150 years ago – the Union Navy engaged in its first real action of the war – just up the road aways from The Mariners’ Museum – at Gloucester Point. The Virginia forces who held the Point weren’t yet part of the Confederate Army. They were volunteers – the Richmond Howitzers, and they arrived at the Point early on May 7, 1861.
Now here’s where some of our connections come in. The Union Navy had received reports that there were fortifications at the Point, but they needed to make sure – so the gunboat Yankee was sent up the York River to investigate.The commander of the Union gunboat USS Yankee was Lieutenant Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr. He had assisted in the burning of Gosport Navy Yard – and had helped get the USS Cumberland away before she could be destroyed.
The Richmond boys did indeed have fortifications – and they fired at the Yankee. These were the first shots on Virginia soil of a war that would devastate the Old Dominion with 60 % of battles being fought in Virginia. The gunboat fired back – with the final tally showing that the Richmond Howitzers fired 12 or 13 shots (depending on which one you talked to) and the Yankee, six. There was no significant damage to either side.
Later – Selfridge would find himself back on the Cumberland, watching in horror as the CSS Virginia bore down relentlessly upon the sloop of war. He would survive that attack, and then briefly command the USS Monitor.
But I’m getting ahead of myself……