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BATTLE OF THE CRATER
JULY 30, 1864

GENERAL BUSHROD JOHNSON'S REPORT FROM THE OFFICAL RECORDS OF THE WAR OF THE REBELLION

OPERATIONS IN SE VA & NC, THE RICHMOND CAMPAIGN

HEADQUARTERS JOHNSON’S DIVISION, AUGUST 20, 1864



COLONEL: The following report of the part taken by this division in the action of Saturday the 30th of July, 1864, is respectfully submitted:

For a proper understanding of the condition of this command on the occasion referred to it is necessary to state that on the night of the 28th of July every man in reserve in this division was placed in the trenches. Colquitt’s brigade, of Hoke’s division, was temporarily transferred to my command in exchange for Gracie’s brigade and placed on my right. For the purpose of relieving Field’s division from the trenches my line was extended to an attenuation that was deemed barely secure against an ordinary assault. From the left to the right the brigades were stationed in the trenches in the following order, viz: Ransom’s, Elliott’s, Wise’s and Colquitt’s brigades.

About 4.55 o’clock on the morning of the 30th of July the enemy sprung a large mine under that portion of my line about 200 yards north of the Baxter road, known as Pegram’s salient. In this salient there were four guns of Captain Pegram’s battery, and the Eighteenth and Twenty-second South Carolina Regiments, of Elliott’s brigade, occupied the parapets in the battery and adjacent to it. The Twenty-second South Carolina Regiment extended from a point some seventy yards to the right of the right fun to a point beyond, but near to the left gun of the battery. The Eighteenth was posted on the left of the Twenty-second South Carolina Regiment. The regiments of Elliott’s brigade were distributed along the parapet from left to right as follows, viz: The Twenty-sixth, Seventeenth, Eighteenth, Twenty-second and Twenty-third South Carolina Regiments. To strengthen Pegram’s salient a second line or trench cavalier had been thrown up in its rear, commanding our front line and the enemy’s works at a distance of from 150 to 200 yards. Owing to the extension of our line, already explained our troops occupied only the front line of our works. The mine, as has been since ascertained, was laid along two wings, extending to the right and left of the main gallery, nearly parallel to the interior crest of our work and beneath the foot of the slope of the banquette, or perhaps farther back, and completely destroyed a portion of the front or main line of our fortification and the right of the trench cavalier. The crater measures 135 feet in length, 97 feet in breath, and 30 feet deep. The two guns of Pegram’s battery were not disturbed by the explosion. The two left guns were thrown out in front of our works, and only eight men out of twenty-eight men and two officers with the battery escaped alive and unhurt. The battery was occupied by five companies of the Twenty-second South Carolina Regiment, which were blown up. The Eighteenth South Carolina Regiment, on the left of the battery, had four companies blown up or destroyed by the falling earth.

From the facts furnished by Col. F.W. McMaster, commanding Elliott’s brigade since Brig. Gen. S. Elliott was wounded, it appears that the losses sustained by the explosion of the mine are as follows, viz:
 

22ND SC Regiment:

Killed & Wounded, Officers & Men, Total 179

18th SC Regiment:

Officers Killed 4, Wounded 5, Total 9

Men Killed 39, Wounded 38, Total 77

Pegram’s battery:

Officers & men, Total 23

Aggregate losses known to have occurred

from explosion: 278

Of 4 officers and 72 men missing from the Eighteenth South Carolina Regiment, over and above the foregoing estimate, a part may have been blown up or killed by the falling earth, but most of them are supposed to have been captured.

The astonishing effect of the explosion, bursting like a volcano at the feet of the men, and the upheaving of an immense column of more that 100,000 cubic, feet of earth to fall around in heavy masses, wounding, crushing, or burying everything within its reach, prevented our men from moving promptly to the mouth of the crater and occupying that part of the trench cavalier which was not destroyed, and over which the debris was scattered. Each brigade of this division had, however, been previously instructed as to the course to be pursued and the stubborn resistance to be offered on each flank in case a breach was made in our lines, and the troops of Elliott’s brigade, not blown up or injured, maintained their ground with remarkable steadiness. When the torrents of dust had subsided the enemy was found in the breach. Some four flags were counted and a continuous column of white and black troops came pouring on from the enemy’s lines to support those in the advance, while their artillery, mortars, and cannon, opened all along their lines, concentrating on our works and grounds adjacent to the crater on of the heaviest artillery fires known to our oldest officers in the field. Their heaviest fire was from the batteries in the vicinity of the Baxter road, where they had, since the 16th of June, seemed to concentrate their greatest strength, worked with greatest industry, built the strongest works and fought with unwearied energy.

On the advancing column the Twenty-third and apart of the Twenty-second South Carolina Regiments, on the right, and the Seventeenth and part of the Eighteenth South Carolina Regiments, on the left, opened from our parapets a most destructive fire. The flanking arrangements of our works on both sides of the breach afforded peculiar advantages. Soon the fire along the line of the division, extending far out on each flank wherever the enemy’s column could be reached, swept the ground in front of the crater. To the men of Wise’s brigade, occupying the eminence south of the Baxter road about 200 yards from the crater, the enemy’s masses moving on the open ground up to the breach, presented a most inviting and accessible target, upon which their fire took unerring effect. Wright’s battery, of four guns, admirably located, and entrenched on the left of Elliott’s brigade and in rear of our lines, poured its whole column of fire in the right flank of the enemy’s masses. The position of this excellent battery was perhaps unknown to the enemy, and the superior manner in which it was served, the rapidity of the fire, and the terrible effect on the enemy’s forces no doubt greatly astonished and demoralized them.

One fun of Davidson’s battery, commanded by Lieutenant Otey, occupying a position on our main line on the right of the Baxter road- admirably adapted to throw canister-shot into the enemy’s left flank, and with Wright’s battery to sweep the ground in front of the breach with a destructive cross-fire opened with a few rounds, and for some reason, not explained to me, became silent, and was deserted by the officers and men. This battery was connected with my command on the night of the 28th of July by the extension of my line to the right, and did not comprise a part of the artillery properly serving with this division. The battery was, however, subsequently manned and officered by Wise’s brigade, under instruction from Colonel Goode, and did excellent service.

Major Haskell’s mortar batteries, in charge of Captain Lamkin, consisting of four Coehorns on the Jerusalem plank road, one Coehorn and two 12-pounder mortars in the ravine some 200 yards to the left and in rear of the breach, and two mortars to the left of Wright’s battery, were all opened promptly upon the enemy’s colums. The practice of the four mortars on the plank road was admirable. Its shells were dropped with remarkable precision upon the enemy’s masses clustering in disorder in front of and in the crater. Some three mortars on the right of the Baxter road, commanded by Lieutenant Langhorne, also opened early in the engagement, and continued to fire at intervals with good effect until its close.

As soon as I was aware that the enemy had sprung the mine and broken my line near the center I immediately communicated with the brigades in both wings of the division and directed them to extend their intervals and re-enforce the wings of Elliott’s brigade, so as to give as great strength as possible to the forces on which the weight of the enemy’s columns must first fall. At the same time I dispatched staff officers to the two divisions on my flanks for re-enforcement’s could be furnished, as the line was already too weak. Captain Smith, acting aide-de-camp, who went to the right, promptly reported that General Mahone was moving up to our support with two brigades.

As soon as the enemy occupied the breach they attempted to advance along our trenches upon the flanks of our broken line: but our men, sheltering themselves behind the angles and flanks of our works, in the boyanx running out perpendicular to the rear of our trenches, and behind the piles of earth above their bomb-proofs, opened a fatal fire on ever point where the foe exposed themselves. Thus their advance was stayed, and they commenced the work of intrenching, while they still tried by more cautious means to press back our faithful and gallant men.

Brig. Gen S. Elliott, the gallant commander of the brigade which occupied the salient, was making prompt disposition of his forces to assault the enemy and reoccupy the remaining portion of the trench cavalier when he was dangerously wounded. He had given the necessary orders for the Twenty-sixth and the left wing of the Seventeenth South Carolina Regiments to be withdrawn from the trenches, and had preceded them to the open ground to the left and in rear of the cavalier when he was struck by a rifle-ball. The command of this brigade now devolved upon Col. F.W. McMaster, of the Seventeenth South Carolina Regiment. This officer (having received the re-enforcement of one regiment, sent to him by Colonel McAfee, commanding Ransom’s brigade) directed Colonel Smith, of the Twenty-sixth South Carolina Regiment to form in a ravine on the left and rear of the breach a rear line consisting of the Twenty-fifth North Carolina, Twenty-sixth South Carolina, and three companies of the Seventeenth South Carolina Regiments, arranged from left to right in the order named.

Some fourteen Federal flags were now counted on our works, and it became evident that it would be better to endeavor to hold the enemy in check until larger re-enforcements arrived than risk the disaster that might follow from an unsuccessful assault by a very inferior force without any support.

The new line to the left and rear of the salient was scarcely formed when the enemy attempted, with a force thrown out to the rear of our works, with those in our trenches, and with a line in front of our trenches, to charge to our left along our breast-works and in rear and front. The Twenty-fourth and Forty-ninth North Carolina Regiments, Ransom’s brigade, had promptly closed in on the part of the Seventeenth South Carolina Regiment remaining in the trenches when the intermediate regiments were drawn out to form the rear line, and now met and repulsed the charge in front, while the line under Colonel Smith, of the Twenty-sixth South Carolina Regiment, was equally successful in rear Two companies of the Forty-ninth North Carolina Regiment, posted in the covered way near the main line, poured a heavy volley on the flank of the enemy in rear, and our men of the Seventeenth South Carolina and Forty-ninth North Carolina Regiments, under cover of angles, boyaux, & c., drove back the charge along the trenches. After this the enemy continued to fight along the parapet keeping under cover: but, tough our forces on the left failed in several attempts to throw up barricades in the trenches, the former made but slow progress in this movement.

In the meantime the Twenty-third South Carolina Regiment, under Captain White, and a few remaining men of the Twenty-sixth and part of the Forty-sixth Virginia Regiments, gallantly defended the trenches on the right of the breach.

The South Carolina troops on that side succeeded in placing a barricade in the trenches on the side of the hill, and planting themselves behind it and in the boyaux running to the rear, maintained their position within thirty yards of the crater for about five hours, curing which the enemy never drove them a foot to the right, though they made several assaults, and attempted several times to form a line in rear of our works, so as to move on the flank and rear of this gallant little band. In the events of the 30th of July there will perhaps be found nothing more heroic or worthy of higher admiration than this conduct of the Twenty-second and Twenty-third South Carolina Regiments.

Colonel Goode, commanding Wise’s brigade, caused the Fifty-ninth Virginia Regiment, under Captain Wood, to be formed in a ditch running perpendicular to the rear of the main work, and when the enemy attempted some five time to form in a rear of the breach for the purpose of charging to the right, and after they had planted four colors on the line, by which the movement designated was to be made, this regiment under Captain Wood, and the Twenty-sixth Virginia Regiment, under Captain Steele, with the Twenty-Second and Twenty-Third South Carolina Regiments and two guns of ---- battery near the junction of the Baxter and Jerusalem plank roads, opened with a fire that drove them precipitately back to the crater. In this way the conflict was maintained from 5 till nearly 10 a.m. with coolness and steadiness by determined men and officers on both flanks of the breach, and with a success worth of much praise and with great damage to the enemy.

The assailing force of the enemy, consisting of the Ninth and parts of two other army corps, was directed upon the breach at Pegram’s salient, and was held in check by little more than three regiments of Elliott’s, two regiments of Ransom’s, and two regiments of Wise’s brigades, with the efficient aid of artillery, especially of Wright’s battery and the four mortars, under Captain Lamkin, on the Jerusalem plank road. The enemy also made considerable demonstration front of Wise’s brigade, and appeared in front of their works on south side of Baxter road. On the left of the crater a large force was advanced to threaten the works occupied by Ransom’s brigade. It came forward in irregular order and took shelter at the foot of a steep hill, which descends to Taylor’s Creek, in front of that portion of our line. This force was engaged without any important results by Ransom’s brigade and the right howitzer of Slaten’s battery. Our whole line, from the right of Colquitt’s to the left of Gracie’s brigade, suffered from artillery fire.

The Sixty-first North Carolina Regiment, of Hoke’s division, sent to re-enforce the troops engaged at the breach, arrived at the same time with Mahone’s division and proceeded to form in the ravine in rear of Pegram’s salient for the purpose of charging the enemy in the breach. General Mahone had placed one brigade in position, and was waiting for the second to come up, when the enemy advanced upon his line of battle. He met their advance by a charge, in which the Twenty-fifth and Forty-ninth North Carolina and the Twenty-sixth and part of the Seventeenth South Carolina Regiments, all under Colonel Smith of Elliott’s brigade, gallantly joined, moving upon the left of General Mahone’s line. The enemy was driven from three-quarters of the trench cavalier and most of the works on the left of the crater, with moderate loss to our forces and heavy losses to the enemy, especially in prisoners. During this charge a large number of the enemy’s troops, black and white, abandoned the breach and fled precipitately to their rear. Upon this fleeing mass, in full view from our works on the right of the Baxter road, the left regiments of Wise’s brigade poured a raking fire the distance of from 150 to 500 yards, while the left fun of Davidson’s battery (which Colonel Goode had manned with a company of the Thirty-fourth Virginia Regiment, under Capt. Samuel D. Preston) discharged upon them several rounds of canister.

It is proper her to state that Captain Preston was wounded and Edward Bagby, aide-de-camp to Colonel Goode, commanding brigade was killed while serving this gun, and that Capt. A.F. Bagby, with Company K, Thirty-fourth Virginia Regiment, then took charge of it and served it with fine effect until near the close of the action.

The first charge having failed in completely dislodging the enemy I ordered all of my available forces to press steadily on both flanks with a view to their final expulsion.

Between 11 and 12 a.m. a second unsuccessful charge having been made by Wright’s brigade, of Mahone’s division, I proceeded to concern a combined movement on both flanks of the crater, to which most of the enemy’s troops were now drawn. By arrangement a third charge was made a little before 2 p.m., which gave us entire possession of the crater and the adjacent lines. This charge was made on the left and rear of the crater by Sanders’ brigade, of Mahone’s division, by the Sixty-first North Carolina, of Hoke’s division, and Seventeenth South Carolina Regiments, of this division. The last two regiments, under Major Culp, of the Seventeenth South Carolina Regiment, Elliott’s brigade, advanced on the right of Sanders’ brigade. These movements on the left were all placed under the direct supervision of General Mahone, while I proceeded to the right to collect what troops I could from the thin line on that flank to co-operate in the charge and divide the force of the enemy’s resistance. The time allotted only permitted me to draw out the Twenty-third and fragments of the Twenty-second South Carolina Regiment, under Captain Shedd. They moved gallantly forward as soon as the main line was seen advancing on the left and entered the crater with the troops of that line, capturing 3 stand of colors and about 130 prisoners. Previous to this charge the incessant firing kept up by our troops on both flanks and in rear had caused any of the enemy to run the gauntlet of our cross-fires in front of the breach, but a large number still remained, unable to advance, and perhaps afraid to retreat. The final charge was therefore made with little difficulty, and resulted in the complete re-establishment of our lines and the capture of many additional prisoners.

To Major-General Hoke I am indebted for some sixty men of the Twenty-first South Carolina Regiment, who occupied about 1 p.m. a portion of the works on right of Baxter road, from which my troops were moved to the left, and also for Colonel Radcliffe’s Sixty-first North Carolina Regiment, which re-enforced my command in the morning and joined the charge, as already stated.

To the able commander and gallant officers and men of Mahone’s division, to whom we are mainly indebted for the restoration of our lines, I offer my acknowledgments for their great service. It is not, however my privilege to make any further report of the operations of that division than is necessary for a proper understanding of those of my own command.

To the officers and men of my command, whose steadiness, determination, and courage held in check for five hours a greatly superior force elated with success, and aided to inflict on them a chastisement so memorable, my admiration and gratitude are due. It is believed for each buried companion they have taken a twofold vengeance on the enemy, and have taught them a lesson that will be remembered as long as the history of our wrongs and this great revolution endures.

The troops of this division I would invite to a lesson yet more profitable, in view of what may lie before them. They have learned in practice that which has been taught them by theory and historical example—that the coolness and steadiness of a few resolute and determined officers and men will prove the salvation of a command, whether in an unavoidable surprise or against the disordered lines of a charging column.

To the prompt and energetic co-operation of Colonel Jones, chief of artillery, and Major Haskel, commanding the mortar battery, and to their officers and men, my acknowledgments are due.

The gallantry of Private Patrick Sweeney, Company A, Fifty-ninth Virginia Regiment, as been justly reported by his brigade commander. He voluntarily joined in the last charge and captured two colors of the Twentieth Michigan Regiment, and though wounded through the body he persisted in bringing them off, with a Sharps rifle.

In the last charge Sergt. J.W. Connelly, Company F, Twenty-second South Carolina Regiment, captured the colors of the First Michigan Sharpshooters, which he delivered to General Beauregard in person.

The zeal and activity of my aides—Capts. E.R. Smith, John E. Saunders, and T.H. Skinner—were arduously tasked on the lines and fully merit the compliment of this official notice. Captain Skinner, who had joined me within the previous twenty-four hours as a volunteer aide, from a foreign soil, besides doing much arduous duty during the day, gallantly joined the troops on the right in the final charge, by which the enemy were utterly repulsed.

The following is the state of casualties of the division:

Elliott’s brigade:

Killed-Officers 15, Men 110

Wounded-Officers 18, Men 264

Missing-Officers 14, Men 337

Total-Officers 47, Men 651

Aggregate 808

Wise’s brigade:

Killed-Officers 1, Men 24

Wounded-Officers 5, Men 81

Missing-Officers 0, Men 0

Total-Officers 6, Men 105

Aggregate 111

Ransom’s brigade:

Killed-Officers 3, Men 11

Wounded-Officers 7, Men 53

Missing-Officers 0, Men 8

Total-Officers 10, Men 72

Aggregate 82

Colquitt’s brigade:

Killed-Officers 0, Men 4

Wounded-Offiers 3, Men 24

Missing-Officers 0, Men 0

Total-Officers 3, Men 28

Aggregate 31

Total:

Killed-Officers 19, Men 149

Wounded-Officers 33, Men 362

Missing-Officers 14, Men 345

Total-Officers 66, Men 345

Aggregate 923

For the purpose of preserving the records of this division the following casualties of Gracie’s brigade are added, though that brigade was detached from my command on this occasion. It, however, occupied its usual position in the trenches on my left: Killed, 1 commissioned officer and 9 enlisted men; wounded, 1 commissioned officer and 40 enlisted men; total, 2 commissioned officers and 54 enlisted men.

The losses of the enemy have been pretty well ascertained, and are between 5,000 and 6,000, including – prisoners.

The reports* of the brigade commanders of Elliott’s and Wise’s brigade are herewith enclosed. The reports of the other two brigades furnish little else than the casualties.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

B.R. Johnson, Major General

Col. G.W. Brent, Assistant Adjutant-General.

*not found.