CSN Brittingham, William Franklin - Ordnance Officer

William Franklin Brittingham


Born: September 26, 1841

Birthplace: near Hampton, Virginia

Father: William Parker Brittingham 1809 – 1869

Elizabeth Ann Topping 1814 – 1848

Wife: Ann M. Hopkins 1845 – 1921
(Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia)​

Married: September 10, 1868


William Frank Brittingham, Jr. 1869 -1884​
(Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia)​
Charles Brittingham 1872 - 1876​
(Buried: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia)​


Attended Hampton Military Academy in Hampton, Virginia​
Attended 1 term at Madison College in Pennsylvania​

Occupation before War:

1859 – 1861: Served in the United States Navy​
1860 – 1861: Served on the frigate U.S.S. Congress​

Civil War Career:

1862 – 1863: Masters Mate in the Confederate States Navy​
Served on the C.S.S. Rappahannock on Potomac and Rappahannock​
Served on the C.S.S. Hampton​
Served on the C.S.S. Patrick Henry as Gunner, and Instructor in Gunnery​
1863 – 1865: Gunner in the Confederate States Navy​
1864 – 1865: Served on the C.S.S. Chicora at Charleston, South Carolina​
1865: Served at Battery Cook in Richmond, Virginia Ordnance Officer​
1865: Ordnance Officer in Tucker's Naval Brigade​
1865: Captured during the Battle of Saylor's Creek, Virginia​
1865: Prisoner of War held at Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C.​
1865: Paroled from Union Army Prison in Washington, D.C.​

Occupation after War:

Mercantile Businessman in Galveston, Texas​
In Charge of Business Department at Galveston Daily News Newspaper​
Worked for the Houston Post Newspaper​
Worked for the Fort Worth Gazette Newspaper​
Member of Confederate Veterans Camp in New York​
Recipient of United Daughters of Confederacy Cross of Honor​

Died: July 6, 1908

Place of Death: Richmond, Virginia

Age at time of Death: 66 years old

Burial Place: Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia

Last edited by a moderator:


Feb 20, 2005
William Harwar, 1826-1896, Recollections of Naval Officer, 1841-1865 & other sources
Charleston was evacuated Feb 18, & Wilmington was captured Feb 22, 1865. The naval officers & sailors arriving in Richmond from these & other places were organized as a naval Bgde under Commodore Tucker, & sent to man the various Btrys below & in the neighborhood of Drury's Bluff. Admiral Raphael Semmes, who had returned from Europe, landed in Texas & made his way to Richmond, was put in command of the James River Sqdrn Feb 18, 1865.

We had at this time 60 midshipmen, & these with their officers constituted a force of about 70 men, armed with rifles & extremely well disciplined & drilled. We had among them representatives of the best families of the South. I need not say that, under the circumstances, the care of these young gentlemen gave me many anxious moments. [Sent south after Richmond evacuated as guard for some gold/silver]

The Sqdrn under Admiral Semmes was at anchor between Chapin & Drury's bluff, & the naval Bgde under Commodore Tucker was distributed among the Btrys nearby. Such was the position of affairs on the river on the evening of April 1st, 1865.

The sailors of the gunboat CSS Nansemond, part of the James River Sqdrn under Admiral Raphael Semmes, were ordered to destroy their vessel on 4/3 as were the crews of the rest of the Sqdrn (3 ironclads & 9 gunboats in all). After doing so, they were to form with Semmes as Infy & head to Danville to man the defenses there, that town having become the new CS capitol with the fall of Richmond.

Somehow, some & possibly all of the Nansemond's crew ended up with Commodore John Tucker's Naval Bgde (Bn) of sailors & CS Marines who had been manning the Hvy guns at Drewry's Bluff south of Richmond. Tucker's men had come to Richmond from Wilmington, & Charleston as those cities fell in Feb 1865. While Semmes' men took the last train from Richmond, Tucker's marched on foot to join with the retreating Army of Northern Va-This command was dubbed the Naval Bgde even though it contained no more than 500 men.

The Naval/Marine Bgde from Drewry's Bluff, under Flag Officer Tucker, joined the rear guard of the CS Army, & was attached to Custis Lee's Div of Ewell's Corps.

The seamen were trained as Infy by Marines under the command of Maj Terrett, CSMC. The Bn was subsequently augmented by sailors & Marines from the James River naval Btrys. Attaching itself to Gen Ewell's command leaving Richmond, upon arriving at Amelia CH, Tucker's Naval Bn & the Marines, now commanded by Capt Simms were added to Custis Lee's Div's of Local Defense Troops under Ewell. Approximately 200 Marines left Drewry's Bluff along with about 400 to 600 men of the Navy Bn. The majority of the Bn was made up of naval officers & sailors from the abandoned naval stations at Savannah, Charleston & Wilmington who arrived at Drewry's Bluff in March 1865. The sailors & the three Marine Co's regularly stationed at Drewry's Bluff were consolidated into what became known as Tucker's Naval Bn.

Among their number were at least three "Free Men of Color": Charles Cleaper, who first had served with "Simon's Co (Etiwan Rangers) - part of the 1st Regt SC Mtd Militia, James Hicks, & Joe Johnson. They were among the 25 that escaped & later surrendered at Appomattox. It appears that Johnson first enlisted in the 2nd Va Cav, 4/20/1862. He was wounded at Aldie, 6/17/1863. Had a horse killed at Raccoon Ford, Va, 10/11/1863, paid $650.00 for the horse. Transferred to the Navy, 4/2/1864

The column that made up Ewell's Reserve Corps of Richmond defenders was a colorful lot: the veterans of Kershaw's Div (formerly McLaws'); the sailors & Marines of Capt John Tucker's Naval Bn; & Col Stapleton Crutchfield's Hvy Arty Bns serving as Infy, along with Local Defense Troops that made up part of Custis Lee's Div. Custis Lee's Div was made up of Gen Seth Barton's Va Bgde, Moore's Bgde of Local Defense Troops & Va Reserves, Col Crutchfield's Arty Bgde of Hvy Arty from the Richmond defenses & Chaffin's Bluff Garrison

On the drizzly morning of 4/6/65 these sailors & Marines trudged their way along the muddy roads as part of the rapidly fading hopes of the Confederacy. At about 10:00 AM, the enemy being discovered in close proximity, the Bgde was formed in line of battle as part of the ad hoc Div of G W. Custis Lee. At the time, Ewell & Gen Richard Anderson made the fateful decision to make a stand against the Union Cav nipping at their heels. The delay, however, allowed Union Infy to come in range, & Ewell & Anderson found themselves nearly surrounded along the muddy slopes along the rain-swollen banks of Sailor's Creek (also known as Saylor's Creek).

During this last major engagement of the war in the east at the Hillsman House along Saylor's Creek, a battle that was actually three separate fights, Lee's Div held for a time with fighting becoming hand to hand. The stalwarts were Tucker's men who only surrendered when that all other CS units nearby informed had already done so. Their stand earned the respect of their Union foes.

400 CS sailors & Marines, their small arms loaded & ready, awaited their orders. Some men had their cutlasses within easy reach. Their cdr, Navy Flag Officer John Randolph Tucker, watched as the enemy approached within pistol shot. Tucker, excited but confused, shouted, "Prepare to repel boarders!" One of the Yankees, surprised at seeing captives in naval uniforms, asked, "Good heavens! Have you got gunboats 'way up here, too"?
During the battle, Tucker's Bgde was the only CS unit that didn't break under the first Federal charge. After repulsing the charge, the Bgde – numbering 300 to 400 men, was then surrounded by six Union Div's. Rather than surrender, Tucker counterattacked, smashing the 37th Mass Infy into fragments & tearing into the 2nd RI in hand-to-hand combat.

A CS Pvt recounted, "Near the end the 37th Mass had the fiercest literally savage encounter of the war with the remnants of Stile's Bn & the Marines. I was next to those Marines & saw them fight. They clubbed muskets, fired pistols into each other's face & used bayonets savagely." CS Major Robert Stiles said, "quicker than I can tell it the battle degenerated into a butchery & a confused melee of brutal personal conflicts. I saw numbers of men kill each other with bayonets & the butts of muskets, & even bite each other's throats & ears & noses, rolling on the ground like wild beasts. I saw one of my officers & a Federal officer fighting with swords over the Bn colors, which we had brought back with us, each having his left hand upon the staff. I could not get to them, but my man was a very athletic, powerful seaman, & soon I saw the Federal officer fall." Morris Schaff, a reporter who sketched the scene from the Union side of the creek, described a portion of the confused battle. "One Berkshire man [37th Mass] was stabbed in the chest by a bayonet & pinned to the ground as it came out near his spine. He reloaded his gun & killed the Confederate Soldier, who fell across him. The Mass man threw him off, pulled out the bayonet, & despite the awful wound, walked to the rear."

Withdrawing to a wooded pocket, the unit repulsed several more Federal attacks. A flag of truce was sent by the Federal Gen cdg at that point to inform Tucker that the CS troops on his right & left had surrendered, & that further resistance was useless & could only end in the destruction of the sailors. Tucker, believing that the battle had only commenced, refused to surrender, & held his position until reliable information, which he could not doubt, reached him of the surrender of Ewell & his Army Corps. The performance of Tucker's Bgde was so intense & the damage they inflicted so devastating, that the Federal Gen'ls estimated the "Marine Bgde" to number some 2,000 men.

Tucker was ultimately talked into surrendering towards the end of the day, Commodore Tucker, who fought stoutly in his first land battle, did not give up until the blue lines had overrun his band from every side. He was astonished: "I never before got into a fight like this. I thought everything was going on well." After Drewry's Bluff, he was promoted to Capt & placed in charge of all naval forces at Charleston. When Charleston fell, he was returned to Drewry's Bluff & joined in the retreat from Richmond/Petersburg.

He was captured at Sayler's Creek along with most of his command according to BG Truman Seymour, cdg the Federal 3rd Div, 6th Corps, "The CS Marine Bn fought with peculiar obstinacy, & our lines, somewhat disordered by crossing the creek, were repulsed in the first onset." A member of Phillip's Ga Legion, which stood in line of battle just behind Tucker's Bgde, later recalled, "Those Marines fought like tigers & against odds of at least ten to one."