Battle of Smithfield

Battle of Smithfield (HM1GD1)

Location: Smithfield, VA 23430 Isle of Wight County
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Country: United States of America
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N 36° 58.931', W 76° 37.473'

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The Town that Wouldn?t Surrender

This section of the Pagan River in front of you is where the Union gunboat, USS Smith-Briggs, was run aground and destroyed by local Confederate troops during the January 31-February 1, 1864, Battle of Smithfield.

Smithfield was the only town in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater region not occupied by Union forces during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Todd's Battery, defending the Pagan River at Battery Park, had been destroyed and Confederate soldiers had evacuated the town.

In late January 1864, a Federal steamer on the James River was fired upon and run aground by a Confederate force from the Isle of Wight shore. Immediately, the Union retaliated by sending the gunboat, Smith-Briggs, to Smithfield. The vessel disembarked 90 soldiers at the old abandoned shipyard at the foot of Church Street. The troops marched inland, skirmished with local Confederates, then returned to Smithfield, only to find that the Smith-Briggs had not returned to retrieve them. The next day, February 1, 1864, the Confederates disputed the Union retreat by positioning two cannon, one at the county dock and the other at the foot of Church Street.

When the Smith-Briggs finally returned for the Federal soldiers it was greeted with shot and shell, one of which pierced the steam drum of the Union vessel. The gunboat, now disabled, drifted away from the wharf into a mud bank on the opposite side of the Pagan River and surrendered. The Smith-Briggs was set on fire. When the flames reached the magazine with its two tons of gun powder, the vessel was blown to pieces. Before the explosion, however, a local Confederate went aboard and wrenched the gilded eagle from the pilothouse as a trophy of war. The eagle remains a proud symbol of one Southern town that refused to surrender to the Northern invaders.


(upper left) Gilded eagle from the USS Smith-Briggs pilothouse. Courtesy of Isle of Wight Museum

(lower right) USS Smith-Briggs - Courtesy of Isle of Wight Museum
HM NumberHM1GD1
Series This marker is part of the Virginia Civil War Trails series
Placed ByVirginia Civil WarTrails
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Thursday, September 4th, 2014 at 5:05am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 355414 N 4094129
Decimal Degrees36.98218333, -76.62455000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 36° 58.931', W 76° 37.473'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds36° 58' 55.86" N, 76° 37' 28.38" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)757
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling West
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 379 S Church St, Smithfield VA 23430, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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