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Battles of Chester Station and Second Drewry's Bluff(Proctor's Creek)

Discussion in 'The Eastern Theater' started by Seth VA/NC, Apr 18, 2013.

  1. Seth VA/NC

    Seth VA/NC Retired User

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    Does anyone know much about these two battles, mainly Seth Barton's (Lewis Armistead's old) Brigade during the fighting, I had two relatives in the 14th Virginia Infantry who was present during these two battles, one of them was wounded
     
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2014

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  3. Jamieva

    Jamieva 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

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    I don't know much about them either but my great grandfather fought in the 14th as well during those battles.
     
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  4. East Ender

    East Ender Private

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    It is nice to see a post regarding actions during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, which (along with the 1864 Shenandoah Campaign) has always been overshadowed by what was considered the main action in Virginia during the spring of 1864, the Overland Campaign. The Bermuda Hundred Campaign was designed as a side action. Grant hoped the newly formed Army of the James, commanded by General Benjamin Butler, would be able to cut some of Lee’s supply lines from the south. Additionally, the Army of the James was to cause enough of a threat to Richmond that Lee would have no choice but to send reinforcements from the Army of Northern Virginia, helping to make the Army of Potomac’s job a little easier. In many ways this was a prelude to the Siege of Petersburg, where Grant would coordinate simultaneous actions outside Petersburg and Richmond stretching Lee’s lines and his dwindling number of soldiers.

    I live across the James from where these battles occurred and will help you the best that I can. I actually drove through both of these battlefields today. Most of the information I am providing here can be found in the very well written Bermuda Hundred Campaign tour guide by Major (Ret.) Robert J. Forman. It was published by the Chesterfield Historical Society and partially funded by the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

    Battle of Chester Station: In the spring of 1864, the neighboring cities of Richmond and Petersburg were lightly defended. Generals Grant and Butler felt this would be a perfect opportunity to launch attacks against the Confederate capital and the Army of Northern Virginia’s supply lines. While Butler was optimistic that his army could accomplish the task and possibly capture Richmond, Grant knew Butler was not capable of pulling off such a feat. However, he was confident that Butler’s Army of the James, would be able to cause a significant enough distraction to raise alarm in Richmond and, ideally, force Lee to send some of his men south.

    The Army of the James landed at City Point on May 5 and 6, 1864 and took control of the area. On May 6, 40,000 U.S. troops crossed the James River where it meets the Appomattox and landed on the Bermuda Hundred Peninsula. This was part of the district under command of General P.G.T. Beauregard and at the time, there were barely 6,000 Confederate troops defending the area. Beauregard was in Weldon, N.C. and the man responsible for defending against the landing was Major General George Pickett, who was in command at Petersburg. Pickett relayed the intelligence he had been giving about the landing to Beauregard who immediately began to send troops north and gave Pickett permission to communicate directly with the War Department in Richmond and to appeal for more troops. Pickett sent a series of requests to the War Department which failed to answer any of them.

    A series of battles occurred prior to Chester Station including the First and Second Battles of Port Warthall Junction and the Battle of Swift Creek. Those battles took place around the City of Colonial Heights which is immediately to the northeast of Petersburg. It was during this time that Seth Barton’s (Armistead’s) Brigade landed at Drewry’s Bluff. On May 9th, Brigadier General Terry placed the 67th Ohio, under the command of Colonel Alvin C. Voris, at the intersection of modern day Route 10 (West Hundred Road) and Route 1 (Jeff Davis Highway, known then as the Richmond Turnpike). Voris was supported by one section (two guns) of the 1st Connecticut Light Battery. Voris was very much concerned about his exposed position. His closest support was Howell’s Brigade, one mile to the east. His next closest was Hawley’s Brigade, three miles away and busy tearing up railroad track south of Port Walthall Junction. Fearing Confederates would easily close in on him, he called for reinforcements. Voris’ concern was legitimate. While the vast majority of the Army of the James was engaged to the south around Swift Creek, Confederate divisions under the command of Major General Robert Ransom Jr. were advancing from Drewry’s Bluff which was north of Voris’ position.

    Ransom had devised a simple plan. Move Gracie’s Brigade of Alabamians down the Old Stage Road to the left and Barton’s Brigade of Virginians on the right on either side of the Richmond Turnpike (Route 1). Ransom would advance until he made contact with the Federals, which he believed to be around Port Walthall. Instead, he would run directly into the exposed position of the 67th Ohio at Chester Station.

    The Confederates began their advance at 5:15am on May 10. Barton pushed forward down the turnpike with the 14th Virginia as skirmishers, and the 57th, 53rd, 9th, and 38th Virginia in line of battle. Barton’s line stretched from the turnpike west to the Richmond/Petersburg Railroad. Gracie’s Brigade advanced down the Old Stage Road in a line that stretched east from the turnpike to the James River. Advancing through thick woods, Barton’s Brigade lost contact with Gracie’s and instead made contact with the 67th Ohio. The Virginians pushed the Federal skirmishes back into their lines and began to advance aggressively but were hindered by difficult terrain. By this time, Voris’ request for reinforcements had been granted and the 169th New York and 13th Indiana arrived. The regiments were placed in an arc with the 13th Indiana on the left facing northwest with its right on the road to Chester Station supported by the 1st Connecticut Light Battery which positioned its artillery in front of the Winfree House. The 67th Ohio was in the middle, facing north, with its left on the road to Chester Station and its right on the Richmond Turnpike. The 169th New York was on the right, facing northeast, with its left on the Richmond Turnpike supported by two guns from the 4th New Jersey Battery.

    At about 11am, with Gracie’s Brigade tangled in the woods to their rear, the 9th and 38th Virginia attacked down the Richmond Turnpike. This surprised the men of the 169th New York who immediately made a break for the rear leaving the guns of the 4th New Jersey Battery unprotected. The 4th New Jersey was able to get away with one gun, but was forced to the leave the other behind which the Confederates gladly took. The rough terrain caused the 38th Virginia to become disorganized at the captured gun. The Confederates stopped and took the opportunity to regroup. They would not advance any further. During the charge, their colonel suffered a mortal wound, and the unit came under small arms fire from the right and artillery fire from Howell’s guns a mile away at Ware Bottom Church. In addition, the woods around them had caught fire from an exploding shell. Meanwhile, on Barton’s right, the 14th, 53rd, and 57th Virginia were converging on the 1st Connecticut Light Battery which had almost exhausted its ammunition and were in danger of being taken. The Federal right had been broken and the left was about to collapse.

    Hearing the sounds of the guns, U.S. Colonel Joseph Abbott with three of the four regiments from Hawley’s Brigade, as well as Brigadier General Alfred Terry, the division commander, made their way north from Port Walthall. Arriving with them were the remaining four guns of the 1st Connecticut Light Battery. The guns immediately roared into action relieving the other two tired guns. Terry sent the 7th New Hampshire to the left of the Federal line to support the Connecticut artillery. He then sent the 6th Connecticut to the left of the Richmond Turnpike to support the 67th Ohio. The 7th Connecticut was sent to the right of the turnpike where the 169th New York was able to rally and reform.

    As the 1st Connecticut Light Battery began firing, the 14th Virginia made three charges, only to be repulsed each time by canister fire. The 6th Connecticut, 7th New Hampshire, 6th Connecticut, 13th Indiana, and the 1st Connecticut Light Artillery combined to repulse further attacks by the 14th and 53rd Virginia. Due to the damage inflicted by the cannon fire, the 14th Virginia was unable to withstand a counterattack by the 6th Connecticut and fell back. The action by the Federals stabilized their left.

    The Federal reinforcements significantly helped to strengthen the severely weakened Federal right. The 7th Connecticut helped to bolster the 169th New York. Both regiments then coordinated an attack and took the 9th and 38th Virginia under fire. This attack added significantly to the casualties already inflicted upon the two Virginia regiments from the Federal artillery attacks from Ware Bottom Church. Gracie’s Brigade had failed to protect the exposed Confederate left and the combined fire became too much for the 38th Virginia, and the regiment broke. The fragmented Virginians made an effort to reform, but the 7th Connecticut launched into them with a counterattack shattering the already broken Virginians. This attack allowed the Federals to retake their original defensive position and they regained possession of the gun they lost to the 38th Virginia.

    Ransom’s coordinated two-brigade attack had failed. With Barton’s left flank broken, and two additional Federal brigades arriving from Swift Creek, Ransom ordered his division back to their original attack position on Osborn Road. Ransom was incensed by Barton’s handling of the fight and relieved him of command. His decision was extremely controversial and launched a multitude of petitions, claims, counterclaims, and requests for review that would last until the end of the war. The Federals did not take advantage of their success and withdrew back to their entrenchments at Bermuda Hundred. By late afternoon, Terry withdrew his force from Chester Station, conceding the field to the Confederates. This was the third such time this happened since the campaign began.

    The Federals suffered 280 casualties to the Confederates 239 at the Battle of Chester Station. The total casualties from the Battles at Swift Creek and Chester Station were 500 killed, wounded, and missing for each side. As often was the case during the war, the casualties were a tough pill to swallow considering the paltry results. The Confederates would begin to utilize the undamaged Richmond Turnpike to reinforce Richmond with troops from Petersburg. However, the Federals had managed to destroy a section of the Richmond/Petersburg Railroad from Swift Creek to Chester Station.

    By this point in the campaign, Beauregard had arrived from North Carolina. Around this time Gen. Pickett fell ill and took to bed with a vaguely diagnosed “fever.” Beauregard was ready to fight. The Louisianan, well aware of Butler’s time in New Orleans, welcomed the opportunity to destroy the Beast.

    The Second Battle of Drewry’s Bluff (the first having occurred almost precisely to the day two years earlier in 1862) took place on a foggy May 16. The battle was instigated by General Robert Ransom, who ordered his division to advance. Beauregard stitched together three divisions under the commands of Ransom, Major General Robert Hoke, and Major General Alfred Colquitt. Ransom was given the brigades of Gracie, Terry, Lewis, and Barton.

    Fort Stevens was to be the center of attack with Hagood’s South Carolinians posted there. Barton’s (now under the command of Colonel Birkett D. Fry) Brigade was posted to the east of the fort, with the Lewis’ Brigade to their left. In front of Barton’s Brigade was Terry’s Brigade and Gracie’s Brigade was in front of Lewis’. At 4:45am Ransom sent his brigades into the fog to deliver a hammer blow to the right wing of the Army of the James. Gracie’s Brigade stepped off first, followed by Terry’s, then Lewis’, and finally Barton’s following several hundred yards behind Lewis’. Placed well in front of the main line, the 9th New Jersey of Heckman’s Brigade was the first to see the Confederates emerge out of the fog and opened on them with musket fire before falling back to their position along the main line. However, in falling back, the 9th New Jersey opened up a gap exposing the entire right flank of the Federals and Gracie’s Brigade was closing in. The 23rd, 27th, and 25th Massachusetts regiments stood firm and fired repeated volleys into Gracie’s ranks. This stopped his advance and caused the Confederates to lie prone in order to avoid being hit. Ransom’s hammer blow, thus far, was barely a pinch. Gracie asked Terry to bring his brigade forward in support. Advancing down the Old Stage Road (modern Coach Road), Terry’s Brigade hit the 9th New Jersey again. The 1st and 7th Virginia outflanked the 9th New Jersey and caused the regiment to break.

    The Massachusetts regiments had been holding their own against Gracie and Terry but soon they began to break and fled for the rear. The 25th Massachusetts tried to fix bayonets and attack the Confederates. However, the fog, prevented them from having a decent line of sight and with Confederates all around them, the attack fell apart and became a rout.

    Lewis’ Brigade came under devastating fire from Wistar and Wead’s Brigades. The brigade became disoriented in the fog with two regiments moving southeast and two to the southwest. To make matters worse for them, the Federals to their front had strung telegraph wire around tree trunks so that the wire was raised shin high. The Confederates got “tripped up, tangled up, and eventually shot up, stopping their advance.” Fry’s (Barton’s) Brigade came forward and filled in the gap created by Lewis’ split brigade. Unfortunately, his brigade hit the telegraph entanglements that snared Lewis’ Brigade and thus, met the same fate. All they could do now was attempt to stand up and fire back. Eventually their situation deteriorated so badly, that Ransom had to ask Beauregard for reinforcements in order to help Fry (Barton’s) and Lewis’ Brigades from faltering completely. Beauregard sent Colquitt’s Brigade of Georgians to support Lewis and Fry (Barton).

    By 6am, Ransom’s attack was petering out. The Confederates had suffered heavy losses, became disorganized by the persistent fog, were exhausted, and their ammunition was almost depleted. The men had managed to chip a chunk out of the Federal right, but it was not bent back on its center as was originally planned. Heckman’s Brigade had been routed and Heckman himself was captured when he wandered into a group of Virginians.

    While Ransom’s Division was being decimated by musket fire and telegraph wire, Hagood’s South Carolinians stationed in Fort Stevens came under severe Federal artillery fire. Blinded by the fog, but thinking Ransom’s Division was bending in the Federal right, they vacated the fort and moved forward. They soon found that not only was Ransom’s Division not moving the right flank in, Ransom’s Division had virtually ceased to exist. Moving ahead anyway, the South Carolinians soon became tangled in telegraph wire in front of Wistar’s Brigade, which soon opened fire into the struggling Confederates. Hagood’s Division struggled to move back to their outer entrenchments. Ransom saw what was happening and sent his only remaining regiment left in to help. This secured Hagood’s left flank.

    Each subsequent Confederate brigade that moved forward was greeted by telegraph wire. Despite this, Johnson’s Brigade managed to dislodge the 8th Connecticut opening a gap in the Federal line which the Confederates took advantage of and captured some artillery pieces in the process. Despite this success, the fog and the disorganization it caused, affected both sides terribly and resulted in each withdrawing segments of their lines at various moments. The Confederates and Federals fell back to their defensive positions. After the battle, Major General Bragg ordered Beauregard to send the brigades of Lewis, Barton, Corse, and Terry north to Lee.

    The Bermuda Hundred Campaign is generally considered a failure, with Grant eventually observing that Butler was “in a bottle, strongly corked.” However, there are some modern historians who believe it was not a complete failure. The Army of the James had secured City Point, which would become vital to the Federals during the Siege of Petersburg and they destroyed a portion of the north/south Richmond and Petersburg Railroad. Additionally, the Army of the James had secured themselves a position that would allow them to conduct engagements north of the James River at the same time that the Army of the Potomac was fighting outside Petersburg. This forced Lee to stretch his lines to the breaking point.

    Have you visited the battlefields? If not, then do not get too excited. Perhaps worse then being virtually forgotten, the battlefields of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign are located in development happy Chesterfield County which is home to some of the worst suburban sprawl in Virginia. Chester Station is the most decimated. Both Route 1 and Route 10 are major roadways that have made them magnets for development. There is one undeveloped portion of the battlefield remaining and it is sandwiched between a YMCA and a modern cemetery. The property contains the Winfree House which survived the battle. This was the position of the 67th Ohio and where the 1st Connecticut Light Battery placed their artillery. The property is in private hands so you cannot walk it. However, there is a sidewalk in front of the property from which you can at least view it. If you turn around with your back to the house, you will be staring into the direction of the approaching Confederates. You will also be staring at a whole lot of development so your imagination will need to be fully engaged. There is a Civil War Trails marker in front of the YMCA and a few feet to the left of the marker is a monument dedicated to those who fought during the battle.

    The Second Drewry’s Bluff battlefield is marginally better. The name of the battle itself is a little misleading. Fighting did not actually take place on the bluff, but south of it. The bluff and Fort Darling which was constructed on top of it is preserved as part of Richmond National Battlefield Park and it is one of my favorite units in the park. Interpretation at the park is centered on the 1862 battle with no mention of the 1864 fight. This makes sense since no part of the battle took place there.

    Part of the battlefield that has been preserved is Fort Stevens. It is easily accessed via the same exit off I-95 that you would take to reach Drewry’s Bluff. Like Chester Station, the battlefield here has been obliterated by development and I-95 which barrels right through it. When you exit the interstate, make a right at the light onto Willis Road. You will pass a McDonald’s and a gas station. Just after the gas station is Pams Ave. Take a right. Drive about a half mile and you will see a park on your left. This is Fort Stevens. Park your car in the parking lot. Facing the fort, look to your left. That would have been the position of Barton’s Brigade. Though the development prevents you from walking in their footsteps, you can at least see where they would have been positioned at the start of the battle. Fort Stevens is very well preserved and worth a quick stop. The development surrounding the fort does not seem as intrusive as it does in other places. If you desire to do so, when you return to Willis Road, turn right then turn left onto Route 1. Drive another mile or so and you will see the Half-Way House. This house has been serving travelers along this road since just before the Revolution. During the Second Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, the house was used as headquarters by General Butler. The restaurant has somewhat irregular hours, but if you arrive at the right time, you can grab a bite to eat.

    If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the tour guide, you should be able to go to www.chesterfieldhistory.com and order one. It is very well done with plenty of maps and pictures. It is also available at the gift shops of Richmond National Battlefield Park and Petersburg National Battlefield Park as well as various other gift shops located at historic places throughout the Richmond region. Another book to check out is Bruce R. Wells’ The Bermuda Hundred Campaign: The Creole and the Beast. Interestingly, his book seems to draw heavily from the tour guide. It is part of the History Press Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. Two other books that are supposed to be the “word” on the campaign are Bermuda Hundred Campaign by Herbert Schiller and Back Door to Richmond: The Bermuda Hundred Campaign, April – June 1864 by William Glenn Robertson. If you want to stick with online (read: free) information, you cannot do much better than Brett Schulte’s Siege of Petersburg website. It is a phenomenal online resource. His website is www.beyondthecrater.com.

    I hope this has been helpful.

    Chuck
     
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  5. Eric Calistri

    Eric Calistri 2nd Lieutenant

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    My GGGrandfather was with Company B of the 38th VA ("Pittsylvania Vindicators") and was also wounded at Drewry's Bluff in 1864.
     
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  6. Seth VA/NC

    Seth VA/NC Retired User

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    There is a book of the 14th Virginia at my library, I will go see their interpretation of these two battles and write down what they say, unfortunately I can't take the book with me out of the library (because it's a source book), So it may take some time, but i will get too it!
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2013
  7. Jamieva

    Jamieva 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

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    Odd coincidence since my ggrandfather fought in these 2 battles that I grew up in Chester (he was from Caroline). Well mailing address is Chester I actually grew up in Enon which is across the river from Hopewell/City Point.

    The historical marker for the battle of Chester Station is on route 1. it's on the right hand side of the northbound lanes. If I recall right it's near the suntrust bank which is next to the captain ds and shoneys.
     
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  8. iwanniegrozny

    iwanniegrozny Cadet

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    Hi! Does anybody know which Massachusetts infantry regiment (if any) was brigaded together with the 7th Connecticut infantry during the Battle of Proctor's Creek (may 1864)?

    I have come across a report by col. Gorlov (chief of the Russian Army military mission to US in 1860s.) which says that during the 2nd battle of Drewry's Bluff, "a Union brigade composed of 7th Connecticut and 4th (?) Massachusets, both armed with Spencer rifles, was able to stop three enemy brigades.."
     

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