Petersburg Explosion


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, August 20, 1864

Harper's Weekly newspaper was the most popular illustrated newspaper of the Civil War years. These newspapers were read by millions of Americans across the country during the war, and today are viewed as an invaluable resource for researchers seeking a deeper understanding of the war.

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Before Petersburg

Peace Platform

Mobile Bay

Mobile Bay Battle

Christian Commission

Christian Commission

Ruins of Chambersburg


Petersburg Explosion


Copperhead Cartoon



Parrot Guns


Wounded Soldiers

Cemetery Hill

Cemetery Hill Assault and Explosion

Fort Morgan

Fort Morgan




[AUGUST 20, 1864.



Now that FARRAGUT'S fleet has attacked Mobile, the illustrations which we furnish of the blockade off that port and of the rebel fleet must prove doubly interesting to our readers. Fort Morgan is the principal defense of the city, at the entrance of Mobile Bay. The city itself is thirty miles distant, even after Forts Morgan and Gaines have been passed. Fort Morgan is so completely embanked with earth works that only the ramparts are visible. At the left of one of the sketches may be seen the piles which obstruct the main passage into the bay. The lower sketch represents the Metacomet, the Monongahela, and the Seminole shelling a blockade runner, supposed to be the Dubeigh, which ran aground while trying lately to get out to sea. The Metacomet is a double ender. Our fleet at Mobile now consists of the following vessels :

FLAG-SHIP—Hartford, screw sloop, 20 guns.


Winnebago, 2 turret Monitor    4 guns.

Chickasaw, 2 turret Monitor    4 guns.

Tecumseh,1 turret Monitor   2 guns.

Manhattan, 1 turret Monitor   2 guns.

Four Mississippi River iron-clads    10 guns.


Richmond, first class    18 guns.

Brooklyn, first class    24 guns.

Monongahela, second class    12 guns.

Lackawanna, second class    14 guns.

Oneida, second class    10 guns.

Ossipee, second class    13 guns.

Galena, second class    14 guns.

Genesee, second class    8 guns.


Metacomet, side-wheel    10 guns.

Sebago, side-wheel    10 guns.

Port Royal, side-wheel    8 guns.

Conemaugh, side-wheel    9 guns.


Kennebec    5 guns.

Panola    4 guns.

Itasca    4 guns.

Pembina    4 guns.

Penguin    7 guns.

Tennessee    5 guns.

Besides these, there are five tugs, carrying two guns each.


WE illustrate on page 541 THE BURNING OF CHAMBERSBURG by the rebels, July 30. A large rebel force was near at hand, but only a few hundred cavalry men were employed in the work of conflagration. The burned district covers all the business portion of the town and some of the finest private residences. Not a store escaped : hotels, mills, manufactories — all were consumed. The view of Main Street, given in one of the sketches, will suggest to the reader the completeness of the work. The rebel General presiding over this carnival of destruction was McCAUSLAND. He demanded $500,000 as the alternative of this outrage, knowing well enough that it could not be raised. It is estimated that the loss is not less than four millions of dollars. Two thousand five hundred people lost their homes. As if this was not enough, the rebel soldiers added insult to injury, thus interpreting their chivalry to defenseless women and helpless children. Bedridden old women even did not elicit any compassion in the breasts of these rebels. Uncoffined corpses had to be buried hastily in gardens to save them from the flames. In all the roads leading toward Harrisburg were multitudes of men, women, and children flying from the flames, with no clothing except that on their persons, and no provision against hunger and roofless exposure.

Much blame has been thrown upon General COUCH. But it is clearly impossible that he or any other General could protect Pennsylvania from being at some point infested, and if infested by an army regardless of' the amenities of civilized warfare the result was inevitably such as we have described.


THE explosion of the mine before Petersburg, August 30, and the assault which followed it, form the subject of our illustration on pages 536 and 537. Our artist furnishes the following graphic description :

The picture is from a sketch made upon the Fifth Corps line at the time when the cannonade opened along the entire front, just before sunrise. The crest of Cemetery Hill, above which is visible the steeples of the "Cockade City," as the natives delight to term it, was the goal the army had in view, it being the key of the whole position. Upon and in front of this gentle rise the rebels built their entrenchments. Of what is on the top of it but little is visible. In front, however, is a line of works for infantry and artillery, rendered so strong by nature and the art of the engineer as to be extremely hard to penetrate. It was on a portion of this line that the mine was exploded, not in a fort or redoubt, which could have been held with greater prospect of success, but in a re-entering angle or indentation of the general line, entirely enfiladed on each flank, and open to a fire in the rear. The "three tiers" of fortifications spoken of by correspondents do not exist except in their imagination, inflated by the stories of stragglers and coffee boilers. Our lines can be traced by the smoke of the artillery fire, representing a portion of the Fifth and Ninth Corps. In the fore ground is a battery of 10-inch mortars, under the personal supervision of Colonel ABBOTT, and beyond them, on the front line, another battery of 8-inch mortars, and some of the light batteries of the Fifth Corps, of which Colonel WAINWRIGHT is chief of artillery. The assistant chief, Major FITZHUGH, a gallant officer, was wounded during the engagement.

Coming upon this line soon after daylight of the 30th ult., a cairn and clear morning, the rebels were plainly visible sitting about, and strolling upon and in front of their parapets, looking at the progress we had made, and enjoying the cool air, apparently

unsuspicious. On our side no unusual number of men was visible. the works and covered ways giving ample concealment. Nevertheless many anxious eyes were directed to the point of the expected explosion, speculating upon the cause of its delay. The fuse had failed, and it was but a short time before sunrise that the mine was sprung. With a muffled roar it came, and as from the eruption of a volcano—which it much resembled—upward shot masses of earth, momently illuminated from beneath by the lurid flare. For a few seconds huge blocks of earth and other debris, mingled with dust, was seen in a column perhaps 150 feet in height, and then the heavy volume of smoke, which spread out in billowy waves on every side, enveloped all, like a shadowy pall for the two hundred souls thus rushed into eternity. As if for breath there was a short pause, the rebels regarding the giant apparition as though spellbound, and then one hundred and fifty guns opened in one grand volley upon the rebel lines. The storming columns could be seen springing forward to the doomed work ; but the rapid cannonade soon hid that portion of the line in smoke, though the savage discharges of musketry showed plainly the enemy did not propose giving up without a struggle. Their artillery withered under the terrible accuracy of the fire directed against them, made but desultory firing, and soon became almost silent before the Fifth Corps. The Petersburg Express made regular trips into the city ; the mortar shells, visible to their destination, creaked through the air and formed beautiful rings and spirals ; while the sun, struggling through the heavy vapors of battle, recalled Campbell's lines :

"'Tis morn. But scarce yen level sun

Can pierce the war-clouds rolling dun."

On the parapets of the works they had erected, the engineers and their chief, Major DUANE, carefully watched the contest. The hours sped along, and yet no success ; when the smoke lifted the attacking column of the Ninth Corps became visible in the crater of the explosion, huddled in masses, but with their colors planted upon the ruins, and returning the enemy's fire with musketry and the rebel cannon, which they had turned upon its former owners. It was easy to see that the ground was covered with the dead and wounded. Many ran to the rear, not a few being shot down before reaching cover. Others could be seen running up the gentle slope toward Petersburg, voluntary prisoners. The rebels in their turn charged our men, yelling as they came up. In this attack they were successful, driving some back and capturing others, in spite of the staggering volleys they received ; and it then became evident the attack had failed, with more men lost than would have been if they had pushed on and taken the crest of the hill.


A CHILDISH face, too smooth and soft, you would have thought, for suffering ; yellow hair falling into waves around it ; dimples in the cheeks ; red, dewy lips, pouting a little ; a round, pliant chin ; and curves like a baby's where the little head was set on the full, white throat ; a character without force enough, you would have said, to be bad or good—a passive, plastic nature, on which other stronger souls could stamp themselves, and coin saint or sinner as fate ordered. Looking out of the window just now with a vague discontent, a sort of longing for some one to do something—for a sensation.

That was Belle Lansing—Blue-belle they all called her, by virtue of deep-blue eyes, and dresses which she almost always wore to match them.

What had Colonel Eustace thought when he gave heart and soul into such frail keeping? His love for her was unaccountable, people said; but people say that of almost all love affairs. Lookers-on never understand the game of hearts. What the players call trumps and honors are very common cards to them. At any rate Colonel Eustace was not a common man. Women whose shoe-latchets Blue-belle was not worthy to unloose would have been proud of his love. He was past his youth, but in the rich prime of his manhood. He had learned the lessons thirty-five years of life held for him, gained strength, courage, and patience in his battle with fate, and stood now on the summit he had gained a hero. Only one thing he had missed " in his life's full scope"—love. And what uncanny fate was it that introduced him to Blue-belle?

He had seen so little of women. They might have souls and minds for all he knew ; doubtless they had ; but he only looked in them for two things —hearts and faces. The face must be fair, and the heart—of course faces were but reflections of hearts, and through sunny eyes what could shine but a sunny Nature?

He saw Blue-belle walking under the elm-trees that arched like the roof of a temple over the straight village street. The sunset rays glanced in the trees 'like golden arrows, and burnished with a scintillant radiance her yellow hair. Blushes—childish, innocent-looking blushes—came and went on her cheeks. Blue eyes, rosy, parted lips, graceful form, light steps —surely here was Nature's master-piece. Like so many men of his age he fell straight into love. He did not pause to analyze or consider. That she was a good, simple girl—as men of thirty-five believe all girls of seventeen to be good and simple—he never doubted. He did not ask in her any thing for the highest part of his nature to mate with. That had sufficed for itself hitherto. Ile wanted some one to pet, to caress, to be fond of; some one who would make home for him by-and-by.

Blue-belle was flattered. If she had a heart she had never found it out yet; but ambition, pride-innocent-looking little creature as she was—these were not wanting. Colonel Eustace, of the regular army, was a great personage in her eyes. She felt herself distinguished by his attentions, and she accepted them with an eagerness which he thought ' was simplicity.

Of course he made love desperately, as is the nature of soldiers, and considering also that he had but three weeks wherein to secure what appeared to him just then to be the chiefest treasure the earth

held. Blue-belle was eminently receptive—receptive rather than demonstrative—for her nature was not large or intense enough to have very much need of expression. She wore his flowers, rode with him, walked with him, sang to him, and let him love her just as much as he pleased.

The night he bade her good-by she was a little startled at his emotion. The spirit she had raised frightened her. She did not know what such strong words meant. She wished he would not hold her hands so tight, or talk so much about death. She would have liked a cheerful parting better—some pretty speeches about winning laurels to lay at her feet — some protestations— some gallant compliments. Eustace was too much in earnest then for any such light wooing. He believed that he was parting with the one woman the earth held for him—the woman who loved Us he loved—who would crown his life if he lived, and be faithful to his memory till the next world if he died. So he talked to her, not of love merely, but of death and heaven. She gave him a soft tress of her yellow hair, and he folded it away as something sacred. He looked at her—a long, silent look—a gaze that would hold in memory forever every item of her loveliness ; and then, with a passionate " God bless you !" he went away.

And now it was only a week after and pretty Blue-belle sat by the window longing for some new excitement—something to put a little savor into the life which had grown more monotonous than ever since Colonel Eustace and his romantic devotion had dropped out of it. For Blue-belle was neither strong-hearted nor strong-minded. She was not sufficient unto herself; and she had not enough imagination to solace herself with memory and anticipation. She wanted something tangible and present—something to enjoy.

Behind her, sitting thus at the window and murmuring vague discontents, came Madge, her sister. Daughters of the same parents, reared in the same home, called by the same family name—sisters in so far ; but in every thing else, in looks as well as in nature, aliens. Madge was dark and thin ; not without her own claims to beauty, but beauty of a very different kind from Belle's. It was beauty that did not catch the eye readily—a loveliness not of shape or tint, though her features were clearly cut and noble, and the long dusky hair matched in shade the great dark eyes. But it was only now and then that her eyes told you any thing, or any color came into the clear olive of her cheek. Usually her face revealed little, and her thin lips closed resolutely over all that her heart felt. Now and then, though, her eyes blazed with scorn, or softened with a tenderness which was mightier than natures like Blue-belle's could ever fathom. Just now, as she came up to the window, there was meaning enough in her face. You could see in it a certain kind of love for the weak, pretty child she looked at, but a love touched with contempt and vexation. Her voice was earnest and honest, and her words might have seemed ungentle if some unexpressed tenderness had not softened her tones.

" Belle, you vex me. You are not worth one of Colonel Eustace's thoughts. Sitting here sighing for fresh excitements, and he scarcely a week gone: He ought to despise you !"

" See if you could make him !" and even Madge was not proof against the charm of the small, mutinous mouth—the rebellious, provoking blue eyes. She spoke more gently.

But, Belle, you are not a child any longer ; for the sake of your own womanhood put away childish things. If Colonel Eustace loves you, why are you not contented ? What more of honor could one woman ask? Why are you not satisfied to think of him, to live for him ? This craving for new excitements is unworthy of you both. Have you no heart?"

"If I have not whose fault is it ? I did not make my own nature," and angry tears sparkled in the blue eyes. " Neither you nor John Eustace has a right to ask me to be any thing but myself. If you don't like me as I am leave me. I never made any great professions to Colonel Eustace, or gave him any reason to think I could love in the exclusive, altogether-satisfied, high-and-mighty manner you and he talk about."

" No, but he saw himself reflected in you, and you let him go on believing that you loved him—you know you did. As for the kind of love he had no idea of any kind but one. To him love is love."

"And to me sermonizing is a bore."

The words were saucy, but the glance which accompanied them was arch, and a kiss upon Madge's half unwilling lips silenced her.

After that came a visitor, another military hero—Captain Denham. Recruiting in the village, and riding by, he saw at the window the blue eyes, and the primrose face with its yellow hair framing it, and remembered an introduction at a " Sanitary Fair" which gave him a right to call, so he drew rein at the gate. He, too, was there for only a few weeks, and then he was going to the war, a Captain of Volunteers. He was quite of Blue-belle's kind; young, merry, handsome, and a little thoughtless. He had more heart than she, to be sure, for he had not wasted it on so many flirtations.

lie, too, fell straightway in love, and began with all humility to wear Blue-belle's fetters. Of course she did not mean to care for him. She considered herself betrothed to Colonel Eustace, and she meant to marry him if the rebel shot and shell should spare her her bridegroom. If she had not been so fettered Denham would have suited her well. Of good family, rich, and full of the courage and grace of a youth at once noble and undisciplined, he was ten times more to her taste than her graver lover had ever been; but she shut her eyes on that, and persuaded herself that she was devoted to Eustace. Captain Denham, she would have said, amused her—supplied the missing excitement for which she had been longing. So she went over again with him the same paths she had trodden at John Eustace's side—Madge wondered the very stones at her feet did not cry out against her. She rode with this new-comer, sang to him, and let him put summer roses in the yellow hair, a lock of which lay close to a heart far away—, a heart too noble for her to understand. And Ralph

Denham loved her toot loved her with a selfish, frantic, craving love—a young man's love.

What evil spell was on her when he told her of this love ? It was not too late then. She might have said to him that she belonged to Eustace—instead she put him off with vague denials, noes that had no emphasis in them, and in spite of which he believed that he held her heart. Even when he cut off for himself, without her permission, a loose tress of her flowing hair, she did not take it away from him. The truth was, she came a great deal nearer to loving him than she had ever done to loving Eustace—he was nearer her age, more of her kind.

When he was fairly gone she began to realize what she had done, and to be, not remorseful—her nature was not deep enough for that—but frightened over it. She went to Madge, of course, and told her all. It was her wont to pile all her burdens on some other person's shoulders. But she got no comfort. Madge could not understand her state of mind. That a woman should not know which of two men she loved, and should encourage both, was a state of things she could neither pity nor comprehend. So Blue-belle had to console herself as she best could. She found a crumb of comfort in thinking that her two lovers were not very likely to know each other, though both were with the Army of the Potomac. She thought there would be little probability of intimacy or acquaintanceship between a Colonel of regulars and a Captain of volunteers. Besides, as she said to Madge, it was an even chance that they would both be killed, and ten chances to one that one or the other would be.

" And you would marry the survivor, whichever he might be?" Madge questioned, with a wrathful blaze in her eyes, and an intensity of scorn in her tone that made Blue-belle quake a little.

After a while both of them wrote to her, and as it never rains but it pours, both letters came on the same day, and between them made Belle Lansing more uncomfortable than she had ever been in her life. She saw how both depended on her and loved her—how each one regarded her as his future wife. To see how true and honest they had been did at last rouse some late remorse in her heart ; but presently, as she turned a leaf in Captain Denham's letter, all contrition was swallowed up in one agony of fear. He spoke of Colonel Eustace as his best friend. A family connection, of which Belle had not heard before, was the explanation; but Den-ham said the kindness he had received from the Colonel was something more than he had had any right to expect. He wrote of him with a frank enthusiasm, a warmth of attachment, which filled Belle with terror. Of course, she thought, be would tell the Colonel about her. Judging him, as women are apt to judge men, by herself, she thought it would be impossible for him to keep from so dear a friend a secret which lay so near his heart.

Her dismay was intense. If there had not been something ludicrous in it it would have been pathetic. They would talk her over together, and they would both hate her. " Wouldn't they ?" This question to Madge, who had been listening to her bewailings in unsympathetic silence.

"No!" Madge did not think Colonel Eustace would hate her. She thought the feeling he would have for a woman who was too weak to know her own mind would be better described by another word than hate. As for the Captain, he was young and in love—besides, he was the latest comer—perhaps he would overlook all.

But even this view of the subject was scarcely consolatory to Blue-belle. The higher grapes hang the sweeter they are to natures of her kind. With the thought that probably Colonel Eustace would not want her returned an intense admiration for him. She recalled his noble presence ; his eloquent words ; his manly, unselfish love ; and began to ad-mire him franticly, and think if she lost him there would be no more stars in her sky. Madge, who knew her better than she knew herself, believed that the lesson would d, her good. As for Colonel Eustace, she thought that when he should know all it would help him to an understanding of himself and his own needs, which would insure him against heart-break—if indeed such a word as heart-break be permissible in remotest connection with six feet of heroic flesh and blood under the uniform of the United States.

The next letter was from Colonel Eustace, and came for Madge. While in her neighborhood the Colonel had scarcely noticed Blue-belle's dark and quiet elder sister. It was singular how clearly her image came back to him when an emergency arrived where strength was needed.

Strong as Madge was her fingers trembled a little when she held his letter in them. Why had he written to her ? It was just after a great battle —was there something he feared to say to Belle? Was some one wounded—or did he know all, and was Captain Denham dead? She was thankful that Blue-belle was out, and she could read the letter with no questioning. watching eyes waiting for its tidings. She opened it, and it seemed scarcely a moment before she understood all.

The night before the battle Captain Denham had come to him with a letter to be forwarded, in case he died, to Miss Belle Lansing. Then, with the morrow's desperate chances before him, the young man's heart had opened to his friend, and Colonel Eustace had listened to the whole story of his love and his hopes. He had said nothing, for he thought the latest lover must have been the dearest to that fickle girl-heart. If Denham must die, let him die believing himself beloved—if he lived, why not believe himself beloved also, and be happy. For his own part, of course, he had no disposition to contest such a claim—this ended all. Belle had not loved him, whatever she might have felt for Denham. In any event his dream was over. If the wound was sore, he uttered, writing to Madge, no word of complaint.

He passed from his account of this interview in his tent the night before time battle to his story of the morrow's strife. Denham had distinguished himself, but he had been severely wounded. There was some hope for his life, but he lay now in hospital, delirious, and calling constantly for Belle.




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