Henrico County will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of New Market Heights — a battle significant for the role played by African-American soldiers serving in the U.S. Colored Troops — with reenactments and living history exhibits Sept. 27-28. Descendants of some of the soldiers will be recognized as part of the activities.
The event will be held at the Runnymede property adjacent to the Malvern Hill site of the Richmond National Battlefield Park, 8750 Willis Church Road, located between Darbytown Road and Route 5/New Market Road. Gates open at 9 a.m.
Admission and parking are free. Handicapped parking will be available at the site. Other visitors will be directed to off-site parking and then shuttled to the event. Visitors should plan to arrive at least one hour prior to a battle reenactment. Directions, maps, schedules and other information are available at civilwarhenrico.com.
The event will feature more than 1,000 reenactors from around the country bringing to life three battles fought in Henrico — New Market Heights and Fort Harrison, both of which took place on Sept. 29, 1864, and the Second Battle of Deep Bottom, which stretched from Aug. 14 to 20, 1864.
Fourteen African-American soldiers received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, for their heroism in combat at New Market Heights. Two white officers serving in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) earned the award that day as well (black soldiers were barred from holding commissioned ranks of lieutenant and above). Over the course of the Civil War, 18 Medals of Honor were earned by black infantry soldiers.
The reenactment of the Battle of New Market Heights, set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, will be a highlight of the weekend’s activities. Spectators will watch from an area in the middle of the battlefield. As the action unfolds, a narrator will describe the combat and troop movements.
Following the reenactment, Henrico will hold a ceremony honoring the Medal of Honor recipients. The descendants of three medal winners — Sgt. Alfred Hilton, Sgt. Edward Ratcliff and Lt. Nathan Edgerton — will attend and be recognized.
When they aren’t watching a reenactment, visitors can take in the sights and sounds of Civil War camp life.
Activities will include string, fife and drum, and brass bands performing music from the era; demonstrations of baseball as it would have been played in the 1860s; period crafts and games for kids; and food, beverages and merchandise reminiscent of the era. A variety of 21st-century food and drink will be sold as well. In addition, historians will give presentations on the military significance of the campaign for Richmond, the impact of the war on local civilians and other topics.
For more information, contact Henrico Recreation and Parks at (804) 501-7275.
The Battle of New Market Heights was part of a broader Union assault against Confederate defenses southeast of Richmond. Several regiments from the USCT spearheaded an attack on Confederate positions along New Market Road near Four Mile Creek. At the same time, additional Union forces moved against Fort Harrison a little more than 2 miles to the west.
USCT units suffered heavy casualties but dislodged Confederate forces from New Market Road; simultaneously, Union troops captured Fort Harrison.
The actions of the USCT units at New Market Heights helped dispel the notion, widely held at the time, that black soldiers were unfit for combat.