Early War Years
Originally established as Charles City Point by Sir Thomas Dale in 1613, the area known as City Point was home to Captain Francis Eppes, who in 1635 patented some 1,700 acres of land he was granted by Governor West. Eppes called his property Hopewell Farm after the ship on which he came to Virginia. Before the Civil War, City Point was a small riverside community with few businesses or homes. In 1860, the largest landowner was Richard Eppes. (The Petersburg National Battlefield preserves the family's eighteenth-century residence, with nineteenth- and early twentieth-century additions). Like Eppes, most antebellum residents of City Point were engaged in agricultural pursuits, and in 1861, most white male residents enlisted in the Confederate army. By the spring of 1862, the town was caught between battling Union and Confederate forces.
On May 19, 1862, members of the 4th and 22nd Georgia Infantry regiments engaged in a skirmish with about twenty Union troops by the banks of the James River. The Union navy responded by opening fire on City Point, damaging several homes. Meanwhile, Confederates captured some Union troops and killed and wounded others while they assisted sick white women in the town, sparking outrage from Union navy captain William Smith. Confederate general Benjamin Huger responded by telling Smith that the Union soldiers were "enemies," whose "very presence is an injury, inflicting loss of millions to our citizens. You must expect to be treated as enemies." Union navy ships remained off City Point through most of the spring and summer of 1862.
Prisoners of war were exchanged at City Point late in 1862 and through much of 1863. Perhaps the most famous of them was the celebrated Confederate spy Rose O'Neal Greenhow. She left City Point for Petersburg, and from there took a train to Richmond. However, by early 1864, the prisoner-of-war exchange system was abandoned.
In the meantime, City Point transformed from a tiny, bombarded, and mostly abandoned village into one of the largest ports in the world. Through the foresight of Union quartermaster Rufus Ingalls and the hard work of soldiers and civilians, including former slaves, twenty-one miles of military railroad were constructed by March 1865, linking City Point to the Union front lines around Petersburg and supplying more than 100,000 troops and 65,000 animals. It is said that a large bakery in the town produced as many as 100,000 loaves of bread a day.
Some 58 people were killed and 126 wounded, while the damage estimate reached four million dollars. Even from his relatively safe vantage point, Dillard was permanently deafened by the explosion. Grant noted that "every part of the yard used as my headquarters is filled with splinters and shells." A Confederate prisoner awaiting exchange was killed, and a bayoneted musket was thrown a half-mile. Union officials had no idea what had caused the blast until after the war, and some had initially blamed careless black dockworkers.
Among the civilian agencies operating at City Point were the U.S. Sanitary Commission and the U.S. Christian Commission. The Sanitary Commission was chiefly concerned with the health and hygiene of Union soldiers and sailors and the Christian Commission with their spiritual welfare. About 600 people, mostly men, in the two commissions served along the Richmond-Petersburg front, often providing the soldiers with memorable delicacies. In June 1864 alone the Sanitary Commission shipped to the front canned tomatoes and sauerkraut, as well as pickled cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes. In his 1868 Annals of the United States Christian Commission, Reverend Lemuel Moss, the commission's home secretary, noted that in 1865 the Commission employed teachers to instruct colored troops, supplying them with "tables, primers, spelling-books, writing-books, black-boards, slates, pens, and ink."
In 1866, the United States government established the City Point National Cemetery, now the resting grounds of more than 6,900 mostly Union soldiers. Richard Eppes and other large property owners, meanwhile, returned to their City Points estates and hired freed people to work on their property. The buildings associated with the Union occupation were destroyed except for Grant's cabin, which was later relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Union troops finally left the town in 1867. The City of Hopewell incorporated in 1916, and in 1923 it annexed City Point, which then ceased to exist as a separate self-governing entity. In 1983, the National Park Service reconstructed General Grant's cabin at its original site.
1613 - The settlement of City Point, located at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers, is established by Sir Thomas Dale.
1635 - Captain Francis Eppes patents a land grant of 1,700 acres at City Point, at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers, and names part of his property Hopewell Farm, after the ship on which he came to Virginia.
1826 - The settlement of City Point, at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers, is officially incorporated as a town.
May 19, 1862 - Portions of the 4th and 22nd Georgia Infantry regiments skirmish with Union naval forces on the James River. In response the Union navy bombards City Point.
May 5, 1864 - The Union Army of the James lands at City Point and Bermuda Hundred, less than ten miles from Petersburg. The 1st and 22nd regiments of United States Colored Troops occupy City Point.
June 15, 1864 - Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant arrives at City Point, at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers, where he establishes his field headquarters for the remainder of the war.
June 20–22, 1864 - U.S. president Abraham Lincoln visits City Point, the field headquarters of Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant.
July 26, 1864 - Captain John Maxwell of the Confederate Secret Service leaves Richmond on a mission to sabotage the port at Union-occupied City Point.
August 2, 1864 - Captain John Maxwell of the Confederate Secret Service, on a mission to sabotage the port at Union-occupied City Point, arrives in Isle of Wight County, where he meets R. K. Dillard, who acts as his local guide.
August 9, 1864 - Captain John Maxwell of the Confederate Secret Service leaves a self-detonating time bomb at the port of Union-occupied City Point. The bomb kills 58 people and wounds 126; collateral damage is estimated at four million dollars.
March 24–April 8, 1865 - U.S. president Abraham Lincoln visits Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant and his military forces in the field, including at City Point and Richmond.
1866 - The United States government establishes the City Point National Cemetery, the resting grounds for more than 6,900 mostly Union soldiers.
1867 - Union troops, which had occupied City Point since 1864, leave the town.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Dabney, E. City Point during the Civil War. (2015, October 27). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/City_Point_During_the_Civil_War.
- MLA Citation:
Dabney, Emmanuel. "City Point during the Civil War." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 27 Oct. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: November 11, 2011 | Last modified: October 27, 2015
Contributed by Emmanuel Dabney, a park ranger at the Petersburg National Battlefield.