Warfare History Network
Here is what happened.
Crater Of Death: Union Soldiers Tried to Tunnel Beneath Confederate Defenses (It Backfired)
It was just after 3 am on Saturday, July 30, 1864. A month of relative quiet along a two-mile stretch of Union and Confederate trench lines immediately east of Petersburg, Virginia, was about to come to an explosive end. In the aftermath of several earlier Federal attacks on the strategically vital city in mid-June, a portion of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps picket line lay only 400 feet from Elliot’s Salient, a highly fortified position on high ground that formed an angle protruding out from the main Confederate line, commanded by Maj. Gen. Bushrod Rust Johnson.
To support the defenders’ artillery and mortars, a second line, or “cavalier trench,” had been dug close behind the main redoubt. Elliot’s Salient boasted four smoothbores of Lt. Col. William Pegram’s battery and was backed by two regiments of veteran infantrymen of Brig. Gen. Stephen Elliot’s South Carolina Brigade. Across a north-south ravine from Elliot’s Salient were trenches occupied by the troops of Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants’ 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, many of them coal miners in civilian life.