In a continuation of our series of posts providing walking tour maps and guides to Civil War sites, we offer this close up look at Confederate Fort Harrison, a key work on the defense lines east of Richmond. Federals captured this large earthen fort on September 29, 1864 in a surprise pre-dawn assault. Although lightly defended, the small Confederate garrison waged a brisk defense, costing the attacking Union forces heavily. While the Federals maintained control of the fort they were unable to further exploit the dent in Richmond’s defense perimeter as Southern troops from other sections of the line heroically plugged the gap. It was, as they say, a near run thing.
Considering the recapture of Fort Harrison vital, General Robert E. Lee launched a counterattack the following day aimed at ousting the Unionists. The attacking Rebels never really stood a chance. Many of the defending Federals were armed with seven-shot Spencer carbines that poured out a literal sheet of fire. Casualties among the Confederate forces, including the North Carolina brigades of Kirkland, McKethan, and Scales, were devastating. Lee was forced to call off the assault as a bad enterprise.
In the end, Fort Harrison remained in Federal hands and was considerably strengthened into a fully enclosed earthwork. It was renamed Fort Burnham, in honor of Union Brigadier General Hiram Burnham who was killed in the September 29th attack. Confederate forces meanwhile constructed a secondary defense line in their Chaffin’s Farm defenses that effectively sealed off the breach. They made one further attempt to repair the broken line on October 7th but it too failed. However, it was not until Richmond fell on April 3, 1865 that Union troops ever reached the city.
Fort Harrison/Burnham today is well preserved, along with many secondary works, as part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Presented below is an excellent walking self-guided tour of both the Confederate and Federal sections of the fort. This brochure was printed in 1961 and has been long out of print. Your blog host is pleased to make this excellent tour map once again available to enhance your battlefield experience when visiting this fortification. Please left click on images for enlarged views.
By Bob Williams