Petersburg National Military Park

Historical Significance

At this site on June 30, 1864, black Union soldiers displayed exceptional bravery when they engaged in combat against Confederate troops. Originally, blacks served in both armies as laborers and servants, unable to participate in the Civil War as soldiers on either side. In 1862, the U.S. Congress authorized President Abraham Lincoln to accept black men into the armed services. On January 1, 1863, African-American men enlisted in the Union army in large numbers. The black soldiers were known as the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT).

In June and July 1864, during the siege of Petersburg, Union troops tunneled under the Confederate troops, planted four tons of gunpowder, and at 4:45AM on July 30, ignited the gunpowder. The explosion killed and maimed between 250 and 350 South Carolinians and created a crater 170 feet long, 60 to 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. At the last minute, commanders replaced the trained unit of black soldiers (who has prepared for the explosion and subsequent maneuvers) with a white regiment, due to political concerns about the potential large loss of African-American soldiers. White troops were ordered into the crater directly after the explosion, but failed to secure their position. Instead of retreating, the USCTs were sent in as a second line of defense. Once in the crater, white and black Union soldiers were unable to scale the crater's sides and were slaughtered by the Confederate soldiers. The final Union casualties were 3,798 (many of them from the USCT corps) and 1,491 Confederates. 

Physical Description

No Physical Description Available

Geographical and Contact Information

5001 Siege Road
Petersburg, Virginia
23875
Phone: 804-732-3531 ext.200

Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Petersburg National Military Park,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed July 27, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/334.
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