The battle of the Crater was fought 149 years ago today. Here is a letter written by Henry A. Minor, who served as a surgeon with the 9th Alabama Volunteers. The 9th Alabama took part in William Mahone’s counterattack, which proved to be decisive in achieving a Confederate victory that day. The letter is one among scores of Confederate accounts I have in my collection that didn’t make it into my book. It offers a great deal of detail as to what transpired on that day and how the battle was assessed.
H.A. Minor to sister, M.A. Moseley: Field Hospital, 9th Alabama Regiment near Petersburg, Va., August 1, 1864 [Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.]
We have been here over six weeks, have had several fights with the enemy but as I have written to Brother Lute concerning all up to the middle of July, I will only tell you of one we had the day before yesterday. I send papers giving an account of the affair and will be very brief in my remarks. Peter was not in the charge, he being a sharp shooter. He with his comrades were left to hold the line on our right while the Division went to the center to retake our lost position. It is said to have the most brilliant charge of the War, the charge of our brigade. The line was kept properly, the men moved rapidly and quietly reserving the fire until close up and then delivering it with terrible effect. Here for the first time our men fought negroes. The Yankees put the negroes in the front and are said to have forced them forward. The massacre was terrible. The ditches were almost filled with dead. Men had to walk on the dead, could not find room for their feet. Such a sight was never seen before.
The loss of the enemy I do not know. It is said by the men that today when a flag of truce came over from the enemy to bury their dead that 1400 Yankees were found dead. We took a thousand or so prisoners. The hole made by the explosion of the mine is about fifty yards across and nearly round. In this lie many dead. We have one general and his staff prisoners. James Preston was badly wounded in the charge. A ball struck him on the left temple and, glancing backward, made a gash about three inches long, exposing the skull, a bad wound. As he was coming out to the rear, a piece of lead from a shell hit him in the left hip and was cut out near the hip joint, making a fearful wound. His chance of getting well is precarious, but with good attention he has a fair chance. I have done all I can to get him sent to Charlottesville, and once there, I know he will be cared for. He is a good soldier. Our regiment is very small, having little over one hundred guns in it. The other regiments in our brigade lost, as an average, about what we did.
We are all very anxious about our army in Georgia. If General Hood can only drive Sherman out of our country, we will have peace next year just as sure as that time flies. Our army here is as usual, that is, quiet and confident, ready for anything that General Lee orders. The men are well equipped. They have suppli[e]d themselves with everything they want from the numerous battle fields. Everybody used to be scarce of blankets, knives, oil clothes, shoes, hats, paper, pins, socks, shirts, pants, etc. etc., but now there is no lack. They rob a Yankee so quick that they scarcely pause over him. They are armed with the finest guns and have the best ammunition, all taken from the enemy. Every man almost, has a watch and many have several. It required all the efforts of the officers to keep them from killing every one of them that they could get to. It is said that the negroes shouted “No Quarter” and it is little they got. I think it right to kill every negro, formerly a slave, found in arms against us. But the white men inveigled them to do so, are more worthy of death than they and I would sooner spare the negro than his white associate.
Even the enemy now admits (in their newspapers) that Grant’s campaign is a failure.[At the end of the letter]: In the crater formed by the explosion of the 30th ult. which was somewhat larger than the sink hole on the east of Ma’s plantation, we killed and buried 167 Yankees, black and white, many more black than white. This will give you some idea of the terrible nature of the fight.