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Battle Summary of Drewry's Bluff

Drewry's Bluff, VA.
May 12-16,1864

Drewry's Bluff, Va., May 12-16, 1864.
Army of the James Simultaneously with the movement of the Army of the Potomac from the Rapidan river on the north, the Army of the James, commanded by Maj.-Gen. B. F. Butler, moved up the James river to invest Richmond on the south. On May 6 Butler landed his forces on the peninsula known as Bermuda Hundred and immediately began entrenching a line across the isthmus from the James river to the Appomattox. On the right bank of the James, about 5 miles above Bermuda Hundred, the Confederates had a fortified work called Fort Darling. From this fort a line of intrenchments extended southwest to the Proctor's creek bridge on the Richmond & Petersburg railroad. Back of this was a second line, which enclosed both the railroad and the turnpike. At the time Butler landed on Bermuda Hundred the trenches on the south side of the James were held by a meager force (estimated by Gen. Humphreys at not exceeding 6,000) under Gen. Beauregard, but reinforcements were constantly arriving. Humphreys thinks that: "Gen. Butler's true policy upon landing at the mouth of the Appomattox would have been to disregard Richmond for a time and turn his attention to attacking Beauregard's forces in detail as they arrived from the south, first taking Petersburg, which was then nearly defenseless." Instead of adopting this course, however, he contented himself with entrenching his position and with sending Kautz's cavalry on a raid against the Weldon railroad. When he did begin his movement on Drewry's bluff, Beauregard had about 30,000 men to oppose him.

Shortly after daylight on the 12th Kautz began his second raid on the railroads, and at the same time Smith, with the 18th corps and Turner's division of the 1Oth, moved along the pike toward Richmond to cover Kautz's movement and develop the enemy's strength at Drewry's bluff. Weitzel's division soon began skirmishing with the enemy and gradually pressed him back across Red House creek, where the Confederates opened fire with 2 pieces of artillery stationed on the pike. The guns were quickly dislodged, after which Weitzel formed his command in line of battle across the pike on the north side of the creek, six regiments of Brooks, division were deployed on the left, Turner's division was brought up on the right, and the whole line advanced. Brooks had to force his way through a marsh and a dense thicket, but Weitzel and Turner, having more open coun- try in their front, drove the enemy back across Proctor's creek. Late in the day Gen. Gillmore with part of the 1Oth, corps and a battery, came up and took position on the left. On the morning of the 13th Gillmore advanced against the right of the enemy's entrenchment's on Proctor's creek. The extreme right the Confederate line rested on Wooldridge hill, about half a mile west of the railroad. Gen. Terry attempted to storm the hill, but his attack was repulsed. Soon after this the enemy evacuated his position on the hill and passed down the line of entrenchment's toward Fort Darling closely pressed by Gillmore's men, and early the next morning the pressure was renewed until over 2 miles of the advanced line of works were in the hands of the Federals. Gillmore then formed a junction with Turner's division, which had been moved to the left of the 18th corps, and during the 14th the Confederates were driven back to the second line of works at all points. The 15th was spent in making reconnaissances and skirmishing. About the only movement of consequence on this day was made on Smith's right, when Heckman's brigade was thrown back to cover a road leading to Bermuda Hundred. This weakened the line of battle and three regiments of Ames' division, posted at the Halfway house on the pike near Proctor's creek, were obliged to act as a reserve. Beauregard learned on the 15th that Ransom's divi- sion would join him that evening, and he therefore decided to assume the offensive. Accordingly he issued his instructions for an assault at daybreak on the 16th, his object being to cut off the Union army from its base of operations and either cap- ture or destroy it. Ransom was to attack the Federal right, Hoke who was on the right of Ransom, was to engage the forces in his front to prevent Smith from reinforcing against Ransom, and if the Union line showed signs of giving way he was to "push on the whole of his command and clear his entire front with rapidity and vigor." During the night both divisions were formed in two lines outside the works, supported by artillery, and Colquitt's division, except two regiments, was posted in reserve. The two remaining regiments were to join with Whit- ing's command and move from Petersburg to strike the left and rear of the Union line. During the 15th Weitzel constructed a rude breastwork of logs along his entire front. At Smith's suggestion telegraph wire was taken from the line along the pike and stretched in front of Brooks' and Weitzel's divisions, the wire being wound tightly around the stumps.

About 5 A.M. on the 16th Ransom advanced in a dense fog, drove in the skirmishers in front of Heckman's brigade, and though Heckman made a stubborn resistance he was overpowered after an hour's hard fighting, his works were carried by the enemy's superior force and he, several hundred of his men and 5 stands of colors, were captured. By this time the fog had lifted to some extent and Hoke began his attack on Gillmore. Terry repulsed three determined assaults, when it was learned that Heckman had been defeated and the whole line was moving to the right. At this moment Gillmore received the following message from Butler: "Move by your right flank so as to join on to Gen. Smith's left, as the enemy are fighting us at Ware Bottom Church." Just before this Gillmore had been ordered to assault, but had not done so because Terry was too seriously engaged on the defensive. He now determined to attack the flank of the enemy's column that was forcing back Smith's right. Orders to that effect were sent to Terry and Turner and they were moving to execute the order when Gillmore received notice that Smith and Weitzel were both falling back. Gillmore then formed a new line covering the road leading to his rear and held this position until ordered to move to the pike in order to cover Smith's left. In the meantime Weitzel had been actively engaged in repelling the assaults on his breastworks. Here the telegraph wire evidently proved a formidable barrier, as in his report Weitzel says: "The four regiments of Heckman's brigade were crushed by the attack. but there was no surprise on account of the fog as the whole line was in line of battle and prepared for the shock. * * * The other seven regiments of my line did not move until (after they had thrice repulsed the enemy with terrible slaughter, he being piled in heaps over the telegraph wire) they were ordered to fall back."

Ransom suffered heavy loss in his attack on Heckman, his troops became scattered in the fog, and at 6:30 he called for reinforcements. Colquitt was sent to his assistance, reaching the field about the time Weitzel repulsed Hoke's first assault, in which part of Hagood's brigade advanced too far and was ordered back by Hoke. This movement led Ransom to believe that Hoke's left was in danger and he sent Lewis' brigade to strengthen that flank. This was not in conformity with Beauregard's plan of battle and resulted in some confusion. Ransom then reestablished his line in front of the works he had captured from Heckman and was directed to halt there for further orders. Between 9 and 10 o'clock Beauregard sent orders to Whiting to press forward, but that officer had been checked by Ames at Walthall Junction and had fallen back to Swift creek. Toward noon Butler gave orders for the whole army to retire to the entrenchment's and on the morning of the 17th the Confederates moved up to a position close to the Federal lines and entrenched, thus "bottling up", Butler on Bermuda Hundred, where the Army of the James remained inactive until Grant crossed the James.

Beauregard reported his casualties on the 16th as being
364 killed,
1,610 wounded
220 missing.

The Union reports are incomplete but Badeau gives the loss at Drewry's bluff as
390 killed,
1,721 wounded
1,390 captured or missing.

The Federals lost 5 pieces of artillery and 5 stands of colors, which were captured by Hagood's brigade in one of the assaults near the turnpike.

Source: The Union Army, vol. 5

Other Names: Fort Darling, Fort Drewry

Location: Chesterfield County VA

Campaign: Peninsula Campaign (March-September 1862)

Principal Commanders: Cdr. John Rodgers [US]; Cdr. E. Farrand, Brig. Gen. William Mahone, Capt. S. S. Lee, and Lt. John Taylor Wood [CS]

Forces Engaged: 5 gunboats [US]; battery garrison [CS]

Description: With the fall of Yorktown, the Confederate ironclad Virginia at Norfolk was scuttled to prevent her capture. This opened the James River to Federal gunboats. On May 15, five gunboats, including the ironclads Monitor and Galena, steamed up the James to test the Richmond defenses. They encountered submerged obstacles and deadly accurate fire from the batteries at Drewry’s Bluff, which inflicted severe damage on the Galena. The Federal Navy was turned back.

Result(s): Confederate victory

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