|Friday, May 18, 2012|
Richmond National Battlefield Park kicked off 60 days of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Peninsula Campaign and Seven Days’ Battles last week with a commemoration of the May 15, 1862, Battle of Drewry’s Bluff.
The park presented four days of anniversary-themed programming, including ranger-guided tours of the site, historic weapons demonstrations, educational field trips, commemorative programs and living history.
In the spring of 1862, as the Union army slowly moved its way up the Virginia Peninsula from Fort Monroe towards Richmond, a fleet of five U.S. Navy warships – including the U.S.S. Monitor – moved up the James River with orders to “shell the city into submission.” On May 15, 1862, Confederate forces stationed at Drewry’s Bluff were successful in stopping the fleet from advancing to the Confederate capital, only seven miles away. As a result, for the remainder of the Peninsula Campaign – and the rest of the war – Union leaders were forced to rely on overland routes in their efforts to take Richmond.
Last Saturday and Sunday, May 12th and 13th, featured a living history weekend at the park’s Drewry’s Bluff unit. Units representing the Southside Artillery, James River Squadron and Marines from the U.S. Marine Historical Company had camps open for inspection and presented rifle and artillery firing demonstrations. A variety of ranger-guided tours and historical presentations were offered, including an examination of “Drewry’s Bluff as Gibraltar of the Confederacy” by Dr. John Coski, vice president of the Museum of the Confederacy, and the reflections of Sgt. Samuel Mann’s service at Drewry’s Bluff, delivered by his great-great-grandson (and former executive director of the Jamestown 400th Commemorative Commission) Chip Mann. On Saturday evening, the Quantico Marine Corps Band gave a concert of military and patriotic music at the site where Marines from both the Union and Confederacy had faced each other 150 years earlier.
On Monday, May 14th, the park hosted an education day attended by nearly 250 students, despite threatening weather. At stations manned by NPS staff, the U.S. Marine Historical Company, and living history units, students visited a variety of stations where they learned about the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, the Marines, naval warfare, and science and technology in the Civil War. All of the lessons were coordinated with the Virginia standards of learning and fulfilled curriculum requirements of the participants.
On Tuesday, May 15th, the actual 150th anniversary of the battle, 30 die-hard visitors braved gray skies and intermittent rain for a real-time tour of the site, discussing the progress of the battle as it unfolded 150 years earlier. The anniversary commemoration ended Tuesday evening with a ceremony commemorating the sacrifice and courage of America’s service members 150 years ago and today – including U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. John Mackie, whose heroic actions at Drewry’s Bluff led him to become the first Marine ever awarded the Medal of Honor, and Col. Wesley Fox USMC (ret.), a 1971 Medal of Honor recipient for action in Vietnam, who participated in the event. The ceremony concluded with “Taps Over the Battlefield: A Salute to the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines.”
The four-day event was operated under the incident command system, with Tim Mauch, the park’s chief ranger, serving as incident commander. Assistance was provided by Petersburg National Battlefield, Colonial National Historical Park, and WASO. Attendance was high, especially on Saturday and Sunday due to great weather, and there were no incidents during the event.