Fort Brady: Artillery sounds the alarm

On 23 Jan. 1865, my great, great grandfather Pvt. Arthur Bull’s regiment — the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — was stationed at Fort Brady in Virginia. But was my ancestor on duty with them or in hospital?

Fort Brady on the James River in Bermuda Hundred, Va. My ancestor's 6th NYHA regiment was stationed here during the last naval battle of the U.S. Civil War. Image:  Library of Congress
Parrot guns at Fort Brady on the James River in Bermuda Hundred, Va. (1864)  My ancestor’s 6th NYHA regiment was stationed  here in Jan. 1865 and engaged with Confederate forces before the last major naval battle of the U.S. Civil War. Image: Library of Congress

The U.S. War Dept., Surgeon General’s Office, Record and Pension Division provided a report on 27 Jan. 1884 for his pension application, which says:

He entered hospit. Point of Rocks, Va. Jan’y 16, ’65 with Heart Disease, and was returned to duty Jan’y 30, ’65. He also appears as admitted to that hospit. Jan’y 24, ’65 with Boil…

If Arthur was already in hospital at Point of Rocks on 16 January, why would he need to be “admitted” to the same hospital on 24 January?

If he was discharged for a time — then readmitted — could he have been stationed with the 6th NYHA at Fort Brady during the last major naval battle of the Civil War?

Fort Brady was part of a string of Union Army fortifications near Richmond, Va., that extended north from the James River to Fort Harrison. It was built after the battles of September 1864 to blockade the Confederate fleet upriver.

On 22 Jan. 1865 — while the bulk of the Union Navy was engaged at Fort Fisher in North Carolina — the Confederate navy began testing the federal blockade. Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA described the events of that day and the next in his diary:

Jan. 22nd: about 9 P.M. the rebels made another attack in force on the right of our line near the James river and at the same time three of their iron-clads attempted to pass the obstructions just above “crow-nest” battery the infantry attack was easily repulsed not lasting more than half an hour but the batteries and the rebel fleet kept it up all night.

Jan. 23rd: at 9 a.m. a shell from our batteries entered the rebel ram Jamestown and exploding in her magazine blew her up and of the crew of 64 men but 11 escaped…the [6th NYHA] regiment which had been under arms all night were returned to their quarters at 10 a.m.

Sgt. Thistleton provides no further details of 6th NYHA involvement in subsequent events at Fort Brady. But on the night of 23 Jan. 1865, a large Confederate flotilla tried to ram its way down the James River in the darkness. Their aim: to destroy the Union supply base at City Point, Va.

Union lookouts spotted the flotilla, and the batteries at Fort Brady fired sonorous rounds at the passing fleet. The big guns, aimed at the opposite shore, could not stop the Confederate ships.

But their booming salvos alerted Union forces downriver. Thus began the Civil War’s last significant naval confrontation — the Battle of Trent’s Reach — in which Union forces prevailed on 24 Jan. 1865.

Records indicate that my great, great grandfather was admitted that day to hospital at Point of Rocks, Bermuda Hundred, Va., for treatment of a boil — no small medical matter under wartime conditions in the days before antibiotics. He likely remained there until he was returned to duty on 30 Jan. 1865.

I can’t be sure, 150 years later, what role my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull played at Fort Brady. But I like to think that he may have been stationed with his regiment — however briefly — when Union forces repulsed a land attack and confronted the Confederate fleet’s advance guard ahead of the last great naval battle of the U.S. Civil War.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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2 thoughts on “Fort Brady: Artillery sounds the alarm”

  1. Molly, I am amazed at how you were able to track your great, great grandfather’s activities during the war. To learn from several documents that he was ailing, hospitalized and then maybe on the front lines during the same time frame is brilliant.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ron. It has indeed been a challenging but rewarding family history investigation trying to discover where my ancestor fit into the larger panorama of the U.S. Civil War.

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