On this day in 1864, soldiers from the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry began carrying four tons of powder in 320 twenty-five-pound kegs into a mine they dug under the direction of Henry Pleasants. That’s Pleasants there, seated on the bench in the foreground, overseeing the arrival of powder. The idea was to blow up the mine once his men had burrowed under Confederate lines and in so doing blow open the stalemated Petersburg Campaign.
Harper’s Weekly artist Alfred R. Waud, who was a witness to the events, made this pencil sketch of the scene. A handwritten caption on an attached piece of paper describes the perilous job of hauling the kegs full of powder. Soldiers assigned to this duty carried two kegs at a time in a grain bag thrown across their shoulders. A portion of the route was exposed to enemy fire, necessitating waiting for an open opportunity and then dashing for cover.