Civil War and Revolutionary War History

Civil War and Chesterfield County

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 - 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.

“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

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 Earthworks

Revolutionary War and Chesterfield County

Learn more about the important events and historical figures from the Revolutionary War that have connections to Chesterfield County.

Revolutionary War Chesterfield County Important Figures

British Brigadier General Benedict Arnold
When the interior of Virginia became a genuine target of the British forces in January 1781, Arnold raided Richmond with ease. Chesterfield was stirred up like a hornet’s nest during the raid but was spared, though the militia at Britton’s ferry above Richmond assisted the removal of stores from the Westham foundry and the other Continentals and militia from the barracks and county were out into the field.

Archibald Cary
Influential writer, orator, and speaker of the Virginia Senate. Owns Cary’s Iron Furnace at Falling Creek and Cary’s Flour Mill. Key supplier for the war effort  and also Army recruitment.

William Flora
A free-born African American from Virginia who served as a soldier on the Patriot side in the American Revolutionary War. Born in Portsmouth, before the war he owned a prosperous livery stable. According to Continental Army, muster and payrolls, in November 1776 he served, under "Captain William Grymes’s company of the 15th Virginia Regiment", which participated in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown and the Battle of Monmouth. Flora avoided being captured by the British in the 1780 Siege of Charleston when the majority of the regiment was captured. As his unit kept became smaller, it was consolidated, into the 11th Virginia Regiment and finally, into the 5th Virginia Regiment. Flora fought in the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

Captain Frank Goode
The county was actively involved since the beginning of the conflict, raising Captain Frank Goode’s Minute Company that responded to the Governor Dunmore crisis and after, 1775-1776.

Col. Robert Goode
The county would raise 10-12 various companies of militia often under the command under the command of Colonel Robert Goode. They served in various capacities from guarding local depots and the iron mines to being on campaign. Members of the county militia fought in the battles of Camden, Guilford Courthouse, Petersburg, and Yorktown. Goode’s property, Whitby was just north of Cary’s property, Ampthill along the James River. In May, 1781, one militiamen wrote, “Cln Rob’t Good got leave of the Marquis to take the militia of Chesterfield County to watch and prevent the deprivations of the Enemy in that County. Coln Good quartered his men, the second or third night Tarlton and his troop got intelligence and attacked us in the morning…”

Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson was in the saddle and directing the defense against Arnold’s Raid in January 1781. He would be present at Britton’s Ferry (Pony Pasture) when attempting to save the Westham Foundry and government records from Richmond.

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette
French aristocrat and military officer who commanded American troops in several battles, including the Siege of Yorktown. Inspired by stories of the colonists’ struggles against British oppression, Lafayette sailed to the America in 1777 to join the uprising. He was initially rebuffed by colonial leaders, but he impressed them with his passion and willingness to serve for free,  and was named a major-general in the Continental Army. In May 1781, Lafayette moves his army around Richmond and eastern Henrico, mostly at Wilton, keeping the James River between his army and Cornwallis, who arrived in Petersburg.

Major General Peter Muhlenberg
He was assigned to begin rebuilding the Virginia Continental Line at Chesterfield the summer 1780. “I hope nothing else will retard the Collection of the new Levies—The whole of the Old Soldiers at Chesterfield (except the State Regiments and some Convalescents) are at present formed into five Companies of Sixty Men each, They would have gone on before this time, but there is a total want of everything necessary to fit them for the Field—there are neither Teams—Tents, or Blanketts, and it is but a few days since we have been able to procure Arms fit for Service.”

British Commander General William Phillips
Takes over command from Arnold in March at Portsmouth. A professional British artillery officer, Phillips was part of the British Army defeated by Arnold’s attacks at Saratoga in 1777 (while Arnold was still on the American side). In April, Phillips, assisted by Arnold, tore up Chesterfield County’s property, war materials and more. 

Colonel John Graves Simcoe
British Queen’s Rangers made up of exiled Virginians and loyalist New Yorkers and other refugees. Included 200 infantry and 50 “hussars” (cavalry). They were the best light troops in the British Army in America and known as “destroyers of everything.”

Baron Friedrich von Steuben
Prussian who was Gen. George Washington’s chief-of-staff and served as a major general in the Revolutionary Army. In 1780, he trained the Chesterfield Militia at the Chesterfield Courthouse and is known as the great drillmaster of Valley Forge. He was assigned to serve with General Nathaniel Greene in the Southern Army. Greene left him to organize the “new levies” and defense of Virginia in the place of Muhlenberg. He transformed the Chesterfield Depot into a southern Valley Forge, December 1780-April 1781 but as a field commander, he was outmatched by every British commander – Arnold, Philips, Cornwallis.  “You say to your soldier, ’Do this’ and he does it. But I am obliged to say to the American, ’This is why you ought to do this’ and then he does it.”

Colonel General Banastre Tarlton
Known as Bloody Ban or the butcher to the colonials due to his brutal tactics and actions taken at the Battle of Waxhaws in South Carolina. He leads the British Legion dragoons called Tarlton’s Raiders who raid Chesterfield Courthouse in May 1781. They capture militia troops during a rainstorm, and six are killed and 40 become prisoners. This action marks the last Revolutionary War combat in the county.