Civil War History

Drewrys Bluff-Mackie

On May 15, 1862, a Union flotilla, led by ironclads USS Monitor and Galena, was instructed to "shell [Richmond] to a surrender." Union and Confederate Marines faced each other during the four-hour battle as Richmond’s fate hung in the balance. The Confederates prevailed and Richmond was never again seriously threatened by a water-based attack. For his bravery during the battle, Union Cpl. John Mackie became the first U.S. Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

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).

  1. Chesterfield County's Role During the Civil War
  2. Civil War Activities
  3. Civil War Important Figures
  4. Civil War Timeline

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.

Civil War Earthworks

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.