Account of the Battle at Drewry’s Bluff


The following account of the battle at Drewry’s Bluff, May 16 1864, is taken from the book ”11th Virginia Infantry” by Robert T Bell. The book is in “The Virginia Regimental Histories Series.” I have added the paragraph headings. Drury’s Bluff is an alternative spelling.


The 11th Virginia Infantry arrives from North Carolina:

After dark on May 12, the soldiers trudged past Drewry's Bluff and camped at Brock Rock race course. For the next two days, the Virginians countermarched through the Drewry's Bluff lines, "showing the flag" to create an impression of well-manned trenches.


Preparing for battle:

On May 15, as ordnance sergeants issued the 11th Virginia soldiers an extra ammunition allowance, Col. Otey summoned his company commanders. He briefed his captains on the attack near Petersburg by Butler and of Gen. Beauregard's plan. Beauregard ordered the Southern troops to start at dusk that evening for their attack jump-off positions, to sleep in those positions and, at dawn the next morning, to advance into battle.


Moving into position for the attack:

The Virginians moved to a point near Drewry's Bluff, at the extreme left of the Confederate lines. Once in position, the men lay down in a thick pine forest and tried to sleep. Their line, near Kingsland Creek, faced east to where Ben Butler had moved from Bermuda Hundred. Archibald Gracie's Alabama brigade was on the left of Ransom's division, and William G. Lewis' North Carolina troops were on the right. Fifty yards behind Gracie and Lewis, in a second line, lay the brigades of Terry and Birkett D. Fry.


The battle begins early on the 16th:

The advance began at 4:45 a.m. amidst a dense fog that reduced visibility to fifteen yards. Immediate skirmish contact began as Gracie's troops, ahead of Terry's brigade, disappeared into the fog. The skirmish fire grew into general musketry, with artillery soon joining the combat. Terry's brigade deployed in a line that placed the 24th Virginia on the right with the 11th, the 1st and 7th Regiments extending toward the left. Shortly after the battle began, Gracie called for help. An officer from his command approached the 24th Virginia line and shouted: 'Hurry up, boys, they are tearing us all to pieces.’


An initial setback:

Solders from the Alabama units began streaming back through the second line formed by the Virginians. Gracie appeared and attempted to rally his men. Turning to Terry, Gracie requested immediate assistance. “General Terry, send me a regiment down there to take the place of one of mine that has run away." Terry ordered the 24th and 11th Regiments to move forward.


A rebel yell and charge turns the tide of battle:

In following Gracie's initial advance, the Virginia regiments had reached the crest of a hill. The ensuing charge at double time began downhill with a wild rebel yell. The rush carried the regiments to the foot of the rise, where they came under severe fire from enemy breastworks barely discernible in the smoke and fog. The Virginians sought cover and, kneeling or standing, returned the fire. The battle raged hot for about an hour.


The 11th Virginians hold on until the battle is won:

Suddenly there occurred a perceptible slackening of Federal fire. The command rang out to cease fire. Sending his other two regiments in a flanking attack, Terry had forced the surrender of the surrounded Federal troops. An entire brigade had been captured, including its commanding general.


The 11th Virginians proudly marched into Richmond carrying flags captured in the battle. My great-great grandfather was not there. Allen German Bailey was one of just 8 of the 11th Virginians to die in the battle. He had been conscripted less than three months prior to the battle. He is listed in the roster of 11th Virginia Infantry soldiers:


Bailey, Allen G.: conscripted on 2/20/64, and assigned to Co. A. on 3/2/64, age 41. Present on 3/31 64. KIA 5/16/64 at Drewry’s Bluff.