Editor’s Note: This article was provided by and transcribed by K. S. McPhail (New Kent County History and Thread the Rude Eye).
[Correspondence to the Sentinel.]
CHAFFIN’S BLUFF, Oct 11, 1864
Mr. Editor– Inasmuch as there seems to be great misunderstanding in regard to the part taken by the battalion of artillery stationed at this place1, in the fight with the enemy on the 29th of September2, when the advance was made on our line of defences, immediately below this place, and as there seems to be a strong disposition on the part of some, who are entirely ignorant of the whole affair, to attach all the blame of the fall of Fort Harrison to our battalion, of the sake of justice, I desire to make a plain statement of facts, that the public may know who are to blame and who are not.
About 5 o’clock on the morning of the 29th September, the battalion, hardly two hundred strong, (more than one hundred of it being on duty at Signal Hill, about — miles below, was marched to the breastworks.- Thirty five men of the Goochland Artillery, under Lieut. [John] Guerrant, were ordered to Fort Harrison; the remainder, ten, were at Fort Gilmer, manning the two guns there. These even lighted the fuses in their shells and rolled them down on the enemy in the ditch, when they were too close for their pieces. – The James City artillery, commanded by Lieut. [Lemuel T.] Davis, were sent North of Fort Harrison, on the Varina road, to man four pieces of artillery there, two of which could not be used on account of the ammunition being too large. The others were worked until nearly all the ammunition was expended, and the enemy between them and our lines. The men then made their way back as best they could and, as infantry, helped to repulse a charge of the enemy on a redoubt next to Fort Harrison, and afterwards the attack on Fort Gilmer.
The Lunenburg artillery, Captain [C. Tacitus] Allen; [Norfolk] Howitzer company, Lieut. Winder; and Pamunkey artillery, Capt. [Andrew J.] Jones- the three numbering less than one hundred and twenty five men- were ordered to defend the line of works from Fort Harrison to the river- about a mile and a half- with no infantry support. Capt. Allen had a detachment of fourteen men with him in a redoubt next to and commanded by Fort Harrison. The remainder of his company were in different detachments, considerably lower down the line. As soon as the enemy came in view of the fort, the guns were opened on them, and continued to fire until after the infantry support had left, and Lt. Col. Maury, Maj. Taylor, Adjutant Ellerson, and six of the Goochland artillery were captured at the guns.- While the infantry, which were there to support the artillery, (a portion of them Reserves3, which a certain newspaper editor of Richmond delights so much to extol for their gallantry, left the fort, many of them before the enemy had got within good musket range. Soon after the guns in the fort had opened Capt. Allen did so from his redoubt. Our guns lower down the line were in such a position that the enemy could not be seen from them until they were rushing late the fort, and then our men were kept from firing by a captain of some other command, who said that the enemy were our own men falling back. Capt. Allen continued to fire after they had captured the fort, until he was flanked; he then fell back to the third redoubt from the fort, with Lieut. Winder, who had hauled two howitzers by hand some three hundred yards, under fire of the enemy, and put them in position in the third redoubt; and there Capt. Allen and Lieut. Winder, with less than one hundred men, with two small howitzers, one twenty-four pound siege piece and a lot of smoothbore muskets; and Capt. Jones a little farther back, in another redoubt, with but a handful of men and two pieces of artillery, check the triumphant advance of the enemy for nearly an hour, when that portion of the battalion on duty at Signal Hill, and a portion of Johnson’s Tennessee brigade, came to our assistance; but had we not held the position, all of these would have been cut off and probably captured.
And now Mr. Editor, since there are some very wise and officious persons, who are so desirous of giving this battalion all the blame for the fall of Fort Harrison, when there was only 35 men of it there, and some of those were taken at the guns, when, too, the enemy admit that our artillery fire was very destructive, I desire that those will tell who checked the advance of the enemy and kept them from coming to and capturing the Bluff while our gunboats were below, and having command of our lower pontoon bridge, as their papers falsely state they do.
And I would further state that late in the evening, when reinforcements came, General Pickett’s men were charged the enemy cut off the two redoubts next to Fort Harrison, that a portion of our battalion joined them and were among the foremost in the charge, as some of General Pickett’s men can testify.
But some may say, that after remaining silent so long, we might have remained so in reply, we have to say, that several communications have been sent to a certain paper in Richmond, called, by some, the soldier’s friend, and neither have been heard from; not even from an official list of casualties- and we feel that we have a right to demand that justice which, though tardy, is sweet to those who having done their duty feel they deserve it.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The writer belonged to the Chaffin’s Bluff Battalion of the Department of Richmond, commanded by Lt. Col. John M. Maury. The battalion protected the entrenchments at, naturally, Chaffin’s Bluff on the James River, including Fort Harrison. The battalion consisted of the following batteries on September 29, 1864: Pamunkey Virginia Artillery (Jones’ VA Battery), Lunenburg Rebel Virginia Artillery (Allen’s VA Battery), James City Virginia Artillery (Davis’ VA Battery), Goochland Virginia Artillery (Guerrant’s VA Battery). ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The writer is referring to the Battle of Fort Harrison during the greater Battle of Chaffin’s Bluff, fought on September 29, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I believe this was the 2nd Virginia Reserves Battalion. ↩
- “Correspondence to the Sentinel.” Richmond Sentinel. October 13, 1864, p. ? col. 1-2 ↩