#OnThisDay in 1864, the northern half of General Ulysses S. Grant’s Sixth Offensive played out in the Battle of Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road, also known as the Second Battle of Fair Oaks.
General Grant instructed Benjamin Butler, commander of the Army of the James, to operate against the Confederates defending Richmond. Stressing the importance of pushing the Confederates left and avoiding any attacks against entrenchments, Butler’s objective was to draw off as many men as possible, forcing them to the north side of the James. The idea was that this would have allowed the Army of the Potomac to gain ground southwest of Petersburg - a strategy Grant employed numerous times before with varied success.
On October 27th, Butler’s Army of the James fought hard in an attempt to turn the left flank of the Confederate line guarding Richmond. The Tenth Corps probed slightly to the right and moved from the New Market Road onto the Darbytown Road to mask the main attack. The main attack was taken by the Eighteenth Corps, moving far to the right onto the Williamsburg Road and delving west.
The Tenth Corps explored the more established Confederate lines near the Darbytown Road, and under pressure for results, made an ill-conceived attack that was predictably disastrous, and didn’t even hold the Confederates’ whole attention. Confederate LTG James Longstreet ordered Field’s division from the First Corps to march quickly to the left towards Williamsburg Road in an effort to prevent that flank from being turned. Components of the division arrived in time to fight off the Union attack by the two divisions of the Eighteenth Corps.
Ill-conceived and unnecessary, the assault was accompanied by the Eighteenth Corps attack, in which elements of the all-Black 3rd Division assaulted northwest down the Nine Mile Road, eventually coming upon Gary’s Cavalry Brigade. The Confederates drove off the attack and when everything was said and done, the Eighteenth Corps lost over 1,000 men to uncoordinated attacks.
In the end, it was a bloody disaster for Butler. The Army of the James lost over 1,600 men, compared to the 100 their Confederate counterparts endured. The endeavor, and Butler’s inability to listen to direct orders, cost 1,603 Union and about 100 Confederate casualties. Although a Freeman marker stands on the site along Williamsburg Road, the grounds were unfortunately lost to development.
Learn more about the 1st and 2nd Battle of Fair Oaks: https://bit.ly/34wzN4v