“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Smithfield in Isle of Wight County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Battle of Smithfield

The Town that Wouldn’t Surrender

Battle of Smithfield Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, September 1, 2014
1. Battle of Smithfield Marker
Inscription. This section of the Pagan River in front of you is where the Union gunboat, USS Smith-Briggs, was run aground and destroyed by local Confederate troops during the January 31-February 1, 1864, Battle of Smithfield.

Smithfield was the only town in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater region not occupied by Union forces during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Todd's Battery, defending the Pagan River at Battery Park, had been destroyed and Confederate soldiers had evacuated the town.

In late January 1864, a Federal steamer on the James River was fired upon and run aground by a Confederate force from the Isle of Wight shore. Immediately, the Union retaliated by sending the gunboat, Smith-Briggs, to Smithfield. The vessel disembarked 90 soldiers at the old abandoned shipyard at the foot of Church Street. The troops marched inland, skirmished with local Confederates, then returned to Smithfield, only to find that the Smith-Briggs had not returned to retrieve them. The next day, February 1, 1864, the Confederates disputed the Union retreat by positioning two cannon, one at the county dock and the other at the foot of Church Street.

When the Smith-Briggs finally returned for the Federal soldiers it was greeted with shot and shell, one of which pierced the
Church Street image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, September 1, 2014
2. Church Street
steam drum of the Union vessel. The gunboat, now disabled, drifted away from the wharf into a mud bank on the opposite side of the Pagan River and surrendered. The Smith-Briggs was set on fire. When the flames reached the magazine with its two tons of gun powder, the vessel was blown to pieces. Before the explosion, however, a local Confederate went aboard and wrenched the gilded eagle from the pilothouse as a trophy of war. The eagle remains a proud symbol of one Southern town that refused to surrender to the Northern invaders.

(upper left) Gilded eagle from the USS Smith-Briggs pilothouse. Courtesy of Isle of Wight Museum
(lower right) USS Smith-Briggs - Courtesy of Isle of Wight Museum
Erected by Virginia Civil WarTrails.
Marker series. This marker is included in the Virginia Civil War Trails marker series.
Location. 36° 58.931′ N, 76° 37.473′ W. Marker is in Smithfield, Virginia, in Isle of Wight County. Marker is on South Church Street (Business U.S. 258) 0.2 miles east of Jericho Road, on the left when traveling east. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Smithfield VA 23430, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking
Pagan River image. Click for full size.
By Bernard Fisher, September 1, 2014
3. Pagan River
distance of this marker. Smithfield (here, next to this marker); a different marker also named Smithfield (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line but has been reported missing); Ivy Hill Cemetery (approx. 0.4 miles away); Joseph W. Luter, III (approx. 0.4 miles away); Law & Politics in 18th Century Isle of Wight (approx. 0.4 miles away); Old Isle of Wight Courthouse (approx. 0.4 miles away); Isle of Wight County War Memorial (approx. 0.4 miles away); Liquid Maze (approx. half a mile away). Click for a list of all markers in Smithfield.
Also see . . .  The Battle of Smithfield. Smithfield & Isle of Wight Convention & Visitors Bureau (Submitted on September 1, 2014.) 
Categories. War, US CivilWaterways & Vessels
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 251 times since then and 92 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on , by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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