How did union soldiers use the principles of draft and heat to supply fresh air to miners.

Though the actual Battle of the Crater was a tactical disaster, it was because of the inept and stalled actions of the generals leading the Union Army and not the plans leading up to the battle.

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Ventilation Principles Used In The Battle of Petersburg

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Coal miners from Pennsylvania dig a tunnel under the Confederate lines and pack it with gunpowder...

The American Civil War - July 30, 1864 - 4:40 a.m.- Petersburg, Virginia: After several weeks of digging, Union soldiers ignited 320 kegs of gunpowder (8,000 pounds) under Confederate lines from a tunnel they had built 20 feet below. The 170 feet long, 120 feet wide, and 30 feet deep crater (still visible today) killed 278 Confederate soldiers from the blast alone. The Battle of the Crater began. If you have seen the movie Cold Mountain, this event was depicted in the first scene and will give you a feel on what really took place and the aftermath.

The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry started digging the 511 foot tunnel on June 25, 1864. These former civilians from the mountains of Pennsylvania knew how to dig a tunnel because of their experience back home working in the coal mines.

Actual tunnel used in the battle of Petersburg.

What really intrigued me was the way they provided fresh air to the miners. After the mine exceeded 120 feet, canvas was sealed over the entrance of the shaft. A square wooden duct was built from the entrance of the shaft to the area where the miners were digging. About 20 feet down from the entrance, a fire chamber and chimney were built. The heat rising up the chimney flue to the outside would draw the stale air from the mine, forcing fresh air down the ductwork and into the chamber. The chimney, being near the entrance, made the smoke look like it was coming from the union camp. The ducting gave the workers O2 while CO2 was being drawn out of the main shaft.

Diagram depicting how the Union Army brought in fresh air from the outside to the miners digging the tunnel.
Sealed Canvas Partition (1)
Combustion (2)
Stale Air (3)
Fresh Air (4)

The combustion of the wood is much hotter than the outside (ambient) air, and is less dense. The heat of the combustion rising through the chimney to the outside air causes a draft or draught. This negative pressure causes the air in the tunnel to expel, and draws in the fresh air through the duct. The fire had to be constantly stoked as the tunnel got longer.

If the calculation of draft is not correct, it would not provide the amount of negative pressure to draw in fresh air.

The equation for this type of draft would be: DRAFT= (0.65 * tunnel area) √ 2 ( 9.81 * tunnel distance) * (average inside temperature - average outside temperature) / (average inside temperature). This would give you the stack effect or draft flow rate.

"Regular Army wiseacres said it was not feasible-that I could not carry the ventilation that distance without digging a hole to the surface... But, I have succeeded." - Lt. Col Henry Pleasants, 48th Pennsylvania Regiment, July 23, 1864

Lt. Col Henry Pleasants was brevet a Brigadier General after the American Civil War in 1866. The confirmed citation from the U.S. Congress praised his command decisions at Petersburg. for Everything HVAC.

The principles of draft and stack effect is used in any process that uses the burning of materials or fuels. This includes manufacturing, foundry and incineration industries.

The calculation of draft flow is still used for modern gas and oil-fired furnaces and hydronic boilers.