1864 – American Civil War: The Battle of Chaffin’s Farm is fought.
The Battle of Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights, also known as Laurel Hill and combats at Forts Harrison, Johnson, and Gilmer, was fought in Virginia on September 29–30, 1864, as part of the Siege of Petersburg in the American Civil War.
From the very beginning of the war, Confederate engineers and slave laborers had constructed permanent defenses around Richmond. By 1864, they had created a system anchored south of the capital on the James River at Chaffin’s Farm, a large open area at Chaffin’s Bluff, both named for a local landowner. This outer line was supported by an intermediate and inner system of fortifications much closer to the capital. In July and August 1864, these lines were tested by Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in offensives designed to attack simultaneously north and south of the James.
On July 27–29, the Army of the Potomac’s II Corps under Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock and cavalry under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan attacked New Market Heights and Fussell’s Mill in the First Battle of Deep Bottom (named for the section of the James River used for the Union crossing). The attacks failed to break through to threaten Richmond or its railroads, but they did cause Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to transfer men from the Petersburg fortifications in preparation for the Battle of the Crater on July 31. The Second Battle of Deep Bottom was conducted by Hancock on August 14–20, attacking in almost the same areas once again to draw Confederate troops away from south of the James, where the Battle of Globe Tavern (also known as the Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad) was an attempt to cut the railroad supply lines to Petersburg. The second battle was also a Confederate victory, but it forced Lee to weaken his Petersburg defenses and abandon plans to reinforce his men in the Shenandoah Valley.
In late September, Grant planned another dual offensive. Historians sometimes enumerate Grant’s offensives during the Richmond–Petersburg Campaign. Richard J. Sommers, John Horn, and Noah Andre Trudeau call these operations “Grant’s Fifth Offensive”. Grant’s primary objective was to cut the railroad supply lines to the south of Petersburg, which would likely cause the fall of both Petersburg and Richmond. He planned to use a cavalry division under Brig. Gen. David McM. Gregg and four infantry divisions from the V and IX Corps of the Army of the Potomac to sever the South Side Railroad, an operation that would result in the Battle of Peebles’ Farm from September 30 to October 2. Once again hoping to distract Robert E. Lee and draw Confederate troops north of the river, Grant ordered the Army of the James under Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler to attack toward Richmond.
Butler devised a plan that historian John Horn called his “best performance of the war.” Rather than repeat the efforts of July and August to turn the Confederate left, Butler planned surprise attacks on the Confederate right and center. His XVIII Corps under Maj. Gen. Edward O. C. Ord, would cross the James River to Aiken’s Landing by a newly constructed pontoon bridge. At the original Deep Bottom pontoon bridge, his X Corps under Maj. Gen. David B. Birney would cross, followed by his cavalry under Brig. Gen. August V. Kautz. In a two-pronged attack, the right wing (Birney’s X Corps, augmented by a United States Colored Troops division under Brig. Gen. Charles J. Paine from the XVIII Corps) would assault the Confederate lines at New Market Road and drive on to capture the artillery positions behind it on New Market Heights. This action would protect the flank of the left wing (the remainder of Ord’s XVIII Corps), which would attack Fort Harrison from the south-east, neutralizing the strongest point of the entire Confederate line. Then, the right wing would assist the left by attacking Fort Gregg and Fort Gilmer, both north of Fort Harrison. Kautz’s cavalry would exploit Birney’s capture of the New Market Road by driving for Richmond.
1803 – Mercator Cooper, American captain and explorer (d. 1872)
Mercator Cooper (September 29, 1803 – spring 1872) was a ship’s captain who is credited with the first formal American visit to Tokyo, Japan and the first formal landing on the mainland East Antarctica.
Both events occurred while sailing ships out of Sag Harbor, New York, where he was born.
Visit of the Manhattan to Tokyo
On November 9, 1843, Cooper left Sag Harbor as captain of the 440-ton ship Manhattan on a whaling voyage. On March 14–15, 1845 the Manhattan picked up 11 Japanese sailors in the southern Japanese islands.
Outside of Tokyo Bay four of the survivors took a Japanese boat with a message that Cooper wanted to deliver the remainder to the harbor. The Japanese normally wanted to avoid contact with outsiders because of the Tokugawa Shogunate policy of Sakoku.
However, on April 18, 1845, an emissary from the shogun gave the ship permission to proceed – accompanied by “about three hundred Japanese boats with about 15 men in each took the ship in tow” according to Cooper’s log. “They took all our arms out to keep till we left. There were several of the nobility came on board to see the ship. They appeared very friendly.”
The Japanese examined his ship and took particular note of Pyrrhus Concer, a crewman from Southampton who was the only African American on board, and a Shinnecock Native American named Eleazar – the first dark skinned men the Japanese had seen and they wanted to touch their skin.
The Japanese refused payment for provisions and gave them water, 20 sacks of rice, two sacks of wheat, a box of flour, 11 sacks of sweet potatoes, 50 fowl, two cords of wood, radishes and 10 pounds of tea, thanked them for returning their sailors, and told them to never return.
On April 21, the 300 boats towed the Manhattan 20 miles out to sea.
Cooper took with him a map that charted the islands of Japan that had been found on the disabled Japanese ship. He was to turn the map over to the United States government when the ship returned to Sag Harbor on October 14, 1846. Matthew Perry was said to have used the map on his visit with four U.S. warships on July 8, 1853.
Cooper’s home in Southampton (village), New York is now owned by the Rogers Memorial Library. Pyrrhus Concer is buried in the North End Cemetery in Southampton across from Cooper’s home.
First visitor to Antarctica
In August 1851, Cooper again left Sag Harbor, this time as captain of the 382-ton ship Levant on a mixed whaling and sealing voyage. Making a quick passage through the belt of pack ice in the Ross Sea, on January 26, 1853, he sighted land, an ice shelf backed by a high mountain some 70 to 100 miles distant. The next morning, the ice shelf still in sight, with high mountains looming behind it, he sailed the ship close inshore and ordered a boat to be lowered. They made a landing on the ice shelf, reportedly seeing numerous penguins, but no seals – their chief objective. The landing occurred on what is now known as the Oates Coast of Victoria Land, in East Antarctica. It is arguably “the first adequately documented continental landing” in not only this area, but on the mainland of Antarctica itself. They stayed within sight of land for several days, sighting the Balleny Islands on February 2. At the conclusion of the voyage the Levant was sold in China.
The logbook from the voyage is in the Long Island Room of the East Hampton Library in East Hampton (village), New York.
Cooper died in Barranquilla, Colombia, South America. His date of death is sometimes reported as March 23, 1872 or April 24, 1872.
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