Location: York County, Virginia

I am retired from the York/Poquoson Sheriff's Office after 24 1/2 years. I am currently employed at Weymouth Funeral Home in Newport News VA and Riverside Hospital also in Newport News. I am president and co-founder of the York County Historical Society. I am also on the York County Historical Museum Board, associate member of the York County Historical Committee, Poquoson Historical Society, Nicolas Maritau Decsendants Association, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Sons of the American Revolution,West Virginia Genealogical Society and the U.S.S. Yosemite AD-19 Veterans Association. I am also a thirty year Parrothead. I am a 12th generation York County native even though I was born in Cocoa Beach FL.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ship Point in the Civil War
Frank Green
One of the most fascinating things about researching local history is finding out about historical events that occurred in your home community. In growing up in Dare, I was familiar with such Civil War related sights such as the five unidentified graves at Providence Church that are only marked with a Southern Cross and the earthworks at Ship Point. There were also many stories that were passed on from one generation to another.
One day many years ago I was going through some Hampton Monitor articles from May 1907 when I noticed one about a memorial celebration at Providence Church to honor the soldiers who were buried in the church yard. The article stated that they were from the "Louisiana Tigers" and were camped at Ship Point. I had remembered seeing a book in one of our local libraries about Louisiana troops in the Army of Northern Virginia called Lee's Tigers. I found the book and looked in the index for any mention of Ship Point. Ship Point was indeed mentioned. In fact the passage that I read gave a good account of Ship Point during the Confederate occupation. The passage was footnoted and these indicated that the Ship Point information was from some letters written home to family and friends by Lt. Robert Miller of the 14th Louisiana Infantry. I found the full letters in an old copy of Virginia History and Biography. The letters gave a detailed look at life at Ship Point during the Civil War. This began many years of doing off and on again research on Ship Point's role in the Civil War. The time has come to stop researching and start writing. This is what I have found out about Ship Point and Dare during the Civil War.
In the spring of 1862, Union General George B. McClellan put together a plan to end the war early by marching up the peninsula and taking Richmond. General John Bankhead Magruder and the Army of the Peninsula were charged with attempting to stop McClellan.
Magruder's plan was to have three lines of defense stretched across the Peninsula. The first line went from Ship Point to Young's Mill in Warwick County and was anchored in the center by earthworks in the Howard's Mill area. This line was not meant to completely stop the Union soldiers, but to stall them long enough for other fortifications to be built and further reinforcements to arrive. The second line went from Yorktown to Mulberry Island. The third consisted of a series of redoubts in the Williamsburg area.
Why was Ship Point important to the Confederates? The main reason was its location. It is located on the eastern end of the Fish Neck peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay. The Poquoson River and Chisman's Creek meet at Ship Point. Ship Point also had a landing where supplies could be brought in by water. The Confederates were also worried about the Union Army going around the first defense line and attacking from the rear or flank.
The name Ship Point is found in York County land records as far back as the middle 1700s. It was originally a part of the Chisman land grant in the mid1600s.
In the early 1840s Ship Point was purchased by Thomas Hudgins of Mathews County. The Hudgins were one of three Mathews families who would play a prominent role in Dare history. The others were the Davis family and the Smith family.
In 1861, Mr. Hudgins had had a farm at Ship Point and also did a business at the landing. During the late summer of 1861 Confederate units began settling at Ship Point. For this writing I am going tell of three of these units: 32nd Virginia Infantry, 1st North Carolina Infantry and 14th Louisiana Infantry.
Probably the first military personnel were units from the 32nd Virginia Infantry. This was the local Peninsula unit. At the time they first reported to Ship Point they were still known at the 115th Virginia Militia. They would enter into the Confederate Army while at Ship Point. Most of the men from the 32nd at Ship Point were from the Lee Guards and the Washington Artillery from Hampton.
By the time the Washington Artillery had arrived at Ship Point, they had received three guns. However the guns had no carriages and they had to be "homemade'. It is also interesting to note that at this time the Washington Artillery was in blue uniforms. The Washington Artillery was later transferred to the new First Peninsula Artillery.
In August 1861, another Confederate unit arrived at Ship Point. This was the First North Carolina Infantry. They were known as the Bethel Regiment as they had participated in battle of Big Bethel.
The regiment had been camped in Yorktown and they found that the living conditions were terrible. Disease and other maladies were rampant and the regiment needed another "home." General D. H. Hill went to Richmond in order to obtain permission to move the unit.
Finally he received permission to move the 1st North Carolina to Ship Point. They were of the understanding that it would be a healthier location than Yorktown. They were soon disappointed. One soldier called the area "the sickliest place on top of the earth, the water was awful". Even today much of the Dare well water is not very good tasting. As cooler weather approached the Carolinians found Ship Point more to their liking. The fresh fish that they were able to pull from the river did much to supplement their diets.
The 14th Louisiana Infantry arrived in Ship Point after a long and perilous journey from that state. This regiment was commanded by Colonel Valery Sulakowski. Sulakowski was a Polish immigrant and had served in the Austrian Army. After arriving in Louisiana he was made engineer of the City of New Orleans. The 14th Louisiana was hastily put together and there was not enough time to instill military bearing on the raw troops. This probably forced Col. Sulakowski to rule with an iron hand. During the trip from Louisiana to Virginia he actually shot some soldiers who had attacked him or other soldiers.
Upon arrival in Ship Point, the Louisiana troops shared the Carolina troop's low opinion of the place. Lt. Miller wrote that he thought it was the "muddiest, most miserable place".
Sulakowski began to take control of conditions at the Ship Point. He was probably the ranking officer in the area. He created a small village of log huts and as Lt. Miller wrote "had all the convenience of civilized life. There was even an opera house". Miller describes the opera house at being built in the "simplest of architecture, of pine logs, and a shingle roof with no ceiling. It is large enough to accommodate all that wish to go and will suffice to amuse us very well. The regimental band compose the troop of performers. When we get under full head way I will give an account of one night's performance." Being as Sulakowski was an engineer; he probably supervised to construction of the earthworks at Ship Point. Many of these still exist today.
As conditions improved some of the soldiers began to have a better opinion of Ship Point. Lt. Miller actually grew to have a fondness for the area. He enjoyed the sea and wrote that he would set for hours on the front battery gazing at it. He often would go sailing in the bay. In one letter home he writes" The men, all afflicted with spring fever brought on by the genial rays of the sun of today are lounging about lazily in the parade ground in fatigue uniform. The soft sea breeze, unmilitary appearance of things (except when the sentry walks in front of my door) the altogether rural look of things makes it the loveliest scene that I have beheld in a long time." In a later letter he even said that he would like to return and live in the Ship Point area after the war. Lt. Robert Miller never was to return to Ship Point. In one of the ironies of war, he was killed at the Second Battle of Manassas.
The North Carolina troops suffered from boredom. This, combined with news from home of victories by General Burnside the Eastern part of the state and the Outer Banks, made life miserable for them. They had requested and were denied permission to return to North Carolina to fight. They were starting to get tired of sitting and waiting. One night a group of them commandeered some boats and went to destroy a lighthouse on the very tip of the peninsula about six miles from Ft. Monroe. Lewis Warlick volunteered for the raid and the following is his account of the expedition: "We started three hours before sundown (twenty three in all) in small boats and was gone the whole night and did not return until daylight. I was traveling all the time, had no way of lying down to rest, being exposed the whole while to the night air. After all our trouble and danger to which we were exposed, we only succeeded in part …..We arrested the lighthouse keeper and brought him prisoner to Ship Point. The lighthouse, we could not burn or blow it up as it was solid masonry from the base for forty feet. Therefore we had to leave that fine piece of property to benefit only the Yankees". I have found no record as to what happened to the lighthouse keeper.
On March 21, 1862 General Magruder gave the order for the troops on the Young's Mill-Harwood's Mill line to fall back to the Warwick Line. This would essentially leave Ship Point behind Union lines. Lt. Miller stated that his regiment was driven away from Ship Point and was ordered to fall back the line that went from Yorktown to the James River. This was the second of General Magruder's three lines of defense across the Peninsula.
It seems that the evacuation of Ship Point had taken place in great haste. In his book on the 32nd Virginia Infantry, Les Jensen writes that the Lee Guards barely got out of Ship Point without being captured. Enoch Cox, Samuel Lively and Burcher were among several men left behind and believed captured.
Thomas Hudgins' farm was free of soldiers, but not for long.
On April 4,1863 Colonel William Averill and his 3rd PA Calvary were sent to reconnoiter Ship Point’s garrison and defenses. When he returned that evening and reported that the place was abandoned and there was enough barracks for 3000 soldiers.
General McClellan had particular interest on Ship Point. It is apparent from reading his reports that he was going to probably attempt to take Ship Point had it not been abandoned. In his April 5th report he mentioned that Ship Point had been turned and was in control of his calvary.
He ordered General O.O. Howard’s brigade to Ship Point. The first Union soldiers to arrive were the 5th New Hampshire, who came in at 10:00 in the morning of April 6th. Other regiments in Howard’s brigade were 61st New York Infantry, 64th New York, and the 81st Pennsylvania Infantry.
Ship Point was to serve the Union army in three ways. . They used it as a supply depot, a point of debarkation and as a hospital. It was to figure highly in the General McClellan's plan to seize Yorktown. Troops would go by ship from Alexandria to Ft. Monroe then on to Ship Point where they would be marched to the lines in Yorktown.
One of the first things the Union Army did at Ship Point was to establish a supply depot. This was done by order of General McClellan through Quartermaster General Stuart Van Vliet. There was another supply depot on Chisman’s Creek about a mile from Ship Point and a smaller one on Back Creek. The depot at Ship Point was used exclusively for subsistence provisions such as food. The order was carried out by General Howard. He had made a personal reconnaissance of the Poquoson River and found that the Ship Point was the most practical place to receive supplies from the water.
A major problem for Van Vliet was the condition of the roads on the Peninsula in 1862. The winter and spring of 1862 was very wet and the primitive road system became extremely muddy and almost impassable. The first Union troops at the Ship Point were put to work building corduroy roads for there to Yorktown. This was done by cutting down trees and putting them across the roads and filling the spaces with dirt. It was estimated that the Union Army built twenty miles of corduroy roads in York County during the Civil War.
The Union occupation of Ship Point was a time of extreme hardship for the Hudgins family. The family was forced to give there own food and provisions for the troops.
Thomas Hudgins was taken prisoner by the Union soldiers in hopes that he would give information on the Confederate troops. Mr. Hudgins' wife, Lucina was sick the whole during the time of the Union occupation. General Howard ordered that " old lady not be disturbed".
The Union Army had put together a string of telegraph stations across the Peninsula. One of these was in the attic of the Hudgins house. Twelve year old Theophilus Hudgins ( son of Thomas) would throw sticks that the window of telegraph office. When the telegrapher found out who was making the noise, he came to the window and shouted" Get away from there you little rebel!"
The war had another tragedy for the Hudgins family. One of the brothers, Humphrey Hudgins, was killed.
General Howard made the Pumphrey house his headquarters. Mr. Pumphrey had married one of Mr. Hudgins' daughters. In his autobiography Howard wrote that Mr. Pumphrey was very happy that he chose his house as a headquarters. He stated that soldiers, camp followers and wagoneers
had came through constantly night and day shooting cows, killing chickens, stealing eggs and stealing nearly the entire "winter's supply. General Howard did not think well of that and wondered what his mother would have thought if this happened to her.
A few days later General Israel Richardson's First division of the Second Corps arrived in Ship Point. One of the brigades in the unit was General Meagher's Irish brigade. They were to become well known later in the war for their courage and tenacity under fire.
When they arrived had Ship Point, bad weather had prevent to ship from coming close in. Some of the soldiers came in small boats, while others waded ashore in chest deep water. General Meagher sent an officer to inquire as whose command was already ashore and if they could get any assistance. He made contact with General Howard, who ordered his men to share their huts, fires and rations with the Irishmen. Howard's men did this willingly.
They soon bivouacked and a headquarters hut was set up. The only thing that distinguished it as a headquarters was a sentry walking up and down and their famous green flag.
This story from the Irish Brigade's time in Ship Point is given is David Power Conyngham's history of the brigade.
"General Richardson was a plain, rather slovenly in dress, generally wearing the blue pants and overcoat of a private, without any insignia of his rank. On one occasion, he walking through camp when he met an Irish soldier staggering home.
"Who do you belong to?" he asked the soldier.
" What do belong to, is it? Arrah now, that's a good one comrade; faix and sure I belong to the Irish brigade: and what if a body may ask ax do you belong to?'
"Oh, I belong to General Richardson's command"
" You do? I don't know the ‘ould fellow; they say he is a rum one; Dirty Dick they call him."
" Indeed, how do ye like him?"
" Oh very well, I hear the boys saying he is a brave ould fellow, all the boys like Dirty Dick well enough but wouldn't you like to have a drink?"
" I thought there was no whisky to be go in camp now."
" Isn’t there indeed, come along ould chap" and Pat took the General by the arm.
It happened that a Mrs._____ , who accompanied the brigade in the confidential capacity of supernumerary quartermaster or commissary assistant or something of the kind, always kept on hand a generous supply of bottled commissary which she retailed on the sly for three dollars a bottle.
She was now doing a decent business on one of the shanties , when Paddy Doran staggered in with his friend.
" I say Mrs. Let me have another bottle of that fire water of yours"
" You have enough Paddy" said Mrs. _____ from the back part of the shanty, where she was putting in a little water to qualify the commissary, for fear it would be too strong and hurt the boys.
" No, I want a bottle; I have a friend wid me."
Mrs. ____ was in the act of handing the bottle to Paddy, when she seemed very much taken with the appearance of his friend who she recognized as General Richardson.
"Paddy Doran, you villain, may curse light on you. You have desaved me" and she aimed the bottle at Paddy's head. But he dodged it. And in doing so knocked against his friend, upsetting him.
"Oh, General Richardson dear" exclaimed she running to raise him up. " Don't mind that that villain, that_____"
Whatever she was going to say remained unsaid. For Paddy Doran hearing who his friend was made a dart for the door. It so happened that Mrs.____ was between him and the door, so Paddy in his fright knocked against her, completely rolling her over on the General . He do not wait to see the result, but made a bee-line straight to the camp.
Whether the General thought the affair too ludicrous to make any noise about it or that he enjoyed it, he let the matter drop and made no noise about it, much to Paddy Doran's relief"
The Civil War was General Israel Richardson's third war. He was respected by his men. He was killed September 17, 1862 at Sharpsburg. The Irish brigade served heroically for the remainder of the war. They were nearly destroyed during the Battle of Fredricksburg where made charge after charge against Confederate troops behind a stonewall at Maryre's Heights.
General Oliver Otis Howard lost an arm at one of the Seven Day's Battles. He later commanded a corps at Chancellorsville and was on the receiving end of Stonewall Jackson's famous flanking maneuver in that battle. After the war General Howard founded Howard University.
On April 9 1864, General McClellan came to Ship Point. He briefly visited General Howard's headquarters and had a longer visit with General Richardson. He have visited his brother, Dr. Robert McClellan who was working at the hospital at Ship Point.
The Ship Point hospital has been described as a large log building. It may have been the old Confederate Opera house that Lt. Miller described. One other letter tell of another smaller hospital there. Local tradition places the hospital near the intersection of Anchor Drive and Ship Point Road.
The Ship Point hospital was mainly used as a Civil War version of an evac hospital. Patients were taken from the field to the hospital and then embarked on a ship for Alexandria. The trip to Ship Point must have been agony for the wounded and sick men as they traversed the newly built corduroy roads. War records reveal that many men died while at the Ship Point hospital.
Steamers that had been converted to hospital ships were anchored in Chisman's Creek. They were outfitted and operated by the United States Sanitary Commission. This organization was founded in 1861 by Clara Barton and was a forerunner to the American Red Cross. The commission provided nurses, orderlies and medical supplies and provisions to the Army. Two of the hospital ships anchored off Ship Point were the Daniel Webster I and Daniel Webster II. They had previously been used as troop transports and were later outfitted as hospital ships. The Wilson Small was a smaller ship that was used to transport patients from the rivers and creeks that the larger ships could not get through.
On May 4th Yorktown feel and Ship Point was no longer needed as a supply depot or embarkation sight. The hospital continued operation until late May.
Ship Point and York County were to remain behind Union lines for the remainder of the war. During the war, Fish Neck residents had heard of many churches being desecrated and torn down. This was the fate of Zion Church in Seaford and Bethel Church. The people approached General Eramus Keyes and requested the Providence Church be spared this fate. General Keyes issued an order that the church not be molested in any way.
During the 1990s an archaeological survey was done at Ship Point and the results showed very little artifacts in the area. Civil War relics have been found at Smith's Railway, the old Pumphrey house and in various fields in Dare. Smith Railway was opened by my g-g-g-grandfather John P. Smith in 1842 and is still operated by the Smith family. The only time that it was closed was during the Civil War.
There were at least two Fish Neck men killed in the war. Arthur B. White died at Sharpsburg and George Washington Smith was killed at Gettysburg.
After the Civil War, Ship Point was to become peaceful again. The Hudgins family eventually sold the farm. The area is now still heavily wooded but the there are small subdivisions popping up throughout the area. Some of the gun emplacements are still visible and are in a private yard and are well taken care of. Most of the trench line is still intact and appears in good shape. The Pumphrey house is still standing and has been remodeled several times I wish to thank its currently owner, Ross Jernigan, for letting me photograph it.
In August 1933 and September 2003, Ship Point was to back in the news again. The reason was not war, but hurricanes. The August Storm of 1933 caused a quick evacuation of Ship Point. Some had to flee the quickly rising tide in the middle of the storm. The homes of Dr. Blackwell and Doctor Hodges were washed from their foundations and they had retrieve many household article from up in trees. But that is another story. Hurricane Isabel also destroyed many homes in Ship Point. Hurricanes and nor'easters pose the biggest threat to the gun emplacements.. The gun emplacements are in danger of erosion and Hurricane Isabel washed away large chunks of it.


Blogger Gary Croke said...

Very interesting, thanks. I found this article after reading elsewhere that the Irish Brigade had landed at Ship Point. Like Thomas Francis Meagher, I'm from Waterford, Ireland, but now live in Williamsburg.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Gary Croke said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great research job as usual frank,George Dickerson raised on ship point within the complex on the fort.I printed out some of your research and gave it to Ross at his retirement party, He was very appreciative.

4:09 PM  

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