FORT HARRISON, VIRGINIA
Fort Harrison, Va., Sept. 29-30, 1864. 10th and 18th Army Corps and Kautz's Cavalry Division. Fort Harrison was a redoubt on the Confederate line of defenses north of the James River, and about a mile directly east of Chaffin's bluff. A short distance north was another redoubt known as Fort Gilmer, both forts being connected with the works at Chaffin's bluff by lines of intrenchments, while an advanced line, held by the enemy's pickets, extended northeast from Fort Harrison.
On Sept. 28 Maj.-Gen. David B. Birney, commanding the 1Oth corps, was directed to cross the James River at the upper pontoon bridge at Deep Bottom (q. v.) and advance upon Richmond by the Newmarket and Darbytown roads. Kautz, with his cavalry division, was to move on the latter road in support of Birney's movement, and as a diversion Maj.-Gen. E. O. C. Ord, with the 18th corps, was directed to cross the river by a pontoon 2 miles below Dutch gap and move up the Varina road against the Confederate works about Chaffin's bluff. The movement was made secretly, and by daylight on the 29th both corps were north of the James. The Confederate pickets and skirmishers were driven in and about 7:30 the head of Ord's column reached the open fields of the Chaffin farm in front of Fort Harrison, when the enemy immediately opened fire with artillery from the fort and the adjacent trenches. Ord reconnoitered the ground and made dispositions to attack. Stannard's division was directed to push forward on the left of the road, advance at quick time across the open ground, and at the double-quick upon arriving at the foot of the hill in front of the fort, while Heckman's division was to move to the right of the road and attack in front. Heckman went too far into the woods and when the time came for him to assault his brigades were scattered and could not be brought up in time to be of service. Stannard's men, Burnham's brigade in the lead advanced across the open ground in the face of a severe fire, swept over the parapet, and after a sharp encounter carried the fort, capturing 16 guns and a number of prisoners. The guns were turned on the works to the right and left of the fort and two lunettes, about 600 yards apart, with 6 more pieces of artillery fell into the hands of the Federals. Ord then tried to form his men to swing round inside the trenches toward Fort Gilmer, but in the excitement and confusion, and owing to the heavy loss in brigade and regimental commanders, the attempt did not succeed. Burnham had been killed early in the assault and two other officers that succeeded him in command of the brigade were wounded in quick succession. While trying to rally his men Ord was severely wounded and the command of the corps devolved on Gen. Heckman, who was just about to attack Fort Gilmer. Ord had been instructed to occupy such works as he took, after which he was to push on with any spare force he had and attack the works toward Richmond. These instructions were imparted to Heckman when he assumed command, and he afterward made an attack on Fort Gilmer, but as that work had been strongly reinforced the assault was repulsed with considerable loss.
The 1Oth corps, Foster's division in advance, moved forward on the Kingsland Road from Deep Bottom about 6 a. m. and shortly after 9 o'clock met the enemy's pickets along the line of works at the junction of the Mill and New Market roads. Part of the 142nd N. Y., under Lieut.-Col. Barney was deployed as skirmishers, and closely followed by the remainder of the 1st brigade, charged the works, driving the enemy in some confusion back to Laurel Hill Church where the Confederates had a battery of l2-pounders in position. This battery was quickly dislodged, and Foster formed his command along the New Market Road, his right resting at the church, where he remained until about the middle of the afternoon when the corps was ordered to make an assault on Fort Gilmer and the main line of works as far as New Market road. In this assault the only Union troops that reached the fort were those belonging to the colored brigade. They jumped into the ditch and endeavored to scale the parapet by climbing upon each other's shoulders, but their determined efforts were finally defeated, and the brigade driven back with severe loss. The corps then fell back to Laurel hill, where it intrenched. During the night of the 29th and the forenoon of the 30th large parties of Stannard's division worked arduously to made Fort Harrison an enclosed work in anticipation of an attempt to recapture it. Gen. Ewell, who was in command of the Confederate forces on the north side of the James, was joined by Gen. Lee soon after Stannard's successful assault on the fort, and steps were at once taken to recover the lost position. Troops were hurried over from the south side of the river and by daylight on the 30th ten brigades were concentrated near Fort Gilmer ready for an attack on Stannard.
About 2 p. m. the enemy opened fire with 12 pieces of artillery on Stannard's center and left and Anderson, now in command of Longstreet's corps, advanced on the right with the brigades of Law, Anderson, Bratton, Colquitt and Clingman. Stannard ordered his men to reserve their fire until the Confederates came out of the chaparral, when the whole line opened a most effective fire, which drove the enemy back to the cover of the underbrush. At this unfortunate juncture it was discovered that the Federal supply of artillery ammunition was exhausted and Stannard ordered the guns to be removed by hand. Two subsequent attacks were repulsed in like manner and the day closed with the Union troops still in possession of the fort.
The Federal loss during the several engagements about Fort Harrison, Fort Gilmer, New Market Heights, Laurel Hill Church etc., was 383 killed, 2,299 wounded and 645 missing. The "Medical and Surgical History of the War" gives the total number of Confederates killed and wounded at 2,000. In addition to this list of casualties about 300 were captured, together with 22 pieces of artillery and a large quantity of ammunition, camp equipage, etc. Although the expedition was not entirely a success its principal object-that of preventing Lee from sending reinforcements to Early in the Shenandoah Valley--was accomplished. Had it not been for Heckman's unfortunate error in taking position and the destructive fire of the Confederate gunboats in the river just at the time Ord was trying to rally his men for an attack on Fort Gilmer, that work would have undoubtedly fallen into the hands of the Union forces, thus opening the way for an entry into Richmond.
Source: The Union Army, vol. 5