150 Years Ago Today: Actions at Four-Mile Creek and Dutch Gap: August 13, 1864

   

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August 13, 1864: Gnats at Four-Mile Creek and a Long Range Fight at Dutch Gap

One hundred and fifty years ago today, on August 13, 1864, two actions occurred near each other in the James River, one at Four-Mile Creek and the other at Dutch Gap. The Four-Mile Creek fight was a minor affair between two Union warships, the Agawam, and later, the Hunchback, versus three Confederate batteries on and west of the creek.  The Dutch Gap fight, however, featured heavyweights on either side in the form of the Confederate ironclads Richmond, Virginia II, and Fredericksburg and the Union double turreted monitor Onondaga.  The Confederates steamed into range of the Dutch Gap canal Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James was constructing to bypass the Confederate battery at Trent’s Reach.  They shelled the Union land forces for 12 hours, doing little damage and taking even less, as almost all of the firing done on both sides was at extreme range.

ActionsFourMileCreekDutchGapAugust131864

 

Action at Four-Mile Creek

The Action at Four-Mile Creek on August 13, 1864 was contested between the Union gunboats Agawam and Hunchback and three Confederate batteries on and west of Four-Mile Creek, just north of the James east of Deep Bottom.  The action lasted from shortly after 2 p. m. until dark, when all firing ceased.

ORAtlasPlate065Map6 Sketch of Defensive Works at Deep Bottom, Va.

Three Confederate batteries along the James River opened fire on the USS Agawam “shortly after 2 p. m.”  One battery, visible to the Agawam, was posted “at Four-Mile Creek” and consisted of light rifled pieces, “partly covered by houses, but in sight from the forward deck.” Two others, “westward of the creek”, were not visible to the ship from the river.  Commander Rhind of the Agawam thought these other batteries probably consisted of heavy guns or mortars.

USSAgawamJamesRiverJuly1864

 

USS AGAWAM IN THE JAMES RIVER 1864

The Agawam engaged these Rebel batteries until 6:30 p. m., when she ran low on ammunition.  At that point, she dropped down river to order up Hunchback, which fired a few shells at sunset, when the action ended.1 Before her ammunition was nearly exhausted, the Agawam expended 228 rounds against the Confederate batteries, about 54 rounds per hour in the 4.25 or so hours she was engaged. Acting Rear Admiral Lee later commended Commander Rhind of the Agawam along with his crew for their “gallantry and endurance” during the action of the 13th.2

Unfortunately I do not have any information on the Confederate side of this affair.  If you have sources which might help, please feel free to comment below.

 

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Action at Dutch Gap

The action at Dutch Gap occurred as a result of one of Benjamin Butler’s many schemes.  In this case, I’m referring to his attempt to bypass a portion of the James River, then commanded by Confederate Battery Dantzler at the Howlett House at Trent’s Reach, by digging a canal at Dutch Gap. Confederate naval forces sallied forth on August 13, 1864 in an effort to disrupt this operation. They shelled the Union forces at Dutch Gap for 12 hours and caused about 30 Union casualties in killed in wounded at a return cost of a few hits to the Confederate ironclad Fredericksburg and no casualties.

The Confederates utilized both land and naval forces in their attack against Dutch Gap. Two of the ironclads of the James River Squadron under Flag Officer John K. Mitchell, the Virginia II and the Fredericksburg, positioned themselves from ¾ to 1 mile northwest of Dutch Gap and shelled the Union land forces and laborers from extreme range. The third ironclad, Richmond proceeded to Cox’s Reach to shell the Gap in conjunction with three wooden gunboats, the Hampton, Nansemond, and Drewry. Confederate artillery on land added the weight of its metal to the action, with the Rockbridge VA Artillery3 firing from Signal Hill northeast of Dutch Gap and Battery Dantzler at the Howlett House joining in from the west.

DutchGapAugust131864

 

The Union navy responded with an opposing force consisting of the “land forces and laborers employed at Dutch Gap”, the steamers Mackinaw and Delaware, later aided by the monitor Saugus, stationed at the “James River barrier” (i.e. the obstruction in the James River meant to prevent excursions by the Confederate ironclads downstream, another of Butler’s pet projects), and the powerful double turreted monitor USS Onondaga. The Mackinaw and Delaware were “stationed to command Cox’s Reach and also sweep Cox’s farm” in case two divisions of Confederate infantry rumored to be nearby swept down on Dutch Gap from that direction (i.e. northeast of Dutch Gap from the direction of New Market Heights).  Onondaga fired just one round against the Confederate ironclads Fredericksburg and Virginia II, at which point, the distance being too great and the effort not worth the potential gains, she ceased firing.

USSOnondagaJamesRiver6465

During the course of the day, Battery Dantzler was silenced by “the army battery”, a unit for which I could not find an identity. I’m not sure if this was a fixed battery in Butler’s lines on Bermuda Hundred or some other unit. Three of the Union naval vessels,  the Mackinaw, Delaware, and the late-arriving monitor Saugus, shelled the Confederate ships without being able to see much of anything until dark, with little success. They inflicted no casualties but hit the Fredericksburg three times, and damaged her smoke stack.4

This minor naval engagement must have been quite a sight to behold, but it produced no lasting results.  Butler’s men at Dutch Gap suffered 30 killed and wounded, the Fredericksburg suffered minor smokestack damage, and the Confederates suffered zero casualties.  Butler’s Dutch Gap Canal was a failure during the war, but like Grant’s Canal at Vicksburg, it worked in the postwar years.

 

Conclusion

August 13, 1864, was a busy day for the Union and Confederate navies on a short stretch of the James River from Dutch Gap to Deep Bottom. The Union and Confederate navies were supporting their respective armies any way they could.  Attention would soon shift to land, as Winfield Scott Hancock took the Union Second Corps and Tenth Corps on the Second Deep Bottom expedition from August 13-20, 1864.  He would grapple with Confederate forces under division commander Charles Field southeast of Richmond in the coming week, sometimes called “the Second Seven Days.”

Sources:

  1. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, p. 348
  2. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, pp. 349350
  3. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, p. 352
  4. Tucker, Spencer C. and William E. White. The Civil War Naval Encyclopedia, Volume 1, pp. 165167

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