New Market Heights
History Under Siege - 2009 Most Endangered Battlefields
Battle of New Market Heights
Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s various attacks on Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s defenses north of the James River in September 1864 are collectively known as the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. Among the participants in the wide-ranging battle were 3,000 African American solders in Union blue anxious to prove themselves.
These United States Colored Troops (USCTs) were assigned responsibility for the eastern half of Butler’s two-pronged attack. The USCTs seized the opportunity and charged their objective, the entrenched Confederate position at New Market Heights. They crossed the Confederate position and captured the heights, but found most of the Southerners had fallen back to a new line. Although Lee’s troops lost ground, they held firm, blocking the direct Yankee path to Richmond. The USCT’s attack was bloody but valorous; they lost more than 800 men in one hour. Of the 16 Medals of Honor awarded to African American troops during the Civil War, 14 were earned by soldiers fighting at New Market Heights.
Despite New Market Heights’ indisputable historic significance, no portion of the battlefield has been protected by any preservation organization, including the National Park Service. Henrico County purchased land within the core of the battlefield several years ago, but it is not open to the public. Only one roadside marker acknowledges the location of the battlefield.
Some significant portions of the battlefield close to the area where Union troops crossed the James River near Deep Bottom have already been destroyed by a housing development. Additional residential construction underway on the north side of Virginia Route 5, the historic New Market Road, will destroy key Confederate artillery positions. Growing traffic congestion in the region will ultimately necessitate the widening of Route 5, threatening approximately 75 acres of still pristine battlefield land fronting the road.
CWSAC has classified New Market Heights as a Priority I, Class B battlefield.