More Shots Exchanged in Virginia; More Troops to Grafton

Sunday, May 19, 1861

The USS Monticello and USS Thomas Freeborn, two United States Navy steamers, were both blockading the mouths of the James and Elizabeth Rivers, near Norfolk, Virginia.

The captain of the Monticello was ordered to keep an eye on the Rebels at Sewell’s Point. A Rebel battery was being constructed and though it was not yet armed, it was suspected to soon be operational. The day prior, the Monticello had fired at it, but caused no damage.

Through the night, noises were heard coming from that direction, but could not be traced. However, at 5:30 in the afternoon, the sound of axes was discovered to be coming from behind the battery. It was suspected that platforms for artillery were being constructed. The Monticello fired a shot over the suspected battery.

As the 32lbs ball arched over Sewell’s Point, a white flag with a design upon it was run up a pole. This was no white flag of truce, however. This battery was now outfitted with three large, 32lbs rifled guns and two smaller field pieces. One of the large guns fired a well-aimed (or lucky) shot that “cut the fore-spencer vangs near the gaff” (basically, ropes that control the shape of the sail).

The Monticello returned fire from her two guns, expending 114 shots in one hour and fifteen minutes. The Rebel battery’s fire matched that of the ship, striking it five times and wounding two of her crew.

One 32lbs ball fired from the Monticello struck a Rebel cannon of the same size, but did little damage. A shell burst behind the embrasures, but nobody was injured.

During this exchange, the Thomas Freeborn pulled along side the Monticello and then moved upon the battery, firing as many as fourteen 32lbs shots into the battery at close range.

When the Monticello‘s ammunition was depleted, both ships retired. The battery was relatively unharmed and sustained no casualties.1


Lee Sends Guns to Western Virginia

General Robert E. Lee had received Col. Porterfield’s dispatch from Fetterman, western Virginia (near Grafton) that remarked on the pro-Union sentiment and requested troops and arms. Lee replied that 1,000 muskets were on their way from Staunton to Beverly, about fifty miles south of Porterfield’s position. A few companies were also ordered to Beverly. Several hundred more arms had been sent directly to Fetterman.2

All of this was under Porterfield’s command, he simply had to figure out a way to consolidate the troops.

Elsewhere in western Virginia, Confederate Captain Dan Shriver from Wheeling wrote to Col. Thomas Jackson in Harpers Ferry informing him that as many as 400 Union troops were gathered on Wheeling Island (which was technically across the border in Virginia).3

  1. Official Records – Navy, Series 1, Vol. 5, p644-649. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p857. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p864. []
Creative Commons License
More Shots Exchanged in Virginia; More Troops to Grafton by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by