William Harwar, 1826-1896, Recollections of Naval Officer, 1841-1865
Charleston was evacuated Feb 18, & Wilmington was captured Feb 22, 1865. The naval officers & sailors arriving in Richmond from these & other places were organized as a naval Bgde under Commodore Tucker, & sent to man the various Btrys below & in the neighborhood of Drury's bluff. Admiral Raphael Semmes, who had returned from Europe, landed in Texas & made his way to Richmond, was put in command of the James River squadron Feb 18, 1865.
We had at this time sixty midshipmen, & these with their officers constituted a force of about seventy men, armed with rifles & extremely well disciplined & drilled. We had among them representatives of the best families of the South. I need not say that, under the circumstances, the care of these young gentlemen gave me many anxious moments. [Sent south after Richmond evacuated as guard for some gold/silver]
The squadron under Admiral Semmes was at anchor between Chapin & Drury's bluff, & the naval Bgde under Commodore Tucker was distributed among the Btrys nearby. Such was the position of affairs on the river on the evening of April 1st, 1865.
Sailor's Creek Battlefield Historical State Park-Following in the evacuation of Richmond & Petersburg by Lee's Army was a naval Bn commanded by Capt Tucker, CSN. The majority of the Bn was made up of naval officers & sailors from the abandoned naval stations at Savannah, Charleston & Wilmington who arrived at Drewry's Bluff in March 1865. The sailors & the three Marine Co’s regularly stationed at Drewry's Bluff were consolidated into what became known as Tucker's Naval Bn.
The seamen were trained as Infy by Marines under the command of Maj Terrett, CSMC. The Bn was subsequently augmented by sailors & Marines from the James River naval Btrys. Attaching itself to Gen Ewell's command leaving Richmond, upon arriving at Amelia CH, Tucker's Naval Bn & the Marines, now commanded by Capt John Douglas Simms were added to Custis Lee's Div’s of Local Defense Troops under Ewell. Approximately 200 Marines left Drewry's Bluff along with about 400 to 600 men of the Navy Bn.
Custis Lee's Div was made up of Gen Seth Barton's Va Bgde, Moore's Bgde of Local Defense Troops & Va Reserves, Col Crutchfield's Arty Bgde of Hvy Arty from the Richmond defenses & Chaffin's Bluff Garrison. When Gen Custis Lee formed his battle line below this ridge & preparatory to the Battle of Little Sailor's Creek, he held the left of Gen Ewell's position, while Gen Kershaw's Div held the right across the road. Tucker's & Simm's force held the position behind Lee's Div, eventually falling back "into the dense timber in a depression in the bluffs." In the attack against Lee's position by the Federal army during the battle, Crutchfield's men made an unordered counter attack, forcing some of the Union Regts to fall back to the creek before reforming.
As they began their return assault on the Confederates, heavy hand-to-hand combat took place. An observer remembered he saw one of the Southern "officers & a Federal officer fighting with swords over the Bn colors" but the Southerner was a "very athletic, powerful seaman, [sic] & soon "saw the Federal officer fall." A Union Gen, Truman Seymour, reported "their Marine Bn fought with peculiar obstinacy" in this struggle. Another recalled "those marines fought like tigers & against odds of at least ten to one."
At the Battle of Sayler's Creek, 4/6/1865, a unit known as "Tucker's Naval Bgde", was attached to Div’s of Custis Lee & Joseph Kershaw. These two Div’s made up nearly one fourth of the retreating CS army. At Sayler’s Creek they were cut off by Sheridan’s Cav & elements of the II & VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
Tucker's command was the only unit that didn't break after the first Union charge. Numbering 300-400 men, surrounded by six Union Div’s, Tucker refused to surrender, & ordered a counterattack against the 37th Mass, & 2nd R I (commanded by Elisha Hunt Rhodes). Withdrawing to a wooded area, these CS Seamen repulsed multiple Federal attacks. Tucker’s Bgde was resilient & did so much damage that the Federal Gen’ls estimated the "Naval Bgde” to number some 2,000 men. Tucker was ultimately talked into surrendering toward the end of the day.
Among their number were at least three "Free Men of Color": Charles Cleaper, who first had served with "Simon's Co (Etiwan Rangers) - part of the 1st Regt SC Mtd Militia, James Hicks, & Joe Johnson. They were among the 25 that escaped & later surrendered at Appomattox. It appears that Johnson first enlisted in the 2nd Va Cav, 4/20/1862. He was wounded at Aldie, 6/17/1863. Had a horse killed at Raccoon Ford, Va, 10/11/1863, paid $650.00 for the horse. Transferred to the Navy, 4/2/1864