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For the English music critic Henry Pleasants, see Henry Pleasants .

Henry Clay Pleasants (February 16, 1833 – March 26, 1880) was a coal mining engineer and a brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He is best known for organizing the building of an underground tunnel filled with explosives under the Confederate lines outside Petersburg, Virginiamarker, resulting in the Battle of the Cratermarker on July 30, 1864, an opportunity for Union troops to break the defense of Petersburgmarker. He is also known, in fiction, as a character in Harry Turtledove's alternate history book, The Guns of the South, who conceives a similar idea to break a stalemated siege.

Early life and career

Pleasants was born in Buenos Airesmarker, Argentinamarker, and did not live in the United Statesmarker until age 13, when he was sent to school in Philadelphiamarker. He worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and in anthracite coal mines. In 1857, he moved to Pottsville, Pennsylvaniamarker, to become a civil engineer in the local mining industry.

Civil War

With the outbreak of hostilities, Pleasants became a second lieutenant in the 6th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which enlisted for only three months. He re-enlisted as a captain in the 48th Pennsylvania in July 1861.. The regiment initially saw service in the Western Theater, but came east and fought in such battles as Antietammarker, Second Bull Runmarker, Fredericksburgmarker and in the Wilderness.

By 1864, Pleasants had risen to lieutenant colonel and commanded the 48th Pennsylvania, which was one of the units outside Petersburg. Many of the 48th were coal miners, and Pleasants supposedly heard his men suggest running a shaft under the Confederate lines.. Pleasants went to his superiors, who approved the plan. He battled a lack of supplies, as well as a lack of interest on the part of Union generals (until other attacks on Petersburg failed). He was successful in his construction to such an extent that the explosion killed nearly three hundred Confederate soldiers. However, the Union troops under Ambrose Burnside failed to take advantage of the explosion and suffered considerable casualties. The Confederates recovered their original position.

On August 1, 1864, Pleasants was rewarded for his ingenuity and efforts by being promoted to command the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, IX Corps by Brig. Gen. Robert B. Potter, the division commander.

Pleasants was brevetted as a brigadier general on March 13, 1865. The citation brevetting him specifically mentions his service at Petersburg—it was not his fault that other officers bungled the opportunity.

Pleasants returned to Pottsville after mustering out of the army in 1865 and resumed his role as a mining engineer for the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, rising to the positions of Chief Engineer and then Superintendent.

Pleasants died at the age of 47 and was buried in the Charles Baber Cemetery in Pottsville.

Fictional appearance (The Guns of the South)

In Harry Turtledove's alternate history novel, The Guns of the South, Pleasants was captured by the Confederate forces and, after the end of hostilities, decided to remain in the Confederacy; eventually enlisting in the Confederate Army after the Rivington men attempt to overthrow the government. When facing a seemingly impenetrable defensive position, he hears a fellow soldier jokingly suggest going under the Rivington men's fortified position and conceives a similar scheme as he did in real life, a scheme which is quickly accepted by his commanding general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. This attempt is more successful than that at Petersburg, and a massive crater is created, allowing the Confederates to break the Rivington men's defenses.


  • Pleasants, Henry, Inferno at Petersburg, Philadelphia, Chilton Book Co., Book Division 1961.

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