|Battle of Wilson's Wharf|
|Part of the American Civil War|
|United States (Union)||CSA (Confederacy)|
|Edward A. Wild||Fitzhugh Lee|
|1,800, 2 guns, USS Dawn||2,500, 1 gun|
|Casualties and losses|
|6 killed, 40 wounded||200 killed and wounded|
The Battle of Wilson's Wharf (also called the Battle of Fort Pocahontas) was a battle in Union General Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.
On May 24, Confederate Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry division (about 3,000 men) attacked the Union supply depot at Wilson's Wharf, on the James River in eastern Charles City, Virginia, and was repulsed by two African American regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) under the command of Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild (about 1,800 men), who were in the process of constructing a fortification there, which was subsequently named Fort Pocahontas.
Background[edit | edit source]
Wild lost his left arm at the Battle of Antietam in 1862. After recovering, Wild, an ardent abolitionist, raised a unit of former slaves called Wild's African Brigade. During the winter of 1863, Wild led these soldiers in an expedition on the coast of North Carolina, terrifying a local white population accustomed to African slavery since the early 1700s.
Wild's brigade landed in Virginia in May 1864 and began building the fort at Wilson's Wharf. By this time, the unit had a frightening reputation among Southerners. Wild's subsequent actions alarmed them all the more. His soldiers freed slaves and in one case whipped a plantation owner who had a reputation for harshness to his slaves. The Richmond papers denounced these activities and put intense pressure on the government of Jefferson Davis to put a stop to Wild's depredations.
Battle[edit | edit source]
Succumbing to the political pressure, Davis ordered Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry division to "break up this nest and stop their uncivilized proceedings." Fitz Lee took elements of three cavalry brigades plus the 5th South Carolina Cavalry Regiment (2,500) and one cannon on a 40 mile march to reach Wilson's Wharf. The Confederate general expected to fight a rabble, but instead found the defenders of Fort Pocohontas alert and ready for action.
Wild commanded 1,100 men and 2 cannon. The Union force consisted of the 1st USCT and four companies of the 10th USCT. Battery M, 3rd New York Artillery was the only all-white unit in the defenses. The gunboat USS Dawn lay in the James River to deliver fire support to the fort's defenders.
After Wild rejected Fitz Lee's demand for a surrender, the Confederate cavalryman ordered his men to dismount and prepare for an assault. Two separate rushes were repulsed by the Union soldiers in the fort, during which only a handful of Rebels reached the fort's ditch. At this point, four more companies of the 10th USCT arrived by transport and Fitz Lee called off further assaults.
Result[edit | edit source]
About 200 Confederate were killed or wounded in the abortive attack. Federal losses were six killed and 40 wounded. Materially, this action had little effect on the outcome of the war, but the North scored a propaganda victory. The people in the North were encouraged by this small victory. Southerners claimed that six gunboats and that substantial numbers of white Union soldiers were involved in the action. In his report, Fitz Lee minimized both his strength and his losses.
References[edit | edit source]
- Gordon C. Rhea. To The North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13-25, 1864. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 2000.
- National Park Service battle description