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150 Years Ago Today: The Action at Malvern Hill: July 14, 1864

One hundred and fifty years ago today a small skirmish occurred between a Confederate battery or batteries (I was unable to identify the unit, let me know if you know) and two United States ships in the James River near Malvern Hill, site of the last of the Seven Days’ battles in 1862.  The Union vessels involved were the Commodore Morris and the Pequot.



USS Commodore Morris on the James River

I was able to find several reports of this action from the commanders of the two vessels in the Naval Official Records, as follows:

Report of Acting Rear-Admiral Lee, U. S. Navy, transmitting reports regarding an attach upon United States vessels by Confederate battery near Malvern Rill, July 14, 1864.1

Flagship Malvern,
Hampton Roads, Virginia, July 17,1864.

Sir: I enclose the report of Captain Smith, dated 15th instant, (1) of an attack on the Pequot and Commodore Morris by a rebel battery near Malvern Hill, with its enclosures, (2) report of Lieutenant Commander Quackenbush, Pequot, and (3) of Acting Master Lee, Commodore Morris, both dated 15th instant. From the former it appears that at 1:10 p. m. on the 14th a battery of one gun opened on the Pequot from Malvern Hill, the first shot taking off a man’s leg and doing some injury to the vessel, which was lying to the ebb tide and could not return the fire until she had moved up and turned, several shots striking in close proximity while this was being done. When in position a number of shots were fired by the Pequot without reply, when she returned to her anchorage.

Acting Master Lee reports that a battery of 20-pounder rifles opened on the Commodore Morris from the direction of Malvern Hill on the 14th; he steamed up to within 1,000 yards of the enemy and returned the fire with his 100-pounder Parrott; the shell from that failing to explode, he turned his vessel round and used his IX-inch guns; the enemy retreated to Malvern Hill, and again opened fire, when the Morris moved farther up the river and returned it.

The enemy ceased firing at 5 p. m. No damage was sustained by the Commodore Morris.

Captain Smith also states that deserters from Howlett’s report that a battery of eight guns is being mounted in the clearing to the left.

Acting Volunteer Lieutenant French, commanding the Wilderness, reports (verbally) that the Mendota yesterday (16th) engaged a battery near Deep Bottom, which ranged upon the pontoon bridge, and lost 2 men killed and 6 wounded.

The Commodore Morris was also engaged at the same time with a battery near Malvern Hill, and received a shell in her magazine, which passed through 3 barrels of powder, lodging in the shot locker, without exploding.

The Wilderness was obliged to pass down in the night, the batteries being still in position. She brought 2 of the wounded to the Norfolk hospital.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, yours,

S. P. Lee,
Actg. Rear-Admiral, Comdg. North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Hon. Gideon Welles,
Secretary of the Nary, Washington, D. C.


U. S. S. Pequot,
Turkey Rend, James River, July 15, 1864.

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that at 1:10 p. m. on the 14th instant a battery of one gun on Malvern Hill opened fire on this vessel, the first shot taking off a man’s leg and doing some injury to the vessel. At the time I was unable to return the fire, in consequence of our lying to the ebb tide. I was therefore obliged to get underway and move up where the channel was sufficiently wide for mo to turn round. In the meantime several shots were fired at me, all of which struck in close proximity. After rounding to, I at once proceeded down to a position where my guns could be used effectively. After firing a number of times and eliciting no response, I returned to my anchorage. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Lieutenant- Commander.

Captain Melancton Smith,
Senior Officer Present, Commanding in James River, Virginia.


U. S. S. Commodore Morris,
Off Haxalls Landing, James River, July 15,1864.

Sir: I most respectfully submit the following report:

At 1 o’clock p. m. yesterday the rebels opened fire on the Commodore Morris from the direction of Malvern Hill with a masked battery of 20-pounder rifles. I immediately got underway, steamed up river a quarter of a mile to within 1,000 yards of the enemy, and opened fire with the 100-pounder Parrott rifle. Finding the shell from the rifle did not explode, I turned the vessel around and opened on them with shell from the IX-inch Dahlgren, firing to where I saw the flash of the enemy’s guns, and soon drove them from their hiding place.

They then retreated to Malvern Hill, from which place they opened fire on us. I then steamed higher up river, so I could use my 100-pounder rifle, which I did, only one shell in six from the rifle exploding. I also used the 30-pounder. At 5 p. m. the enemy ceased firing. I then returned to my anchorage off Haxall’s, sustaining no damages.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

E. G. Lee,
Acting Master, Commanding.

Captain Melancton Smith,
Senior Officer, James River.


  1. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, pp. 268-269
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