Henry Clay Pleasants
Henry Pleasants was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on February 16, 1833 but 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 the anthracite coal mines. In 1857, he moved to Pottsville, Pennsylvania to become a civil engineer in the mining industry.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Pleasants became a 2nd 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. He participated in both Eastern and Western theater battles. The more notable engagements were Second Bull Run, Chantilly, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, siege of Knoxville, and in all the battles of General Grant’s Overland Campaign, from the Wilderness to the Siege of Petersburg. He is best known for organizing the building of an underground tunnel filled with explosives under the Confederate lines outside Petersburg, VA., resulting in the Battle Of The Crater on July 30, 1864, an opportunity for Union troops to end the Siege of Petersburg.
By 1864, Pleasants had risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and commanded the 48th Pennsylvania, which was one of the units outside Petersburg. Many of the 48th were coal miners, and Pleasants advocated running a shaft under the Confederate lines and detonating explosives to create a break in the rebel line. His superiors approved the plan. Although initially successful — the explosion killed nearly three hundred Confederate soldiers — a late change in the composition of the attacking force; poor superior rank leadership; and attack mismanagement resulted in the Union troops not exploiting the break & the explosion. Considerable casualties were incurred as the attack fizzled. In a devastating counterattack, the Confederates recovered their original position.
Nevertheless, on August 1, 1864, Pleasants was rewarded for his ingenuity and efforts by being promoted to command the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, IX Corps, under Brigadier General Robert Potter, the Division Commander, and Major General Ambrose Burnside, the Corps Commander.
Subsequently, on March 13, 1865, the Secretary of War promoted Colonel Pleasants to Brevet Brigadier General for his “distinguished services during the war, and particularly for the construction and explosion of the mine before Petersburg.” Major General Meade issued a special order thanking Colonel Pleasants and his regiment for this, one of the most extraordinary feats of engineering performed during the war.
After mustering out honorably from the army in 1865 for health reasons, Pleasants returned to Pottsville 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. After a long and lingering disease that shattered his health, Henry Pleasants died on March 26th, 1880, at the early age of 47. Showing the respect Henry had earned, more than 1,000 people attended his funeral. He is buried in the Charles Baber Cemetery in Pottsville, PA.
Ever since I can remember, going back to elementary school, I have been interested in the American Civil War. To date, however, although my research continues, I have not discovered any ancestor who fought in that war. But that has not denied my family a rich and colorful past.
My Great Grandmother, Felipa Gonzalez, (1860’s), told stories to my mother about seeing Maximilian’s French troops passing through their barrio in San Bernardo, Durango Mexico. The men of San Bernardo were away with the Juarista’s, so in their stead, the women screamed and taunted the passing invaders with belittling gestures both verbally and physically.
Life was not easy on the frontier. A distant cousin who lived just across the United States border with Mexico experienced first hand the terror of the notorious raider Pancho Villa. Out of pure spite, Pancho Villa personally bull whipped him to death.
My Grandfather, Pedro Rubio, (1890’s) after moving to the United States several years later, became a copper mine safety activist in Miami, Arizona. The owners of the local copper mining industry put out a “contract” on his life which motivated Pedro to move his family to Los Angeles, California.
Proudly, my wife’s Grandparents’ names are etched in stone on Ellis Island when they emigrated from Czechoslovakia for a better life. Both my father and I missed military service by two weeks respectively. My father (WWII) was set to be inducted and go to Europe when Germany surrendered. I was about to become a serviceman (Vietnam) when suddenly the draft was halted.
I chose Henry Clay Pleasants for many reasons. He was from Pennsylvania and was a family man like myself. I also wanted a persona that shared in some of Pennsylvania’s rich heritage (coal mining & railroads). Lastly, I wanted someone like myself who enjoys turning adversity into opportunity. My wife, Linda, herself a student of the Civil War, portrays Annie Shaw Pleasants from Kentucky, the wife of Colonel Pleasants.
Ray Lizarraga is available for speaking engagements on Civil War topics or as Col. Pleasants, to groups, schools, organizations and other related events. Should you be interested in a comment or appearance, Ray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org