The First Battle of Deep Bottom

By the third week of June 1864 Union forces were stalemated in front of Petersburg. The promise of an early victory there wasted by the timidity of the commanders and poorly coordinated assaults. Grant, in an effort to disperse the Confederate defenders ordered Butler to seize and hold a bridgehead on the north shore of the James River. Such a move, he believed, would force Lee to extend his line to cover the approaches to Richmond in this quarter.

On June 20th thirty-six pontoon boats were rafted to be towed up the river from City Point. Arriving at 8:20 a.m. Captain Timothy Lubey and Company C of the 15th New York Engineers immediately ran into trouble. As they began to pull the boats ashore to be loaded on to wagons for the overland move they discovered a problem. At the landing Lubey found only eleven regular pontoon wagons, ten others of a different construction and the rest regular army wagons. As “about sixty colored troops” provided the labor to move the boats the engineers fell to work modifying the wagons for their purpose. The work delayed the move and the boats did not arrive at Jones Landing until 8:00 p.m. Waiting for them there was BG Robert Foster’s brigade of X Corps. The boats were downloaded and approximately 1400 infantry ferried one and a half miles to the landing site on the north shore of the river. On landing the Union skirmishers quickly pushed the Confederate pickets back. They established a position on a bluff west of the mouth of Bailey’s Creek (Four Mile Creek). This area, where the creek discharged into the James, was known locally as Deep Bottom. Behind them, Lubey began construction a pontoon bridge at 1:00 a.m. the span was completed at 4:00 a.m.

At the bridgehead the 11th Maine reported that although the area was heavily wooded it was soon laid bare “so vigorously did details from our regiment ply their axes.”As Grant had anticipated the move immediately drew the attention of General Lee. By July 6th Lee was asking Ewell if he could remove the threat. Ewell made no real effort to erase the bridgehead, but established batteries to harass Union river traffic. The fire of these guns was enough to convince Grant to expand the bridgehead to occupy these favorable artillery positions. On July 23rd a second brigade crossed the river and assumed positions on the east side of Bailey’s Creek. The escalating troop totals foretold a coming battle. Indeed both commanders had plans for this area.

The First Battle of Deep Bottom (Campaign Series)


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