Engagement at Aquia Creek

The Engagement at Aquia Creek was fought from Wednesday, May 29 to Saturday, June 1, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Commander James H. Ward and Virginian forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Daniel Ruggles and Capt. William F. Lynch in Stafford County, Virginia.

By the end of May 1861, there was no longer any doubt as to which side Virginia would take in the American Civil War. On May 23rd, Virginia voters ratified secession by a large majority, and the next day, Union troops crossed the Potomac River and seized Arlington Heights and Alexandria, Virginia. Several small fleets of U.S. Navy ships and converted civilian vessels had been enforcing an economic and military blockade on Virginia ports since April 27th.

Farther down the Potomac River lay Aquia Landing, the terminus point of the Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. In mid-May, the Virginia Provisional Army and Navy erected a battery of 13 cannon at the landing and, later, on nearby Split Rock Bluff. Capt. William F. Lynch was in immediate command of the battery. They hoped to prevent Union ships from moving up the Potomac to support Washington, DC.

On Wednesday, May 30, 1861, the USS Thomas Freeborn commanded by James H. Ward approached the battery at Aquia Landing and fired 14 shots, to little effect. The next day, it returned supported by the smaller, 2-gun USS Anacostia and USS Resolute. The three ships exchanged fire with the battery for an hour before retiring.

Friday, June 1st, the sloop-of-war USS Pawnee reinforced the flotilla and pounded the shore battery with its ten guns. The USS Pawnee was hit nine times during the exchange, suffering minor damage and no casualties except its commander, whose face was scratched by a splinter.

After three days of bombardment, suffering from minor damage, and running low on ammunition, the Union ships withdrew to fight another day. The USS Pawnee remained at a distance to keep an eye on the battery.

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