Prof. Benjamin Maillefert


Maillefertís mission at the battle of South Mills was to blow up the stone locks of the Dismal Swamp Canal. The steamer Virginia towed the schooner Emma Slade, Maillefertís supply ship, to Chantilly. There two wagons were loaded with 1100 pounds of gunpowder, digging tools, batteries, and about 1000 feet of insulated wire from the schooner.



When the Union forces retreated to their transports around 10:00 P.M. after the battle, General Reno ordered the 51st Pennsylvanians to bury the unused explosives and tools on the battlefield to free up the two wagons so they could serve as ambulances for the wounded on the 14 mile trek back to Chantilly.


The Confederates returned to the battlefield on Aril 21st after receiving reinforcements from Norfolk. They discovered numerous pits dug on the battlefield that didnít look like graves, so they investigated. The explosives, wire, and tools were dug up and sent back to Norfolk via the canal.


A number of wild conjectures arose from the finding of this cache. The wildest was that the wire was used to communicate with gunboats in the river by telegraph during the battle. The most enduring myth from this mass burial is that the Yankee losses were far greater than reported because they had dug up 2-3 acres of land to bury them all. Actually, only 14 Union soldiers were buried on the battlefield; one was dug up the week after the battle (Adjutant Gadsdenís body was shipped home to New York) and 10 more were reburied in the New Bern National Cemetery in 1866.