August 4, 1864: U. S. S. Miami and U. S. S. Osceola Shell a Confederate Battery Near Harrison’s Landing
One hundred and fifty years ago today, on August 4, 1864, the U. S. S. Osceola and U. S. S. Miami steamed to a point near Harrison’s Landing and shelled an enemy battery, probably Charles W. Fry’s Richmond Orange Virginia Artillery, which had been firing on transports there. They then moved upriver and downriver from the spot, shelling the woods to make sure the enemy had left for good. As was the case for my post on Wilcox’s Landing yesterday, the Naval Official Records, Volume X, again has some good information on the fighting.
Rear Admiral Lee, in charge of the North Atlantic Bloackading Sqaudron, reported on the affair to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles1:
About 11 a. m. on the 4th, a battery opened on army transports near Harrison’s Landing. The Osceola and Miami proceeded down the river and opened fire, when the enemy immediately abandoned the position. These vessels ten shelled the bank, firing some at houses and other prominent points for 2 or 3 miles above and below the landing. A contraband brought off by the Osceola (and who was injudiciously permitted to return ashore) stated that the battery consisted of from ten to fifteen guns, supported by an infantry force of 2,000, under [Department of Richmond commander Richard S.] Ewell.
Acting Commander Graves of the U. S. S. Miami, in his second engagement in as many days, had this to say of the affair along with a report of ammunition expended2:
Sir: I have the honor to submit the following report: At about 11 o’clock this a. m., while lying at this place taking in ammunition and burying my dead, the rebels opened fire upon our transports from a battery at or near Harrison’s Landing. In obedience to orders from Commander Clitz, commanding Osceola, I got underway and followed him down the river. The rebels left at our approach, so I followed the example of Commander Clitz and shelled the left bank of the river for a distance of 2 to 3 miles above and below the landing, dropping an occasional shell about the houses. I returned to my anchorage about dark.
Commander J. M. B. Clitz of the Osceola added his report of the fight for good measure, ging into more detail than Acting Lieutenant Graves3:
Sir: I have to submit the following report: This morning at about 7:30 the U. S. S. Miami returned to this anchorage and reported all quiet down the river. At about 11 a. m. we discovered the enemy firing from a battery at or near Harrison’s Lauding. I immediately got underway with this vessel under my command [the Osceola], followed by the U. S. S. Miami. When near Harrison’s Landing the Miami and this vessel opened fire upon all the houses and prominent points until our arrival at Wilcox’s Wharf, where we remained until 5:30 p. m., when the Miami and this vessel got underway and proceeded to City Point. While at anchor off Wilcox’s Wharf, sent a boat ashore in charge of Lieutenant and Executive Officer [John] Weidman to bring off to the vessel a contraband, who was there signalizing. Information derived from the contraband leads us to believe that the battery consisted of from ten to fifteen guns, supported by an infantry force of 2,000, under the command of General Ewell. Doubtful information was received from the residents of the neighborhood on shore that the battery and supporting infantry force returned to camp. The contraband, not wishing to remain, was again landed under charge of Lieutenant Weidman. I shall detain the Miami at this point until she can fill up her deficiencies of ammunition, when she will proceed up the river and report to you, as directed by his (Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Commanding Graves’s) orders. I saw nothing of the battery either going or returning. I think it important that a sufficient force should be kept in the immediate vicinity of Harrison’s Landing and Wilcox’s Wharf, with discretion to the different commanding officers to patrol the river when required, to protect our transports from this battery, which, in my opinion, is a field one.
Judging by his report, Commander Clitz seemed doubtful as to the great Confederate artillery strength reported by the slave. This artillery was likely the same battery which had terrorized the gunboats at Wilcox’s Landing the day before, Charles W. Fry’s Richmond Orange Virginia Artillery.
Louis Manarin’s book Henrico County Field of Honor Volume II has the following passage which places the Orange Artillery in the area on August 4…4:
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…
After wreaking havoc with the Federal army transports for several days, Fry’s battery limbered up and headed back to New Market Heights. The Orange Artillery, with the rest of Cutshaw’s Battalion, would move to the Valley in support of Early on August 7, 1864, just a few days later.
- Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, p. 330 ↩
- Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, p. 333 ↩
- Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, p. 334 ↩
- Manarin, Louis H. Henrico County Field of Honor Volume II. Richmond: Carter Printing Company, 2007, p. 449 ↩