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Civil War History
On May 15, 1862, a Union flotilla, led by ironclads USS Monitor and Galena, was instructed to "shell [Richmond] to a surrender." Union and Confederate Marines faced each other during the four-hour battle as Richmond’s fate hung in the balance. The Confederates prevailed and Richmond was never again seriously threatened by a water-based attack. For his bravery during the battle, Union Cpl. John Mackie became the first U.S. Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Many people recognize the major battles of the Civil War – Gettysburg, Manassas, Antietam, Shiloh or Cold Harbor. Yet, the smaller battles and campaigns were just as significant to the soldiers who fought and the civilians along their path. All of these engagements, big and small, tell the whole story of the Civil War, a war that was fought on the feet of men marching 15 to 40 miles a day, advancing and retreating, in victory and defeat.
In Chesterfield County, discover some of the lesser-known stories of the war. The county’s strategic location near the capital of the Confederacy meant it was the center of several major campaigns, both on land and in the water. One campaign in particular, Union Gen. Benjamin Butler’s Bermuda Hundred Campaign of 1864, might have ended the war a year sooner had Butler been successful in capturing Richmond. Explore Bermuda Hundred, Drewry’s Bluff and eight other sites throughout the county that may not be as well-known, but were every bit as important as some of the bigger battles.
Explore Bermuda Hundred, Drewry’s Bluff and eight other sites throughout the county that may not be as well-known, but were every bit as important as some of the bigger battles by viewing the tracing steps of county Civil War history (PDF).
- Chesterfield County's Role During the Civil War
- Civil War Activities
- Civil War Important Figures
- Civil War Timeline
Chesterfield County’s Role During the Civil War - The Bermuda Hundred Campaign
In May of 1864, Major General Benjamin F. Butler embarked 38,000 men of the Army of the James on transport ships at Yorktown. Their destination was a neck of land in Chesterfield County known as Bermuda Hundred. Butler was to land there, secure a base of operations, sever the rail link between Richmond and Petersburg, and then move on to Richmond. At the same time, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant moved the Army of the Potomac across the Rapidan River west of Fredericksburg in an attempt to crush General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. During the first days of May, Butler made tentative advances toward both Richmond and Petersburg, but was stopped each time by Confederate soldiers and forced to fall back each time to his defensive positions at Bermuda Hundred.
Confederate commanders General George E. Pickett and General P.G.T. Beauregard scrambled to find enough spare troops to place in Butler’s path. The open door to Richmond quickly closed as more Confederate troops rushed to Chesterfield County from other parts of Virginia, North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff on May 16 halted Butler’s attempt to make a direct approach on Richmond. The May 20 Battle of Ware Bottom Church forced him back again into his defensive positions in Bermuda Hundred, and this became known as “the cork in the bottle.” The construction of Confederate fortifications and trenches known as the Howlett Line held Butler in place until Lee evacuated the position on April 2, 1865.
Despite being overshadowed by other battles in Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign, the fighting at Bermuda Hundred played a very important role during the last year of the Civil War. When Butler landed at Bermuda Hundred, there were scarcely 6,000 Confederates guarding Richmond and Petersburg. If Butler had moved more aggressively, it is possible that he could have captured those cities and hastened the end of the war. Military historians still debate whether his campaign was a failure, or whether he was successful in carrying out his orders to set up a base of operations and Grant’s arrival.
Bermuda Hundred Tour Guide
The Bermuda Hundred Tour Guide contains information about 26 Civil War sites, represented in chronological order, associated with the Bermuda Hundred Campaign in Chesterfield County, Colonial Heights and Hopewell. The book contains 58 pages filled with photographs, narratives and maps. Modern maps were geo-referenced with historic maps, and other battle maps were created using descriptions of the roads in the official records. Driving directions are included.
The book may be found at the Chesterfield Historical Society research library in Historic Trinity Church, at Henricus Historical Park, Pamplin Historical Park or by ordering online at the Chesterfield Historical Society's website. The price is $12. Proceeds will be used to fund trails and new interpretive signs for the county. For more information, call 804-796-7131.
Civil War Activities
Bermuda Hundred Campaign, Howlett Line and Civil War on the Appomattox Tours
Tours are held from February to November. Four-hour driving tours or two-hour walking tours are offered that include National Park Service and county Civil War sites.
Registration required. Fee. For more details contact Chesterfield Historical Society or 804-751-4946.
Historic Point of Rocks Tour
Tours are held from February to November. Two-hour walking tours are offered that focus on the military hospital located at the site and its role during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.
Registration required. Fee. For more details contact Chesterfield Historical Society or 804-751-4946.
Civil War History Boat Tours
Dutch Gap and Bermuda Hundred Campaign.
Registration required. Fee. For more details contact Discover the James, Henricus Historical Park or 804-748-1613.
“My house was left in the Yankee lines. I had seven fine cows with calves, 52 fine hogs and a fine lot of sheep killed. My servants tried to save them but could not save themselves. I had a great deal of fine furniture; they broke all the modern and left the old. … I was a refugee for 12 months. I got on very well with them [Federal troops] after the evacuation; they were quite kind to us, but I shall never forget Beast Butler.” - Meg Gregory
When Union Gen. Butler landed at Bermuda Hundred, Meg Gregory, who lived at Spring Hill near present-day Henricus Historical Park, was at home with seven children under the age of 12 and was nine months pregnant. She left when battle lines formed around her home, returning after three months, but Union shelling forced her to leave again.
Maj. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard
Commanded the opposing Confederate army during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign (the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia) of 18,000 troops, some of these soldiers were pieced together from the ranks of teenagers and elderly men in the Richmond-Petersburg area. The troops were responsible for the defense of both cities. Beauregard is credited for bottling up federal forces and preventing them from capturing the city of Petersburg.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler
Commander of the Army of the James who landed 40,000 troops on the Bermuda Hundred peninsula in Chesterfield County on May, 5 1864. His goal was to set up a base of operations at City Point which he succeeded in accomplishing and then advance toward Richmond and Petersburg. Battles fought here during May and early June 1864 prevented Butler from reaching his goal, and pushed his troops back into their defensive positions in Bermuda Hundred, where they remained for the rest of the war.
Brig. Gen. Quincy Gillmore
Commanded the X Corps of the Army of the James under the command of General Benjamin Butler. Gillmore’s troops fought in numerous battles during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign in Virginia during 1864. He was responsible for suffering the defeat at the second battle of Drewry’s Bluff.
Brig. Gen. Johnson Hagood
Commanded the brigade of 1st South Carolina that stopped the initial Federal probes at Port Walthall Junction, a junction critical to controlling the railroad. On May 7, a Union division drove Hagood’s brigades from the depot and cut the railroad. Confederate defenders retired behind Swift Run Creek and awaited reinforcements. Soldiers later melted down the railroad tracks leading to the port to manufacture cannon.
Maj. Gen. Henry Heth
Was born at “Black Heath”, his family’s coal mining estate north of Midlothian. He touched off the Battle of Gettysburg when he ordered his men to do a reconnaissance in force and ran into Union cavalry. He was wounded in that battle when a bullet struck him in the head. Heth served in the Army of Northern Virginia until the war’s end. He was a lifelong friend of Union General Winfield Scott Hancock, and was a strong supporter when Hancock ran for President of the United States in 1880. Heth died in Washington D.C. in 1899, and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
Brig. Gen. Edward Hinck
Commanded the Third Division of the XVIII Corps comprised of U.S. Colored Troops who were engaged in Battle of Swift Creek. The division was later part of the XXV Corps and colored troops were engaged in battles during the Petersburg Campaign.
Maj. Gen. Bushrod Johnson
During the ensuing Bermuda Hundred Campaign, Johnson’s brigade was driven back by Union troops on May 7 at the Battle of Port Walthall Junction. His brigade blocked the Union advance toward Petersburg at Swift Creek on May 9, 1864. Beauregard defeated the larger Union offensive, and Johnson was promoted to major general on May 21.
Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson
Was born at “Salisbury” in Chesterfield County. He assumed command of Stonewall Jackson’s division after Jackson’s death in 1863. Johnson was wounded several times during the war. He was captured along with most of his division at “The Mule Shoe” in the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. Paroled by the Union, He was sent to Tennessee where he was again captured at the Battle of Nashville. After the war Johnston returned to Virginia where he was active in veterans affairs. He died in 1873.
Brig. Gen. Young M. Moody
Was born in Chesterfield County in 1822. At the outbreak of war, Moody joined the 11th Alabama as a captain. Moody fought in the western theater until his brigade was transferred to Virginia in 1864. He was severely wounded while leading his troops at the Second Battle of Drewry’s Bluff. Moody was promoted to Brig. General on 4 March 1865 just one month before the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. After the war, Moody tried to follow a business career in Alabama, but died of yellow fever before he could get established.
Brig. Gen. William “Baldy” Smith
Commanded the XVIII Corps of the Army of the James under command of General Benjamin Butler during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign in 1864. Smith’s troops were engaged in numerous battles within Chesterfield County. His troops were engaged in the first battles for control of Petersburg in June, 1864.
Brig. Gen. David A. Weisiger
Was born at “The Grove” in 1818. He served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Mexican War, and was officer of the day in the hanging of John Brown in 1859. He entered Confederate service as Colonel of the 12th Virginia Infantry and was badly wounded at Second Manassas. He was wounded again at The Crater. Following the war, he worked as a bank cashier and businessman. Weisiger died in 1899 and was buried in Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg.
Civil War Timeline in Chesterfield County
“The enemy fired at anything that moved and their shots thudded against the opposite side of our works. The order to charge meant that some who mounted that parapet would look their last on earth from its summit.”
-Veteran from the 15th Virginia Infantry after the Second Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, May 16, 1864. The unit, comprised of men from Richmond, Hanover and Henrico counties lost more than 100 men during their bloodiest day.
Throughout the Civil War, the county’s railroads carried supplies to Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, and its coal fueled the ironworks at Bellona Arsenal and Tredegar.
On May 15, the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff halts the Union approach to Richmond. The Federal flotilla, led by the ironclads USS Monitor and USS Galena, attempts to force its way past the Confederate fort at Drewry’s Bluff but they are turned back after a three-hour battle. Richmond is never again seriously threatened by a water-based attack. Cpl. John B. Mackie, U.S. Marine Corps, is the first recipient of the Medal of Honor, awarded for his brave and courageous conduct on the USS Galena during the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff.
During the Appomattox River Raid on June 28, Federal gunboats, led by the ironclads Monitor and Galena, attempt to go up the James River to destroy the railroad bridge at Swift Creek. The attack is abandoned after one ship runs aground and is destroyed. Confederate gunfire from the banks of the Appomattox also assists in turning back the attack.
Drewry’s Bluff becomes an important training ground for the Confederate Naval Academy and the Confederate Marine Corps Camp of Instruction.
- May - Bermuda Hundred Campaign – General Benjamin F. Butler lands 40,000 troops, which includes two cavalry regiments of United States Colored Troops, on the Bermuda Hundred peninsula. His goal is to set up a base of operations and then advance toward Richmond and Petersburg. Battles fought during May and early June prevent Butler from advancing and push his troops back into defensive positions at Bermuda Hundred, where they remain for the rest of the war. Casualties on both sides total approximately 6,000 killed, wounded or missing.
- May - Gen. Benjamin F. Butler constructs the southern portion of his main defensive line at Point of Rocks. His headquarters, an army hospital and a cemetery are established nearby. Clara Barton, founder of American Red Cross, nurses the wounded.
- May 16 - Fort Stevens becomes the pivotal point for a major Confederate counterattack that halts Butler’s advance toward Richmond at the Second Battle of Drewry’s Bluff.
- May 18 - During a skirmish, Union Sgt. James E. Engle volunteers to carry ammunition to soldiers at the front. He remains there for the rest of the day, under constant fire, and is awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism.
- May 20 - The Battle of Ware Bottom Church establishes the Confederate line in Bermuda Hundred. Known as the Howlett Line, these fortifications effectively block Butler from advancing toward Richmond through Chesterfield County.
- June 2 - Col. Olin M. Dantzler leads an attack from the Howlett line toward a nearby Federal position. He and 16 of his men are killed in the failed assault.
- Sept. 29 - African American troops based in the county spearhead the attack on New Market Heights north of the James River in Henrico County. Fourteen black soldiers and two white officers are awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions.
- The Battle of Trent’s Reach was one of the last naval battles of the war. As recorded by one of the participants, “In late January 3 Confederate ironclads attempted to break through at Trents Reach near Dutch Gap in order to attack Union Supply ships at City Point. The shallow water at Trents’ Reach and the powerful Union ironclad Onandaga combined to make the Confederate attempt a failure.”
- March 27 - President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln accompany Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses Grant to Point of Rocks to visit the wounded.
- Lee’s Retreat – After the fall of Petersburg on April 2, Gen. Robert E. Lee and the bulk of his army crossed the Appomattox River into Chesterfield County and then further southwest with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Union Army pursuing them relentlessly. During the next week, the Union troops fought a series of battles with Confederate units, cutting off or destroying their supplies.
- April 6, 1865, the Confederate Army suffered a significant defeat at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, in Rice, Va., where 7,700 Confederates were killed, captured or wounded. Lee continued to move his remaining army to the west but was soon cornered, outnumbered and short of food and supplies.
- Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Va.