Richmond, Embattled Capital, 1861-1865.
April 3, 1865. " As the sun rose on Richmond, such a spectacle was presented as can never be forgotten by those who witnessed it... All the horrors of the final conflagration, when the earth shall be wrapped in 'flames and melt with fervent heat, were, it seemed to us, prefigured in our capital. The roaring, crackling and hissing of the flames, the bursting of shells at the Confederate Arsenal, the sounds of the Instruments of martial music, the neighing of the horses, the shoutings of the multitudes... gave an idea of all the horrors of Pandemonium. Above all this scene of terror, hung a black shroud of smoke through which the sun shone with a lurid angry glare like an immense ball of blood that emitted sullen rays of light, as if loath to shine over a scene so appalling. ... [Then] a cry was raised: 'The Yankees! The Yankees are coming!'"
An Introduction to the 1862 Peninsula Campaign
No military campaign had more influence on the course of the Civil War than these series of engagements, known collectively as the Seven Days’ battles. In the spring of 1862 General George B. McClellan’s army of more than 100,000 Union soldiers landed at Fort Monroe and fought its way up the peninsula. By mid-may the Army of the Potomac lay on the outskirts of Richmond. McClellan planned to capture the capital of the Confederacy and perhaps end the war. If his strategy succeeded the nation might be reunited, but without the abolition of slavery.
Capital of the Confederacy and one of the South's most developed cities, Richmond, Virginia was the primary target of Union campaigns in the East. It was also the central destination for the thousands of Confederates wounded on the battlefields of Virginia. Civil War Richmond was destined to become a vast hospital. The city was flooded with casualties after the first battle of Manassas, quickly overwhelming the existing hospitals. Wounded were treated in any space available - hotels, private homes, even barns. Realizing that a long war and thousands more casualties lay ahead, Southern leaders ordered the construction of five general hospitals in Richmond to treat the military's injured and ill. The most famous of those institutions -- the "hospital on the hill"-- was Chimborazo.
In the overland campaign of 1864, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant with the Army of the Potomac battled General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia for six weeks across central Virginia. At the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna and Totopotomoy Creek, Lee repeatedly stalled, but failed to stop, Grant's southward progress toward Richmond. The next logical military objective for Grant was the crossroads styled by locals Old Cold Harbor.
The Confederate Units at Cold Harbor
The Union Units at Cold Harbor
As capital of the newly formed Confederate States of America, Richmond, Virginia, became the constant target of northern armies. During the four years of the Civil War, Union generals made repeated attempts to capture the city by land. Richmond, however, was vulnerable by water as well as by land. Gunboats could navigate the James River all the way to Richmond. The key to the city's river defenses lay in a small fort only seven miles south of the capital. Known throughout the south as Drewry's Bluff, northern troops referred to it as Fort Darling.
Fort Harrison was key to General Butler's plan of attack. It represented the strongest point on the Confederate line of defenses. From it, one could see all the way to the James River. However, in 1864 most of the Confederate forces were in Petersburg and here the Confederate defenders numbered barely 200. Their guns were mostly so poor as to be scorned by the main field artillery. The Union attack pierced the fort quickly, with relatively few casualties. Had the Union attacks on the rest of the Confederate line succeeded as well as at New Market Heights and Fort Harrison, the overall military significance would have been greater.
Lincoln's Visit to Richmond
On April 4, 1865, two days after Confederate forces evacuated Richmond, President Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad visited the still smoldering ruins of the South’s former Capital. As they stepped ashore, they were instantly recognized by the former slaves, who greeted them ecstatically.
Military Operations at Chaffin's Farm
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.
Totopotomoy Creek Battlefield at Rural Plains
When the contending armies left the North Anna battlefield on May 27, 1864, they moved closer to Richmond. After crossing the Pamunkey River at two locations about five miles northeast of here, the Union army pushed forward on May 29 to the banks of Totopotomoy Creek. It found the Confederate army entrenched on the southern side of the creek, blocking the direct route to Richmond. Over the course of four days the opposing sides skirmished, probed and maneuvered for position.
The USCT's at New Market Heights
In the early morning hours of September 29, 1864, black troops, or United States Colored Troops (USCTs for short) charged the Rebel works at New Market Heights, Virginia. For their valor in this engagement, 14 USCTs earned the Medal of Honor. This is the story of these men and the fateful morning of September 29, 1864.