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Fort Harrison

A Fitting First Victory: It is poetic justice that the Richmond Battlefields Association's inaugural preservation success should come at Fort Harrison in 2002. Early Richmond preservationists, including Douglas Southall Freeman, began their mission in 1927 "to acquire historic sites for preservation and restoration" by purchasing the historic fort at public auction with borrowed funds. Seventy-five years later, RBA has picked up the challenge to preserve America's hallowed ground. A generous loan from the Civil War Preservation Trust facilitated the purchase. RBA raised the funds to repay the loan and the historic property has since been incorporated into the Richmond National Battlefield Park.

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September 29, 1864

Union XVIII Corps Assault: Several lines of earthen fortifications guarded the approaches to Richmond from the south. Fort Harrison stood as the largest and best known of the positions at Chaffins Farm. Portions of Benjamin Butler's Army of the James crossed the James River on the night of September 28-29. Men from the Tenth Corps proceeded to attack Confederate positions on New Market Heights, while Eighteenth Corps troops stormed Fort Harrison and its satellite positions. Blue-clad soldiers from George Stannard's 8,000-man division braved a flat and barren farm field on their way to securing Fort Harrison. When the first men reached the steep wall of the fort, they hoisted themselves up the incline the best they could. Some men jammed bayonets into the earthen walls for use as ladder rungs. A brief struggle for the top of the wall ended in Confederate defeat, and Stannard's triumphant survivors streamed into their hard-won trophy.

September 30, 1864

Lee's Counterattack: The following day R. E. Lee gathered together reenforcements in an effort to reclaim Fort Harrison. The Federals had worked steadily throughout the night to enclose the open northern end of the fort, which faced Richmond and the Confederates. Although the wall they built was only a few feet high, it helped protect the Unionists from Lee's counterattack. That attack, in fact, was not very menacing. Different brigades attacked at different times, mostly from the north. Each formation dissolved under withering fire, with heavy loss. Fort Harrison (renamed Fort Burnham in honor of an XVIII Corps brigade commander killed in the fighting) remained in Federal hands for the remainder of the war.

The battles at Chaffin's Bluff produced combined casualties of close to 5,000 over the two days of fighting.

acres saved

Above: At our annual meeting, RBA members tour the ground they helped save. Historian R.E.L. Krick describes the desperate struggle in front of Fort Harrison (June 2003).

sommers presentation

Historian Richard J. Sommers discusses the September 1864 fighting at Fort Harrison (Jun 2003)

final payment

An important milestone: RBA Treasurer David West makes the final payment on the Fort Harrison property.