Victory Against the Galina and Monitor at Drewry’s Bluff

May 15, 1862 (Thursday)

Drewry's Bluff

Drewry’s Bluff rose ninety feet above the James River. The small fort, eight miles away from Richmond, built by Virginia farmers in 1861 had been expanded to a veritable fortress with seven pieces of heavy artillery. When the Union Army of the Potomac began their campaign up the Virginia Peninsula, after the fall of Yorktown, the Confederates began to pay serious attention to the redoubt. Following the destruction of the CSS Virginia (Merrimac), the guns and men from the scuttled ship were transfered to Drewry’s Bluff, also known as Fort Darling.1

This bluff and its seven guns were the last obstacle between the Union Naval fleet and the Confederate capital. Union Flag Officer Louis Goldsborough had dispatched several ships up the James River, with orders to “get up to Richmond, all with the least possible delay, and shell the city to a surrender.”2

USS Galena

And so the USS Monitor, Galina, Naugatuck, Port Royal and Aroostook steamed up the James, pulling near to, but out of sight of, the Confederate battery at Drewry’s Bluff. They did not, however, go unnoticed. For bulk of their trek up the river, they had been peppered with musket fire from both shores. At times, the balls pierced the hull of the Port Royal, which returned the complement with their howitzer.3

In further preparation for the coming Federal fleet, the Confederates sunk ships in the river, making passage nearly impossible. Also, the CSS Patrick Henry, a converted civilian steamer outfitted with heavy artillery, was held above the fort. In addition to the large armaments, rifle pits had been dug closer to the waterline to be occupied by sharpshooters.4 The whole affair was a conglomeration between the Confederate Navy, Army and Marines. Since most of the men were Marines, the overall command fell upon Commander Ebenezer Ferrand of the Navy, though General William Mahone had been called by General Robert E. Lee to take command with his brigade.5

Gun on Drewry's Bluff

Around 7am, the Galina led the fleet, pulling in view of the Rebel works. Once close enough, the Confederate gunners opened up upon both the Galina and the Monitor. Through the hail, the Galina pulled into position, 600 yards off the battery, dropped anchor and replied with her guns upon the enemy. The Naugatuck, Port Royal and Aroostook, being all wooden vessels, anchored about twice as far away, hoping to lessen the blows certain to be rained upon them by the Confederate artillery.6

As the Galina found her position, the Monitor tried to move in front of her, hoping to draw the enemy’s fire. While it more or less worked, it was quickly discovered that, being more suited for a ship-to-ship duel, was unable to elevate her guns to a high enough angle to hit the Rebel redoubt.7 The Monitor moved back downriver, towards the wooden ships, until she moved far enough away for her guns to finally come into range.

Bombardment of the Galena

Through the fight, it was quickly discovered that the newly-built Galina was not shot-proof. Commander John Rodgers reported that “balls came through, and many men were killed with fragments of her own iron.” Most of the shots that hit his ship ripped through the four-inch iron plating, but embedded themselves in the wooden hull. Her deck was most vulnerable to the Rebel shots falling from high above. Huge, gaping hopes were ripped through it, sending death to those below. Even the CSS Patrick Henry joined in the fray, sending an 8-inch solid shot through her bow port.8

Though the Rebels focused their fire upon the Galina, the other ships were not forgotten. The Port Royal was struck once in the forward wheel and again below the waterline. With the last shot, she began to take on water and had excused herself from the fight.9 The Naugatuck came under severe fire from both the artillery and sharpshooters along the river as she moved into position. During the early part of the battle, her gun burst the first time it was fired and she was rendered useless.10

Bombardment of the Union fleet.

Soon after the Patrick Henry delivered her blow, the Galina was nearly out of ammunition. Seeing that there was no possible way to overcome the Rebels at Drewry’s Bluff, Commander Rodgers called off the attack, ordering the ships to steam to their position of the previous night.11

To the retreating Federals, the Rebels gave three hearty cheers as the ships pulled out of sight. Confederate casualties were light, with seven killed and eight wounded.12 The only Union fatalities were sustained aboard the Galina, with thirteen killed. Most of the fourteen wounded were also from the lead ship, though the Naugatuck and Port Royal also reported a few. Most of the ships sustained some damage, with the Galina carrying more than her share, being hit forty-four times and pierced at least eighteen. 13

It was not a complete loss to the Federals. The fact that they couldn’t simply steam up the river, past the bluff, due to the sunken ships in the water, also meant that the Rebels could not come down stream for the same reason. It was also noted that infantry troops could be landed within ten miles of Richmond, should General McClellan like to switch his base of operations from the York River to the James, something that must have seemed fairly unlikely to happen.14

  1. The Peninsula Campaign of 1862 by Kevin Dougherty, University of Mississippi Press, 2010. []
  2. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p342-343. []
  3. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p362, 363. []
  4. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p357, 370. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 3, p518. It doesn’t appear that Mahone arrived in time for the battle. []
  6. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p357, 370. []
  7. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p362. []
  8. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p357, 370. []
  9. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p363. []
  10. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p364, 367. []
  11. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p357. []
  12. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p370. []
  13. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p358, 366. []
  14. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p358. []


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One thought on “Victory Against the Galina and Monitor at Drewry’s Bluff

  1. freemans lee lieutenants,and voilume 2 of relee provides alot of insight to this campaign-uss galena

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