were still more prisoners, nor how many Americans there were present. On the other hand, I still have in my mind a fairly clear picture of the American soldier in charge; it was he who kept his pistol aimed at me. He was a large and strong man with red mustache, broad features and, I believe, freckle-faced.
(Sergeant York Project Team, 6)

Undoubtedly that man was Corporal York. All of these Germans were under the illusion that they were victims of a huge American ambush (Mastriano).

High on Humser Hill, the 125th's Fourth and Sixth companies watched like hawks what was going on in the valley below. From there the men, through waving their arms, told their comrades to lie down. Line up all these Heinies, Sergeant Early ordered his men. Taka-taka-taka! The Germans above had started firing their machine guns! Early, hit by six bullets, then fell to the ground, wounded. York's "best pal," Corporal Murray Savage, fell too, his olive-drab uniform torn by the multitude of bullets that had entered his body, but unlike Early he died. Another corporal and six privates also became casualties. So did many prisoners- victims of friendly fire. The remainder of them desperately flapped their arms, crying "Don't shoot — there are Germans here!" (Mastriano). All the while the machine gunners shouted, Hit the dirt! The commander of Sixth Company, Leutnant Paul Adolph August Lipp, heard his comrades' plea. Aim carefully, men, he ordered. Also, riflemen, come up to the firing line.

The Americans, those eight who were alive and unwounded, hunkered down behind whatever refuge from the enemy bullets they could find. York found for shelter a slope not far behind Vollmer's shack- where he just so happened to be when the machine gun fire erupted. It was a stroke of good fortune he was right there. The Germans on Humser Hill were only 25 yards away from him. If they wanted to have a look at York and his comrades they would have to raise their heads above their trenches. Since he was not with the rest of them, York was the sole doughboy to exploit this topographical godsend (Lengel, 280). Thus, he laid down, later switching to having one knee up, and started firing his rifle.

The movie Sergeant York (1941) had York, played by actor Gary Cooper, use Model 1903 Springfield bolt action rifle. In reality, he used the 30-06 (pronounced "thirty ought six"; it was a .30 caliber cartridge whose use was sanctioned in 1906) Model 1917 Enfield rifle, which equipped the vast majority of the divisions of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). When the United States had entered the Great War back in 1917, the manufacturers of the Springfield couldn't keep up with the fast pace that the Army's numbers were swelling. How to arm these citizen-soldiers, draftees and volunteers alike? U.S. authorities asked themselves. Fortunately, the civilian manufacturers of Remington, Remington Eddystone, and Winchester had already been making in vast quantities a .303 caliber Pattern 1914 Enfield for the British Army. Anything coming out of those factories could be in the hands of the doughboys sooner than it would take for other American industries to switch from whatever they had been making previously to the '03. So the P14 was modified to fit the 30-06 and in appearance, resulting in the M17. Measuring 46 inches in length as a whole and 26 inches for the barrel, the M17 was better than the Springfield: Its was lighter by .7lbs and the bolt handle's proximity to the trigger was closer, allowing it to have a higher rate of fire (Henry, 33).

York made these technical virtues evident. They're Turkies... or targets, York thought. Jes Turkies or targets. And I'm a-telling you, Alvin York, they aren't people! When a head with a coal-scuttle helmet on it raised itself above the entrenchments, Pock! He "jes teched him off" (Lengel, 280). Another German rose to have a look: Pock! The now lifeless head fell back down, out of York's sight. Another followed suit... then another... and another. All of them were killed by the Tennessean.

By now York had expended many of his five-round clips, the casing scattered all around him among the sea of fallen leaves. His rifle seemed to be on fire; he could barely hold it. Meanwhile, on the German side, Leutnant Endriss realized his superior's dire position. He knew he needed to act, and to act fast. He went "over the top" of his trench followed by five of his men, bayonets attached to their rifles. Knowing that his rifle wasn't fast enough to kill all of the charging Germans, he drew out his Colt Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol, which held a seven-round magazine of .45in bullets (thus its nickname: "45 automatic") and many NCOs carried in addition to their rifles (Henry, 35). "I teched off the sixth man first; then the fifth; then the fourth; then the third; and so on," York attested.

That's the way we shoot wild turkeys at home. You see we don't want the front ones to know we're getting the back ones, and then they keep on coming until we get them all. Of course, I hadn't time to think of that. I guess I jes naturally did it. I knowed, too, that if the front ones wavered, or if I stopped them the rear ones would drop down and pump a volley into me and get me.
(Lengel, 281)

Consequently, Endriss was the last man to be hit, and, blood oozing from his body, he fell, howling in pain, wounded in the abdomen (Mastriano; Sergeant York Project Team- Vollmer's and Glass's statements). With all six of them down, York resumed firing his rifle.

When the machine guns started firing on the Americans and their prisoners, instinct overcame conscience for York. Now his conscience was reentering his mind. He was not killing turkeys any more but human beings. "Give up and come on down," he started to yell from time to time before he went back to shooting (Lengel, 281). For some reason, the Germans didn't comply.

Seeing that a lot of Germans had died in the bayonet charge and knowing that his friend Endriss was in desperate need of first aid, Vollmer started creeping up toward York.

"English?" he shouted amidst the cacophony of war.

"No, not English," York replied.



"Good Lord!... If you won't shoot any more I will make them give up."

"Well, all right. I will treat you like a man" (Lengel, 281).

Vollmer took out a whistle and blew it. Lipp, he shouted, I order you to lay down your arms and surrender. Lipp obeyed, and he and his men walked down Humser Hill unarmed, joining the others already in captivity. Or were they? One of the new prisoners took out a grenade he had hidden and threw it at York: BLAM! York, unharmed, shot the German.

Gradually, the other Americans left the shelter of trees and undergrowth. All of them were uncomfortable about guarding so many enemy prisoners when they were so few. Having a feeling there weren't that many of them, Vollmer asked York, How many men are with you? I have "a-plenty," the corporal answered in his southern accent (Lengel, 282). He had his men gather the prisoners in a column and commanded the Germans to carry the six wounded doughboys. The officers were placed in front of this column, Vollmer at the head with York immediately to his rear, his .45 automatic aimed at the German officer's back. The whole group commenced marching back to the American lines.
Sergeant Alvin C. York, 328th Infantry, who with aid of 17 men, captured 132 German prisoners; shows hill on which raid took place [October 8, 1918]. Argonne Forest, near Cornay, France., 02/07/1919
On the march Vollmer advised York to move down a gully, knowing full well that it was teeming with Germans. York saw right through him, and chose to return the way he and the rest of Early's detachment came. In front of them was Kübler's platoon. "Things did not look right to me," Kübler would later attest;

placing Warrant Officer Haegle in charge of my shock troop, I left with two men to reconnoiter the situation. We were barely 100 meters away from my shock troop, when, all of a sudden, we found ourselves surrounded by American soldiers with their fixed bayonets trained on us. The enemy challenged us to surrender. Realizing that resistance was of no avail, I accepted the bitter fate.
(Sergeant York Project Team, 9)

Leutnant Thoma, the commander of the 7th Bavarian Mineur Company whom Vollmer had ordered at eight that morning to fill that wide gap, had not heard back from the platoon leader he ordered to carry out that command, although he "heard the sound of lively rifle fire from the direction of the platoon." ("During the night of 7-8 October," Thoma noted in 1929, "two platoons of my company, including myself, were placed at the disposal of the 120th Wuerttemberg Landwehr Infantry and assigned to the command of First Lieutenant (Reserve) Vollmer.") So he decided to see for himself if that platoon had followed his instructions. "Suddenly a call [in German] rang from my right: 'Unbuckle everything.'" With some of his men he had gathered, Thoma rushed towards the sound, shouting "Don't remove your belts."

We advanced with fixed bayonets. Suddenly ["after about 100 meters," he wrote in an earlier statement] we were face to face with some Americans and their German prisoners; I recognized only several men of my company and the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Vollmer.

York drove his pistol into Vollmer's back: Tell 'em to surrender.

"I will not let myself get captured," Thoma shouted to Vollmer.

"It is useless," Vollmer answered, persuaded by York's pistol, "we are surrounded. I will take responsibility."

Having realized that "several" Americans were behind him, Thoma and his men complied (Mastriano; Sergeant York Project Team- both Thoma's testimonies to the Reichsarchiv in 1929 and to the Bavarian military in 1919). There was one who didn't, however. York had Vollmer demand his surrender twice. The soldier refused both times, so York had to kill him (Sergeant York Project Team Sergeant York "Skeyhill" Account & Patrol Affidavits, 4-5). That victim of his would haunt him for the rest of his life (Lengel, 282).

Lieutenant Joseph A. Woods, the Second Battalion's adjutant, thought it was a counterattack. He sounded the alarm, droves of doughboys preparing to resist. Wait a minute... these Krauts are unarmed. A doughboy came up to Woods: "Corporal York reports with prisoners, sir."

"How many prisoners have you, Corporal?" asked the American officer.

"Honest Lieutenant, I don't know."

"Take them back to Châtel Chéhéry, and I will count them as they go by" (Mastriano). The total was amazing.

York was told to report to the headquarters of the 164th Brigade, to which the 328th belonged. "Well, York," Brigadier General Julian Lindsey, the 164th's commanding officer, said, "I hear you have captured the whole damned German army."

No, York humbly replied, I only brought in 132 of the enemy (Lengel, 282). In addition, he had killed 32 Germans and captured 35 of their machine guns (Lengel, 6). For his conduct on October 8, 1918, York would receive the Medal of Honor.

The next day, York returned to the valley where he had "teched" all those Germans off, accompanied by two stretcher-bearers. He wanted to see if he could save some wounded. His captain, who gave permission for this humanitarian endeavor, knew that there were only lifeless, bloated German and American bodies. However, he also knew that York had to deal with demons, so he permitted the corporal to go ahead with it (Lengel, 295).

"Everything," York would later recall, had been "destroyed, torned up, killed- trees, grass, men." He looked and looked for any German or American still alive, but to no avail. "I jes couldn't help thinking of the boys that only the day before was alive and like me," he would remember.

Dymowski- dead. Weiler- dead. Waring- dead. Wins- dead. Swanson- dead. Corporal Murray Savage, my best pal, dead. Oh my, it seemed so unbelievable. I would never see them again. I would never share the same blanket with Corporal Savage. We'd never read the Bible together again. We would never talk about our faith and pray to our God. I was mussed up inside worser than I had ever been. I'm a-telling you when you lose your best buddie and you know you ain't never going to see him again, you sorter know how terrible cruel war is.

He could only pray:

I prayed for the Greeks and Italians and the Poles and the Jews and the others. I done prayed for the Germans too. They were all brother men of mine. Maybe their religion was different, but I reckon we all believed in the same God and I wanted to pray for all of them.

(Lengel 295-296)

Selected Sources

Henry, Mark. The US Army of World War I. Osprey Publishing, 2003. Print.

Lengel, Edward G. To Conquer Hell: the Meuse-Argonne, 1918. 1st ed. New York: H. Holt, 2008. Print. 

Mastriano, Douglas. “Alvin York and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.” Sept. 2006. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.

Sergeant York Project Team. “The German Soldier Accounts.” 2010. Online at

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lincoln's Springfield Letter 1863

"God bless Abraham Lincoln!" The Promise must be kept!
Horace Greeley, New York Tribune, September 3, 1863.

On August 14, 1863 James C. Conkling wrote his former Springfield, Illinois neighbor, Abraham Lincoln, now the president of the United States. There would be a "Grand Mass Meeting" at Springfield on September 3, and Lincoln was invited to give a speech. "It would be gratifying to the many thousands who will be present on that occasion if you will also meet with them," Conkling conveyed. "Can you not give us a favorable reply?" (Ronald C. White, Jr. A. Lincoln: A Biography, 582)

"Your letter of the 14th is received," Lincoln wrote back to Conkling on the 20th. "I think I will go, or send a letter- probably the latter." (White, 583)

Conkling replied the next day: "While it would afford the many thousands of loyal men assembled together on that occasion, great pleasure to hear from you, by Letter... they would infinitely prefer to see you in person." (Ibid.)

Lincoln considered his options: go there in person or send a letter? On the 26th, he announced his decision to Conkling. "It would be very agreeable to me, to thus meet my old friends, at my own home," wrote Lincoln; "but I can not, just now, be absent from here, so long as a visit there, would require." He elaborated for Conkling the following day: "I cannot leave here now. Herewith is a letter instead. I have but one suggestion- read it very slowly." (White, 584)

It was around this time- perhaps August 23- William O. Stoddard, a former newspaper editor and long time Lincoln proponent, entered the president's office in the White House. He saw the president at his desk, writing the letter for Conkling. Lincoln stopped what he was doing and looked up at Stoddard, now one of his secretaries. Stoddard, he asked, could you please read aloud what I am writing? "I can always tell more about a thing after I've heard it read aloud, and know how it sounds." (Ibid.)

So on a podium in Springfield before a huge Unionist audience on September 3, 1863, Conkling took out Lincoln's letter, held it up, and, just as Lincoln had advised, spoke slowly:

There are those who are dissatisfied with me. To such I would say: You desire peace; and you blame me that we do not have it. But how can we attain it? There are but three conceivable ways. First, to suppress the rebellion by force of arms. This, I am trying to do. Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed. If you are not for it, a second way is, to give up the Union. I am against this.

Are you for it? If you are, you should say so plainly. If you are not for force, nor yet for dissolution, there only remains some imaginable compromise. I do not believe any compromise, embracing the maintenance of the Union, is now possible. All I learn, leads to a directly opposite belief. The strength of the rebellion, is its military---its army. That army dominates all the country, and all the people, within its range. Any offer of terms made by any man or men within that range, in opposition to that army, is simply nothing for the present; because such man or men, have no power whatever to enforce their side of a compromise, if one were made with them. To illustrate---Suppose refugees from the South, and peace men of the North, get together in convention, and frame and proclaim a compromise embracing a restoration of the Union; in what way can that compromise be used to keep Lee's army out of Pennsylvania? Meade's army can keep Lee's army out of Pennsylvania; and, I think, can ultimately drive it out of existence. But no paper compromise, to which the controllers of Lee's army are not agreed, can, at all, affect that army. In an effort at such compromise we should waste time, which the enemy would improve to our disadvantage; and that would be all. A compromise, to be effective, must be made either with those who control the rebel army, or with the people first liberated from the domination of that army, by the success of our own army. Now allow me to assure you, that no word or intimation, from that rebel army, or from any of the men controlling it, in relation to any peace compromise, has ever come to my knowledge or belief. All charges and insinuations to the contrary, are deceptive and groundless. And I promise you, that if any such proposition shall hereafter come, it shall not be rejected, and kept a secret from you. I freely acknowledge myself the servant of the people, according to the bond of service---the United States constitution; and that, as such, I am responsible to them.

But, to be plain, you are dissatisfied with me about the negro. Quite likely there is a difference of opinion between you and myself upon that subject. I certainly wish that all men could be free, while I suppose you do not. Yet I have neither adopted, nor proposed any measure, which is not consistent with even your view, provided you are for the Union. I suggested compensated emancipation; to which you replied you wished not to be taxed to buy negroes. But I had not asked you to be taxed to buy negroes, except in such way, as to save you from greater taxation to save the Union exclusively by other means.

You dislike the emancipation proclamation; and, perhaps, would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional---I think differently. I think the constitution invests its commander-in-chief, with the law of war, in time of war. The most that can be said, if so much, is, that slaves are property. Is there---has there ever been---any question that by the law of war, property, both of enemies and friends, may be taken when needed? And is it not needed whenever taking it, helps us, or hurts the enemy? Armies, the world over, destroy enemies' property when they can not use it; and even destroy their own to keep it from the enemy. Civilized belligerents do all in their power to help themselves, or hurt the enemy, except a few things regarded as barbarous or cruel. Among the exceptions are the massacre of vanquished foes, and non-combatants, male and female.

But the proclamation, as law, either is valid, or is not valid. If it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is valid, it can not be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to life. Some of you profess to think its retraction would operate favorably for the Union. Why better after the retraction, than before the issue? There was more than a year and a half of trial to suppress the rebellion before the proclamation issued, the last one hundred days of which passed under an explicit notice that it was coming, unless averted by those in revolt, returning to their allegiance. The war has certainly progressed as favorably for us, since the issue of the proclamation as before. I know as fully as one can know the opinions of others, that some of the commanders of our armies in the field who have given us our most important successes, believe the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion; and that, at least one of those important successes, could not have been achieved when it was, but for the aid of black soldiers. Among the commanders holding these views are some who have never had any affinity with what is called abolitionism, or with republican party politics; but who hold them purely as military opinions. I submit these opinions as being entitled to some weight against the objections, often urged, that emancipation, and arming the blacks, are unwise as military measures, and were not adopted, as such, in good faith.

You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but, no matter. Fight you, then, exclusively to save the Union. I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union. Whenever you shall have conquered all resistance to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time, then, for you to declare you will not fight to free negroes.
Photograph of a Drummer Boy with the [78th] United States Colored Infantry.
I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his resistance to you. Do you think differently? I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise to you? But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do any thing for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive- even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept. 

The signs look better. The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea. Thanks to the great North-West for it. Nor yet wholly to them. Three hundred miles up, they met New-England, Empire, Key-Stone, and Jersey, hewing their way right and left. The Sunny South too, in more colors than one, also lent a hand. On the spot, their part of the history was jotted down in black and white. The job was a great national one; and let none be banned who bore an honorable part in it. [It is not surprising that Lincoln, who had navigated the Ohio and Mississippi as a young man, referred to the Mississippi River as "The Father of Waters." After all, Both he and the audience came from an area of American that was heavily-reliant on rivers for transportation and trade. Also, it was nothing new for Lincoln to make use of rivers in his speeches; speaking to the Young Men's Lyceum in early 1838 in the same Springfield, Illinois, he proclaimed, "All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years." (Italics added; Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: Volume One)] And while those who have cleared the great river may well be proud, even that is not all. It is hard to say that anything has been more bravely, and well done, than at Antietam, Murfreesboro, Gettysburg, and on many fields of lesser note. Nor must Uncle Sam's Web-feet be forgotten. At all the watery margins they have been present. Not only on the deep sea, the broad bay, and the rapid river, but also up the narrow muddy bayou, and wherever the ground was a little damp, they have been, and made their tracks. Thanks to all. For the great republic- for the principle it lives by, and keeps alive- for man's vast future,- thanks to all.

Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time. It will then have been proved that, among free men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and that they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case, and pay the cost. And then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.

Still let us not be over-sanguine of a speedy final triumph. Let us be quite sober. Let us diligently apply the means, never doubting that a just God, in his own good time, will give us the rightful result.

Yours very truly
(Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: Volume Six)

"The Letter was received by the Convention with the greatest enthusiasm," Conkling happily wrote Lincoln on the fourth. Indeed it was. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusettes, the same man who had been caned by Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina for his speech "The Crime Against Kansas" in 1856, imparted to Lincoln his highest praises three days later: "Thanks for your true and noble letter. It is an historical document." So did Massachusettes's other senator, Henry Wilson: "God Almighty bless you for your noble, patriotic, and Christian letter. It will be on the lips, and in the hearts of hundreds of thousands this day." But it was Boston railroad industrialist and abolitionist John Murray Forbes who, on September 8, gave the president the greatest compliment of them all. "Your letter to the Springfield Convention... will live in history side by side with your proclamation," he claimed. "It meets the fears of the timid and the doubts of the reformer." Added Forbes, "My suggestion then is that you should seize an early opportunity and any subsequent chance to teach your great audience." (White 589, 602)

My suggestion then is that you should seize an early opportunity and any subsequent chance to teach your great audience. Lincoln took that counsel, and with all his public letters a success thus far he was all the more willing to exercise oratory before that "great audience." The "early opportunity" showed itself when he was invited on November 2 to speak at a little Pennsylvania town that had witnessed the scourge of war...

Its name was Gettysburg.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Petersburg 1864-65: The Crater

Oh! the depravity of the human heart; that would cause men to cry out "no quarter" in battle, or not show any when asked for.
Private Noble Brooks, Wright's Brigade, C.S.A.

In June of 1864 Union forces under Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had tried to take Petersburg, Virginia- located along the Appomattox River 22 miles south of the Confederate capital, Richmond. The Yankees would have succeeded were it not for Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. So Grant had to make do with a siege that resembled the First World War more than the American Civil War, with fortifications and entrenchments. 

Or did he have to make do? That same month, someone in the 48th Pennsylvania had a solution: Why not blow up that Rebel position on other side with a mine? The idea was discussed among the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers, and they liked it. So when Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants, who had himself been a mining engineer in civilian life, heard them out and liked it, too, drafting plans and drawing sketches for the proposed mining operation that night. The following day, he forwarded the proposal up the chain of command, to the Second Division, IX Corps commander Brigadier General Robert Potter, who in turn sent it up to General Ambrose Burnside, the affable commander of that corps of the Army of the Potomac, with his enthusiastic endorsement on June 24. After interrogating Pleasants, studying his sketches, and taking a look at the enemy stronghold himself, Burnside approved the plan as well. Historian James McPherson writes, "Here was a chance to redeem his failure at Fredericksburg by capturing Petersburg and winning the war.”

Gen. Robert B. Potter
A problem arose when the plan reached the headquarters of the Union Army of the Potomac. It wasn't that Major General George G. Meade, the army’s commander, failed to sanction it; his reply to Burnside was prompt and amicable. Rather, it was the man who he sent to decide whether the operation was viable or not: Major J.C. Duane—author of the U.S. armed force’s mining manual… and an opponent of IX Corps commander ever since the Battle of Antietam in 1862. As Burnside expected, Duane deemed the proposal “claptrap and nonsense.” A 150- to 200-yard long tunnel, he believed, could not be constructed. So he refused to provide Burnside with the appropriate military mining equipment.

But no matter: At 12:00 A.M. on June 25, 1864 the tunneling commenced, and the more the Pennsylvanians dug, the more Burnside became a proponent of the enterprise.

The target was Elliott's, or Pegram’s, Salient—named after the men whose commands occupied it: brigade commander Stephen Elliott and battery commander Richard Pegram. It was opposite IX Corps’ own salient—known to the troops as “the Horseshoe”—by less than 400 feet of desolate landscape, and on its tip was the 48th Pennsylvania. There, unlike other parts of the line, there were no pickets, only abatis.

Elliott’s Salient, when compared to the Horseshoe, was also on higher ground—a situation that gave the Rebels a distinct advantage, for they could see plenty of the enemy’s activity. Consequently, they became at raiding IX Corps picket line at night. It became even more unpleasant for the Federals on June 19 when the Rebels learned that the Union corps had black troops. As a history of the 20th Michigan recounts, that evening “the Rebels vented, in an incessant galling and somewhat deadly fire, the bitter spite they felt against both Negro soldiers and the white ones beside whom they fought.” When Billy Yank and Johnny Reb “were even disposed to be friendly” in other sectors, calling brief cessations of hostilities and exchanging coffee, tobacco, and the latest issues of newspapers like Harper’s Weekly, IX Corp’s was an absolute hellhole. Not surprisingly, not only did animosity grow for their enemy, but blacks were not popular among many of the white troops of the IX Corps. “They hated the Rebels for shooting them,” explains historian Richard Slotkin, “but some of them also hated the Rebels for treating them as if they chose to associate with Negroes, and some hated the Blacks whose mere presence had brought this ordeal upon them.”
 Petersburg, Virginia. Interior view of Confederate works near Elliott's salient, April 3, 1865.

Gen. Edward Ferrero 
The attack would be spearheaded by the corps' Fourth Division, which was composed of nine regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT): the 19th, 23rd, 30th, and 39th USCT from Maryland and northern Virginia; the 43rd from Pennsylvania; the 31st from New York City and Connecticut; the 27th from Ohio; the 28th from Indiana; and 29th from Illinois. The three other white divisions, having participated heavily in the bloody Overland Campaign, were a shadow of their former selves. So far, the only action the division had seen were the hardly exciting jobs of construction work and guarding ammunition trains, far from the adrenaline-pumping experience of combat indeed. If the composition of the division was unique in the Army of the Potomac, so was the background of the man who led it among that army's officer corps. Brigadier General Edward Ferrero's background was conspicuous in the extreme. He was born in Spain to an Italian couple in 1831, and in the antebellum years he had been a teacher and manager of a dancing school his father had set up in New York City, a fact that was the cause of much scorn from his fellow officers. Nevertheless, Ferrero was a capable fighter and began readying his division for the role they were about to play. "We were all pleased with the compliment of being chosen to lead the assault," wrote Colonel Henry G. Thomas, who commanded the division's Second Brigade.

Both officers and men were eager to show the white troops what the colored division could do. We had acquired confidence in our men. They believed us infallible. We had drilled certain movements, to be executed in gaining and occupying the crest. It is an axiom in military art that there are times when the ardour, hopefulness, and enthusiasm of new troops, not yet rendered doubtful by reverses or chilled by defeat, more than compensate, in a dash, for training and experience.

That ardour, hopefulness and enthusiasm were, in the case of the Fourth Division, not just the characteristics of green troops but of former slaves fighting for their freedom and the freedom of their loved ones still in bondage.

They were also reminded by their officers of the Fort Pillow Massacre that took place in Tennessee back in April, in which enraged Confederates under General Nathan Bedford Forrest butchered Union troops, White and Black alike: “Remember Fort Pillow, remember that the enemy will show no mercy and grant no quarter. How will you answer that threat?” Not surprisingly their battle cry—like the Rebel yell and the “Hurrah” of their White comrades—became, “Fort Pillow! No quarter!”

It was a battle cry that would prove a double-edged sword.

General George Gordon Meade—the completely colorless (especially when compared with Ferrero) but competent commanding general of the Army of the Potomac who, like the Fourth Division commander, had been born in Spain—had reservations about Burnside's plans for the assault, however. When Burnside arrived at his headquarters near City Point at 12:00 A.M., July 28, Meade ordered him to not use the Colored division because “he could not trust them because they were untried.”

That same meeting Burnside had agreed to have the lead regiments to not change formation in the attack; that there would be no extra powder charge for the mine. But demoting the Fourth Division was going too far for him. So he explained to Meade why it would be prudent to deploy the Negroes instead of the Whites.

General Burnside, Meade replied, it is not that I have “any reason to doubt, or any desire to doubt the good qualities of the colored troops.” However, this “operation” is “to be a coup-de-main.” Your “assaulting column” is “to be a forlorn hope, such as are put into breaches.” Therefore, “assault with” your “best troops.”

Burnside—who was now, according to Meade, “very much disappointed”—persisted, though. 

All right, General, Meade said, I’ll report this matter to Grant; “state to him” both of our reasons, and let him decide.

If the attack failed, he asserted to Grant, it would appear that the Yankees were using the blacks as "cannon fodder." The War Democrats and Peace Democrats, better known as Copperheads, on the Right would froth in the mouth at their employment. Radical Republicans on the Left would accuse them of treason if they were not used. The possibility of a slaughter, as Grant would explain, put another strike against appeasing the Radicals: 

General Meade said that if we put the colored troops (we had only one division) and it should prove a failure, it would then be said, and very properly, that we were shoving those people ahead to get killed because we did not care anything about them. But that could not be said if we put white troops in front.

Grant agreed.

It was perhaps 11:00 A.M. the next morning that generals Meade and Edward Ord rode up to Burnside’s headquarters near the Shand House. The bright sun beat down oppressively over the land. In the shade of his headquarters tent, Burnside was planning with two of his division commanders—brigadier generals Potter and Orlando B. Willcox, commanding the Third Division—for next day’s assault. When Meade came up to him, Burnside asked, What did Grant decide on the colored troops, general?

Meade was taken aback a bit. Obviously Burnside hadn't received his dispatch by telegraph. Well, he thought, I knew I’d have had to augment this order by my personal presence.

“I saw General Grant,” he replied, “and he agrees with me that it will not do to put the colored division in the lead.”

Can that decision not be changed? asked an immensely disappointed Burnside.

“No, general, it cannot; it is final, and you must put in your white troops.”

Burnside then repeated his arguments. 

Meade was done debating, however: “You must detail one of your white divisions to make the advance.” 

“Very well, general,” said Burnside, “I will carry out this plan to the best of my ability.”

Ord and Meade rode off to take a look for themselves at the ground Burnside’s corps would have to traverse.

Back in his tent, Burnside turned to Willcox and Potter. Both argued convincingly why his worn out division shouldn’t be the spearhead. The conference was now at a stalemate, even after Burnside had brought General Ledlie, his other division commander over. Ledlie’s argument for why his division shouldn’t play the lead role was just as persuasive as Potter’s and Willcox’s,

That was so for about two hours before Meade returned from his inspection. General Burnside, he emphasized, “if immediate advantage” is “not taken of the explosion of the mine, and the consequent confusion of the enemy, and the crest immediately gained,” the enemy will bring up their reserves and contain you around the crater. You couldn’t hold that position, because their artillery nearly surrounds it. If success hasn’t been procured quickly, you must call it off and extricate your troops before there is immense loss of life. Then he departed once more.

From that point on, it seemed that everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong.

Since all of his divisions were depleted and he had no reason to question any of their commanders’ competence, Burnside, exhibiting a remarkable indecisiveness, believed that fairness should take precedent over everything else: At the table he looked at each of their faces and said, “It will be fair to cast lots.” He tore three pieces of paper and put them into his black brimmed hat.

Gen. James H. Ledlie 
Brigadier General James Hewitt Ledlie, the commander of the First Division—a “dark-eyed, pudgy little man with a huge black mustache”—drew the shortest piece. Out of all the candidates to lead the assault New Yorker Ledlie was the least qualified as well as a loose cannon. A former civil engineer, Ledlie had a severe drinking problem and seemingly could not go into battle without being intoxicated. Although Burnside was unaware of Ledlie's huge liability, Grant was, but he failed to convey his knowledge to neither Burnside nor Meade until after the Battle of the Crater. Anyway, Burnside recollected, Ledlie “at once left my headquarters in a very cheerful mood to make his arrangements.”

Something else Burnside hadn't considered was that out of all of his White divisions, Ledlie’s the proportional lion’s share of the relative greenhorns—men who had only joined up in April. Half of each of the division’s two brigades was veterans; the other half was newcomers, who had to become combat wise in combat.

The revised plan was to have the mine explode precisely at 3:30 on the morning of July 30. Then Ledlie's division, supported by the Second and Third Divisions, would advance over and beyond the crater and, “if possible,” take a promontory with a small church and cemetery on its crest (thus it would be called "Cemetery Hill" in the battle's aftermath) near the town of Blanford. Troops of V and XVIII Corps, as well as a division of the Army of the James’ X Corps, would also participate. When Cemetery Hill was secured, the Fourth Division, now in reserve, would move leap-frog over the First and attempt to take Blanford. In Ledlie's division, Colonel Elisha G. Marshall's Second Brigade would be the tip of the spear that would be thrust at the Rebels, followed by Brigadier General William Francis Bartlett's First. 

The Yankees of IX Corps started moving into position at 9:00 A.M., July 29. "The men were cautioned to prevent the rattling of tin cups and bayonets," observed Major Charles Houghton of the 14th New York Heavy Artillery, Second Brigade, First Division, "because we were so near the enemy that they would discover our movements. We marched with the stillness of death; not a word was said above a whisper. We knew, of course, that something very important was to be done and that we were to play a prominent part." It is a common practice for a soldier in any army to "hurry up and wait," and that was what the Yankees did until the early morning hours of July 30. The last thunderstorm had been on the 21st, so the heat was sultry even at nighttime. Consequently, the Union troops waiting for the assault were already very sweaty. Having been on their feet for hours, their officers allowed them to sit, and several then slept. For many it would be their last sleep. 

Gen. William Francis Bartlett 
William Francis Bartlett had been born into Boston’s privileged mercantile class. His photographs seem to indicate a considerable degree of aristocratic self-confidence, with his very upright back—which no doubt made himself look taller than his six feet—and long hooked nose slightly tilted. Blond-haired and blue-eyed Bartlett had been attending Harvard when Fort Sumter was bombarded. Although he thought the South’s reasons for secession were legitimate, he felt impelled by honor and the necessity to be useful to volunteer as a private in the 4th Massachusetts. Soon he was a captain in the 20th Massachusetts. Next he became a colonel commanding his state’s 49th then 57th regiments.

Now, at just 24 years of age, he was a brigadier general commanding the First Brigade of IX Corps’s First Division. With Colonel Marshall, he attended a meeting with General Ledlie at 3:00 P.M. on the 29th. Ledlie repeated Burnside’s order to them… with one little modification: Bartlett and Marshall were only to seize the Rebel entrenchments in the immediate vicinity of the expected crater, and not press on to Cemetery Hill. His orders from Burnside told him to try to take the hill “if possible.” Ledlie figured that his men, having seized the enemy trenches, couldn’t possibly be able to take Cemetery Hill. That task should be left to the coloreds. This was insubordination of the highest order on Ledlie’s part.

Of course, Bartlett didn’t know that. Even if his superior officer had not edited anything, it probably wouldn’t have done anything to diminish the New Englander’s acute awareness of his own mortality. His cork leg was a constant reminder of the real one he had lost at Yorktown two years before. At Port Hudson, Louisiana, in 1863 a bullet had shattered his wrist. In the Wilderness two months ago, a spent bullet to the head resulted in partial blindness. This forthcoming battle, Bartlett believed, might be his last: “We storm the works tomorrow at daylight,” he wrote in his journal. “Our Division leads. I hardly dare hope to live through it. God have mercy.”

To Lee, the Federal effort at Deep Bottom on the north side of the James River appeared to be a diversion. Thus, at two on the morning of the 30th he directed all forces in front of Petersburg to be ready for an attack. It could, he added, happen tomorrow at the earliest.

So far, nothing out of the ordinary was happening: "Daylight approaches," noted Captain Eldridge J. Copp, 3rd New Hampshire, Second Brigade, First Division, X Corps, Army of the James, "and yet no sound except the usual firing upon the picket line in our front, and on along the whole line to our left until the sounds are lost in the distant."

Then there was delay. The mine's fuse had gone out. Sergeant Henry Reese- a Welsh redhead from Minersville, Pennsylvania who was overseer of the project- and Lieutenant Jacob Douty, Company K, 48th Pennsylvania went back into the tunnel, relighting the fuse and therefore fixing the problem.

So it was at around 4:45 A.M., an hour and 15 minutes behind schedule, the next day that the mine was detonated. Smoke and soil spewed forth from Elliott's Salient. Lieutenant J.J. Chase, 32nd Maine, was awakened by the explosion's noise:

Oh horrors! Was I in the midst of an earthquake? Was the ground around me about to part and let me into the bowels of the earth? Hardly realizing where I was or what it all meant, this terrible thunder, accompanied by the upheaving and rocking of the ground, springing to my feet I recovered my senses enough to understand that an explosion had taken place. Glancing in the direction of Cemetery Hill, I beheld a huge mass of earth being thrown up, followed by a dark lurid cloud of smoke.

Major William H. Powell, an aide-de-camp in the 4th U.S. Infantry, conveyed the moment more optimistically:

It was a magnificient spectacle, and as the mass of earth went up into the air, carrying with it men, guns, carriages, and timbers, and spread out like an immense cloud as it reached its altitude, so close were the Union lines that the mass appeared as if it would descend immediately upon the troops waiting to make the charge. This caused them to break and scatter to the rear, and about ten minutes were consumed re-forming for the attack. Not much was lost by this delay, however, as it took nearly that time for the cloud of dust to pass off. The order was then given to advance.

A lieutenant of the 14th New York Heavies was thrown into a mud hole by the blast’s shock wave  As he was getting up and trying to get the soil out of his eyes, he heard some shout “Forward!” Once he had “scraped the mud from his eyes” he himself cried, “Forward!”

Before Petersburg at sunrise, July 30th 1864 by Alfred Waud. On a separate sheet of paper is the following description: "Explosion of the mine under the Confederate works at Petersburg July 30th 1864. The spires in the distance mark the location of the city; along the crest, in front of them are the defensive works, it was an angle of these that was blown up, with its guns & defenders. The explosion was the signal for the simultaneous opening of the artillery and musketry of the Union lines. The pickets are seen running in from their pits & shelters on the front, to the outer line of attack. In the middle distance, are the magnificent 8 & 10 inch Mortar batteries, built and commanded by Col. Abbott. Nearer is a line of abandoned rifle pits, and in the foreground is the covered way, a sunken road for communication with the siege works and the conveyance of supplies and ammunition to the forts. The chief Engineer of the A. of P. is standing upon the embankment watching progress throw [sic] a field glass." 

At the epicenter, South Carolinians were buried under earth and ruins and thrown about this way and that—even to kingdom come, it seemed. “God only knows how high it sent me,” remembered a Confederate officer. “I spread out my wings to see if I could fly but the first thing I knowed I was laying on top of the works.” 

"For some minutes there was utmost consternation among our men," Colonel Fitz William McMaster, who commanded both the 17th South Carolina. "Some scampered out of the lines; some, paralyzed with fear, vaguely scratched at the counterscarp as if trying to escape. Smoke and dust filled the air." The Rebels to the right and left fled in all directions—for 25 or 30 yards, that is. 

Two of the Confederates' 12-pounder Napoleon guns of Captain Richard G. Pegram's Virginia battery had been thrown into no-man's land; the remaining two, located in an area of the position untouched by the mine to the south, did not budge. In the crater some southerners were buried with dirt up to their necks and waists, others with their feet and legs sticking out. The mine had claimed 350 Rebels: 170 killed or wounded for the 22nd South Carolina manning the salient proper; 43 killed and 43 wounded for the adjacent 18th; 25 killed and 8 wounded for the 17th; 14 killed and 41 wounded for the 23rd; and 22 casualties for Pegram's battery.

About a hundred yards to the south, Sergeant William Russell, 26th Virginia, was standing on the fire step of his earthwork. The “rocking of the ground,” to use Lieutenant Chase’s wording, caused by the explosion made him rock, too. 

Two hundred yards from the epicenter of the blast, Lieutenant Henry Eugene Levy of a Louisiana battery recalled, there was a “throb beneath our feet and, a moment after, as if a volcano had burst from the bowels of the land (200 yds to my left), men, spades, wheels, logs, vast boulders of earth and an indescribable debris obscured the rising sun.”

In his headquarters their army commander felt it, too, and heard the subsequent barrage. General Lee wasn't very worried about it, though, because he wasn't sure if this was an attack or a diversion. So he decided to wait for confirmation on whether it was one or the other.

Across from Chase and Powell, the Confederates, while shocked by the explosion, were not surprised by its occurrence. Despite orders to the men of the 48th Pennsylvania to not talk about what they were doing to their comrades and families, rumors of a mining project did reach the Rebels, through fraternization between enemy pickets, through Union deserters. The southerners were constructing a countermine at the time of the Union mine's detonation, but it came nowhere close to finding where the enemy mine actually was. Also, as Grant would later recall, the intelligence the Confederates had was way off the mark as well:

We had learned through deserters who had come in that the people had very wild rumors about what was going on on our side. They said that we had undermined the whole of Petersburg; that they were resting upon a slumbering volcano and did not know at what moment they might expect an eruption. I somewhat based my calculations upon this state of feeling, and expected that when the mine was exploded the troops to the right and left would flee in all directions, and that our troops, if they moved promptly, could get in and strengthen themselves before the enemy had come to a realization of the true situation.

Yet when Marshall's Second Brigade, having easily surmounted the enemy abatis and chevaux-de-frise and entered the crater, commenced advancing out of the huge hole it sustained losses from fire in the rear, from Rebels in trenches to the left and right unaffected by the mine's detonation. Instead of rolling up the Rebel flanks to the left and right, fire from which prevented the attackers from moving forward, the Yankees went into the 170 foot long, 30 foot deep, 60 foot wide crater. "The whole scene of the explosion struck every one dumb with astonishment as we arrived at the crest of the debris," remembered Major Powell.

It was impossible for the troops of the Second Brigade to move forward in line, as they had advanced; and, owing to the broken state they were in, every man crowding up to look into the hole, and being pressed by the First Brigade, which was immediately in rear, it was equally impossible to move by the flank, by any command, around the crater. Before the brigade commanders could realize the situation, the two brigades became inextricably mixed, in the desire to look into the hole.

In the First Brigade was Colonel Stephen M. Weld, Jr., the commander of the 56th Massachusetts:

Here, in the crater, was a confused mob of men continually increasing by fresh arrivals. Of course, nothing could be seen from this crater of the situation of affairs around us. Any attempt to move forward from this crater was absolutely hopeless. The men could not be got forward. It was a perfect mob, as far as any company or regimental organization was concerned, and that necessarily from the way we went forward, and not from any fault of the officers or men. To ask men to go forward in such a condition was useless. Each one felt as if he were to encounter the whole Confederate force alone and unsupported. The moral backing of an organized body of men, which each would sustain his companions on either side, was wanting.

As more men filed into the crater, the Confederate artillery had a field day. Major Wade Gibbs, a Rebel artillery officer, found enough men to man an abandoned gun from Davidson's Virginia battery to the south of the hole, exacerbating the Yankee's confusion from 1,000 yards.

Amidst the roar of bursting shells, soil and shrapnel flying all around them, regimental and brigade commanders in the crater tried to reorganize their units among the rabble, a sea of blue dotted with little red badges of shields crossed by anchors and cannons, which denoted they were members of the First Division, IX Corps. The officers' attempts worked for the 179th New York, 3rd Maryland Battalion, and 2nd Pennsylvania Provisional Heavy Artillery, the men of which were now fighting as infantrymen. However, the New Yorkers and Marylanders failed to push into the supposedly precarious northern Rebel flank while the Pennsylvanians only made it to just beyond the crater's rim. As Ledlie's division was hung up, so too were Wilcox's and Potter's.

Still, there were individual soldiers who distinguished themselves in the heat of battle. Men of the 14th New York Heavy Artillery, led by Sergeant Wesley Stanley of that regiment's Company D, captured Pegram's two remaining cannons. The Yankees then turned them southwards and used them against their former owners. Captain Benjamin A. Spear's Company K, 57th Massachusetts sniped at enemy artillerymen with their Model 1860 Spencer repeating rifles. First Sergeant Barnard A. Strasbaugh of the 3rd Maryland's Company A took eight Rebels prisoner and recaptured the flag of the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery; he would receive the Medal of Honor for these deeds.

Fifty-five yards behind the Union trenches and perhaps 30 minutes into the attack, Ledlie had entered a bombproof shelter, borrowed some rum from a surgeon, and started drinking from the bottle. Now Major Powell approached him there. To the right and left of the crater, Powell reported to Ledlie, your men are being forced into the hole with the rest of their comrades. I advise you, General, to pull them back so they wouldn't impede the bulk of your division's advance. Ledlie simply reiterated his order for the First Division to "advance on Cemetery Hill." Not long after Powell's departure, General Ferrero entered the shelter, and the two of them shared the rum. Then came another order from Burnside: "The general wishes you to move your troops forward to the crest of the hill and hold it." Ledlie called for an aide. Pass this order to the men in the crater, he ordered him. The aide saluted and set off for his destination. Next, another order arrived, this time for Ferrero. His Fourth Division was to advance "through and charge down to the city." He ambiguously promised to comply "as soon as those troops were out of the way." Two more orders with essentially the same meaning followed, and Ferrero exited the bombproof to obey them with Ledlie and Colonel William W. Loring, Burnside's inspector general who was now playing the stop-gap role of Ferrero's adviser.

As they walked, Loring thought. Reinforcing the men in the crater with the Fourth Division would only make their side's deplorable circumstance even worse, he reasoned... then he spoke up: General Ferrero, you should send me back to Burnside so I can inform him of what is really going on out there. Perhaps such information could make him rescind his commands. Very well, Ferrero replied, and Loring left. It wasn't a long wait. When he came back, Loring was the bearer of bad news for Ferrero: Burnside's orders were final.

Consequently, at around 7:30 A.M., the Fourth Division was told to advance. Coincidentally, Colonel Joshua K. Sigfried's First Brigade moved out first, then Colonel Thomas's Second went second. "A colored division mount the works, and they too go forward on the charge," wrote Captain James H. Clark, 115th New York, Second Division, X Corps, Army of the James.

We watch eagerly, it is their first fight and we wonder if they will stand the shock. Noble fellows! Grandly they cross the field; they are under a qithering [sic] fire, but still rush on regardless of fallen comrades, and the storm of pitiless lead and relentless grape that pours upon them three sides, and gain the works with a ringing cheer.

Scene of the explosion Saturday July 30th by Alfred Waud. There is a description written in pencil and black ink on an accompanying peice of paper of what is being portrayed: "The advance to the 'crater' after the explosion of the mine. In the middle distance are the mounds of earth thrown up by the explosion: beyond upon the high ground cemetery hill the Confederates inner line of works, which if they had carried, would have given the Union Army Petersburg and Richmond. In the foreground troops are seen advancing to and beyond Burnsides outer intrenched line and moving upon the Confederate defences. These were on the left Bartletts Massachusetts brigade, and on the right, the Negro troops this sketch was made about 8 AM July 30th 1864." 
Through the throngs of their white comrades in the crater they went, passing their dead, wounded, and unwounded. At last the 43rd US Colored Troops (USCT) poured across the hole's rim, the men's bayonets gleaming in the sunlight. Leading his 13th USCT, Colonel Delevan Bates was killed by a bullet to the head; he would posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor. The blacks made it to the Rebel support trenches, taking prisoners, a "rebel stand of colors," and a "stand of national colors" that had been captured earlier. Wounded Major James C. Leeke, also of the 13th USCT, standing on the earthen embankments and blood pouring from his mouth, urged his men to advance even farther. But the heavy price the division's officers had to pay caused great demoralization among the enlisted ranks.

Upon reaching the First Brigade, Thomas ordered his men to charge. All of them did... except those of the 31st USCT, which "was disheartened at its loss of officers and could not be gotten out promptly." Thomas, Captain Marshall L. Dempey, and Lieutenant Christopher Pennell tried to hearten them anew, "but the fire was so hot that half the few who came out of the works were shot." Carrying the regimental colors forward, Pennell fell dead, blood flowing out of the many holes the enemy bullets had made in his body. The other, surviving half fell back.

While the attack was unfolding the Confederate commanders did not sit idle. The mine's explosion caused General P. G. T. Beauregard, a quite Creole West Pointer who had been tasked in April with assisting Lee in the Eastern Theater, to wake up. He then a sent an officer of his staff to inform Dunn's Hill, Robert E. Lee's headquarters, of the Union attack. Lee reacted quickly. Brigadier General William "Little Billy" Mahone, small in stature but tall in aggressiveness, was ordered to send two of his brigades to augment Major General Bushrod R. Johnson's division, which was opposing the Yankees of the IX Corps, and counterattack.
Gen. William Mahone, C.S.A.
From his headquarters at the Wilcox Farm close to Lieutenant Creek, Mahone departed at six that morning for the crater two miles away. However, it wasn't a two-mile journey. Lest Yankee signalmen detect him, he took a longer route full of ravines that offered great concealment. Upon arrival at the scene of the fight Mahone and Brigadier General David Addison Weisiger, one of Mahone's brigade commanders, surveyed the enemy manning the rim of the crater as their men were entering the field and laying down on the devastated ground devoid of virtually all greenery to be prepared to charge.

Both Mahone and Weisiger soon realized that the bluecoats were about to charge as well. Across the field Lieutenant Colonel John A. Bross of the 29th USCT arose. Back and forth he waved his regiment's colors, shouting, "Forward, my brave boys!" "Fix bayonets and no quarter" was what Major William H. Etheredge, who commanded the 41st Virginia, Weisiger's brigade, believed he heard the Yankee officers ordering their men simultaneous to Bross's cry. With "the few" only just having been repulsed, Colonel Thomas received an order from General Ferrero to advance alongside the First Brigade and capture the crest of Cemetery Hill. "I ordered the Twenty-ninth this time to lead, which it did gallantly, closely followed by the Twenty-eighth and a few of the Twenty-third, when it was at once engaged by a heavy charging column of the enemy, and after a struggle driven back over our rifle-pits." The Rebels had beaten them to it.

On they came, the 6th, 16th, 61st, 41st, and 12th Virginia regiments of Weisiger's brigade from the Yankees' left to right, with the 17th and 61st North Carolinas from Hoke's division and the 26th North Carolina from Heth's advancing behind them. Their shining bayonets were lowered, ready to be plunged into Union bodies, and they cried "no quarter"... and the chilling Rebel Yell. "At this moment a panic commenced," continued Thomas.

The black and white troops came pouring back together. A few, more gallant, than the rest, without organization, but guided by a soldier's instinct, remained on the side of the pits nearest our line and held the enemy at bay some ten or fifteen minutes, until they were nearly all shot away... Whether we fought well or not, the scores of our dead lying thick as if mowed down by the hand of some mighty reaper and the terrible loss of officers can best attest.

Back into the crater and its adjacent northern trenches the retreating Yankees fled. "The mass of the Union army are swept back like a breath of air," remembered Captain Clark, "and are cut up badly on the backward track." So crowded was the crater that the bluecoats within it were unable to lift neither their arms nor their weapons.

Soon the Virginians arrived with unloaded guns. Among them was Major Etheredge:

The scene that follows beggars description: our men would drive the bayonet into one man, pull it out, turn the butt and knock the brains out of another, and so on until the ditch ran with blood of the dead and dying. So great was the slaughter that Lieutenant Colonel William H. Seward, of the Sixty-first regiment, in command, and myself... had to make a detail [of men] to pile up the dead on the side of the ditch to make room so we could reinforce to the right or left, as occasion might require.

Conversely, Mahone's other, Georgian brigade under Colonel Matthew R. Hall failed to inflict as much damage on the enemy as the Virginians. Attacking the Union troops holding the undamaged portion of Elliott's Salient, they met indomitable opposition. The remnants of Brigadier General John F. Hartranft's First Brigade, Third Division, IX Corps and Union artillery, including the captured guns manned by the New Yorkers, gave the Rebels volley after volley. Shells put huge holes in the long line of battle containing colors ranging from grey to butternut, causing soil, blood, and body parts to fly everywhere. More Confederates died when they were within rifle range. Eventually, unable to withstand the slaughter any longer, the Rebels retreated.

But the situation still remained bleak for the Yankees, and by 9:00 A.M. Burnside admitted defeat. The supporting troops on either side of the crater were low on ammunition and hence ordered to try to retreat in an organized fashion; Ferrero's division had been pushed back and now reunited with Ledlie's; and with the Confederate reinforcements under Mahone having entered the fray there seemed a little likelihood that this operation would result in a breakthrough. The stalemate would have to be broken somewhere else, some other way...

Of course, Burnside didn't notify Mahone and Lee of his admission. Little Billy Mahone wanted to make the Union defeat even greater, so he brought up another Georgia brigade commanded by Brigadier General John C. C. Sanders. Before they would assail the enemy, Mahone gave them some advice. Men, he declared, General Lee will be watching you from the Gee House close to the Jerusalem Plank Road. Also, among the enemy occupants of the immense ditch are negro troops; make sure you give them "no quarter."

Before the attack Rebel artillery tried too soften up the enemy, drawing the attention of his guns. Then all was silent. The was soon broken with firing of two Confederate guns, signaling the attack, and at 2:00 P.M. Sanders's brigade rose up, shouldered their arms, and advanced in line of battle.
At the same time the assault commenced the Yankees in the crater were ordered to retreat. So when the southerners reached the rim of the crater, the northerners in it did not give much in the way of opposition. Having had his cork leg shot off, Brigadier General William Francis Bartlett, a former Harvard student whose loss of a leg at Yorktown two years before caused him to form his own regiment just to get back into the war, requested to be lifted up to witness the approach of Sanders's men; as soon as he was a bullet cut deeply into his head. The Rebels threw at their enemy led, soil, wood, cannonballs, and even rifles, bayonets first, to harpoon the unfortunate Yankees like whales.

"Why in hell don't you surrender?" shouted a Confederate officer at a Union colonel.

"Why in hell don't you let us!" the colonel retorted.

Yankees started to capitulate in droves. "Hold on there," a southern captain said to his men, trying to prevent further killing; "they have surrendered." Such mercy was not reserved for the men of the Fourth Division. If they were not killed by enraged Rebels while capitulating they were by white Union troops fearful they might be murdered if the enemy found them with their black comrades. By about 4:40 P.M., the remaining Union troops in the crater had surrendered. Yankees suffered 3,798 casualties out of 20,708 participants; the Rebels, approximately 1,500 out of 11,466.

As Grant would later write of the Battle of the Crater, "The effort was a stupendous failure." Through his derliction of duty as a division commander, "Ledlie besides being otherwise inefficient, proved also to possess disqualification less common among soldiers." Burnside, while ignorant of Ledlie's defect, should have been more decisive by choosing the more capable Wilcox or Potter to lead the assault instead of basing his decision on drawn straws. Even Grant and Meade share guilt for what happened- Meade for suggesting at the last minute that a white division be designated to lead the attack instead of a black one, Grant for agreeing. To be fair with them, at that high up the chain of command a commander must make political as well as military considerations; both generals were doing just that. Ironically, their move to lessen the political consequences in case the operation failed actually ensured that it did.

Nevertheless, if viewed in a strategic sense, the operation was not a complete disaster. While the Yankees suffered more casualties in the engagement, they had the greater number of participants, and the North throughout the American Civil War possessed the advantage of manpower. If anything, Lee's repulse of Burnside's attack simply delayed the inevitable, for his army, for the South. The Confederacy's only hope was that it could, to quote Lee, "resist manfully" and impart to the Union more such setbacks sufficiently long for disenchanted northerners to elect in November a Peace Democrat for president who would recognize its independence. Doing that, of course, was easier said than done, and until the election the North intended to attack just as manfully. Between now and then, the Yankees could have a triumph that would unravel all of the Confederates' plans.

Selected Sources and Further Reading:

Field, Ron. Petersburg 1864-65: The Longest Siege. Oxford: Osprey, 2009. Print.
Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2003.
McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Print. The Oxford History of the United States v. 6.
Slotkin, Richard. No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.