Forgotten Forts Series - Fort Huger (VA)


Sergeant Major
Jun 21, 2012
Louisville, KY
Fort Huger was an earthwork fortification located on Harden's (sometimes called Hardy's) Bluff along the James River in Virginia. The bluff is directly across the river from Newport News, Virginia. Fort Huger along with nearby Fort Boykin were built in order to prevent Union forces from trying to move up the river towards the Confederate capital of Richmond. The fort was named after Major General Benjamin Huger. (An interesting note, Benjamin Huger was related to Revolutionary War hero Isaac Huger which Battery Huger, built over the ruins of Fort Sumter, is named)
Fort Huger 1.jpg

The site for Fort Huger was chosen by Confederate engineer Col. Andrew Talcott in 1861 with construction beginning that same year. The fort was completed a few months into 1862 under the watchful eyes of Captains E.T.D. Myers and John Clarke. The fort was designed to mount 15 guns which would all face the river, however the fort was never fully armed. The landward side was also protected by earthworks however directly to the rear of the fort there was a swamp to deter any Union forces from mounting a landward attack. Confederate forces also constructed a "hot shot" furnace for use against Union naval forces.
Fort Huger 2.jpg

The fort saw action on May 8, 1862 when the USS Galena, Port Royal, & Aroostook attacked both Fort Huger and Boykin. Fort Boykin caught the worst of the Federal fire however multiple guns from Huger were also put out of service before Union naval forces withdrew running short of ammunition. Later that day the USS Galena ran ashore but was later repaired.

A week later on the 16th of May the fort once again saw action dueling with the USS Monitor in which it sustained more damage. Following the engagement Confederate forces spiked the remaining guns and abandoned the fort. A few days later Union forces captured the abandoned fort but did not garrison it. However it was occupied from time to time later in the war as needed.

Fort Huger lay abandoned for well over 100 years until efforts were put fort by the community of Isle of Wight, Virginia to restore Fort Huger and preserve it as a historic site. In the mid 2000s various groups helped restore Fort Huger and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Today it is open to the public

Also be sure to check out all other "forgotten forts" in the Forgotten Forts Series Index (Link Below)


2nd Lieutenant
Nov 9, 2010
Chesapeake, VA
This is one of those local sites I have yet to visit...kind of embarassing as it's only an hour away... :redface:
Of the sites listed on the Historic Isle of Wight site, however, I have been to one; Boykin's Tavern.

M E Wolf

Retired Moderator
Feb 9, 2008
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 9 [S# 9]

Camp Raleigh, January 8, 1862.
Brig. Gen. HENRY A. WISE,
Commanding District of the Albemarle:
GENERAL: in compliance with your special order, I have the honor to submit the following report upon the defenses of this island, quantity of provisions and ammunition on hand, strength of this command, &c.

The defenses of Croatan Sound consist of four batteries, mounting in the aggregate thirty guns, all 32-pounders, as follows: At Weir's point (Fort Huger), ten smooth-bore and two rifled guns; at Fort Blanchard, four smooth-bore guns; at Pork point (Fort Bartow), six smooth-bore and one rifled gun; at Red Stone point (Fort Forrest), seven smoothbore guns. There is another battery on the Tyrrel side of Croatan Sound, at Roberts' Fishery, already completed, but no guns have been mounted, General hill having ordered a discontinuation of the work. Its capacity is six barbette guns. The two 32-pounders now lying on the beach at Weir's point will, agreeably to your orders, be mounted as soon as possible. Upon Roanoke Sound there is a small battery of two smooth-bore 32-pounders at Midgett's Hommock. The battery at Pork point ought by all means to be strengthened by the addition of two pivot mounted guns.

Orders have been given for the construction of bomb-proof quarters for the detachment at Fort Blanchard, but up to this time lumber ordered for that purpose has not been received. Quarters should be constructed in the immediate vicinity of Fort Huger for the accommodation of at least one of the companies by which the guns at that battery are manned. There ought also to be built at Fort Forrest quarters not only for the company already there, but for another company necessary at that fort. Most of the guns require sights; nearly all of them have nothing but the dispart sights, which I believe is very unreliable, especially in the hands of inexperienced gunners. I submit that it is very necessary that the most improved sights be obtained at once, and, if needful, an expert artisan sent at once to adjust them.

Of light artillery there are three pieces at this post, one 24-pounder howitzer, one 18-pounder Mexican piece, and one 6-pounder; the latter brought to this place from Elizabeth City, N. C. These pieces are all mounted on carriages, with limbers, but no caissons. For operations upon this island I am not sure that caissons are necessary.

Ammunition on hand.--Three hundred and eighty-seven charges for 32-pounder guns, 1,300 rounds shot, 250 rifle shell, 300 match primers, 83 rounds fixed ammunition (24-pounder howitzers), 1 box percussion wafers, 150 port-fires, 98 rounds 6-pounder shot (1,000 rounds obtained from Elizabeth City, N. C.), 250 pounds powder, 315 stand grape (32), 2,000 friction primers, 500 percussion primers, 150 junk wads, 400 gromet wads, 98 canister (6-pounder), 28 spherical-case shot, 10 slow matches.

Ammunition for small arms.--Fifty-two thousand one hundred and fifty-seven ball cartridges for percussion (16,578 ball cartridges issued), 17,183 ball cartridges for flint and steel, 3,320 balls, 150 pounds lead, 5,500 (about) percussion caps.

Quantity of provisions on hand.--Thirteen thousand six hundred and eighty-two pounds bacon and pork, 3,420 pounds beef, 598 pounds lard, 3,692 pounds rice, 649 pounds coffee, 1,570 pounds candles, 12½ bushels salt, 1 barrel fish, 20 barrels and 2,158 pounds hard bread, 265 barrels flour, 10,554 pounds meal, 54½ bushels pease and beans, 3,082 pounds sugar, 460 gallons vinegar, 1,348 pounds soap, 58 gallons whisky, 5 bushels yapon [a kind of wild tea].

Aggregate number of entire command 1,822
Four cooks allowed to each company 92
To be subsisted 1,914

Effective force, officers included, absent and sick being deducted, 1,435.

A call has been made for 250 free negroes for service in the engineer department. These will have to be subsisted, as will also the gang of 8 men on the pile-driver.

Horses, mules, and oxen in charge of quartermaster's department.--Nine officers' horses, 6 yoke of oxen hired by quartermasters of Eighth and Thirty-first Regiments, 2 pair mules, property of the Government. The mules and oxen are used for general purposes of land transportation.

Amount of forage on hand.--Seven hundred and twenty-five pounds fodder, 2½ bushels corn, 1¼ barrels oats.

Orders have been given for the construction of a magazine. No regular ordnance officer has been appointed. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel, Commanding.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 9 [S# 9]

Richmond, March 12, 1862.
Hon. J.P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of War:
SIR: The following report is respectfully submitted as a partial reply to the resolutions of Congress of the 24th February, calling for information, surveys, and reports connected with the defenses of Richmond: In ascending the James River the defenses consist of.
1st. Fort Boykin, Day's Neck.--Mounting ten guns; 42-pounders and 32-pounders, hot shot, &c.

2d. Fort Huger, Harden's Bluff.--Mounting thirteen guns; one 10-inch columbiad, pattern rifled, en barbette, four 9-inch Dahlgrens en barbette, two 8-inch columbiads en barbette, six hot-shot 32-pounders on ship carriages.

3d. Mulberry Island Point Battery.--Five 42-pounder guns en barbette, two 8-inch columbiads en route, fifteen casemates building rapidly, and large covering work nearly completed.

4th. Jamestown Island Batteries.--Thirteen guns; four 9-inch Dahlgrens, four 8-inch columbiads and two more en route, five hot-shot long 32s.

5th. Drewry's Bluff Battery, coupled with obstructions in the river, is being rapidly constructed, under the direction of Lieutenant Mason, of the Provisional Engineer Corps.

The first is completed, while the second and third are being rapidly and intelligently improved with bomb-proofs, &c., by Captain Clarke, of the Provisional Engineer Corps, who has a force of at least 1,000 hands.

From 20 to 30 miles below City Point there are two positions--Fort Powhatan and Kennon's marshes--which have been thoroughly examined by the ablest officers at the disposition of the department, and reported to be good locations for batteries. If they are placed at either of the above points obstacles should be constructed in connection with them. The final and intelligent selection of a site can consequently not be determined except by a thorough hydrographic survey.

In regard to the Richmond defenses, it was the opinion of General Leadbetter that the works around the city were rather near, but so much had been done at the time he took charge of them, that he directed me, on leaving for Tennessee, to carry out the plans adopted by the Engineer Department of Virginia. This I have sought to do with the means at my disposition, and a large proportion of the leading works are completed. Intermediate secondary breastworks could be thrown up with sufficient rapidity by the troops who are to defend the main works when there is occasion. Labor in that direction at present would seem to be injudicious. Most of the works are closed, and those which are not so can be rapidly protected. Directions have been given to drain the magazines thoroughly, and if necessary to construct new ones.

There are but few guns mounted on the works. A full armament for them would be exceedingly difficult to procure, and the propriety of concentrating so many pieces on a contracted local defense would seem at least doubtful.

The batteries on the Manchester hills are very nearly, if not entirely, constructed, and a force has been called out to repair and complete them. Drewry's Bluff, a most commanding point where the James River is narrowest, about 7 miles below Richmond, has been selected as the best point for a battery coupled with obstructions. In its immediate vicinity also is a strong commanding ridge on the line of approach from Petersburg to Richmond.

In regard to the line of the Chickahominy, I can as yet make no definite report, although an officer is on duty in its examination. The recent calls for engineers by General Johnston and others have left me but limited professional resources. I have heard, however, that Colonel Talcott, Chief of the Virginia Engineer Corps, examined this line, but did not think very favorably of it. It may, however, be possible to erect, in a reasonable time, a series of dams, with properly-constructed covering works, which would add greatly to the strength of the Richmond defenses on the north. As soon as the surveys are completed a full report will be promptly made.

The James River defenses, which are rapidly improving, afford already a good protection against wooden fleets, but not against ironclad vessels. From recent developments it is evident that nothing but the very heaviest ordnance, and that in connection with obstructions and perhaps torpedoes, can contend successfully with this latter class. It is to such means we are resorting on the James River. In positions similar to those of Fort Huger, Yorktown, and Mulberry Island Point the only course left to pursue seems to be to mount the guns on the bluffs, where they are not liable to be struck, or in well-constructed casemates, to contend with wooden ships, keeping sand bags ready filled to protect them against iron-clad vessels. This class is so excessively expensive and confined as to be ill-adapted to the transportation of troops in large numbers. The effect, however, of passing our lower batteries by preventing the safe navigation of our rivers above them will probably be to force us at no distant day to rely in great measure on land transportation.

A mistaken impression my part that this report was called for on the termination of the surveys has led to this delay, for which it is the only excuse.
With great respect, your obedient servant,
Acting Chief Engineer Bureau.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 9 [S# 9]
Roanoke Island, February 10, 1862.
The names of the forts and batteries captured on this island in the action of the 8th of February are hereby changed as follows:
I. Fort Huger, at the head of the Island, to Fort Reno.
II. Fort Blanchard to Fort Parke.
III. Fort Bartow to Fort Foster.
IV. The inland battery is named and will be called Battery Russell.
V. The battery on Shallow Bag Bay is named and will be called Battery De Monteil.
By command of Brig. Gen. A. E. Burnside:
Assistant Adjutant-General.

M E Wolf

Retired Moderator
Feb 9, 2008
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 9 [S# 9]
FEBRUARY 8, 1862.--Battle of Roanoke Island, N. C.
No. 33. -- Report of the Investigating Committee Confederate House of Representatives.

The committee, to whom was referred a resolution of the House of Representatives, instructing them to "inquire and report the causes and circumstances of the capitulation of Roanoke Island," have had the same under consideration, and have given all the facts and circumstances connected with the defenses of the said island and its adjacent waters and of the capitulation on February 8, a most elaborate investigation.

The committee find that on August 21, 1861, Brigadier-General Gatlin was ordered to the command of the Department of North Carolina and the coast defenses of that State. On September 29 Brig. Gen. D. H. Hill was assigned to duty in North Carolina, and charged with the defenses of that portion of said State lying between Albemarle Sound and the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound, including those waters, and was directed to report to Brigadier-General Gatlin. On November 16 Brig. Gen. L. O'B. Branch was directed to relieve Brigadier-General Hill in command of his district in North Carolina. On December 21 that part of North Carolina east of the Chowan River, together with the counties of Washington and Tyrrel, was, at the request of the proper authorities of North Carolina, separated from the remainder and constituted into a military district, under Brig. Gen. H. A. Wise, and attached to the command of Major-General Huger, commanding the Department of Norfolk. At the time, therefore, of the surrender of Roanoke Island, on February 8. 1862, it was within the military district of Brigadier-General Wise, and attached to the command of Major-General Huger.

The military defenses of Roanoke Island and its adjacent waters, on the said February 8, 1862, consisted of Fort Bartow, the most southern of the defenses on the west side of the island--a sand fort, well covered with turf, having six long 32-pounder guns in embrasure and three 32-pounders en barbette. The next is Fort Blanchard, on the same side of the island, about 2½ miles from Fort Bartow--a semicircular sand fort, turfed, and mounting four 32-pounders en barbette. Next, on the same side and about 1,200 yards from Fort Blanchard, is Fort Huger. This is a turfed sand fort, running along the line of the beach, and closed in the rear by a low breastwork, with a banquette for infantry. It contained eight 32-pounder guns in embrasure, two rifled 32-pounders en barbette, and two small 32 pounders en barbette on the right About 3 miles below Fort Bartow, on the east side of the island, was a battery of two 32-pounder guns en barbette, at a point known as Midgett's Hommock. In the center of the island, about 2 miles from Fort Bartow and a mile from Midgett's Hommock, was a redoubt, or breastwork, thrown across the road, about 70 or 80 feet long, with embrasures for three guns, on the right of which was a swamp, on the left a marsh, the redoubt reaching nearly between them and facing to the south. On the Tyrrel side, on the main-land, nearly opposite to Fort Huger, was Fort Forrest, mounting seven 32-pounders.

In addition to these defenses on the shore and on the island there was a barrier of piles, extending from the east side of Fulker Shoals toward the island. Its object was to compel vessels passing on the west of the island to approach within reach of the shore batteries, but up to February 8 there was a span of 1,700 yards open opposite to Fort Bartow. Some vessels had been sunk and piles driven on the west side of Fulker Shoals, to obstruct the channel between that shoal and the main-land, which comprise all the defenses either upon the land or in the waters adjacent.

The entire military force stationed upon the island prior to and at the time of the late engagement consisted of the Eighth Regiment of North Carolina State troops, under the command of Col. H. M. Shaw; the Thirty-first Regiment of North Carolina Volunteers, under the command of Col. J. V. Jordan, and three companies of the Seventeenth North Carolina troops, under the command of Maj. G. H. Hill. After manning the several forts on February 7 there were but 1,024 men left, and 200 of them were upon the sick list.

On the evening of February 7 Brigadier-General Wise sent from Nag's Head, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson, a re-enforcement numbering some 450 men. This does not include the commands of Lieutenant-Colonel Green and Major Fry, both of whom marched to the scene of action after the battle was closed. The committee do not think there was any intentional delay in the landing of the commands of Colonel Green and Major Fry. The former (Colonel Green) exhibited great anxiety to get into the fight when he did land, and acted with great gallantry in the skirmish he did have with the enemy in the vicinity of the camp--the whole under the command of Brigadier-General Wise, who, upon February 7 and 8, was at Nag's Head, 4 miles distant from the island, confined to a sick bed, and entirely disabled from participating in the action in person. The immediate command,therefore, devolved upon Col. H. M. Shaw, the senior officer present.

On February 6 it was discovered by the companies on picket duty on the south end of the island that the enemy's fleet was in Pamlico Sound, south of Roanoke Island, and apparently intending to attack the forces upon the island. Colonel Shaw immediately communicated the fact to Brigadier-General Wise, and issued orders for the disposition of his troops preparatory to an engagement. The points at which it was supposed the enemy would attempt to land troops were Ashby's and Pugh's Landings. Ashby's is situated on the west side of the island, shoot 2 miles south of Fort Bartow; and Pugh's on the same side, about 2 miles south of Ashby's.

On the night of the 6th, or early in the morning of the 7th, a detachment, with one piece of artillery, was sent to Pugh's Landing, and one with two pieces of artillery was sent to Ashby's, and the remainder of the forces were stationed in the immediate vicinity of Ashby's.

On the morning of the 7th the enemy's fleet passed by both of the landings and proceeded toward Fort Bartow, and the detachment of infantry stationed at Pugh's immediately fell back to the vicinity of Ashby's Landing and joined the detachments there, all under command of Col. J. V. Jordan.

[extensive excerpt]
The committee, from the testimony, are therefore constrained to report, that whatever of blame and responsibility is justly attributable to any one for the defeat of our troops at Roanoke Island on February 8, 1862, should attach to Maj. Gen. B. Huger and the late Secretary of War, J.P. Benjamin.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 14 [S# 14]

Richmond, Va., March 18, 1862.
Maj. Gen. B. HUGER,
Commanding, &c., Norfolk, Va.:
GENERAL: It has been represented to me that the work at Harden's Bluff, Fort Huger, is not in good defensive condition. The items of fault are reported to be as follows:
1. Want of proper traverses.
2. Want of bomb proofs.
3. Existence of wooden buildings inside the work.
4. The six 32-pounders for hot shot are not on barbette carriages and there are no guns mounted for land defense.
5. The woods are left standing close to the work on the outside.
6. The men have not been drilled at their guns for some time past.
7. A want of harmony and zealous co-operation among some of the officers, resulting front questions of rank (it is said Captain de Lagnel, who was sent to command the battery of heavy guns, is junior to the captain of one of the companies serving at the battery, and that this is one cause of trouble; and that Colonel Archer and Captain de Lagnel do not accord entirely.
Captain Rives, in charge of the engineer office here, reports in regard to the items of complaint as follows:
1. Traverses are in progress of construction.
2. Bomb proofs are being made as rapidly as possible.
3. [Blank in original--Ed.]
4. The six 32-pounders have not been mounted en barbette because he has not been able to procure the carriages, and for the same reason no guns have been placed for the land defense. He thinks, however, that he can procure at least two barbette carriages on which to mount a like number of guns looking to the land, and will send them to Fort Huger at once, with as many more as can be obtained, and will do the same in regard to the other carriages and guns so soon as they can be procured.
5. The engineer in charge of Fort Huger has long since been instructed to have the woods felled. A want of axes may have prevented the execution of the order. He will, however, be directed to have this work done at once to the extent of his means.
I have stated both sides of the question as presented to me. You will know what importance to attach to the several complaints. I think the wooden buildings in the fort, if that cause of complaint be real, should be removed as soon as practicable. If they are used as quarters, cannot tents be substituted for them? If for store-houses, some portions of the bomb proofs might be arranged to supply their places, which latter I am told is being done.

The clearing of the woods near the battery is of course necessary, and I am surprised that the commanding officer of the fort has not had this done by the troops. If the engineer force has more important work to do, axes sufficient could probably be procured from the neighbors, if they cannot be supplied in any other way.

The drill has probably been interrupted by the change in the guns, but should be resumed.

The last item of complaint, "Want of harmony among the officers," is the most important. The senior officer present should command all, but the immediate command of the guns and the men serving them should be with Captain de Lagnel, as he was assigned to his present position because of his supposed capabilities as an artillery officer. This is not a time to squabble about rank; every one must work, and do what he can to promote the cause. To save time I have assumed the statements made to me to be true, which is most likely not the case; and my suggestions on this supposition are intended mainly as explanatory.

You can best determine whether the faults referred to are so and provide the remedy, and you are desired to give the subject your earliest attention.

I am, &c.,
R. E. LEE,
General, Commanding.

M E Wolf

Retired Moderator
Feb 9, 2008
APRIL 11-MAY 4, 1863.--Siege of Suffolk, Va.
No. 2.--Abstract from " Record of Events" in Department of Virginia, April 11-May 4.(*)

April 11.--The enemy advanced upon Suffolk, Va., from Blackwater, drove in our pickets, capturing the outpost of cavalry on South Quay road, and was not checked until within artillery range, when he was driven back.
April 12--He advanced on the Somerton road, but was repulsed, retiring hastily, and our infantry pickets were posted on the original lines.
April 13.--The enemy concentrated along the Nansemond, erected heavy batteries, and succeeded in blockading the river; he failed in all his attempts to effect a crossing. The gunboats and our batteries were almost incessantly engaged and several times silenced the enemy's batteries.

April 19.--The enemy opened on the gunboats from Fort Huger. A plan was immediately agreed upon by General Getty and Lieutenant Lamson, U.S. Navy, to cross the river and attack the fort. The gunboats and batteries opened upon it impetuously. In the mean time a detachment from the Eighty-ninth New York Volunteers and from the Eighth Connecticut crossed on the gunboat Stepping Stones and stormed the fort, and were highly successful, capturing five pieces of artillery, two 20-pounder Parrotts and three 12-pounder howitzers; also 129 prisoners, including 9 officers.

April 20.--Major Stratton, Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, visited Elizabeth City, N.C., and found it abandoned by our forces.
April 27.--A reconnaissance in force was made upon the enemy's right flank on the Edenton road, also on the Somerton, and after some skirmishing the enemy was driven from his rifle-pits back upon his main line. Two transports ran the blockade under the volunteer pilotage of Lieutenants Rowe and Horton, Ninety-ninth New York Volunteers. Many shots were fired by the enemy, but little damage was done to the steamers.
April 28, 29, and 30.--Skirmishing on the river between our gunboats and the enemy.
The following re-enforcements arrived during the month:
April 12.--Ninth New York Volunteers, assigned to Getty's division.
April 14.--Nineteenth Wisconsin Volunteers, assigned to Getty's division (transferred April 28.
April 16 and 17.--Two brigades assigned to Abercrombie's division, consisting of eight regiments; one regiment transferred to General Corcoran's division.
[end of excerpt]

M. E. Wolf


2nd Lieutenant
Nov 9, 2010
Chesapeake, VA
M.E. Wolf-- Your ORs point to one of those awkward points in history; same name for different things. There were two Confederate Fort Hugers, one on Roanoke Island, NC, and one on the James River, VA. Gets kind of confusing when researching actions, similar to having two units with the same designation.

M E Wolf

Retired Moderator
Feb 9, 2008
M.E. Wolf-- Your ORs point to one of those awkward points in history; same name for different things. There were two Confederate Fort Hugers, one on Roanoke Island, NC, and one on the James River, VA. Gets kind of confusing when researching actions, similar to having two units with the same designation.


Makes it hard on researchers. When I can't tell--I don't post.

M. E. Wolf