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2008 News Releases

Longwood administrator to appear on PBS program

December 17, 2008

Dr. Charles Ross filmed by PBS Dr. Charles Ross and Longwood student Stacy Wood conduct a demonstration while being filmed by for a PBS television program.

Dr. Charles Ross, a Longwood University administrator and faculty member who is an often quoted expert on science and technology in the Civil War, will appear in a PBS program that will air next year.

Ross, dean of the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences and professor of physics, was filmed Dec. 15 at Petersburg National Battlefield and later that day on the Longwood campus for "The Ground War," a new series on the evolution of military technology. The segment with Ross is expected to be broadcast in late summer 2009.

"Our segment focuses on the ingenious method the Union Army’s 48th Pennsylvania Infantry regiment used at Petersburg to tunnel and mine under the Confederate lines," Ross said. "Chris Calkins, who is Petersburg National Battlefield’s chief historian and is a Longwood alumnus, and I were filmed inside the tunnel, which was interesting because it is never opened to the public. The tunnel is now only 10 or 15 feet long; most of it has collapsed over the years. It’s not tall enough to stand up in, and it’s about four feet wide at the bottom and two feet wide at the top."

That afternoon, Ross was filmed in a chemistry lab on the third floor of Chichester Science Center demonstrating a small scale model of the tunnel’s ventilation system. In the demonstration, he was aided by Dr. Keith Rider, assistant professor of physical chemistry; Ray Heinrich, director of laboratory services for the departments of chemistry & physics and biology & environmental sciences; and Stacy Wood, a senior who works for those departments.

Dr. Charles Ross and Longwood student Stacy Wood conduct a demonstration while being filmed
Dr. Charles Ross and Longwood student Stacy Wood conduct a demonstration while being filmed.
Though men in both the Union and Confederate armies in front of Petersburg knew of the tunnel in the summer of 1864, shortly after a Union siege of the city began, there was widespread skepticism that anything would come of it. "Most people in the two armies did not think that a tunnel of that length (511 feet) could be dug because there was no way to ventilate it, and that after a few hundred feet the miners at the far end of the tunnel would suffocate," Ross said. When 8,000 pounds of black powder were ignited in the mine July 30, 1864, it blew a hole in the Confederate defenses, but the subsequent Union attack was bungled and the gap was quickly repaired by the Confederates, leading to a siege that lasted more than nine months.

The recent filming was done by a four-person crew from Granada Media, a British-based television production and distribution company. A crew from Granada Media, with the same director, also filmed Ross for a segment of the show "The Battlefield Detectives" on The History Channel, which first aired in 2007 and has appeared regularly since. That interview, at the Gettysburg battlefield, was about the influence of sound-related anomalies known as "acoustic shadows" on the outcome of the Civil War’s most momentous battle.

Ross is the author of two books, Trial by Fire: Science, Technology and the Civil War and Civil War Acoustic Shadows, and he is a co-author of Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia.