Naval Brigade



{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

robert wall April 23, 2012 at 4:19 pm

My grandfather was in 13 th NYHA Co.L of the Naval Brigade while attached to the Army of the James. I would like to learn more about their involvement if any one has any information on this suject

bschulte April 25, 2012 at 8:38 am


This is an interesting request. I have wondered the exact same thing. In all the books on the Siege of Petersburg I have read there is very little mention of the Naval Brigade’s activities. If anyone reading these comments knows of any good sources please send us in that direction. I’ll also keep an eye out in my reading and I’ll mark this as a topic for future exploration. Who knows, maybe a few articles will result here.


vbegg January 16, 2013 at 10:01 pm

My great-grandfather was in the 13th NY Heavy Artillery, Company I from September 1863 til mustering out with the unit June 28, 1865. I have slowly assembled bits and pieces of info about their service but have not found a complete account of the Naval Brigade. He was on the US Army gunboat Foster and we have his widow’s pension papers.

If you keep searching Google and period newspaper sources, you can come up with quite a lot of info. The Naval Brigade won plaudits during the war–but no book that I have found.

bschulte January 17, 2013 at 10:48 am


Thanks for commenting. If you’d care to share any of your research or even point me in the right direction regarding sources I’d be happy to start looking into this group. It’s one of the untold stories I’d like to start exposing to the larger Civil War community.


vbegg January 22, 2013 at 5:26 pm

I wish I could point you to one or more good sources. My research, as noted above, is one small piece at a time and I am not yet at the point of writing. It has been like hen’s teeth. I search in primary sources like newspapers online, free and subscription sites, and in secondary sources I note in bibliographies. If there is a book or article about the Naval Brigade in the siege of Petersburg, I haven’t found it–but the literature is vast so who knows?

In brief–and forgive me if you know this already–the Naval Brigade was recruited in New York state, especially New York City, in 1863 after the success of the Burnside Expedition in 1862. It was formed from several companies of the 13th New York Heavy Artillery and they particularly sought out men with seafaring experience. It was an army unit, not navy, despite the name. The companies were I, K, L, and M.

Four gunboats were especially built in Brooklyn for the Naval Brigade–the Burnside, Foster, Reno, and Parke. They were designed by Norman Wiard and each was named after a general in the Burnside Expedition. My great-grandfather, James Quinlan, served on the Foster. His widow’s pension papers say he mustered in as a private but was rated as a seaman.

The shallow-draft gunboats were intended to patrol the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina and to penetrate the interior of those states by river and stream where larger ships could not go. In that, they were very successful and surprised the enemy in unexpected places.

The Naval Brigade was part of the assault on Fort Fisher which guarded the Cape Fear River and the entrance to the Confederates’ last open port, Wilmington NC. There were two battles several weeks apart before the fort was taken. The gunboats, no doubt using their launches, landed troops thru crashing surf in the dead of winter.

From both family oral history and the pension papers, I know that James Quinlan was part of the siege of Petersburg. The pension papers include testimony from fellow soldiers which talk about building corduroy roads and wading in water chest deep. James Quinlan contracted malaria during his service from which he died years after the war.

The Naval Brigade is mentioned in the US Grant papers and Benjamin Butler’s correspondence, as well as many newspapers and obituaries of men who served in the brigade. But as I have said, it is finding one small piece of information at a time and putting it all together. Many hours of research have gone into finding the info in this brief post. I would be very happy to hear of others researching the Naval Brigade and what they have found.

bschulte January 23, 2013 at 10:03 am


Thanks for going into some detail. I didn’t realize you were planning on writing a book potentially, so I respect your right to keep those sources to yourself until the book can be published. When you are getting ready for publication, please keep me in mind as a potential reviewer. This site and my TOCWOC, my Civil War blog, see thousands of unique users per month, and I’d be happy to bring the book to their attention.

vbegg January 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I am not writing a book. It will be an article and it won’t be soon unfortunately because of the difficulty of finding sources. I do hope I gave plenty of suggestions for others to research their Naval Brigade ancestors. Primary sources–newspapers, papers of the participants–are the way to go. The more people searching means the more information accumulated. I will certainly let you know when I have written anything that might be of interest to you and this forum.

Rhonda Garner January 24, 2014 at 9:58 pm

My great-grandfather was in the 13th Artillery, Company I and on the Foster. My son is currently attending the Naval Officer Training in Rhode Island. I am looking for a photography or drawing of the Foster. We will be packing a “candio box” to celebrate his status change to “Candidate Officer”, I would like to include a photo of any ship his ancesters served on. If anyone can help me, it would be greatly appreciated.

vbegg January 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm

As you have read above, my great-grandfather James Quinlan was also in the 13th NY Heavy Artillery, Company I, serving on the gunboat Foster 1863-1865. Who was your great-grandfather, if you don’t mind my asking?

The only photo of the actual vessel that I have found is this online stereo view sold by an auction house. It is not clear from their website but I think it is the lower photo. The upper photo was her sister gunboat, the Parke. Both were named for generals.

Congratulations to your son and may he remain safe throughout his service. Virginia

David Malgee March 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm

I am just jumping in to the conversations here. I have been doing a considerable amount of research on the Naval Brigade during its Appomattox River operations of May and June 1864. I have compiled a good bit of detail on its commander, B.G. Charles K. Graham, as well as the operations of three vessels (the Parke, Chamberlain and Brewster) on May 9th 1864 during the gunboat attack on Confederate Fort Clifton. The Naval Brigade seems to have drawn men from two heavy artillery units, the 13th NY and the 3rd Pa. Returns for May 1864 in the Official Records indicate 384 men of these two units serving in the Naval Brigade at that time. The Brewster (actually the Samuel L. Brewster) was sunk in the Appomattox on May 9 by the Fort Clifton gunners and four men were killed. Unfortunately the identity of only one is known, Pvt. Griffith Hughes, a 30-year old Philadelphian from the 3rd Pa Heavy Artillery who is now buried in the City Point National Cemetery. While finding information on the Naval Brigade is challenging, there is much info available in some of the sources previously mentioned in your on-line conversations. It is a fascinating story that remains to be told and involves a number of New York Harbor tugs and other boats that were drafted into U.S. service (for a price, of course–The Brewster’s owners were paid $120 each day for her 170 days in Federal Service!). In many cases the armament and crew complements as well as the tonnage, size build dates and locations are all available through diligent searching. Incidentally, although the Brewster was burned, exploded and sunk in the Appomattox it was raised in 1866 and sold at auction in Norfolk, Virginia. It’s charred flag is in the collection of the New York Histprical Society. I hope this helps a little

bschulte March 21, 2014 at 7:43 am


Thank you very much for this. You’re just adding information to what for me was a very shadowy organization when I first created the page for the Naval Brigade. My biggest issue so far is determining exactly which companies from the 13th NY HA and 3rd PA HA were in the unit at a given point in time, and if that ever changed. I’m through the first six Union offensives against Petersburg and in many cases the Official Records organizational and casualty tables simply show “The Naval Brigade” with not other indication of which specific companies were present. One place I’ve not yet looked for information is the Naval Official Records. Does anyone know if they contain any information on the Naval Brigade’s activities?

Also, David, it sounds like you might be planning a book or possibly something shorter for publication. WOuld you care to share privately with me? If so, please use the contact form at the top of the site.


David Malgee March 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm


I am happy to talk with you about my research and sources. I have written a historical pamphlet entiled “A Brief History of Fort Clifton, 1862-1865” and also wrote the historical markers at Fort Clifton in Colonial Heights, VA. I am also working on a short book on Fort Clifton that will be printed or published by the Colonial Heights Historical Society. The research is complete, but there is always more to be discovered. The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies provide much detailed information about certain Naval Brigade Operations, including number of shells expended and, in some cases, types of armament. You can also glean from the records the names of the various ship’s commanders and certain specifics about individual operations. Be careful not to be confused between the army gunboats of the Naval Brigade and the gunboats of the U.S. Navy such as the Commodore Perry and the General Putnam. These were also vessels (tugs or ferry boats) that had previously (and typically) served in New York Harbor before the war. They were usually much larger vessels that could not maneuver in the rivers as easily as the fast and light vessals of Graham’s so-called “Mosquito Fleet.” Forgive me for being new to this. I am not sure how to contact you on a one-to-one basis, so if you can help me with that I would appreciate it. I am actually giving walking tours of Fort Clifton tomorrow and will be sharing a great deal of information about the Naval Brigade and General Graham. The tours are at 12:30 and 2:30 if anyone can make it.

Stan Moore July 3, 2014 at 5:27 pm

My wife’s ggrandfather, Joseph B. Drew, was with Company I, 13th New York Heavy Artillery. This unit installed a heavy gun on the Rip Raps south of Fort Monroe after the Battle of Hampton Roads, which they used to bombard the Confederates in the Norfolk area. I believe Joseph also was on the Foster. There was a Drescher in the company that was captured during the Smithfield raid and went to Andersonville.

My son was stationed at Fort Monroe in 2008.

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