The Battle of the Crater
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This short course describes one of the most unusual and ironic battles of the American Civil War. The Battle of the Crater took place on July 30, 1864 outside Petersburg, Virginia. What should have been a stunning breakthrough and victory turned out to be a catastrophic defeat. This course also displays many leaders at their very worst, and also, some leaders at their best.
The course begins with a short introduction to set the context for the battle. Then the lectures focus on the Union effort to secretly dig a tunnel beneath the Confederate lines, and plant tons of explosives underneath. The explosion of this mine should open the way through the lines and break the stalemate outside the city of Petersburg.
In this course, students will find out what happened instead, including a lot of errors that compounded as the battle ensued. In the last lectures, there will be a conclusion, an epilogue, and a short oral quiz.
The course is intended for those High School age and up, and requires just the ability to view and hear video lectures, and perhaps a word processor for the bibliography at the end of the course. There are nine lectures, and the time to complete the lectures is only about one hour.
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|Section 1: The Journey to Petersburg|
This lecture will introduce the course, including how the course was designed, who the audience is, and the length and the requirements of the course. This lecture will also provide some background to the time of the Petersburg Campaign near Richmond, Virginia, and describe the battle lines at Petersburg. Of particular interest is the place in the encampments where the trench lines are very close together. It was there that the Battle of the Crater developed.
|Section 2: The Mine Project|
In this lecture, I will describe how the idea first came to the some of the soldiers to run a mine underneath the Confederate lines of defense at Petersburg. This was the brainchild of the 48th Regiment, PA Veteran Volunteer Infantry under the command of Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants. I will also describe how important people opposed the idea and did not give the 48th Regiment the supplies and support they needed.
In this lecture, I will explain how the 48th Regiment innovated to craft their own tools and retrieve their own wood for the tunnel. Despite the lack of support and supplies, the tunnel was built and packed with tons of explosives by July 28, 1864.
|Section 3: The Battle|
In this lecture, I will describe the attack plans of General Grant, and of General Burnside attempts to fulfill his orders. There was disagreement between Generals Burnside and Meade, resulting in last-minute changes. The final arrangement in Burnside's forces was regrettable.
In this lecture, I will describe the explosion of the mine, and the attack that followed. The mine exploded very late, and orders were confused. The Union leaders made many mistakes in their execution of their plan, with the result that most of the Union troops were crowded in the crater left by the mine explosion.
In this lecture, we'll see that the Confederates, though very frightened by the mine, were able to counterattack and take advantage of the Union troops terrible position in the crater. The result was a terrible loss by the Union side.
|Section 4: Aftermath and Conclusion|
In this lecture, I will describe the Union and Confederate losses, and the inevitable inquiries afterward, both by the military and by Congress.
After such a terrible debacle, it was inevitable that there would be an official inquiry. In this lecture, I will explain two inquiries afterward. One inquiry was initiated by General Meade, and a later inquiry was held by Congress. Each had different results.
In this final lecture, I will provide an epilogue, looking at the main characters of the story and what they did after the Battle of the Crater. I will also provide a conclusion to this study.
Here is a ten-question oral quiz concerning the Battle of the Crater. You can keep your own score!
Dr. Franz has been teaching history for 30 years in various colleges, and sometimes to high school students. He has written a number of historical dramas for his history students, and after one season's performance, he received a letter of commendation from former president George Bush, Sr. for making history alive to students today. He has also taken history students on a number of field trips to various important historical locations. He hopes to continue putting short history courses on Udemy in order to share his favorite historical events. He currently teaches many online history courses for various universities, along with various live classes in his area.
He has been married for over 30 years to Wendy, and they have a son and daughter, both adults. They also have a few cats and a big German Shepherd dog. In their spare time, they love to walk, swim, and ride their bikes.