September 29, 1864
On information that Lee might abandon Richmond or Petersburg if he were pressed, Grant planned to attack the Richmond defenses while a strike force moved on Petersburg's western flank. Although Grant would deny it, most historians believe he fully intended to capture Richmond. Meanwhile, Lee ordered Kershaw's division and an artillery battalion back from the Valley to Petersburg. While the troops were in transit, Jubal Early was defeated at Third Winchester and Fisher's Hill. These troops and a cavalry brigade headed back to the Valley, but because Grant coordinated with Sheridan in the Shenandoah, the troops missed action in both places . Grant intended to either take advantage of this type of weakening of Lee's army or to prevent Lee from reinforcing Early in the Valley.
Grant had 102,000 men around Petersburg opposing 53,000 Confederates. Meade assembled 25,000 men of the Army of the Potomac to flank Lee's lines around Petersburg. Benjamin Butler's Army of the James left a token defense at Bermuda Hundred while 26,000 men of Ord's XVIII Corps and Birney's X Corps crossed the James on the night of September 28th to move on Richmond. Lee had only 8,000 mostly second rate troops to oppose him. Birney's X Corps pushed the Confederates back from defensive lines at New Market Heights to Richmond's Exterior Line. Ord's XVIII Corps crossed just upstream and moved up the Varina Road to Richmond's defenses.
Fort Harrison Stormed
Directly in the path of Ord's XVIII Corps was Fort Harrison. Although some reinforcements went to New Market Heights, only 50 more men reinforced Fort Harrison, bring its garrison to only about 200 men with outdated artillery. The 8,000 attacking Federals of Ord's Corps deployed in deep columns and were preceded by skirmishers armed with repeating rifles. The attackers took heavy losses from artillery, but after regrouping in some dead ground several hundred yards in front of the fort, they continued on. This is the location that Union troops first entered the fort. After brief hand to hand combat, the fort was taken. Ord was wounded in the attack.
Fort Harrison Artillery Positions
This the view from the interior of the fort showing the area of the Confederate artillery positions. After the fort was captured, the Yankees built a large traverse, on the lower right of the picture, to protect against fire from the flank and rear. To the rear of the fort, they built new lines facing the Confederates, and renamed the place Fort Burnham after a general killed in the battle. After the fort was captured, Gen. Grant came to the fort to try to coordinate the battle and was nearly killed by a Confederate shell.
Birney's X Corps had captured the New Market Heights line and was headed for the Confederate defenses north of Fort Harrison. With Birney advancing and with Fort Harrison captured, Richmond seemed wide open. Ord, however, advanced not on Richmond, but south along the Confederate line toward the James River.
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