150 Years Ago Today: Action Near Wilcox’s Landing: August 3, 1864

   

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August 3, 1864: U. S. S. Miami Engages a Confederate Battery at Wilcox’s Landing

One hundred and fifty years ago today, on August 3, 1864, a “six gun battery” of Confederate artillery, probably Charles W. Fry’s Richmond Orange Virginia Artillery,  which had been firing on army transports in the James River, was attacked and driven away by the U. S. S. Miami.  The Naval Official Records, Volume X, has some information on this action.

General Benjamin Butler precipitated the fight when he sent a message downriver to Commander J. M. B. Clitz, commanding the U. S. S. Osceola, to send a gunboat to take care of this Rebel battery1:

There is a rebel battery at Wilcox’s Wharf firing on transports. Will you please send a gunboat down?

USSMiamiJamesRiver

Commander Clitz received the telegram from Butler, acted on Butler’s instructions, and passed the message on to Captain Melancton Smith, commander of the naval vessels in the area, with a report of what happened as a result2:

Report of Commander Clitz, U. S. Navy, transmitting request of Major-General Butler, U. S. Army.

U. S. S. Osceola,
Off City Point, James River, August 3, 1864.

Sir: I enclose you a telegram from Major-General Butler, U. S. Army. I got at once underway with this vessel under my command, and when a short distance below Light-House [Jordan’s?] Point met the U. S. S. Miami, and gave her commanding officer orders to proceed to the point referred to and to remain there as long as it is necessary; also to communicate with the commanding officers of the U. S. steamers Dawn and Young America, and direct them to take their stations off that place and aid our transports, should they be again attacked.

The commanding officer of the Miami informs me that he had quite a smart action with the battery referred to, lasting about an hour and a half, when he finally drove the enemy off. She (the Miami) lost 1 man killed and 1 wounded.

I did not go with this vessel, as it is not prudent to run her except in cases of necessity.

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

J. M. B. Clitz,
Commander, U. S. Navy.

Melancton Smith,
Captain and Divisional Officer,
Commanding U. S. Ironclad Onondaga, James River.

Acing Lieutenant G. W. Graves, commander of the Miami during this engagement, was also able to provide a report to Captain Smith as well as the casualties which resulted from the fight3:

[Enclosure No. 2.]

U. S. S. Miami,
James River, August 3, 1864.

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following report of my engagement with a rebel battery this p. m.:

At 3:30 p. m., while passing up the river, I heard firing above me on the starboard hand. Upon turning the bend I discovered a battery stationed at Wilcox’s Landing, firing upon some unarmed transports which were passing down. I immediately went to quarters and proceeded to the place of action as fast as the disabled state of my machinery would permit. I engaged the battery at about 1,200 yards distance. After about an hour’s sharp firing, I succeeded in dislodging the enemy and drove them off. I then shelled the banks above and below the position for a short time, and proceeded up the river until I met the U. S. S. Osceola, Commander Clitz, who ordered me to return and remain for the night. The battery consisted of six 12-pounders, two of them Whitworth rifles, projectiles from which struck us several times, inflicting some damage, killing 1 man and wounding 1. I enclose reports of casualties, ammunition expended, etc.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

G. W. Graves.
Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, Commanding.

Captain M. Smith, U. S. Navy,
Divisional Commander, James River.

[Subenclosures.]

U. S. S. Miami,
James River, Virginia, August 3, 1864.

Sir: I have the honor to report the following casualties in the engagement with the rebel battery near Wilcox’s Landing:

Killed.—Mathew Callahan, marine.

Wounded.—Michael J.Donnelly, coal heaver; sustaining slight injury, with loss of middle finger of right hand; William H. H. Davis, coal heaver; slight splinter wound of hand.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

G. H. Marvin,
Acting Assistant Surgeon, U. S. Navy, U. S. S. Miami.

G. W. Graves,
Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, Commanding U. S. S. Miami.

Although Captain Graves and his men aboard the Miami were able to drive away the Confederate battery, judging by the damage the ship incurred that day the fighting was not entirely one-sided.  Carpenter’s Mate Henry S. Buckles reported on this damage to Graves the next day4:

SIR: I respectfully submit the following report of damage received by this vessel in hull, etc., during the engagement with a rebel battery posted on the bluffs at Wilcox’s Landing, James River, on afternoon of 3rd instant.

One shell passed through port bends just abaft paddle wheel, tearing away waterways, engine room hatchway, and division arms chest and steering gear. One shell passed through the starboard after covering board, bursting, tearing out two outside planks for several feet. The ship made considerable water during the action.

Acting Master and XO William N. Welles gives the ammunition expended during the fight as follows5:

  • 5-second IX-inch shell 5
  • 10-seeond IX-inch shell 13
  • 15-second IX-inch shell 23
  • Solid IX-inch shot 2
  • Stand IX-inch grape 1
  • Shrapnel, IX-inch, Bormann fuze 12
  • Can canister, 24-pounder howitzer (fixed ammunition) 1
  • Percussion shell, 6-inch Parrott, 100-pouneler rifle 7
  • 20-second shell, 6-inch Parrott 4
  • 10-second shell, 6-inch Parrott 1
  • Solid shot, 6-inch Parrott 1
  • 13 pound cartridge, IX-inch Dahlgren gun 2
  • 10-pound cartridge, IX-inch Dahlgren gun 54
  • 10-pound cartridge, 6-inch Parrott 100-pounder rifle 16

As I mentioned in the lead to this short article, I suspect the Confederate artillery the Miami was facing was Charles W. Fry’s Richmond Orange Virginia Artillery. Louis Manarin’s book Henrico County Field of Honor Volume II has the following passage which describes exactly the type of activity I was looking for6:

Captain Charles W. Fry’s Orange (VA) Battery was “down the river” firing on passing vessels, but by August 5 it returned to New Market Heights…

This action was the first attempt of the U.S. Navy on August 3-4, 1864 to drive off enemy batteries firing on Union army transports.  The second, which occurred near Harrison’s Landing the next day, involved the Miami and another ship, the Osceola, again probably facing the Orange Artillery.  But more on that tomorrow…

***

Notes:

  1. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, p. 329
  2. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, p. 329
  3. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, pp. 331332
  4. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, p. 332
  5. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, p. 333
  6. Manarin, Louis H. Henrico County Field of Honor Volume II. Richmond: Carter Printing Company, 2007, p. 449

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