On this day in 1864, at the Second Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia, Union forces withdraw after failing to breach the Confederate defenses around Richmond. The assault was actually a diversion to draw attention from a larger Union offensive around Petersburg, Virginia.
Fair Oaks, the scene of one of the Seven Days Battles in June 1862, was located on the defensive perimeter around the Confederate capital of Richmond. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army constructed five lines of trenches that stretched 25 miles south to Petersburg. For five months, Lee’s troops had been under siege by the forces of Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The monotony of the siege wassuspended only periodically by a Union attempt to break Lee’s lines. One such attack came at Hatcher’s Run, southwest of Petersburg, on October 27. At the same time, Grant ordered an attack at Fair Oaks, about 24 miles from the assault at Hatcher’s Run.
The Richmond defenses were formidable, so any direct assault was unlikely to succeed. By attacking at Fair Oaks, Grant hoped to prevent Lee from shifting any troops along the Richmond-Petersburg line to reinforce the lines at Hatcher’s Run. Troops from Union General Benjamin Butler’s Tenth Corps moved north of the James River and conducted a two-pronged offensive against Richmond on October 27. Confederate General James Longstreet, in charge of the Richmond section of the Confederate defenses, skillfully positioned troops to thwart the Yankees. Union General Godfrey Weitzel, commander of part of the attack, enjoyed some initial success but could not significantly penetrate the Rebel trenches. On October 28,Weitzel determined that he had accomplished allhe could andwithdrew his troops.
Some 1,100 Union men were killed, wounded, or captured during the attack, while the Confederates lostsome 450 troops. The planned diversion did not work–at the far end of the defenses, the Yankees failed to move around the end of the Confederate line at Hatcher’s Run.