Fort Magruder and the Battle of Williamsburg

A small monument and a few wayside markers are all that remind passersby that two Civil War armies once fought here.

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The Battle of Williamsburg was fought on May 5, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet outside Williamsburg, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was tactically a draw, with the Confederate army withdrawing toward Richmond during the night.

In the spring of 1862, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan took his massive 120,000-man Army of the Potomac by boat and landed at Fort Monroe near Hampton Roads. He planned to march up the Virginia Peninsula and capture the Confederate capitol of Richmond, bringing a swift end to the war. Standing in his way was Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder, a series of small forts and defensive works, and 11,000 men. Magruder’s elaborate showmanship and deceptive tactics delayed the Union army for nearly 30 days.

The delay bought time for Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston to arrive with reinforcements. Their combined force of 57,000 was still no match for McClellan, so Johnston decided to withdraw to the defenses around Richmond. A force of 32,000 commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet was left to defend Fort Magruder, southeast of Williamsburg, and cover the withdrawal.

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Capture of Fort Niagara during the War of 1812

A daring British night attack during the War of 1812 quickly secured this old French fort at the mouth of the Niagara River.

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The Second Battle of Fort Niagara was fought on December 19, 1813 between British forces commanded by Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond and American forces commanded by Captain Nathaniel Leonard at the mouth of the Niagara River near Youngstown, New York during the War of 1812. The British night attack was successful, and the fort remained in British hands for the remainder of the war.

On December 10, 1813, U.S. Brigadier General George McClure decided to abandon Fort George on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, which the United States had captured in May. His troops burned the nearby village of Newark to the ground before retreating across the river. Filled with thoughts of revenge, British forces seized the initiative.

On the night of December 19, approximately 562 British regulars commanded by Colonel John Murray crossed the Niagara River under cover of darkness, about three miles south of Fort Niagara. They captured some American sentries who had been warming themselves by a fire, and obtained the watch’s challenge and password. From there, a British soldier feigning a Southern accent gained entry to the fort, and British troops rushed in.

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Exploring Redoubt Park in Williamsburg, Virginia

This 1862 Confederate earthwork was designed to defend Williamsburg during the American Civil War. Today, you can enjoy a nature trail and learn its history at this quiet and unassuming preserve.

When Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan landed an army of 120,000 men at Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula in late March 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder was tasked to delay him with 13,600 men until reinforcements arrived. With his mustache, large mutton chops, and plumed hat, Maj. Gen. “Prince John” Magruder cut a dashing figure. He was a veteran of the Mexican War and amateur actor with unconventional views on warfare for the time period.

He ordered his men to paint logs to look like cannon and march in circles, beating drums and making a racket to deceive the enemy into thinking he had a much larger force. He also employed Brig. Gen. Gabriel Rains’ expertise in “land torpedoes,” an early form of IED–buried or hidden artillery shells designed to explode when encountered.

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Fort Fisher State Historic Site in New Hanover County, North Carolina

The fall of Fort Fisher in January 1865 marked the beginning of the end for the Confederacy in North Carolina.

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The Union Army and Navy made two attempts to capture Fort Fisher during the American Civil War. The first, in December 1864, was unsuccessful. The second battle, fought from Jan. 13 to Jan. 15, 1865 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Alfred Terry and the Confederate garrison commanded by Maj. Gen. W.H.C. Whiting and Col. William Lamb, was a complete Union victory.

After Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s embarrassing failure in December 1864, Generals Adelbert Ames, Alfred Terry, Charles Paine, and Admiral David Porter were determined to take Fort Fisher and close the Confederacy’s last trading port. These supplies were critical to keeping Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of North Virginia fighting in the trenches around Petersburg, Virginia.

On January 12, 1865, the Union fleet returned, this time carrying approximately 9,600 troops and 2,260 sailors and marines. Alfred Terry planned a three-pronged assault: a division of United States Colored Troops commanded by Charles J. Paine would attack Confederate Maj. Gen. Robert Hoke’s division south of Wilmington, Adelbert Ames’ division would attack Fort Fisher from the north, and 2,000 sailors and marines would attack from the sea.

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Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York

This magnificent fort at the mouth of the Niagara River preserves the scene of several battles, including a 20-day siege during the French and Indian War.

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The Battle of Fort Niagara was fought from July 6 to July 26, 1759 between French forces under the command of Captain Pierre Pouchot and British forces under the command of Brig. Gen. John Prideaux and their American Indian allies at the confluence of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River during the French and Indian War. The 20-day siege ended in British victory and French capitulation after French reinforcements were scattered at the Battle of La Belle-Famille.

In early July 1759, Brig. Gen. John Prideaux marched approximately 3,500 British and Iroquois forces along Lake Ontario to Fort Niagara, floated a battery of artillery across the Niagara River to Montreal Point, and began to lay siege. Captain Pierre Pouchot had sent away most of his troops, so he had about 520 French regulars, militia, and Seneca Iroquois allies on hand to defend the fort. Unfortunately for him, many of his Seneca allies deserted when the British arrived.

To make matters worse, the British ambushed and destroyed a relief column under the command of Col. François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery at La Belle-Famille on July 24. Pouchot sent an officer to British lines to meet the wounded Lignery and confirm reports of the ambush. Seeing little hope, he surrendered on July 26.

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Fort Henry National Historic Site in Kingston, Ontario

Built for a war with the U.S. that never came, this nineteenth century relic is a treasure of Canadian military history.

The War of 1812 left relations between the United States and Great Britain at an all-time low. Raids along the Saint Lawrence River were common during the war, and Kingston, Ontario in what was then Upper Canada was seen as potentially vulnerable. The British eyed Point Henry as an ideal place for what became known as the “Citadel of Upper Canada”.

Early in the war, British Canadians erected a blockhouse and artillery battery on Point Henry to help defend Kingston and its naval dockyards. They continued fortifying it throughout the war, calling it Fort Henry after Henry Hamilton, one-time Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec and Governor of Bermuda.

After the War of 1812, the British saw a need to strengthen their defenses around Kingston and Rideau Canal, which connects the Canadian capitol to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. Between 1832 and 1836, they built a more permanent stone fort in place of the old wooden one.

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Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park

If patriot-turned-traitor Benedict Arnold’s reputation wasn’t already bad enough, the massacre of American forces at Fort Griswold earned him a particularly reviled place in American historical memory.

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The Battle of Fort Griswold (or Battle of Groton Heights) was fought on September 6, 1781 in Groton, Connecticut, between the American garrison commanded by Lt. Col. William Ledyard and British forces commanded by Patriot-turned-loyalist Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold and Lt. Col. Edmund Eyre during the Revolutionary War. The battle was a British victory; Fort Griswold was seized and New London burned, but the British did not achieve any long term gains. The British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia a month later effectively ended the war in the Continental US.

Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s raid on New London, Connecticut was an attempt to divert General George Washington from attacking Lord Cornwallis’s army in Virginia. Arnold, who was from the area, believed Fort Griswold, across the Thames River from New London, was only partially constructed and would not be difficult to seize. By the time he realized his mistake, Lt. Col. Edmund Eyre’s assault force had already engaged the fort and it was too late to recall them.

Eyre attempted to persuade the fort’s 150 defenders to surrender, but they vowed to fight. The first British assault was scattered by artillery. Major William Montgomery then stormed the fort at a sparsely-defended point, but was killed by a freed slave named Jordan Freeman. Montgomery’s men opened the gate from the inside, and the garrison attempted to surrender.

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