The Civil War Connections Blog

The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff

Howdy friends, and welcome to another posting on the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: during a visit to Dublin in May of 2008, I completely bypassed the 2-hour-long line for admission to the Guinness Brewery by registering online the night before at no extra cost! You should all do the same if the situation presents itself!

'Cause I've got a gooooolden tiiiiii-cketttttt...


As the sesquicentennial of the Peninsula Campaign continues to unfold, historical events like the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff each get their turn in the limelight. What was the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, you may ask? Well worry not, my friends, I am about to discuss it! Drewry’s Bluff was a naval battle between a Confederate fort on the James River and a small Union fleet of about 5 ships (including the USS Monitor!) that took place on May 15th 1862. The battle is also known as the Battle of Fort Darling, since that was the name of the Confederate fort. The Union fleet tried to defeat the fort and bypass it, so that the Union navy could land troops as close to Richmond as possible, while the Confederates tried to stop all that from happening.

Do Not Pass GO. Do Not Collect $200.


Before continuing, it is worth mentioning that the CSS Virginia, being unable to retreat in the face of the Union’s advance during the Peninsula Campaign, was sadly scuttled by her own crew just six days before the battle so that the Union would not capture her. And where did her crew go afterwards, you may ask? Why, into fort Darling! One can only imagine their annoyance at seeing their old rival USS Monitor steaming up the James with another ironclad, the USS Galena, and three small wooden gunboats. The USS Galena, though an ironclad, was not of the same pattern as the USS Monitor, and looked a lot more like a conventional ship than the USS Monitor did. However, this difference carried some problems: the USS Galena did not have nearly as much armor as the USS Monitor. This would be a critical issue once the Union ships got within range of Fort Darling.

It's not important that we don't have as much armor, right guys? ... uh... guys? Hello?


As the Union fleet, lead by the USS Galena, got within range of the fort at about 7:15 am, the fort’s three large guns opened fire. The USS Galena was hit hard, but stood her ground, and for the next four hours, traded shots with the fort. The USS Galena’s armor plating was only about two inches thick, so Confederate shells went right on through. The USS Monitor tried to take some of the pressure off of the USS Galena, but her turret would not allow the USS Monitor’s guns to elevate enough to hit the fort. Luckily, her armor was thick enough to deflect all the Confederate shots. The USS Galena was not so fortunate, and by the end of the battle her decks were described by a visitor as being “like a slaughterhouse.” (article HERE.) Having used all her ammunition, and having received a serious amount of damage, the USS Galena disengaged around 11:30 am, and the Union withdrew.

Well, that didn't pan out


The USS Galena had lost 27 men in the fight, over half of them dead. These casualties comprised much of the gun crew, meaning most of her guns were now inoperable. Fort Darling, on the other hand, only lost 15 men, under half of them dead, and only one of its three guns was put out of action: the other two worked just fine. Also, there were six guns outside the fort in some trenches that had assisted Fort Darling during the engagement, and only one of them had been put out of action. This presented a huge problem for the Union. Since their wooden gunboats were weak and couldn’t really fight the fort at all, the USS Monitor couldn’t hit the fort with its guns, and the USS Galena had been crippled and was now out of ammo, the Union could not continue their advance up the James. They had to turn back and try to reach Richmond by some other route. Unfortunately for the Union, their forces on the Peninsula were lead by General McClellan, who was not a very good general. Perhaps we can talk about him next time! See ya later!