Exhibit 6

Fort Pocahontas – Black troops tested

Fort Pocahontas MarkerFort Pocahontas reinactment

Fort Pocahontas is an earthen Civil War fort located on the James River at Wilson’s landing. The fort was built by Union soldiers called USCT, or U. S. Colored Troops. USCT also defended the fort against a Confederate cavalry attack in a small but historically significant engagement – the only battle in the Civil War in which a majority of the Union forces were USCT. The fort is open for an annual reenactment of the battle which always takes place in the spring and at other times for tours by appointment. This historical marker on Route 5 at Sturgeon Point Road tells the story of the battle. Photo left courtesy Judy Ledbetter, right courtesy Nancy Phaup.

Wilson's LandingAt the time of the war Wilson's Landing was said to be the highest and most prominent point on the river, elevated about 50 feet above the James. It also is located at a narrow point on the river, the lowest narrow point below Richmond. Thus, geography made it a natural place to construct a fort for the protection of communication lines and shipping lanes along the river. In May 1864 Union forces under General Butler began to advance up the James en route to Richmond. Construction of Fort Pocahontas was begun May 5, 1864, when Union troops landed for this purpose. Photo of the James River from Fort Pocahontas, courtesy Judy Ledbetter.

Brigadier General Edward Augustus WildMen of the 1st and 22nd regiments USCT under the command of Brigadier General Edward Augustus Wild landed and hastily began construction of the fort on May 5, 1864. Wild, a Harvard-educated physician, had been chosen to lead USCT regiments because of his uncompromising belief in the value of black soldiers. His hatred of the Confederacy was intense, and it was his policy to take the war to the local populace by raiding the surrounding countryside. Foraging parties were sent out from the fort to pillage local plantations and to round up residents suspected of Confederate sympathies. Photo of Gen. Edward A. Wild, courtesy Library of Congress.

Sellwood Plantation Sellwood Plantation
Local plantation owner William Clopton was among the residents brought into the fort. Clopton lived nearby on a plantation called Sellwood. Earlier Clopton had severely beaten several of his female slaves, who were at the time of his capture refugees within the fort. Wild ordered that Clopton be stripped and tied to a tree. His former slaves, male and female, were then allowed to whip him. News of Clopton’s whipping was reported in the Richmond Sentinel, which accused Wild’s soldiers not only of robbing, burning and plundering, but also of assaulting defenseless women. Wild was later court-marshaled for allowing this whipping. Sentinel 19 May 1864.

Maj. Gen. Fizhugh Lee Pressure mounted in Richmond for an attack that would remove the black soldiers at the fort. On May 23, 1864, Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of Robert E. Lee, set out from Atlee’s Station (north of Richmond) with 2,500 men to attack the fort. After an all-night ride the Confederate cavalry arrived at the fort around 11A.M. on May 24th. At the time of Lee’s arrival Wild had about 900 men from the 1st and 10th USCT in the fort, and the entrenchments were only about one-third complete. Lee sent a message to Wild demanding that the soldiers surrender, in which case they would be made prisoners of war. If they failed to surrender Lee said he would “not be answerable for the consequences,” meaning all the soldiers and their officers would be killed. Wild rejected the offer and the battle commenced. Maj. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, courtesy Library of Congress

Fort Pocahontas reconstructed abatesThe engagement placed men from Charles City on both sides of the abatis, although there is no evidence that the men were aware of it at the time. The attacking force included Charles City men from Company D of the 3d Virginia Cavalry. Defending the fort were at least ten men who were enlisted in the 1st US Colored Infantry in the days leading up to the battle: Oliver Williams, Jesse Braxton, Samuel Harrison, Robert A. Watkins, Banks Bradley, Albert Williams, Robert Lewis, Robert Brown, William Henry Harrison, and Samuel Scotland. The USCT were supported by the gunboat USS Dawn, which fired shells from the James River over the fort onto the attacking Confederate cavalry. Photo of Fort Pocahontas reconstructed abatis courtesy Judy Ledbetter.

Fort Pillow Massacre

The action was the first major test of the USCT after a battle that has come to be known as the Fort Pillow massacre. On April 12, 1864, -- less than two months earlier -- Confederate forces under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest attacked and took Fort Pillow which was located on the Mississippi River in Tennessee and massacred USCT who had surrendered. News of Fort Pillow undoubtedly was fresh in the minds of the Union and Confederate forces engaged at Fort Pocahontas. The Confederate forces were completely routed and withdrew shortly after dusk, having suffered 20 dead, over 100 injured and 19 missing. Union troops suffered only 22 casualties. Photo of officers and men of 1st USCT, courtesy Library of Congress.

Arter letter page 1 During the summer of 1864 white soldiers from the 143rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry were stationed at Fort Pocahontas. In a letter home one soldier wrote about the action in which Gen. Wild had the fight with Gen. Fitzhugh Lee and “whipped him most shamefully.” He also wrote about colored troops, “I have seen regiment after regiment Pasing backward and forward, cavalry Artilery & infantry they are the finest looking men in the field, as a general thing they are large, mostly young, and of all coulers from the white to as black as a crow and nearly all of them has been slaves.” “I find by talking with the white troops that they have no objection to the Black Troops taking a position with them in the field, and if necessary they lead the column and take all the Honor.” The letter writer also observed that “remember Fort Pillow” had become both a taunt and a battle cry in engagements where USCT were pitted against Confederate forces. Capt. A. R. Arter to his father, June 19, 1864, Wilson’s Landing, Virginia courtesy Sherwood Forest Plantation. Read full letter here (PDF).

house at Fort Pocahontas At the war’s end Fort Pocahontas became a headquarters for the New Kent –Charles City subdistrict of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The Assistant Superintendant for the district approved labor contracts, observed criminal proceedings, issued marriage licenses, organized schools, registered voters, helped unite families and provided relief to destitute elderly freedmen. The Assistant Superintendant also sought (unsuccessfully) to promote temperance. The agent resided at the Wilson house which was located within the fort and used as officer’s quarters. The house pictured here was moved from Southampton County to the fort during the fort’s restoration because of its similarity to the Wilson house. Photo courtesy John Bragg.

next: Exhibit 7: Oak Hill cemetery – Dilsy Washington is brought home