The Civil War Connections Blog

Appomattox River Raid Pt. 1

Hello again readers, and welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: the hottest I’ve ever been is at the 150th Battle of 1st Manassas. Not only was the heat around 104, but the humidity was extremely high – this meant the heat index was up around 120. It was a VERY bad day for reenacting, especially since the real battle of 1st Manassas was only in the 80’s. Although saintly volunteers constantly passed out large amounts of ice and water, it was not enough to make up for the awful, awful heat.

Sadly, this is not an acceptable action for Civil War reenactors during a reenactment.


As some of you might remember from my posting on the 15th, the Confederates were hatching a plan to drive the Union out of the Richmond area. The Union army there, commanded by General McClellan, had no plan. As of June 22 1862, McClellan STILL had no plan. President Lincoln, however, had grown tired of waiting for McClellan – he wanted the railroad supply line between Petersburg and Richmond cut, which would severely hinder both the Confederate forces in Richmond and the city itself. The railroad crossed the Appomattox River, a tributary to the James River, on a bridge. If ships could get in range of it, they could destroy it with gunfire.

Here, you can see just what the Union navy had to deal with.


On June 19 Lincoln had sent word to the Union naval forces waiting in Hampton Roads that the bridge should be destroyed if possible. The navy had already done a generic reconnaissance of the area, and concluded that the defenses on the Appomattox were too strong to get through: cannon emplacements, sunken river obstructions, shallow water levels during low tide, and the possibility of being swarmed by Confederate troops hiding on the embankments all conspired to prevent the passage of the Union navy. If only they had some way of bypassing these obstacles to get at the railroad…

My time to shine!


Luckily for the Union, they had a secret weapon: the submarine USS Alligator! 150 years ago today, the USS Alligator was approaching the Hampton Roads area, and Union naval officers were trying to fine tune a plan for using the submarine to strike at the bridge. The officers were not hopeful – they felt that for a conventional navy, the obstacles were too great to overcome. Nevertheless, with a submarine like the USS Alligator at their disposal, perhaps it was possible. The submarine could use explosives to destroy the river obstructions, sneak past Confederate forts and batteries at night, and maybe even land a team of sappers to blow the bridge manually. A lot rested on chance, but if it meant the severing of Confederate supplies to Richmond, it had to be tried.

Sometimes you just have to roll the dice…


Well, that’s all for today, folks – come back next time and I’ll tell you about how the raid went, and if McClellan even decided to attack Richmond. Have a good one!