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Battle of Drewry's Bluff
Battle of Drewry's Bluff
Diorama, Richmond National Battlefield Park Visitor Center.

Drewry's Bluff

After the fall of Norfolk on May 10 to the Union forces under Gen. John Wool, the crew of the Virginia (Merrimack) scuttled their ship. River pilots had advised that the iron-clad vessel could not navigate the treacherous channel up the James River to Richmond. Loss of the Virginia opened the river to Federal gunboats, and McClellan immediately telegraphed the War Department: "I would now most earnestly urge that our gunboats and the iron-clad boats be sent as far as possible up the James river without delay. Instructions have been given so that the Navy will receive prompt support wherever and whenever required."

Five Union gunboats, including the famous Monitor, starred up the James under Comdr. John Rogers in the Galena. By May 15 they reached Drewry's Bluff, just 7 miles below Richmond. Here, at a sharp bend, the Confederates had effectively obstructed the river and erected powerful batteries on a 90-foot bluff.

At 7 that morning the Federal gunboats opened fire on Fort Darling. The battle raged for 4 hours while the fate of Richmond hung in the balance, and near panic spread through the city. However, the accurate fire of the heavy guns on the bluff, combined with effective sharpshooting along the riverbanks, finally proved too much for the gunboats, and the Federal fleet retreated down the river. One Confederate officer observed: "* * * had Commander Rogers been supported by a few brigades, landed at City Point or above on the south side, Richmond would have been evacuated."

Although the Secretary of the Navy requested "a cooperating land force" to help the gunboats pass Fort Darling and take Richmond, McClellan, despite his earlier promise of cooperation, wired the War Department: "Am not yet ready to cooperate with them." He neglected to say when he would be ready. Richmond was never again seriously threatened by water.

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Last Modified: Mon, Mar 4 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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