By October 1864, the Union siege of Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, was entering its fourth month. The Army of the James, commanded by Major General Benjamin Butler, was engaged in a diversionary operation to the southeast of Richmond, tasked with seizing the important Darbytown Road. Grant hoped this movement would occupy the attention of the Confederates, so that the major Union effort against Petersburg's South Side Railroad - the last remaining rail line available to the Confederates - would meet less resistance. Alfred Terry’s Tenth Corps of the Army of the James, of which the 29th Connecticut was a part, was charged with pinning down Confederate defenses along the Darbytown Road while the 18th Corps executed a flanking maneuver to the right. Assembling at the Kell House - in what is now Henrico, Virginia - on October 27, the 29th Connecticut formed a skirmish line and advanced toward Confederate rifle pits.
Major General Benjamin F. Butler
According to regimental commander Captain Frederick E. Camp, the 29th “skirmished through a thick wood for some distance, driving in a strong line of the enemy’s pickets, and advanced to a position on the edge of the woods near the enemy’s works.” Lieutenant Henry Brown, writing to friends and family in Windham, Connecticut, remembered, "We passed their 'gopher holes' which were well protected with breast-work of logs and earth ... all this time the line was advancing ... Bullets came fast. We were in the edge of the woods. 'Halt! Lie down! was passed along the line. The men, much to my surprise, I admit, obeyed as ready as in drill.” Having taken the position, Brown recalled, the regiment was to “hold it at all hazards until we had orders to fall back." The enemy pickets made easy targets as they ran for the cover of the entrenchments. “We took delight in hitting them,” remembered Captain Edward Bacon. Once they had driven the enemy back to their main line of defense, the 29th took position opposite, in a dense forest, in some places only 200 yards from the Confederates. Here, Captain Camp remembered, the regiment was “exposed to a hot fire...all day and night.” The artillery fire was especially severe, and Brown recalled, "Soon grape and canister came in among us." The 29th remained in this position for hours, so that their ramrods became stuck in the barrels of their muskets.
At 8:00 p.m., an aide from division commander Brigadier General Joseph R.Hawley rode up and told Captain Camp that he had orders for the 29th to pull back, but that it was too dark to successfully carry out that maneuver. The 29th would stay on the skirmish line overnight. When they were relieved the following morning, some men of the 29th Connecticut had fired as many as 225 rounds. The regiment lost 11 men killed and 69 wounded, its greatest loss of any battle in the war. Brigade commander Colonel Ulysses Doubleday commended the performance of the 29th in his official report, noting that “Captain Camp’s company, of the Twenty-ninth, which was also on the skirmish line, behaved very well”. Meanwhile, the flanking operation conducted by the 18th Corps ended in failure, with Union troops unable to break through. Overall, Union casualties along the Darbytown Road on October 27th numbered 1600, while the Confederates lost only about 100.
SHARING THE STORIES OF NORTHWEST CONNECTICUT'S AFRICAN AMERICAN CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS