Friday, March 2, 2007

Digging the Petersburg Mine. . .One Soldier's Diary

The 48th Pennsylvania is without question best remembered for their digging of the Petersburg Mine in June-July 1864. It is a shame that the resulting disaster at the battle of the Crater has overshadowed, even tarnished, this remarkable feat accomplished by the 48th.
Samuel Beddall, a sergeant in Company E, served with the regiment from start to finish; from August 1861, when he enlisted at the age of 17, until July 1865, when the regiment was mustered out of service. Like many Civil War soldiers, Beddall kept a diary throughout the war. This diary is now held at the United States Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Beddall's diary is important because it provides a history of the war "from the bottom up." Especially important to the student of the Petersburg Campaign and the battle of Crater, Beddall's diary give us a look at the digging at the Petersburg Mine by one of the soldiers burrowing deep under the Virginia soil. I know of no other account or diary that details the digging of the mine.
My post today transcribes Beddall's daily diary entries from June 25, 1864, to August 1, 1864, two days after the explosion of the mine. At first, Beddall was not involved in the digging, but as the weeks passed by, he too was in the mine daily, his chief duty was carrying out the clay and dirt. As you read through his diary, notice how Beddall recorded his work in the mine and how he continued to write about receiving letters from home, which was always of great importance to any Civil War soldier.
Note: Any spelling or grammatical corrections on my part with be placed inside brackets: [__] I tried to transcribe Beddall's diary with his exact spelling and grammar.
Samuel Beddall, Company E, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry
At just 17, Sam Beddall, a blacksmith from Middleport, was one of the youngest members of the 48th Pennsylvania. He served with the regiment throughout the four years of the war, and, despite his young age, he was fearless in battle. In fact, in October 1864, Beddall was honored when he was selected to carry the regimental flag, which he did for the duration of the war. Joseph Gould, in his regimental history of the 48th, wrote of Beddall: "He was in every engagement that the regiment participated in and was never sick a day while in the army or incapacitated in any manner from doing duty; was struck by a shell at the battle of Fredericksburg, Va., on Dec. 13th 1862, but not injured sufficiently to be sent to the hospital."
Beddall's Diary from June 25-August 1, 1864 follows:
Saturday, June 25, 1864: the weather is verry warm this last 2 two days. Everything is quiet in front. the 48th to day started to under mine the Rebel fortifications

Sunday, June 26, 1864: our Regt is purty much all out on detail at the drift; they average about 5 feat every two hours. Near Petersburg Virginia

Monday, June 27, 1864: the Rebels anoyed us greatly with their mortars. Pat Grant and John Watson was both wounded in the leg to day; it is found that Grant will lost the leg

Tuesday, June 28, 1864: Yesterday I received a letter from home to day I Answered it. We draw whiskey regular at the commissary; we still lay in front of Petersburg. all quiet only the mortars

Wednesday, June 29, 1864: our Regiment is on Special duty at driving a tunnel; they are in up to this Evning about 60 yards. the regt is excused from picket duty on that account. Near Petersburg, Va

Thursday, June 30, 1864: to day we moved back to the Rear and entrenched our selves. heavey fighting on the right of our Division this Evning don’t know the result

Friday, July 1, 1864: to day the weather is fair the heavey firing yesterday was caused by an assault on the rebels army on the right of our corps & the left of the 5th corps; the rebs were surprised

Saturday, July 2, 1864: to day the wether is fair but verry warm. nothing of importance transpired. Wm McElrath sick. P. Rodgers detailed as cook. received Inteligence of the deaths of Wm Evans, J. Regan, Wm Reasons, all of Co. E 48

Sunday, July 3, 1864: the day was passed in silence; the working men keep coming and going all day and all night. the duty is purty heavy. purty much all the Regiment are on that detail. Petersburg Va

Monday, July 4, 1864: as this day is allways most highly celebrated by the Civil & Millitary honors it was passed to day with our anny thing transpiring unusually it passed off verry quiet talking of . . . was the most of . . . . . .

Tuesday, July 5, 1864: to day was very fair; the firing of mortar & sharpshooters was about the only thing practiced. I wrote a letter home to day in answer to one Recd July 1st. to day one of Co. D 48th was killed by minny ball

Wednesday, July 6, 1864: wether fair; Nothing unusually transpired to day. the Lt. Col. of the 48th felt the . . . of the Commisary best tunnel . . . . . . All are a going to have a turn at it

Thursday, July 7, 1864: wether fair; Gen A E Burnside went to review the front line of picket & to visit the tunnel in wich our regt is working at it . . . All quiet in front

Friday, July 8, 1864: yesterday the news arrived of the capture of the . . .Alabama. The rebels this afternoon attacked our Right but were unsuccessfull; it ensued by a furious cannonading

Saturday, July 9, 1864: we are situated as usual nothing of importance transpired; P Rodgers returned to the Company after duty as only one Cook is alowed for each Company

Sunday, July 10, 1864: this morning while taking a knap I was wakened by the arival of a letter in wich I got . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Monday, July 11, 1864: was detailed to work in the tunnel; Gen Burnside & Governor Sprague & Governor Tod came to visit the tunnel to day while I was there. they said we were bound to get whiskey

Entrance to the Petersburg Mine

Tuesday, July 12, 1864: went to work in the tunnel at 12 oclock and worked two hours & a half; came in to camp and wrote home for money. To day we got a good rations of whiskey to drink (all quiet)

Wednesday, July 13, 1864: yesterday the Captain recd Official accounts of Sergeants Thomas Toshs deth; he was wounded through the left breast by a ball on June 3rd 1864; the mortars are as active as ever . . . . . . .

Thursday, July 14, 1864: went to work at 6 oclock this morning and worked 3 hours in the tunnel carrying out clay; Colonel Harry Pleasant came to us and spoke to the whole Regt on very friendly terms about the tunnel

Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants: Mastermind of the Petersburg Mine

Friday, July 15, 1864: went to work at 6 oclock and worked 3 hours; the boys are verry anxious to hear from home and to hear the newspapers acount of the rebels on a raid into Maryland & Penn [Beddall is referring here to General Jubal Early's Raid on Washington]

Saturday, July 16, 1864: went to work at 6 oclock this morning and worked 3 hours in the tunnel carrying out clay to day; we received the news that the Rebels where driven out of Pennsylvania & Maryland across the Potomac again; shelling hear brisk

Sunday, July 17, 1864: went to work this morning the same as yesterday and worked the same length of time; the firing last evening is not yet been ascertained; to day I recd a letter from home of July the 8th from Lilley Beddall [Samuel's sister].

Monday, July 18, 1864: worked 3 hours at the tunnel to day; Recd a letter from Sister Lilley also one from Jack McElrath who is at present at Philadelphia in Hospital; he was wounded in the head

Tuesday, July 19, 1864: went to work to day at 6 oclock worked 3 hours in the tunnel; wether wet (Rainey) . wrote a large letter home yesterday filling one fools cap sheet of paper; all quiet

Wednesday, July 20, 1864: went to work as usually at the tunnel; we are driving to the right & left and now are under the Rebels fortifications [Beddall is referring to the digging of two lateral galleries at the end of the tunnel].

Thursday, July 21, 1864: went to work at usually at the tunnel but was shoveling at the Right branch; all quiet with the exeptions of shelling which is verry common now

Friday, July 22, 1864: went to work at 6 came in at 9 oclock; Recd a letter from home to day, answered to day; wrote to Ephraim B. this evening; the Rebels fired …volleys the firing was purty heavy

Saturday, July 23, 1864: went to work as usually; Received a letter from Miss Daniles answered it to day; All quiet the tunnel is almost ready they are cleaning it up to the face

Sunday, July 24, 1864: went to work at 6 oclock and worked untill 9 oclock carrying clay; They are putting boxes in to day to fill powder in

Monday, July 25, 1864: went to work at 6 oclock worked 3 hours carrying out dirt from the tunnel; Received a letter from Thos. H. Hall, a member of Co. E 48th Regt answered it to day; All quiet

Tuesday, July 26, 1864: the tunnel is finished & is far enough in so they are placing the powder boxes in; to day I visited the Fortifications; there is one fort that has 6 thirty . . .lbs & 8 light pieces all quiet

Wednesday, July 27, 1864: to day I received a note from Miss Agnes Gillespie, it was answered to day; this afternoon one hundred and fifty men was detailed to put the tamping in the tunnel

Thursday, July 28, 1864: to day I worked six hours in the tunnel filling up for tamping the powder; it is thought that it will be compleated this Evning

Lt. Col. Pleasants and Soldiers of the 48th Placing Powder in the Mine

Friday, July 29, 1864: Received a letter from T.H. Hall and one from S.A. etc demanding a photograph, answered; the tunnel is ready they are massing the troops hear in front of our line preparing for a charge

Saturday, July 30, 1864: this morning about 4 oclock the explosion took place; it was terrable, it shook the earth for two miles around. Then the booming of artillery and the charge of infantry they take the second line the collard troops breaks & run the whole line fell back again

Sunday, July 31, 1864: all quiet today with the exeptions of sharpshooting; our men are laying in front of the Rebel fort killed & wounded; they refuse a flag of truce to day. This evening they rais a flag of truce on both sides the Rebel loss is heavy

Monday, August 1, 1864: this morning the flag of truce is granted from 6 oclock untill 9 to burry the dead & remove the wounded all quiet to day the picket make a bargain not to fire untill night comes

The Union Attack at the Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864


Kevin said...

John, -- I spent two days in Pottsville at the historical society copying documents from the Cavanaugh collection. The Beddall diary was a real gem.

mannie said...


These entries remind us that being literate is not the same as being articulate and reflective. Great post.


fedora1978 said...

Samuel Beddall was my father-in-law's great uncle. According to family lore, Uncle Sam lied about his age and enlisted when he was just 15. During the July 1864 Battle of the Crater he saved the 48th Regiment's flag, and was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Years later he served as an honorary pallbearer at the consecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921.