At Richmond, canals along the James supplied the Tredegar ironworks and Virginia State Armory, enabling manufacture of munitions crucial for Confederate forces. Tredegar-made sheathing also covered the ironclad CSS Virginia , which helped change naval warfare forever. Subsequently, Tredegar provided iron for Confederate shipyards at Rocketts Landing and across the river at Manchester, aiding construction of several major ironclads. Richmond was also base for these vessels serving in Virginia's James River Squadron. Upriver, amid the falls, was Belle Isle Prison, which held thousands of captured Union soldiers in an overcrowded tent city. On the north shore, Libby Prison housed captured Union officers.
The river below Drewry's Bluff saw exchanges between the James River Squadron and Union artillery emplacements, as well as the January 23–24, 1865, Battle of Trent's Reach. Seeking to interdict the flow of Union supplies to Petersburg, ships including the ironclads CSS Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Virginia II moved down river only to be defeated by Union batteries and warships.
The James River flows west to east, like all the major rivers in central Virginia, and thus it served as an obstruction to the southward movement of Union land forces during the war. But it was also used by Union navy and infantry as an avenue of attack, which repeatedly need to be defended by Confederate forces. Those forces could not, however, halt Union use of facilities at City Point that helped provide the vast array of stores and numbers of troops that ultimately underpinned Union victory in Virginia.
May 15, 1862 - A force of Confederate soldiers, sailors, and marines at Fort Darling fight a Union naval flotilla at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff. The USS Monitor cannot elevate its guns sufficiently high to fire on Confederate emplacements, while the USS Galena takes heavy punishment. The Union ships turn back.
July 23, 1863 - Commander John M. Brooke approves regulations for the Confederate Naval Academy. By November, midshipmen are training aboard the CSS Patrick Henry near Drewry's Bluff on the James River.
May 16–17, 1864 - Forces under Confederate general Pierre G. T. Beauregard turn back an attempt by divisions of Union general Benjamin F. Butler's Army of the James to capture Fort Darling on the James River.
January 23–24, 1865 - At the Battle of Trent's Reach, Union artillery and naval units heavily rebuff ships of the Confederate James River Squadron after several vessels run aground, including the ironclads CSS Richmond and Virginia II.
- Civil War, American (1861–1865)
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
McFarland, K. M. The James River During the Civil War. (2012, February 22). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/James_River_During_the_Civil_War.
- MLA Citation:
McFarland, Kenneth M. "The James River During the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 22 Feb. 2012. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: November 24, 2009 | Last modified: February 22, 2012