Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Civil War at Jamestown Settlement

As part of our granddaughter's trip to Williamsburg and Washington, we spent half a day at Historic Jamestown. Visitors may not realize that the site also has connections with the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the military of both sides became interested in Jamestown's strategic location.  In 1861 Confederates thought it was the best point along the James River for defending Richmond.
Confederate Earthworks
William Allen, a wealthy Virginian who owned Jamestown,  occupied the island in April 1861with troops that he raised at his own expense. Allen was joined by Lieutenant Roger Jones who constructed and commanded artillery batteries on the island. By the end of the year, Jamestown had five earthworks that controlled river traffic and protected the island.

Confederate Earthworks
Of the five Confederate earthworks on Jamestown Island, only two are substantially intact and accessible to visitors. Fort Pocahontas, which stands adjacent to the seventeenth-century church tower, was the first and most significant one for defending Richmond during the early months of the war. The Square Redoubt is located toward the center of the island. Earthworks near Goose Hill and Black Point were constructed to strengthen the river defenses, while a fifth one guarded the bridge and was supported by an infantry lunette.

That summer,two infantry regiments increased the strength of the garrison to more that 1,200 men. Additional fortifications were built below Jamestown and many of Jamestown's troops were transferred to the new forts. As the island's military significance declined, Jones conducted important ordnance and armor tests for the CSS Virginia.

Jones  was succeeded by Major John R. C. Coxe and the force was increased by the addition of local militia. Mr. Allen recruited an  artillery battalion during spring 1862.

When Major General George B. McClellan launched his Peninsula campaign and attacked Yorktown in April 1862, the Confederates  evacuated  Jamestown and the rest of the Peninsula  on the night of May 3. Jamestown was now behind Union lines and the large Federal transport fleet used the port during the campaign. Telegraph wires were run from Jamestown to Fort Monroe which was already connected to Washington, which improved communications between McClellan and the War Department. After Lincoln withdrew the Army, the navy continued to patrol the river.

During Federal occupation, Jamestown became a rendezvous point for escaped slaves, many of whom were evacuated by the navy. When the Union Army left Jamestown, William Allen's slaves burned his eighteenth century mansion.

Jamestown was virtually ignored until 1863 when it became part of a Confederate diversionary movement during the Suffolk campaign. It played a comparable role for Federals in their feint against Richmond during the Gettysburg campaign.

In August 1863 Jamestown assumed a new role as an Federal outpost for Williamsburg, which was the most advanced Union position along the Peninsula. Union forces, including US Colored Troops,  patrolled the river and engaged Confederate guerrillas. The telegraph line was reinstalled during the Bermuda Hundred campaign. The telegraph line was improved in June 1864 during the Petersburg campaign.  General U. S. Grant extended telegraph communications with a mile-long underwater cable from Jamestown to Swann's Point and then ran wires to Fort Powhatan which was linked to his headquarters at City Point. When guerrillas cut wires, Grant ran an underwater cable twenty-two miles from Jamestown to Fort Powhatan. As the Petersburg campaign continued into autumn and winter, Union troops whose terms of enlistment had expired were sent to Jamestown to guard the island until transportation arrived to take them north.

After General Robert E. Lee's army surrendered at Appomattox, Jamestown was used as a location for administering the Oath of Allegiance to former Confederates.

During my visit, I was shown a spent cap believed to be from an artillery piece.  The cap
resembled those used by rifles. It was about the diameter of my finger  and was missing the top of the hat. I have not learned what weapon it was used with. Any information would be very useful.   

Visit Historic Jamestowne

Check out the Archaeological Research - The Dig

Fort Pocahontas

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