Drewry’s Bluff prevented Richmond from falling earlier than it did during the Civil War. The bluff is perched above the James a few miles south of Richmond with a commanding view of the river. The height and view make for a near perfect defensive spot. These facts were not lost on Confederate defenders and in March of 1862, the men of Captain Drewry’s Southside Artillery began fortifying the location.
On May 15th, the Union Navy steamed towards Richmond with five Union warships including, ironclads Monitor and Galena and the three gunships Port Royal, Aroostook, and Naugatuck. They encountered a river clogged with scuttled boats and torpedos. From the bluff came heavy cannon fire and sniper fire. The attack was repulsed.
After four long hours of exchanging fire, the “perfect tornado of shot and shell” ended. With his ammunition nearly depleted, Commander Rodgers gave the signal to discontinue the action at 11:30. His sailors suffered at least 14 dead and 13 wounded, while the Confederates admitted to 7 killed and 8 wounded. A visitor wrote that the Galena “looked like a slaughterhouse” after the battle. The massive fort on Drewry’s Bluff had blunted the Union advance just seven miles short of the Confederate capital. Richmond remained safe.
Phil William has this excellent account on The fall of Norfolk and the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff.
A few more quick facts on Drewry’s Bluff from Richmond National Battlefield Park Facebook:
- Tourists visited the fort during the war, coming down from Richmond on steamboat excursions to see the troops drill and view dress parades. One of the Confederate Marines recalled that it was “a regular picnic ground for the young people of Richmond and Petersburg, which we middies greatly enjoyed.”
- Drewry’s Bluff wasn’t just a fort is also served as the Confederate Naval Academy and the Confederate Marine Corps Camp of Instruction.
- Torpedos or what we would now call mines were a crucial part of the defenses.
- It was only Civil War battle in which US Marines fought against Confederate Marines.
- Corporal John F. Mackie became the first US Marine to earn the Medal of Honor as a result of his actions during the battle..
Starting on Saturday the National Park Service is hosting the Drewry’s Bluff Anniversary. From 9-4 Civil War re-enactors will be set up in the fort, Confederate marine re-enactors will run through the drill to load the large siege guns, and additional activities for the younger set.
Below are the times of the scheduled events. It’s worth noting that the presentation on the USS Monitor will feature representatives from the USS Monitor Center in Norfolk.
Saturday, May 20th:
- 11 am Walking Tour “Tourism on the Front Line: Visiting Drewry’s Bluff During the War”
- 2 pm Presentation “USS Monitor: Fortress of Iron”
Sunday, May 21st:
- 11 am Walking Tour “Technology and Weapons of War On the River”
- 2 pm Walking Tour “Tourism on the Front Line: Visiting Drewry’s Bluff During the War”