On May 15, 1862, five Union gunboats, including the ironclads USS Monitor and the Galena steamed up the James River from Hampton Roads to attack Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. The Confederates had built a fort south of Richmond on a bluff overlooking the James River that was owned by a Confederate captain named Drewry. The bluff commanded a bend in the James 90 feet above the water. At this strategic location for the defense of Richmond, the Confederates built a fort of earthworks and artillery emplacements and mounted three large guns. The stronghold was known to the Union as Fort Darling, and they were determined to take it down and continue up the James to attack Richmond.

Learning of the approaching US Navy fleet, the Confederates scuttled ships in the James to create obstacles. The ironclads Monitor and Galena went ahead, and the Galena fired up at the fort with her 100-pounder Parrott rifle. However, Monitor's guns could not raise up high enough to strike the fort. The Confederates bombarded the ironclads Monitor and Galena for four hours. The Federals were forced to withdraw when they began to run out of artillery and fires broke out on the Galena. Fort Drewry served the Confederacy until the end of the Civil War, but saw no further battle action.

Visiting the Drewry's Bluff Battlefield

Your best bet to visit Drewry's Bluff is to start at the Drewry's Bluff Fort Darling Richmond National Battlefield Park located south of Richmond in Chesterfield County. Here there is an easy, highly scenic walking trail with interpretive signs and markers that passes through the original Confederate fort high atop Drewry's Bluff. The trail to the fort consists of dirt and gravel, and is a little hilly in some places. Benches are located along the trail for relaxing and enjoying the views. A dirt foot path meanders through the forest among the mounds and trenches of the old Confederate fort and is truly a step back in time. An old cannon dated 1862 sits atop the overlook above the James and was probably cast at nearby Tredegar Iron Works. The trail includes viewing platforms, water features and scenic overlooks of the James.

Visit National Park Service for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

Pictured at the top: Fort Drewry truly feels like a step back in time to 1862 as you walk among the old Confederate mounds and trenches of the fort. It is one of the most scenic historic battlefields in Virginia and includes a forested walking trail with views of the James River from atop the bluffs.

Drewrys Bluff Earthworks

After the battle, Drewry's Bluff was upgraded to a permanent fort including barracks, officers' quarters and a chapel and served as a training ground for the Confederate Navy and Marine Corps.

Historical Photo

Drewrys Bluff Fort Darling

Soldier at Fort Darling on Drewry's Bluff during the Civil War (Library of Congress)