May 20th Reports of Brigadier General Walter Gwynn, Commanding Confederate forces at Norfolk

NORFOLK, VA., May 20, 1861.

The enemy fired on the unfinished battery at Sewell’s Point on the 18th, but did no damage. There were at that time no guns mounted or nearer than Norfolk. I sent forward here guns immediately and two of the rifled cannon. Got them in position at 5 p. m. on the 19th. Soon after the enemy opened fire, which was returned and kept up one and a half hours, when the vessel from which the guns were fired withdrew. A fuller report will be made to-morrow. Just returned from Sewell’s Point. Reports in form the pickets at all points.

No immediate attack apprehended. Troops thrown forward and in position. Confident of making defense good. I am strengthening, to some extend, my position. Want six hundred laborers, and am re-enforcing the batteries, which takes off so many men that additional troops are required.


Adjutant-General Virginia Forces.

May 20, 1861.

SIR: I have the honor to inform you that, late in the evening of the 18th instant, I received intelligence of an attack,made by the enemy’s steamer Monticello, on the unfinished works at Sewell’s Point. This battery was not sufficiently advanced at the time to receive its armament and garrison. The Monticello carried three guns, one of which was a heavy 10-inch Dahlgren. With these she kept up a constant fire with solid shot and shell for more than an hour, when a steam-tug, from Old Point, carrying one gun, came to her aid, and the two vessels continued the cannonade until the close of the day, without any serious injury to the works. The tug then returned to Old Point, and the Monticello moored, with broadside on, with the intention, apparently, of continuing the attack,in order to demolish the works or prevent their progress. Early on the morning of the 19th I hurried on the guns and equipment, and repaired to Sewell’s Point, to expedite the works for their reception, and by 5 p. m. succeeded in getting three 32-pounders and two small rifled guns into position, while detachments of infantry and artillery, ordered from neighboring posts, occupied the battery and contiguous points. During all this time the Monticello, apparently not suspecting the operations going forward, was engaged in preparing for another effort, by calculating the range and distance and adjusting her guns to suit. With instructions to Captain Colquitt, of Georgia, to whom I gave the command of all the forces and guns at the post, to continue the preparations, reserving his fire until the enemy renewed the cannonade, I returned to Norfolk. At 5.30 o’clock the Monticello again opened fire from all her guns, and with much greater precision than on the preceding day. It was instantly returned, and with such effect that she was driven off and returned to Old Point. The engagement continued for an four and a half without intermission on either side, and, though the enemy’s fire was well directed, one shell bursting within an embrasure and several others directly over the battery, while solid shot repeatedly passed through the embrasures and struck the crest and sides of the melons, hurling masses of earth from the outside among the gunners, I am happy to inform you that no casualty of moment occurred to the troops, nor was material injury done to the battery. What damage or loss was sustained by the enemy I was not able to discover, but his retreat indicated that our fire had become too warm for further endurance. As early as I received information of the second attack and repulse, I ordered forward more troops, and hastened, during the night, to Sewell’s Point, to make such other dispositions as might be necessary to defend the post against any further and more formidable assaults which the enemy’s large naval and military forces at Old Point would enable him to make.

I cannot close this brief account of the engagement without expressing my admiration of the enthusiasm and bravery manifested by the troops. Where officers and men splayed so much merit it old be invidious to discriminate, and I therefore refer you to the accompanying report of Captain Colquitt for further particulars. His position, as commanding officer of the post, gave him an opportunity of displaying the qualities which adorn the soldier, and the general appreciation of his gallantry and merit by those under his command enable me to commend him most warmly to your consideration.

In conclusion, I would state that, in consequence of the want of a Virginia of Confederate flag for the occasion, the flag of Georgia, belonging to Captain Colquitt’s company, was planted on the ramparts during the engagement, and, while the hottest fire was prevailing, two members of his company, whose names I will forward you when reported to me as deserving particular notice, fearlessly passed to the outside of the battery, and deliberately removed the sand and other obstructions to the range of one of the guns while shot and shell were striking all about them.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Major-General LEE,
Commanding Forces of Virginia, Richmond, Va.


The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. II. With additions and corrections. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902.