Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia

MIssion:   to collect, preserve, interpret and promote the county’s  past  for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations

Civil War Header      CHSV Seal

We have a rich history to tell and show our visitors.  In 1861, Chesterfield County was assured a prominent role in the Civil War due to its geographic proximity to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Its location, combined with various railroads and the James and Appomattox rivers, made it an obvious target for the Union army and navy. Action began in the spring of 1862, when a Union naval fleet, led by the famous ironclad U.S.S. Monitor, steamed up the James River. The only thing that stood in their way was an unfinished fort at Drewry's Bluff, just eight miles below Richmond. On May 15, Confederate guns in the fort fired on the Union ships. When the smoke cleared, the heavily damaged Union fleet was forced to retreat. Casualties were slight on both sides, and Chesterfield County had a two-year reprieve before seeing action again.  

On April 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 men to enlist in the Army for 90 days in order to suppress the rebellion and to cause the laws to be duly executed.  Ninety days to equip, train and fight a campaign that would begin and end the war all at once.  With Richmond Virginia a little more than 100 miles from Washington DC.  "On to Richmond"  became the clarion call.  The first on to Richmond campaign began with President Lincoln giving command of the army to Major General Irwin McDowell who moved against Richmond in July 1861 on the direct overland route from Washington to Richmond. The first battle of the war was Bull Run, a defeat for the Union Army and for President Abraham Lincoln's hope for a quick war ended. 

In the spring of 1864, the war again came directly to Chesterfield County when Union General Benjamin F. Butler landed the Army of the James on the Bermuda Hundred peninsula. Butler's mission was to secure a base of operations and then advance on Richmond. During the first days of May, Butler made tentative advances forward, but then fell back to his defensive positions at Bermuda Hundred. The Battle of Drewry's Bluff on May 16 halted Butler's greatest attempt to move on toward Richmond.  As Butler retreated back to his prepared positions in Bermuda Hundred, the Confederates followed and began to dig their own set of entrenchments. The Confederate fortifications and trenches became known as the Howlett Line, and prevented Butler  from making any more direct threats to Richmond. Confederate and Union troops faced each other across those trenches for the rest of the war.