Portrait of a Soldier: Post-Visit

At the end of the lesson, each student:

Will identify three different participants in the Battle of the Crater. Will list two similarities and two differences in the accounts of a Confederate soldier, a Union soldier, and a United States Colored Troop in the Battle of the Crater.

Will select the identity of a Confederate Soldier, Union Soldier, or a United States Colored Troop and compose a letter for a future classroom of students.

Handouts of soldier letters

Pencil and paper

Students will have a greater understanding of the horrible fighting that took place during the Civil War, focusing specifically on the tragedy of the Battle of the Crater. After three-and-a-half years of fighting, many soldiers were weary of the war and simply wanted to be home. Many of the United States Colored Troops were eager and ready to fight. Either way, most soldiers continued to fight for their homelands and the causes that brought them to Petersburg. Whether right or wrong, soldiers fought to protect their way of life.

Involvement of the Learners:
Do you believe the United States would be the same today if the Civil War never took place?

Do you think the United States is a stronger country todaybecause of the Civil War?

Transition to Explanation:
Read the excerpt about June 18th, The Opening Attack on Petersburg:

"The ditch was now full of men, and we began to climb up the face of the parapet. A man would run his bayonet into the side of the parapet, and another would use it as a step-ladder to climb up. As we were thus ascending I was wondering why the Johnnies (referring to Confederate soldiers) behind the parapet were so quiet. It was now getting quite dark, and I felt sure that as fast as a "colored troop" would put his head above the level of the parapet it would be shot off, or he would be knocked back into the ditch; and I fully expected the Sixth U.S. Colored Troops, officers and all, to find their death in that ditch. But they didn't. Not a bit of it. We climbed into the fort or battery only to find it empty. The last Confederate was gone, save one, a fair haired boy of 17 or 18 years, dead. He was a handsome boy, with long, fair hair, looking as though he had been tenderly reared. Perhaps only a few days before he had been attending school in Petersburgh, and had just come out now to help man the defenses of the city. We buried him as well as we could and though an hour before I would have met him as an enemy, now I helped to bury him as tenderly as though he had been a Union soldier."

John McMurray, Major 6th U.S.C.T.
Recollections of a Colored Troop

Students may work individually or in small groups. They will read the letters of the soldiers who participated in the Crater. Students will need to identify whether the author of the letter was a Confederate soldier, a Union Soldier, or a United States Colored Troop.

Students will list two similarities and two differences in the three accounts of the soldiers who participated in the Battle of the Crater. The instructor can lead the students in a discussion of how these accounts differed.

Students will then choose or be assigned a particular position in the war. They will write a letter from the viewpoint of a Confederate soldier, a Union soldier, or a United States Colored Troop about what they saw and experienced during the Battle of the Crater, and why they were risking their lives in the war. Students should pull from the pre-visit lesson activities, the field experience, and the letters they have just read. The letters should be written in first person.

Soldier Letters

Letter from William Pegram to Jenny Pegram
1 August 1864
Pegram-Johnson-McIntosh Collection

"I suppose you all have gotten, before this, a correct account of the affairs on Saturday. It was an exceedingly brilliant one for us. The enemy avoided our mine & ran theirs under Cousin Dick's Battery. They blew it up about daylight, & taking advantage of the temporary confusion & demoralization of our troops at that point, rushed a large body of whites & blacks into the breach. This turned out much worse for them in the end. The ever ready Mahone was carried down to retake the line with his fine troops, which he did, with comparatively small loss to himself, & great loss to the enemey. I never saw such a sight as I saw on that portion of the line for a good distance in the trenches, the yankees, white & black principally the latter, were piled two or three or four deep. A few of our men were wounded by the negroes, which exasperated them very much..."

Letter from a Maine Soldier
Camp near Petersburg, VA., July 31st, 1864
Petersburg Files, Source Unknown

"We had the saddest day yesterday I ever saw. We were called up at half past two o'clock, A.M., and formed in a line of battle at three. We filed our left in front and marched down to within three hundred yards of the rebel fort we had mined, and halted in a deep railroad cut until the explosion took place, which was terriffic. There was six tons of powder buried thirty feet under ground, directly under the fort, which exploded at half past four A.M., when we started for the rebels and went directly into the remains of the fort. At the moment the fort blew up we had fifty pieces of artillery open on them directly over us. The air was so thick that I could not see three feet ahead. The ruins of the fort I cannot describe; my heart sickens at the thought. The huge masses of earth, thrown almost to the way from six to ten rods, were thrown almost to our lines, or from the fort twenty or thirty rods; and many of them were burried alive, cannon and gun-carriages thrown in all directions, together with the same. Inside, where those two regiments met their fate, baffles description."

Lieutenant J.J. Scroggs
5th U.S.C.T., 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division
J.J. Scrogg's Diary and Letters 1852-1862
compiled by Larry Leigh

"...The signal for their advance was to be the explosion of a mine under a rebel fort in their front. 3 o'clock came but no explosion. 4 and still nothing but the stillness of death which was really oppressive. The suspense was fearful and some were already predicting the failure of the great mine when the smothered roar of an earthquake and a power which shook the earth for miles around the mighty giant broke through the imprisoning walls lifting the rebel fort, guns and garrison high in the air. Hardly had the tremendous explosion taken place when it was succeeded by another and more terrible roar burst with an awful crash from the iron throats of one hundred pieces of artillery. For one hour without cessation or interval the iron storm raged over our heads, the screaming hurtling misiles suggesting that ten thousand devils were holding high carnival in mid air, or forty thousand juvenile hogs had attempted a passage through a fence and stuck..."

Why was the Battle of the Crater a loss for the Union army?

Why was the Batte of the Crater a success for the Confederate army?

Despite the Union loss at the Crater, why was this a significant battle for the United States Colored Troops?

Last updated: February 26, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Petersburg National Battlefield Administration Office
1539 Hickory Hill Road

Petersburg, VA 23803


(804) 732-3531 x0

Contact Us