|Henry Clay Pleasants|
February 16, 1833|
Buenos Aires, Argentina
|Died||March 26, 1880(aged 47)|
|Place of burial||Charles Baber Cemetery, Pottsville|
|Allegiance||United States of America
|Service/branch||United States Army
|Rank||Brevet Brigadier General|
|Battles/wars||American Civil War|
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, Virginia, resulting in the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864, an opportunity for Union troops to break the defense of Petersburg.
Early life and career
Pleasants was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and did not live in the United States until age 13, when he was sent to school in Philadelphia. He worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and in anthracite coal mines. In 1857, he moved to Pottsville, Pennsylvania, to become a civil engineer in the local mining industry.
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 Volunteer Infantry Regiment in July 1861. The regiment initially saw service in the Western Theater, but came east and fought in such battles as Antietam, Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg 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 in what is known as the Battle of the Crater. The Confederates recovered their original position.
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.
Fictional appearance (The Guns of the South)
In Harry Turtledove's alternate history novel, The Guns of the South, Pleasants was captured by Confederate forces late in the war. After the end of hostilities and his release from Andersonville, he decided to remain in the Confederacy, where his skilled labor would be more in demand. Later, Pleasants joins Confederate soldiers recalled to service to fight the turned-traitor time-traveling "Rivington men". When facing a seemingly impenetrable defensive position, he hears a fellow soldier jokingly suggest going under it and conceives a similar scheme as he did in real life. This scheme is quickly accepted by commanding general Nathan Bedford Forrest. Robert E. Lee, now Confederate President, orders that Pleasants' name be kept secret, so Rivington men aware of Pleasants' real history aren't tipped off. Here, infantry are able to capitalize on the opportunity.
- Pleasants, Henry, Inferno at Petersburg, Philadelphia, Chilton Book Co., Book Division 1961.