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Chaffin's Bluff is located in Henrico County, Virginia, United States, along the James River. Chaffin's Bluff on the north side of the river opposite Drewry's Bluff, long-considered a major defense point of the river below Richmond. Located at a major bend in the river about eight miles south of Richmond, both bluffs were fortified by the Confederates early in the American Civil War.
A Union attempt to take Richmond by water by the ironclad USS Monitor and other Union warships during the Peninsula Campaign failed to get past the defenses at this location during the Battle of Drewry's Bluff on May 15, 1862.
Chaffin's Bluff and Chaffin's Farm (later renamed Fort Harrison) were adjacent to each other. Oscar F. Baxter, a surgeon in the Confederate Army, told of his posting to Chaffin's Farm in a letter from Richmond dated June 6, 1864 to his twelve-year-old daughter. (Dr. Baxter, a native of Camden County, North Carolina, was a widower; his daughter was being cared for by relatives.)
I am about to get off for Chaffin's Farm, about 10 miles from Richmond. I received orders the 1st of June, but have been too unwell to obey them till this morning...I have been worked down and there is no end of it—I have never seen so many badly wounded men together as I have seen in the Yankee Hospital—800 or more all desperately wounded. My hands have been in dreadful condition from wounds received in operating on them. The fighting is still going on near Rich--
Two months later, in an August 18 letter to his daughter from "Post hospital, Chaffin's Bluff," Dr. Baxter describes the locale.
I have just learnt the probable cause of the miscarriage of your letters. I am at Chaffin's Bluff and not Chaffin's Farm, where I was first ordered. The Headquarters of both Bluff and farm are all in sight - half or threequarters of a mile apart...
In a letter to her dated the previous day (August 17), he hopes to get a few days furlough after this demonstration of the Yanks is over.
Later in that letter, he describes the fighting going on around him.
The Yanks are very near here, have been fighting for two days—shot and shell flying all in sight of my hospital. It is possible I shall have to move out of the building tomorrow.
(The actual letters from which the above excerpts are taken are in the possession of Dr. Baxter's great-grandson, who lives in Baltimore County, Maryland. Earlier, Dr. Baxter had been an assistant surgeon in the United States Navy; excerpts from a letter to his fiancée dated October 1, 1846, posted from the Pensacola, Florida navy yard, where his ship, the frigate Potomac had called en route to the U.S.-Mexican War are included in that article under the section "Letter from a Naval surgeon on board the frigate 'Potomac' en route to Mexico." When North Carolina seceded from the Union at the time of the Civil War, he joined the Confederate army.)
In The Civil War: Day by Day—An Almanac 1861-1865, by E. B. Long with Barbara Long, published in 1971, it is noted that, on August 15, 1864, "North of the James, east of Richmond, the Federal expedition to Chaffin's Bluff and the capital's defenses encountered delays and frustration at the hands of Confederate defenders." The book also refers to the "Battle of Fort Harrison or Chaffin's Farm, Virginia," which took place on September 30, 1864. "After losing Fort Harrison on the previous day, (General Robert E.) Lee directed vigorous counterattacks. but the Federals, having virtually turned the earthwork around, beat off the Southern assaults. This ended major Federal attempts against Richmond from north of the James. The Confederates constructed new outer works between the Fort Harrison line and Richmond, while the Federals built up and manned siege lines east of the Confederate capital."
On a map included in Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, published in 1881 by Jefferson Davis, the president of the late Confederate States, Chaffin's Bluff is noted as "Chapin Bluff"; using the scale of the map, it is 8.5 miles down the James River from Richmond.
Drewry's Bluff is part of the Fort Darling unit of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Visitors can view the gun emplacements, the earthworks, and appreciate the commanding views and control over the river the bluff affords.
However, in modern times, singer and businessman Jimmy Dean and his wife Donna Meade Dean made their home at Chaffin's Bluff, which is located on private property on the Henrico County side of the river. The singer-businessman died peacefully at his home there on Sunday, June 13, 2010, according to his widow.