Military Operations at Chaffin's Farm
Library of Congress
The nature of warfare evolved dramatically during the final ten months of the war. Static war in the trenches replaced the freewheeling mass movements of earlier campaigns. This began at Cold Harbor in June 1864 and progressed southward to the series of battles around Petersburg. These affairs occasionally erupted in full-scale battles. The Battle of Chaffin's Farm is a particularly illustrative example of a late war engagement.
From the very beginning of the war, Confederate engineers worked feverishly to build permanent defenses around Richmond. By 1864, they had created a system anchored south of the capital on the James River at Chaffin's Farm, a large open bluff named for a local resident. This outer line was supported by an intermediate and inner system of fortifications much closer to the capital.
The strength of these lines remained untested until September 1864 when Union General Ulysses S. Grant tried to capture Richmond or Petersburg by attacking simultaneously north and south of the James. The attack north of the river occurred on September 29. Federal general Benjamin Butler commanded the attackers who captured the strategically important New Market Heights in the early morning. Other elements of Butler's forces then overwhelmed the Confederate defenders inside Fort Harrison. However, uncoordinated attacks against Forts Gilmer, Gregg and Johnson all encountered dismal failure, leaving Butler and Grant chagrined at only partial success. A Confederate counterattack on September 30 proved equally futile, and the two armies settled into trench warfare that continued until the end of the war. This fighting around Chaffin's Farm cost the nation nearly 5,000 casualties.