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 Fort Harrison and the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm: To Surprise and Capture Richmond

 By Douglas Crenshaw, The History Press 2014, $19.99

In late September 1864, Federal forces launched the Fifth Richmond–Petersburg Offensive, in which elements from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James drove the Confederates from fortified positions in Virginia at Fort Harrison and on New Market Heights. With little standing between the Federals and Richmond, it appeared that the Confederate capital was doomed as noon approached on September 29. But as so often happened in the war, the Federal offensive bogged down after the successful initial assault— giving General Robert E. Lee time to rush reinforcements to the scene. Those reinforcements managed to contain the Union breakthrough, but Lee, as was his wont, hoped for more and ordered a counterattack. It proved unsuccessful, and as night fell September 30, Union and Confederate forces once again found themselves in a stalemate north of the James River.

The story of the entire Fifth Offensive, which included the fight for Fort  Harrison, has already been magnificently and thoroughly chronicled in Richard J. Sommers’ 1981 classic Richmond Redeemed. Here, Douglas Crenshaw offers a book that will appeal to readers who are interested in the fight for Fort Harrison, but  might understandably be daunted by Sommers’ door-stop of a book.

In a little more than 110 pages (not counting notes and bibliography), Crenshaw efficiently describes the  fighting for Fort Harrison and its place in the Fifth Offensive. Crenshaw’s account of events is clear and his analyses of command decisions and other factors that shaped their outcome are well-presented. The text is accompanied by excellent maps that aid following troop movements and understanding how terrain shaped one of the more significant of the engagements north of the James in 1864 that, despite their significance, rarely  receive the attention they deserve.


Originally published in the September 2014 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.