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CHAPTER OR STORY 19 – JASPER’s NEW LIFE COME JULY GETS OFF WITH A BIG BANG https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LJpJeIwFMw#t=1h8m33s Click here and the link will take you to the beginning of this story at 1:08:33 within the longer video called “Jasper Thompson’s Destiny Day September 6, 1906”
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With support from American Public University System (apus.edu). The sentiments expressed do not in any way reflect modern-day policies of APUS, and are intended to encourage fact-based exchange for a better understanding of our nation’s foundational values.
Monique Crippen Hopkins:
“Jasper was a Civil War soldier – 23rd regiment. He was a private and went to corporal, and ended up becoming first sergeant. His tombstone says “First Sergeant”, which is great. I didn’t know anything about Civil War history, Civil War anything. So I learned about my family history and that started coming alive to me. Jasper made Civil War history come alive to me, because I was not interested at all. But now – wow! – I can’t even believe it.”
The sun sleeping before arising on that day July 30th, 1864 next to Petersburg, Virginia – could have shone upon a brand new day in American military history – two-fold in that it would, in the first instance, have debuted a radical achievement in civil engineering and, secondly, quite possibly could have ended the Civil War eight months sooner.
The engineering achievement was the inspiration of one man – a 510 foot long, hand-dug tunnel to underneath the Confederate line . . .
containing four tons of gun powder in magazines under that line – blowing with a strange muffled “thud”, in the bosom of the quiet cricketing night, a crater 150 feet long, sixty feet wide, and thirty feet deep and sending tons of earth, men, horses 150 feet into the air – and coming back down on more victims some buried almost alive – some just buried alive.
THE WARRIORS AT THE CRATER
. . . and, the potential victors rushing through that gap in the Confederate line, trained for the task – African-American men from the region hungry to vanquish the stunned opponent.
Jasper Thompson was one of these warriors, one of the survivors in the regiment with the most casualties of any regiment,
counting 36 white regiments, who for the most part shamefully hid inside the just settled crater with its twelve-foot high lip of loose earth.
and of the nine eager regiments in Gen. Ferrero’s African-American 4th division?
For them however, it would become teeth-clenched, eyes-wide fighting: personal anger versus hatred, bayonet-to-bayonet and a swung gun stock against another. No mercy on all sides that officers just couldn’t stop.
Called “the saddest affair he had witnessed in war,” Union General Ulysses Grant blamed the flub-a-dub division- and Corps-level upper
Federal ranks for squandering and quarreling away a great potential triumph awaiting them that would have captured Petersburg for the Federals that summer and with Richmond, the seat of the Confederacy not to far beyond that.
Ledlie’s 1st Division advanced on the Crater first with little enemy fire un-led. Becoming jammed in the breach of the crater they took cover in the Crater, while their commander Gen. Ledlie was taking rounds of inebriating stimulants in the surgeons’ hospital for an unconfirmed ailment – and remained there for most of the day – basically hiding.
Moreover, Ledlie had been chosen by his wishy-washy Corp commander Gen. Burnside just the evening before to lead his division by a process of picking names out of a hat.
But four months earlier, Jasper’s life turned a big corner . . .
Listening to the rhythm of the rails Jasper Thompson was between the world the Washington Family Farms where he grew up and Washington, D.C. – one behind and a dreamed-of world ahead on a troop train to Washington, D.C. – very likely given the circumstances
taking him to Washington D.C. – and he would enlist at Camp Casey and formally become the property of another overlord, the United States Army. But that offered him a freedom – of sorts.
1. Gen. Grant’s first disappointed response to The Crater battle:
Volume XL – in Three Parts. 1892. (Vol. 40, Chap. 52) Chapter LII – Operations in Southeastern Virginia and North Carolina. June 13-July 31, 1864.
Part I – Reports
Union Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant first reports on the Crater and the institution of a Committee of Inquiry:
CITY POINT, VA., July 30, 1864 10 a.m. Finding that my effort to surprise the enemy by sending an army corps and three divisions of cavalry to the north bank of the James River, under cover of night, for the purpose of getting on to the rail- roads north of Richmond, drew all of his forces from Petersburg except three divisions, I determined to attack and try to carry the latter place. The enemy’s earth-works are as strong as they can be made, and the ground is very broken and favorable for defense. Having a mine prepared running for a distance of eighty feet along the enemy’s parapet, and about twenty-two feet below the surface of the ground, ready loaded, and covered ways made near to his line, I was strongly in hopes, by this means of opening the way, the assault would prove successful. The mine was sprung a few minutes before 5 o’clock this morning, throwing up four guns of the enemy and burying most of a South Carolina regiment. Our men immediately took possession of the crater made by the explosion, and a considerable distance of the parapet to the right of it, as well as a short work in front, and still hold them. The effort to carry the ridge beyond, and which would give us Petersburg and the south bank of the Appomattox, failed. As the line held by the enemy would be a very bad one for us, being on a side hill, the crest on the side of the enemy, and not being willing to take the chances nf a slaughter sure to occur if another assault was made, I have directed the withdrawal of our troops to their old lines. Although just from the front, I have little idea of the casualties. I think, however, our loss will be but a few hundred, unless it occurs in withdrawing, which it may not be practicable to do before night. I saw about 200 prisoners taken from the enemy. Hancock and Sheridan returned from the north side of the river during the night, and are now here. U. S. GRANT, General. Maj.
To H. W. HALLECK, Chief of Staff. CITY POINT, VA., August 1, 1864. The loss in the disaster of Saturday last foots up about 3,500 of whom 450 men were killed and 2,000 wounded. It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war. Such opportunity for carrying fortifications I have never seen and do not expect again to have. The enemy with a line of works five miles long had been reduced by our previous movements to the north side of James River to a force of only three divisions. This line was undermined and blown up, carrying a battery and most of a regiment with it. The enemy were taken completely by surprise and did not recover from it for more than an hour. The crater and several hundred yards of the enemy’s line to the right and left of it and a short detached line in front of the crater were occupied by our troops without opposition. Immediately in front of this and not 150 yards off, with clear ground intervening, was the crest of the ridge leading into town, and which, if carried, the enemy would have made no resistance, but would have continued a flight already commenced. It was three hours from the time our troops first occupied their works before the enemy took possession of this crest. I am constrained to believe that had instructions been promptly obeyed that Petersburg would have been carried with all the artillery and a large number of prisoners without a loss of 300 men. It was in getting back to our lines that the loss was sustained. The enemy attempted to charge and retake the line captured from them and were repulsed with heavy loss by our artillery; their loss in killed must be greater than ours, whilst our loss in wounded and captured is four times that of the enemy.- U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant- General. Major-General HALLECK, Washington, D. C.
Title: The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 – Volume 40 (Part I). Digital Library. Cornell University. 28 August 2004 Web. 10 July 2011. pp. 17-18.
2. Opinion from a Court of Inquiry citing failures by Burnside, Ledlie and Ferrero:
Record of the Court of Inquiry on the Mine Explosion. RECORD OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF A COURT OF INQUIRY INSTITUTED BY VIRTUE OF THE FOLLOWING ORDER: SPECIAL ORDERS, 258 WAR DEPT., ADJT. GENERALS OFFICE, No. 258. * Washington, D. C., August 3, 1864. * * * * * * 43. By direction of the President, a Court of Inquiry will convene in front of Petersburg at 10 a.m. on the 5th instant, or as soon thereafter as practicable, to examine into and report upon the facts and circumstances attending the unsuccessful assault on the enemy’s position on the 30th of July, 1864. The Court will report their opinion whether any officer or officers are answerable for the want of success of said assault, and, if so, the name or names of such officer or officers. Detail for the Court: Maj. Gen. W. S. Hancock, U. S. Volunteers; Brig. Gem lit B. Ayres, U. S. Volunteers; Brig. Gen. N. A. Miles, U. S. Volunteers; Col. E. Schriver, inspector-general, U. S. Army, judge advocate. By order of the Secretary of War: E. D. TOWNSEND, Assistant Adjutant- General.
WINFD S. HANCOCK, Major- General, U. S. Volunteers, President of Court. ED. SCHRIVER, – Inspector-General U. S. Army, Judge-Advocate. The court then adjourned sine die. WINFD S. HANCOCK, Major- General, U. S. Volunteers, President of Court. ED. SCHRIVER, Inspector-General U. S. Army, Judge-Advocate.
The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 – Volume 40 (Part I). Digital Library. Cornell University. 28 August 2004 Web. 10 July 2011.
pp. 125-129 – FINDING of the Court
3. “The Battle of the Petersburg Crater by Major William H. Powell, U.S.A.
“Battles and Leaders. Vol. 4”. (1887). Robert Underwood Johnson, Clarence Clough Buel (Ed.). New York, NY: Century Co. Internet Archives: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music, and Wayback Machine. archive.org 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 26 Sept. 2010. pp. 545-560.
p. 546 – “The main gallery was 510 8/10 feet in length. The left lateral gallery was thirty-seven feet in length and the right lateral galleries – two at each end a few feet apart in branches at nearly right angles to the side galleries, and two more in each of the side galleries similarly placed by pairs, situated equidistant from each other and the end of the galleries.”
9. Dobak, William A. (2011). “Freedom By the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops 1862-1865.” Washington, D. C. : Center for Military History, U. S. Army.
history.army.mil 13 September 2007 Web. 20 December 2016.
10. Thomas, Gen. Henry G. “The Colored Troops at Petersburg.” in “Battles and Leaders. Vol. 4”. (1887). Robert Underwood Johnson, Clarence Clough Buel (Ed.). New York, NY: Century Co. Internet Archives: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music, and Wayback Machine. 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 26 Sept. 2010. pp. 563-567.
p. 567 – “The 23rd Regiment entered the charge with eighteen officers; it came out with seven. . . .”
11. Price; Stevens, Michael E. ed. (1999). “As If it Were Glory: Robert Beecham’s Civil War from the Iron Brigade to the Black Regiments.” Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. googlebooks.com 2 February 2003 Web. 20 January 2017. p. 184.
12. “The Battle of the Petersburg Crater by Major William H. Powell, U.S.A.
“Battles and Leaders. Vol. 4”. (1887). Robert Underwood Johnson, Clarence Clough Buel (Ed.). New York, NY: Century Co. Internet Archives: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music, and Wayback Machine. archive.org 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 26 Sept. 2010.
13. Pvt. Henry Van Lewvenigh Bird of the 12th Va. Virginia – letter August 5, 1864 to “sweetheart.” edited by Gregory J. W. Urwin.(2004). Black Flag Over Dixie: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War. Carbondale, IL.: Southern Illinois University Press.
The whole letter is sourced from “Letter to Margaret Randolph, Aug. 5, 1864, Pvt. Henry Van Lewvenigh Bird, Bird Family Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond.”
The full transcription in Urwin/Suderow of the letter:
Saturday’s fight was a bitter struggle. No furlough wounds given *there and no *quarter either. Prayers for mercy and the groans of the wounded were alike hushed in death. There was no volley and cheers to excite the men to the work of death. The knowledge of dishonor to the loved ones behind if we failed and victory before us if we succeeded earned everything before it resistlessly. The negro’s charging cry of “No quarter” was met with the stern cry of “amen” and without firing a single shot we closed with them. They fought like bulldogs and died like soldiers. Southern bayonets dripped with blood and after a brief but bitter struggle the works were ours. The only sounds which now broke the stillness was some poor wounded wretch begging for water and quieted by a bayonet thrust which said unmistakenly “Bois ton sang. Tu n’aurais plis de soif.” (Drink your blood. You will have mo more thirst.)
quoted in Bryce A. Suderow’s “The Battle of the Crater: The Civil War’s Worst Massacre,” Civil War History Vol. 43 (September, 1997), reprinted in Urwin, p. 205.
Suderow as reprinted in Urwin p. 207 – casualty lists of the USCT at The Crater
Urwin, Gregory J. W. (ed.) (2004). “Black Flag Over Dixie: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War.” Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Print. pp. 203, 205, 207.
Urwin, Gregory J. W. (ed.) (2004). “Black Flag Over Dixie: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War.” googlebooks.com 2 February 2003 Web. 20 January 2017.
14. Rickard, James H. (1894) “Services with Colored Troops in Burnside’s Corps.”
from Personal Narratives of events in the War of the Rebellion, being papers read before the Rhode island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society. Fifth Series – No. 1(1894). Providence, RI: The Providence Press. googlebooks.com 2 February 2003 Web. 20 January 2017.
15. Interview with Family historian Monique Crippen–Hopkins April, 2016 Perry Room Charles Town Library, Charles Town, WV.