This month we are going to look at the New Market Heights battlefield in Henrico County, Virginia.
On September 29, 1864, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler and his Army of the James attacked the Confederate defenses southeast of Richmond in hopes of breaking their lines. If successful the Army of the James was to push on to Richmond. If not successful, Butler’s assaults north of the James River would at minimum serve as a diversion for the Army of the Potomac’s offensive actions near Petersburg.
On Butler’s right, Maj. Gen. David Bell Birney with his X Corps and the detached Third Division of the XVIII Corps, targeted the Confederates entrenched along the New Market Road. At the same time, Maj. Gen. E. O. C. Ord was to attack Fort Harrison about three miles west of New Market Heights. Both Federal attacks were successful in their goal of capturing the Confederate positions they assaulted, but the Confederates fell back, reorganized, and eventually limited the extent of the Butler’s breakthrough.
Composed of three brigades of United States Colored Troops (USCT), the Third Division of the XVIII Corps performed bravely during the assaults on the New Market Heights defenses, taking heavy casualties. Attacking the position alone, they captured the earthworks of the famous Texas Brigade and several Confederate cavalry regiments who fought dismounted. Their courageous actions resulted in 14 Black soldiers receiving Medals of Honor, as well as two White officers.
The preservation story at New Market Heights is one of true collaboration. The American Battlefield Trust, Henrico County, and the Capital Region Land Conservancy have all preserved and own land at the sight of this often overlooked battle.
In addition, the Battle of New Market Heights Memorial & Education Association (BNMHMEA) works to commemorate and educate the public about the battle. BNMHMEA is also working to erect a historical monument at the site of the battle to honor the USCTs who fought there. Their website not only provides a history of the battle, but they also provide information about all the Medal of Honor recipients, share various soldiers’ stories, and provide lesson plans about Sgt. Alfred Hilton’s actions which earned him the Medal of Honor.
You can learn more about the work that all of these groups do to preserve and tell the story of the Battle of New Market Heights at the following links:
The American Battlefield Trust
Capital Region Land Conservancy
The Battle New Market Heights Memorial & Education Association