McClellan's 1862 Peninsula Campaign
"On June 26,...just as we were having roll call and the men were about to retire for the night, the boom of a cannon a little way down the river, and the whizzing of a shell as it sped us by, aroused us to the fact that the enemy was approaching..."
B.W. Jones of the Surry Light Artillery
In June of 1862, President Lincoln ordered an attack upon the railroad bridge over Swift Creek. This bridge was 3 miles upstream of where Swift Creek empties into the Appomattox River. Destruction of the bridge would impede Confederate reinforcements and supplies coming to Richmond from the south. Union Gen. McClellan, however, was deeply involved in his Peninsula Campaign, and could not make the assault so Lincoln turned to the Navy. A squadron of 12 gunboats, including the ironclads Monitor
, was assigned to make the raid. This flotilla also included the newly-built submarine Alligator
, but her use was deemed impractical and she returned to Fortress Monroe.
The raid began on the evening of June 26th. The Galena
took a position off City Point as the rest of the squadron steamed upriver toward Point of Rocks. While several of the smaller ships turned toward Petersburg as a diversion, the main force steamed toward the mouth of Swift Creek. There sailors would row small boats
to the bridge and burn it. The treacherous channel and sand bars of the Appomattox River, along with heavy small arms ﬁre from Confederates hidden in the boulders along the bluffs, proved to be the undoing of the mission. Among the Confederates ﬁring on the ﬂotilla were the men of the Surry Light Artillery who occupied this bluff. Many of the Union ships grounded and one, the Island Belle
, was burned when she could not be re-floated. On June 27th the raid was called off, but it took another day to get all the ships free.
That the squadron survived was due to the Seven Days' battles being fought on the other side of the James. Confederate commander Robert E. Lee was content to leave the Navy alone and focus on defeating McClellan. For the Confederates, the Swift Creek Bridge survived. For the Federals, a potential disaster for the Navy had been averted.
This sign was sponsored by Fred Schmidtmann, New Baltimore, VA