Engagement at Laurel Hill Church
—Siege of Petersburg & Richmond 1864-1865 —
For almost ten months beginning in mid-June 1864, the Army of the Potomac besieged the cities of Petersburg and Richmond from the east and south. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered the Union fortiﬁcations extended west of Petersburg and launched frequent attacks there and near Richmond, forcing Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to stretch his thin defensive lines and move his outnumbered troops to counter the attacks. 0n April 3, 1865, Lee evacuated his army west after the Federal breakthrough at Petersburg, and the Union army occupied both cities.
Laurel Hill Church marked the farthest extent of the Federal advance west toward Richmond during the two-pronged attacks on the city's Confederate defenses on September 29, 1864. After helping capture New Market Heights (two miles east), Union Gen. Robert S. Foster's X Corps division reached this location early in the afternoon. Foster found that the 3rd Richmond Howitzers and Confederate Gen. Martin W. Gary's dismounted Confederate cavalry blocked New Market Road. Foster formed his brigades in two lines and advanced. Although the Federals endured devastating ﬁre from the roadway and from nearby Fort Gilmer (two miles southeast), the assault overwhelmed the Confederate position on New Market Road.
Instead of advancing
toward Richmond, Foster chose to silence Fort Gilmer. U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), who had fought earlier in the morning's victory at New Market Heights, soon joined the attack on the fort. The Confederates repulsed the assault and abruptly ended the Federal strike at Richmond.
Laurel Hill Methodist Church (built 1857) served a rural congregation. The church may have taken its name from nearby laurel trees. The building was operated as a ﬁeld hospital after the battles on September 29, 1864, and survived the war. The original church was destroyed by ﬁre in 1951.
Gen. Robert S. Foster Courtesy Library of Congress
Gen. Martin W. Gary Courtesy Duke University
Unidentiﬁed soldier, Richmond Howitzers Courtesy Library of Congress
Laurel Hill Church, by artist Edna Shiﬂet Courtesy Laurel Hill Church