May 15, 1862
At 7:45 A.M. on May 15, 1862, the windows in Richmond, Va., suddenly began rattling from the booming of large-caliber cannon. The three hour and 20 minute long battle that had just begun eight miles down-river would decide which flag flew over the Confederacy’s capital city that night.
Commander John Rodgers had sailed his squadron of Union warships, including his ironclad flagship Galena, the famous ironclad Monitor, the ironclad Naugatuck, and wooden gunboats Aroostook and Port Royal. They sailed without incident from Hampton Roads to Drewry’s Bluff, a 100 foot high cliff overlooking the river. Fort Darling on top of the bluff, along with an eight-gun Rebel battery, was the only obstacle preventing Rodgers from bringing Richmond under his guns.
The wooden gunboats had no chance of surviving under the plunging Rebel fire, so only the ironclads moved within range and opened fire. The Monitor found that its gun would not elevate enough to fire on the fort, and the Naugatuck’s 100-pounder Parrot rifle burst halfway through the fight. The Galena, anchored broadside 600 yards from the bluff, was left to battle Fort Darling alone, and she bravely sat there absorbing terrible punishment. The Galena was hit repeatedly and 18 of the huge Rebel projectiles had penetrated her armor to explode inside or smash the wooden frame and bulwarks into splinters. Twenty-four of her crew were killed or wounded. She had been set on fire and was leaking badly. She withdrew, badly crippled, only after expending all her ammunition.
The captain of the Port Royal had been wounded by a riverside sharpshooter. Even though she was hit a number of times, the Monitor suffered no damage and no casualties. All of the Union ships gave up the mission and retreated downriver.
The Rebel gunners on the bluff, which included the Monitor’s old anagonists from the CSS Virginia, cheered passionately for their victory and Richmond’s salvation. They lost seven men killed and eight wounded.
Fascinating Fact: After the battle the Galena’s iron armor was removed and she finished the war doing blockade duty as a wooden warship.