Closing operations in the James River.
On the 31st of August, 1862, the James River
flotilla, under Captain Charles Wilkes
, was disbanded, the withdrawal of McClellan
from the Peninsula
having rendered its further continuance unnecessary.
For a long time thereafter the greater part of the river was left in the undisturbed possession of the Confederates
, who took the opportunity to fit out a squadron of considerable strength.
The nucleus of this squadron was found in the gun-boats which had assisted the Merrimac
in Hampton Roads
, viz., the Patrick Henry
, and Teazer
, which had also been in Tattnall
's squadron, was sunk as an obstruction at Drewry's Bluff
. Three other gun-boats, the Hampton
, which had been built at Norfolk
, and the Drewry
, were added to the enemy's flotilla in the James
[See map, p. 494.]
Little of importance happened on the river in 1863.
In the adjoining waters of Chesapeake Bay
an active partisan warfare was carried on by various junior officers of the Confederate
service, foremost among whom were Acting Master John Y. Beall
and Lieutenant John Taylor Wood
Numerous conflicts occurred on the bay, but in November Beall
was finally captured.
The repression of this guerrilla warfare was chiefly intrusted to the Potomac
flotilla, under Commander
, while several raids were made upon Matthews county, the principal base of operations of the guerrillas, by gun-boats of the North Atlantic squadron.
The most striking operation in the James River
and adjacent waters in 1863 was the defense of the Nansemond
, April 12-26.
A sudden movement in force was made by the Confederates
to cross the river and thereby reach Suffolk
to attack General Peck
. Admiral Lee
hastily dispatched two flotillas to hold the line of the river: one composed of the Stepping Stones
and seven other gun-boats under Lieutenant R. H. Lamson
, in the upper Nansemond
, and the other of four gun-boats under Lieutenant William B. Cushing
, in the lower waters.
Of special importance were the capture on the 19th of April of the battery at Hill's Point
, by Lieutenant Lamson
's flotilla, in conjunction with three hundred men under General Getty
, and a landing expedition on the 22d to Chuckatuck
, several miles inland, under Lieutenant Gushing
After several months of inaction it was decided in August, 1863, to make a reconnoissance up the James River
The force consisted of the monitor Sangamon
, the ferry-boat Commodore Barney
, and the small steamer Cohasset
, all under the command of Captain G. Gansevoort
. General Foster
accompanied the squadron in an army tug-boat, but afterward went on board the Sangamon
The expedition started on the 4th and proceeded without incident up the river to Dutch Gap
, where the Sangamon
came to anchor owing to the low stage of water.
and his staff and Captain Gansevoort
then went on board the Commodore Barney
, and had gone only a few miles further, to Coxe's Landing, when two torpedoes exploded under the starboard bow of the Barney
, producing a heavy concussion, lifting her bows, and tearing the planking.
The wash from the torpedo carried twenty of the Barney
's crew overboard, most of whom were rescued.
The torpedoes consisted of five hundred pounds of powder, placed in tanks and fired by an electric connection on shore.
They were in charge of Lieutenant Hunter Davidson
After the explosion the Barney
was taken in tow by the Cohasset
, and the two vessels dropped down to Dutch Gap
On the following day the Sangamon
, with the two wooden boats, started down the river.
Early in the morning, near Four Mile Creek
, they had an engagement with a Confederate battery, hidden in thickets on the bank, and supported by infantry.
and the Barney
returned the fire, but the Barney
was disabled by a shot through the boiler, and drifted ashore.
got her off. A few hours later another engagement took place at Turkey Island Bend
, but without any definite result.
The wooden vessels were roughly handled; more than thirty round shot penetrated the Barney
, and she was fairly peppered with musket-balls.
The expedition arrived at Newport News on the morning of the 7th, having lost 3 killed and 3 wounded.
Meantime the Confederate Government had been constructing a powerful squadron for the defense of the river.
Besides the Patrick Henry
, which was used as a school-ship for midshipmen, there were the Beaufort
, and the three later gun-boats, of slight importance, the Nansemond
, and Drewry
The main force consisted of three new iron-clads.
Of these, the Fredericksburg
carried four 6-inch rifles with four inches of armor, the Richmond
was still more powerful, and the Virginia
No. 2, modeled after the first Virginia
, was the most powerful of all, having a casemate with six inches of armor on the sides and eight on the ends.
She carried two 8-inch and two 6-inch Brooke
rifles, and was the strongest vessel at any time in the Confederate
The opening of the year 1864 found the North Atlantic squadron still in Hampton Roads
, and without so much as a foothold in the James River
Early in the year two joint expeditions of the army and the navy were made into the country in the neighborhood of the Nansemond
, then occupied by scattered forces of the enemy.
The first of these, on February 1st, resulted in serious disaster, the principal army detachment and the army transport Smith Briggs
being captured by the Confederates
The second expedition, on April 14th, composed of a larger force of troops, supported by the Morris
, and Barney
, failed of its main object, and retired without gaining any substantial advantage.
The James River
campaign opened in May with the landing of the army at City Point
and Bermuda Hundred
At daybreak on the 5th the fleet left Newport News.
It was composed of five iron-clads, the monitors Tecumseh
, and Saugus
, the Quintard turret-ship Onondaga
, and the casemated ram Atlanta
, which Captain John Rodgers
had captured the year before in Warsaw
The iron-clads were towed up the river by ten of the small steamers in the rear of the transports carrying the troops.
The advance was composed of seven gun-boats, the Osceola
, Commodore Morris
, Stepping Stones
, General Putnam
, and Shawsheen
, which were to drag the river for torpedoes.
Nothing occurred to impede the fleet, and on the evening of the same day the army was landed.
The gun-boats now proceeded to drag the river for torpedoes above City Point
On the 6th the Commodore Jones
, while exploring near Four Mile Creek
, was blown up by a torpedo fired by electricity from the shore; half her crew were killed or wounded.
A boat from the Mackinaw
, under Acting Master
's Mate Blanchard
, put out to search the banks, and captured the torpedo operators.
One of the prisoners was then placed in the forward gun-boat employed in dragging for torpedoes, and was thus led to give much information in reference to their locality and the mode of operating them.
On the 7th the gun-boat Shawsheen
was destroyed by batteries from the shore, and most of her crew were captured.
During May the monitors remained between Trent
's Reach and City Point
, protecting the right flank of General Butler
[See map, p. 198.] The fighting was principally in Trent
's Reach, where the Confederates
were erecting batteries.
They built a strong work at Howlett's, so placed that it could not be destroyed by the fire of the monitors.
This was the situation on the 14th of June, when General Grant
arrived at the James
division of the fleet, composed..of the iron-clads, lay in or about Trent
The gun-boats searching for torpedoes occasionally went a little distance beyond, far enough even to draw the fire of Chaffin's Bluff, but Trent
's Reach remained substantially the advance position of the fleet.
The Confederate squadron, powerful as it was, was unequal to coping with the five Federal iron-clads.
In view, however, of the overwhelming importance of the river as a base of operations and means of communication, General Grant
had determined that he would not take the chances of a naval contest for its control, and he had previously ordered General Butler
to procure and sink a number of hulks in the channel at Trent
The obstructions were put in position between the 15th and 18th of June, and the operations of the fleet for the remainder of the summer were confined to desultory engagements with batteries at various points along the base of the army.
In July and August these engagements occurred with great frequency.
Once on the 21st of June, soon after the sinking of the obstructions, the Confederate
squadron came down below Dutch Gap
, and in conjunction with the battery at Howlett's made an ineffectual demonstration — the only occasion during the year 1864 on which they were brought into action.
During the summer
the iron-clads were gradually withdrawn, with the exception of the Onondaga
, a double-turreted monitor carrying two 15-inch smooth-bores and two 150-pounder Parrott rifles.
Up to this time the Confederate
squadron, under Commodore John K. Mitchell
, had been clearly overmatched, and was therefore not in a position to take the offensive.
When the last of the iron-clads had been taken off for the Fort Fisher
expedition, however, leaving only the Onondaga
determined to try conclusions and see if he could not open the river.
After waiting for the river to rise, on the 22d of January a party was sent down to examine the obstructions, and found that they could be passed without much difficulty.
On the 23d the fleet, composed of the flag-ship Virginia
, Lieutenant J. W. Dunnington
, the Richmond
, and the Fredericksburg
, all iron-clads, the gun-boat Drewry
's torpedo boat, and three torpedo launches, proceeded down to Trent
passed safely through the obstructions, but the Virginia
At daybreak they were discovered, and fire was opened on them from Fort Parsons, the Federal
battery near by. The Onondaga
, Captain William A. Parker
, which, on the approach of the enemy, had retired down the river, according to the statement of Captain Parker
, to obtain an advantageous position, now returned and joined in the attack.
With the flood-tide the two iron-clads were floated off, and withdrew up the river.
and one of the torpedo launches were destroyed.
The armor of the Virginia
That night the Confederate
squadron came down again with the intention of attacking the Onondaga
, but retired after meeting with a warm reception from the batteries on the banks.1
About the middle of February Commodore Mitchell
was replaced in the command of the James River squadron by Admiral Semmes
, lately the commander of the Alabama
During the six weeks that followed there was very little that the squadron could do. The obstructions at Trent
's Reach had been strengthened, and additions had been made to the fleet below.
Meantime the Union
armies were closing in about Richmond
, and at length the fall of the city was inevitable.
On the 2d of April, in obedience to orders from Secretary Mallory
blew up his vessels, landed his men, and proceeded by rail to Danville, N. C.
, where he remained until Johnston
On the 3d of April Richmond
was occupied, and on the following day the Malvern
, Admiral Porter
's flag-ship, carried President Lincoln
up to the late capital of the Confederacy