“A Perfect Hell of Blood”: The Battle of the Crater
A. Wilson Greene
On August 23, 2018, A. Wilson Greene delivered a banner lecture, “‘A Perfect Hell of Blood’: The Battle of the Crater.”
Although the Petersburg Campaign lasted 292 days in 1864–65, one day stands out above all others: July 30, 1864. On that infamous Saturday, the Union army exploded 8,000 pounds of black powder beneath a Confederate bastion, destroying it along with more than 300 southern soldiers. The subsequent federal assaults, however, proved a dismal failure, squandering a very real possibility of driving the Army of Northern Virginia out of Petersburg. Three determined Confederate counterattacks ensured southern victory that day, but those triumphant assaults possessed a dark side: the unprecedented massacre of black Union soldiers. A. Wilson Greene, whose new book, A Campaign of Giants: The Battle for Petersburg, covers the first six weeks of the Petersburg Campaign, discusses the battle of the Crater, explores the nature of Confederate general William Mahone’s attacks, and offers insights into the motivation for the atrocities that followed.
A. Wilson Greene is the former president of the Pamplin Historical Park and National Museum of the Civil War Soldier and the author of The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion; Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War; and A Campaign of Giants—The Battle for Petersburg, Volume 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater.