The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Sunday, December 21, 2003
The Petersburg Mine Explosion and a sense of proportion
A degree of trepidation while fact-checking is always sensible, especially on a subject on which so many are so much wiser!
But I was brought up short by a review of the Nicole Kidman movie Cold Mountain in the London Observer today:
His Troy is an apparently impregnable Confederate outpost at Petersburg, Virginia, where the Union engineers dug a long, deep tunnel under the fortifications, filled it with explosives and brought about one of the greatest massacres of the war.
Now, I've watched the Ken Burns Civil War series several times (!), and while I recall a dolefulness on the level of slaughter at Antietam and Gettysburg, say, the explosion at Peterburg I didn't mentally calibrate as being of the same order.
We're talking, I surmise, of the explosion which took place at 4.44 am on Saturday, July 30 1864, and which preceded the Battle of the Crater (a 1914 account by Silas Stevenson).
According to the account, the position blown up was
known as "Elliott's Salient.", [the mine] blowing up or burying under it the debris of earth and timber, about three hundred officers and men belonging to the 18th and 22d South Carolina regiments, and Pegram's battery. This "Salient," or earthwork was a six gun battery situate about four hundred yards below the crest of Cemetery Hill.
Later, it's pointed out that
Quite a number of those who fell safely were dug out and rescued alive by the assaulting column.
Some casualty stats for comparison
The Ten Costliest Battles of the Civil Warsuggest there were bloodier events.
But, I suppose, as the late Professor CEM Joad would have put it,
It all depends what you mean by massacre...
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