First Wednesdays – “I think it is not honorable war fare.”

During the fifty-second month of the American Civil War, both sides of the conflict were becoming exhausted through the constant combat experienced during summer of 1864. In the past years of the war, engagements were fought, and both armies were then settled back in camp to nurse their wounds. In this particular year, there was no respite for the combatants with active military campaigns being conducted throughout the Confederacy. On the Gulf of Mexico, a Union naval force under the command of Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut had pushed through a Confederate minefield to run past the outer defenses of Mobile Bay to defeat a Confederate naval force and to close off Mobile, Alabama. To the northeast, recently appointed Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood attempted to reverse the fortunes of the Confederate Army of Tennessee by striking the combined Union armies of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman to keep Atlanta, Georgia firmly in Confederate hands. Some 470 miles farther to the northeast, the Union armies of Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under the leadership of General Robert E. Lee, remained fixed in a military stalemate in and around Richmond, Virginia.

In effort to break the stalemate on the front, members of the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers requested permission from Union Major General Ambrose Burnsides to dig a mine shaft under the Confederate positions to blow a gap, where federal troops can be pushed through to exploit the Confederate defenses. By 23 July 1864, the shaft was completed and 8,000 pounds of gunpowder was packed under a Confederate redoubt named “Elliot’s Salient.” Elements of two infantry divisions from the US Ninth Army Corps were chosen to lead the charge through the planned gap after the explosion. Initially, the African-American Fourth Division was to lead the assault, but just prior to the attack, an exhausted white First Division was chosen instead make the first push through the path of the explosion. Ten days later, the mine was ignited, and the salient simply disappeared in a cloud of falling dirt, men, and equipment. The initial advance of the white troops hesitated, and by the time the Fourth Division advanced in the gap, the Confederate forces had rallied and turned the “Crater” into a killing zone for the Union soldiers.

In his letter dated 7 August 1864, First Sergeant James M. Brooks, Company B, Twenty-Sixth North Carolina Troops (NCT) wrote to Chatham County Sheriff R. B. Paschall of the aftermath of the fighting at the “Crater.” Fortunately, the Twenty-Sixth NCT was not involved in the initial fighting, but was moved quickly over the James River as part of the Confederate efforts to reinforce the sector of the salient. In addition, Sergeant Brooks wrote regarding the current gubernatorial election in North Carolina between Governor Zebulon Vance and William Woods Holden, and the canvassing of votes of the North Carolina regiments in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Despite this initial burst of combat at “Elliott’s Salient,” both sides would soon settle back into the military stalemate on Virginia front.

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