Black Troops at Petersburg After the Battle of the Crater
United States Colored Troops sit in front of a bombproof shelter dug out of a hillside in the lines in front of Petersburg, Virginia. This photograph was made on August 7, 1864, just a week after the disastrous Battle of the Crater, during which many black soldiers were massacred.
United States Colored Troops had trained to lead the assault at the Crater on July 30, 1864, but a hasty change in the plan put white troops at the front of the attack. Not trained for the task, and suffering from absent leadership, the lead division piled into the so-called Crater—a huge opening in the ground created by a massive underground explosion—and became trapped. When the Colored Troops followed them in, they also got bogged down and turned into easy prey for Confederate soldiers standing above them. During the intense fighting that followed, Confederate soldiers slaughtered both armed and unarmed black soldiers, and ignored their pleas to surrender. One of the black regiments' white officers recalled that "many a dusky warrior had his brains knocked out with the butt of a musket, or was run thru with a bayonet while vainly imploring for mercy." The events of that day constituted one of the largest battlefield atrocities of the Civil War.