The Union Attack at Drewry's Bluff: An Opportunity Lost

Robert E. Sheridan

in Union Combined Operations in the Civil War

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print March 2010 | ISBN: 9780823232864
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823240777 | DOI:

Series: The North's Civil War

The Union Attack at Drewry's Bluff: An Opportunity Lost

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One week after Union forces secured a beachhead at Eltham's Landing on the York River, Union gunboats assailed Drewry's Bluff on the James River in the first major confrontation between iron-armored warships and shore fortifications. After the perceived success of the USS Monitor against the Merrimack/Virginia in Hampton Roads in March, the Union secretary of the navy, Gideon Welles, and the assistant secretary, Gustavus Fox, had great expectations that armored warships could defeat coastal forts. These expectations were diminished, but not destroyed, in mid-May 1862 when a five-ship flotilla that included three armored vessels endured a humiliating repulse at Drewry's Bluff just seven miles down the James River from Richmond. The Union attack on Drewry's Bluff not only demonstrated the limitations of attacking forts with ships alone, it also exposed the weakness of army and navy forces acting independently rather than as part of a coordinated campaign. This chapter first summarizes the battle as it was fought, and then suggests how things might have gone quite differently if instead the military and naval leaders had been more open to the notion of a combined operation. The fact that these lessons were ignored says much about the communications gulf between the army and navy in 1862 and the consequent difficulty of effecting combined operations.

Keywords: Civil War; Union; Drewry's Bluff; army; navy; combined operation; armored warships

Chapter.  5547 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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