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West Point (Pamunkey River Fort)

River Battery Preserved: In 2009 a preservation-minded landowner donated this site to the Richmond Battlefields Association. It contains a well-defined artillery position on a bluff overlooking the Pamunkey River. This relatively small site was well worth preserving. The remnants of a Union fort constructed here in 1863 is all that remains of a substantial defensive line that extended from the Pamunkey River to the Mattapponi River. Acquiring land, even through donation, is costly. In this case, the RBA incurred considerable expense through surveying, title work, and processing fees that accompany any land transaction.

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May - July 1863

The town of West Point, 35 miles due east of Richmond, is located at the confluence of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers. The terminus of the Richmond & York River Railroad was here at the head of the York River. Military forces at this strategic location could control naval traffic on these waterways.

On May 7, 1863, thousands of Union soldiers disembarked from transports and occupied the village. The men, under the command of General John A. Dix, were to establish a base of operations for the destruction of supplies or resources that could aid the Confederate war effort.

Immediately after landing, the Union soldiers began erecting fortifications in and around West Point to protect themselves from any Confederate interference. The balance of the line ran on an east-west axis, across the narrow peninsula between the two rivers, and was studded with six artillery emplacements. Each of the battery positions had a name; it is thought that the one preserved by the RBA is either "Battery McClellan" or "Battery Lincoln."

The soldiers cleared trees in front to improve fields of fire, tore down inconvenient buildings, built abatis, magazines and bombproofs, and otherwise took all precautions against a Confederate attack that never materialized. They created an unusually strong position. "We have done a vast amount of labor," wrote a soldier from the 144th NY, "Have built 4 forts & some[thing] over a mile of rifle pits of the heaviest kind being 4 feet thick on top 10 & 12 on the bottom & as high as a man's head."

Soon after completing the intense labor of building a defensible line, the Union soldiers packed up and sailed away, apparently without having fired a shot at any Confederate force. Lee's army operated in Pennsylvania then, and Federal planners saw little value in having a force as small as Dix's loitering so far from any decisive theater of operations. By July 8 the last of the bluecoats had departed West Point, leaving behind a truly formidable set of fortifications.

acres saved

Above: Union fort overlooking the Pamunkey River.

Placed by a conscientous landowner: 
Civil War Breast Work
This battlement built by
Soldiers of the Civil War
Stretched to the Mattaponi River
Half a million men gave their lives
Please be respectful in this place