Middlesex During the Civil War

Middlesex suffered countless raids from both the Yankees and the Confederates. The stories of the women and children left behind, filled with determination, chance, and even humor, tells of a different type of heroism. During the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the museum will continue to collect and display accounts of life in Middlesex during that time. 


How did the Civil War really affect Middlesex County? Although the major battles of the War weren’t fought on Middlesex soil, her sons fought in those battles. Their heroism and sometimes their deaths had a major impact on life here. 


Even before 1861, when Virginia succeeded from the Union, Middlesex men began to organize. After succession, military leaders in Richmond ordered that a Middlesex militia unit be organized as the 55th Virginia Infantry. The history of this unit and the stories of the men who commanded and served in the 55th are recounted chronologically in one section of the Civil War exhibit. Many of these stories have never been told before.


Another section of the exhibit has to do with one of the most famous naval heroes of the Civil War, John Taylor Wood, the “Sea Ghost of the Confederacy”. Wood, a grandson of Zachary Taylor and nephew of Jefferson Davis, actually fought several battles on the waters surrounding Middlesex. The exhibit begins with his early career as the gunnery officer on the CSS Virginia and recounts the action at Drewry’s Bluff when Wood and his men saved Richmond from Union capture. Wood came to our area in late 1862.  An account of the “Ambush on Wilton Creek” is included, as well as Wood’s capture of two gunboats and three schooners on the Rappahannock River.


Captain Thaddeus Fitzhugh, who provided land support for Wood, led rebels in a daring raid at Cherrystone Inlet, on the eastern shore of Virginia.  Capturing the U.S. Army tug Titan he escaped across the bay to the Piankatank River pursued by the gunboat Tulip.  The details of this raid and Foxhall Parker’s pursuit of the Titan up the Piankatank unfolds in the exhibit.  The fate of the SS Tulip is also revealed as she has a close connection to Sandy Bottom.


Not all the action occurred on the water. Included in the exhibit is an account of Col. Alonzo G. Draper, who commanded the U.S. Colored Infantry on their expedition to find and destroy torpedoes that had been decimating Union gunboats on theRappahannock.  During this raid Barrick’s Mill was burned and nine torpedoes destroyed. Col Draper was most impressed by his troops who became separated from their officers yet continued to attack and carried out the mission successfully on their own.


Middlesex had its own version of the underground railway. Union gunboats patrolled the peninsula keeping a weather eye on the shore and particularly Stingray Point lighthouse. Escaped slaves came here in hopes of being picked up and recruited into the Union forces. One such story has important consequences for thevillageofSandy Bottom.


One section of the exhibit deals with how the African-American population participated in the War as soldiers, spies, and as a major support.