Drewry's Bluff (Ft. Darling) Battlefield
Part of the National Park Service’s Richmond National Battlefield Park system, Drewry’s Bluff sits 90 feet above the James River just south of Richmond. Named after landowner, Augustus Drewry, the bluff, Ft. Darling and the Confederate soldiers who occupied it played a significant role in protecting Richmond from Union attempts to capture the Confederate capital in 1862 and again in 1864. Occupying 42 wooded acres, the park now boasts walking trails, an artillery piece, interpretive signs and visitors can stand on defensive earthen works that provide a stunning view of the James.
Backstory and Context
In 1862, as part of the Union’s Peninsula Campaign, a small flotilla of Union ships, to include the ironclads Naugatuck, Galena and the famous Monitor, steamed up the James in an attempt to reach Richmond. However, their efforts were thwarted when they encountered sunken debris and took heavy fire from Ft. Darling, which severely damaged the Galena. After three hours of exchanging fire, the Union ships, low on ammunition, were forced to retreat.
During the shelling, the Galena suffered many casualties among her gun-crew. In order to get her guns back in operation, Marine Corporal, John F. Mackie, led a group of marines onboard to serve as gun-crews. While the marines served the guns, Mackie (in-between giving orders) took a rifle and would fire on the men stationed in Fort Darling. Although the Union forces had to retreat, Mackie's actions won him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first American marine to win such a medal.
The fort was then expanded in the years 1862-1864 under the command of CPT Sydney Smith Lee, brother of the more famous Robert E., and it became a training center for the Confederate Naval Academy. It again came under attack in May of 1864 when Union forces once again tried to reach Richmond, by land this time. They managed to capture some of the fort’s outer defenses but were pushed back by a Confederate counterattack on May 16, 1864.
Members of the garrison then took part in the evacuation of Richmond on 2-3 April, 1864 and many of them were with General Lee when he surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse later that month. President Lincoln then sailed past Drewry’s Bluff on his way to Richmond on April 4th, 1864. The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset and admission is free.