Henrico, Virginia | Sep 29 - 30, 1864
Alongside New Market Heights, the assault on Fort Harrison formed the second distinct stage at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, itself part of the lengthy Siege of Petersburg, Virginia. Less an official fort and more of an extended network of trenches and other fortifications, Fort Harrison stood as a critical link in Richmond’s defenses, which therefore made it a tempting target for the Army of the James under General Benjamin F. Butler on September 29th, 1864.
Butler assigned the role of punching through the Confederate lines defending the fort to Major General Edward Ord, commander of the XVIII Corps. Ord commenced his assault under the leadership of Brigadier General George Stannard as the fighting raged at nearby New Market Heights, trusting that the Confederates did not have the resources to defend two separate fronts. In this regard, he was correct, and the men of the XVIII Corps charged the swept over the earthworks and forced the enemy to fall back to a new position.
This small victory came at a heavy price, however, including the life of one of the brigade commanders, Brigadier General Hiram Burnham, and Union troops renamed the fortifications Fort Burnham in his honor. General Ord himself was also wounded in the fighting, so seriously, in fact, that he was relieved of command and would not take the field again for some time.
The battle was not quite done yet, however, as the regrouped Confederates, bolstered by volunteers sent by General Robert E. Lee, attempted to retake the fort the next day, but federal troops led by General George Weitzel easily fought off the rebels. Butler managed to set out what he accomplished to do, but soon his troops lost their inertia, and the Siege of Petersburg once more settled down into a low simmer. Union troops soon renamed their new fortifications Fort Burnham, in honor of their fallen general.