Editor’s Note: Base transcription is from the CD-ROM version of The Confederate Veteran at Eastern Digital. Minor corrections were made by Brett Schulte.
Fight at Chaffin’s Farm, Or Fort Harrison.1
BY CAPT. C[ORNELIUS]. T[ACITUS]. ALLEN (COMMANDER OF ARTILLERY), MEXICO, MO.
In the June VETERAN, page 266, Mr. A. O. Wright, of Jacksonville, Fla., speaks of holding Gen. Lee’s horse while the “battle of Chaffin’s Farm, or Fort Harrison,” was going on and of having witnessed it “from the little battery just in the rear of the bluff on the skirt of the woods that fringed the river,” that Field’s and Pickett’s divisions defended Fort Harrison; that Gen. Lee “came over from Petersburg to conduct the defense in person,” etc.
Comrade Wright was a “master in the Confederate navy,” as he says in the letter referred to, and was on the “Nansemond in James River, off Chaffin’s Bluff, in March, 1865,” but he is mistaken in some of his statements quoted.
The writer commanded the Iron Battery [aka the Lunenburg Rebel VA Artillery] at Chaffin’s Bluff, and knew every square yard of ground on Chaffin’s Farm, and especially along the line of intrenchments from the river to Fort Harrison, and knew personally every officer and many of the men who, from time to time, encamped on the old farm. In the first place, the “battle of Chaffin’s Farm, or Fort Harrison,” did not take place in March, 1865. It was on September 29, 1864, and I commanded the “little battery” just in rear of the bluff (Chaffin’s Bluff, just one mile below Drewry’s Bluff, he means). I can’t be mistaken about these things. I was wounded about eight o’clock in the morning by three Minie balls, one breaking my right hand, another slightly cutting my left arm, and a third one just touching the 24 pound siege piece, which I was sighting at the time, and, glancing, striking me on the left breast and partly burying itself therein. I have that ball now pinned to my old and faded coat, and will keep it as a souvenir of the “long ago.”
Lieut. Col. John Minor Maury (deceased) and Maj. Richard C. Taylor, now living at Norfolk, Va., commanded at Fort Harrison. They had a few men only, possibly not over forty with them, though the fort mounted many big guns. They fought their guns to the last, but were overpowered and captured. The Federal troops took Fort Harrison and turned our own guns upon our “handful” of men. The loss of Col. Maury and Maj. Taylor left me the senior captain in command of the fifty to one hundred men (possibly a few more) between Fort Harrison and the James River, and, though my men were few and the enemy’s forces numbered thousands, I knew that between us and Richmond there were but few troops at that time and that a brave stand must be made to give Gen. Richard S. Ewell time to rally the scattered forces about Richmond to save it. So at Fort Maury, about half way between Fort Harrison and the river, I rallied some seventy five to one hundred men and held the fort until Pickett came to our relief about midday. The “little battery” Comrade Wright refers to must have been Fort Maury, and it was a little one too, but it made a “h— of a racket” that day. I had a 24 pound rifle piece, one brass howitzer, and two 6 pound field pieces.2
After receiving the wounds referred to, I was carried off the field to the bluff, but before leaving the field I directed Lieut. Jugurtha Laffoon to hold his guns to the last minute and the last man, that there were no troops between us and the doomed city that I knew of, and that if the Federals got possession of the turnpike they would turn Col. Hardaway’s rear, who was possibly a couple of miles north of Fort Harrison and at or near Fort Gregg. Laffoon and his brave men did hold the “little battery” in the face of tremendous odds, and the Confederates held it to the end of the war.
Pickett’s Division came in a run from some point between Richmond and Petersburg, crossed James River on the military bridge just above Drewry’s Bluff, and about two o’clock in the evening attempted by two charges to dislodge the Federals and drive them from Fort Harrison, but failed after heavy losses. The Federals held Fort Harrison to the end of the war.
Gen. Lee did not conduct the defense of Fort Harrison. He was not on the north side of James River that day that I ever heard of. Gen. Ewell was present a part of the time, but not at the time the “little battery” was doing its awful work with shell, grape, and canister. During the night of September 28, 1864, Gen. Benjamin F. Butler crossed the river at or near Aiken’s Landing and about sunrise appeared before Fort Harrison, and in a half hour they had it.
No other battle was ever fought on Chaffin’s Farm or at Fort Harrison. My wounds healed, and in January, 1865, I returned to Chaffin’s Bluff, and remained in command of the Iron Battery until Richmond was evacuated, April 2, 1865.
- Allen, C. T. “Fight at Chaffin’s Farm, Or Fort Harrison.” Confederate Veteran, Volume 13, Number 9, p. 418 ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: One of the difficulties of accurately cataloging which guns artillery units have in a fairly stationary siege is that often field batteries exchanged their light guns for siege weapons mounted in specific forts. These batteries could be assigned to a given earthwork or earthworks with guns different from their normal complement of weapons. In this case, I cannot tell if Allen means his light battery had these four guns as their usual complement, or if they were permanent pieces meant to defend Chaffin’s Bluff. ↩