The West End’s Forgotten Civil War Story

Hank Thompson

Staff Writer

Virginia is full of  dozens of signs, locations, plaques, and monuments to civil war history, especially across downtown Richmond and Mechanicsville. Yet it seems the West End was left untouched by this conflict, however, this was not the case.

During the Spring of 1864, an ambitious cavalry raid was led on Richmond with the intent of freeing the 13,000 Union prisoners held on Belle Isle while also burning Richmond and killing President Jefferson Davis in the process. This raid ended in failure after being halted here in the West End, involving many locations and landmarks familiar to Freeman students.

The Union’s plan was for General Judson Kilpatrick to attack Richmond from the North with his main force while Colonel Ulric Dahlgren would lead a supporting group through Goochland County, cross the James River, and simultaneously attack the city from the south.

Dahlgren traveled across Goochland County on River Road, burning farms, mills, barns, crops, and anything else that could assist the Confederate War effort.

Nearing the Capitol, Dahlgren utilized the assistance of a local freed slave to guide him to a river crossing. Unfortunately, the River was flooded and none of the guide’s crossings were navigable. Dahlgren became quite frustrated and suspected their guide was intentionally misleading them, so Dahlgren ordered him hanged. Their guide was hanged at Powell’s Tavern, a decrypt structure still standing today just West of the Henrico County line.

Powell’s Tavern (Photo: Hank Thompson)

Dahlgren could hear gunfire from his counterpart, Kilpatrick, meaning he was late to the conflict. Understanding the impossibility of crossing the river and attacking from the south, Dahlgren decided to push east with his 470 men, crossing into Henrico County. They turned onto Quioccasin Road, and then Three Chopt Road, heading east.

They passed Ridge Baptist Church, then called Ridge Church, a church repurposed as a hospital by the Confederate Government during the War. “I used to park [my car] there everyday before school,” said Junior Tyler Hagan. “I never knew that church was over 150 years old and was connected to the Civil War.”  The army would also pass through where Freeman High School stands today.

Ridge Baptist Church (Photo: Hank Thompson)

As the sun began to set, they turned the corner by Publix and continued south down Three Chopt. Here, they were surprised by a force of Confederate Militia, mostly consisting of factory workers from Tredegar Ironworks. This Confederate weapons factory, now a museum, still stands by Brown’s Island today. It was at this site, near the Village and Bandy field, that a quick skirmish erupted, resulting in the defeat of the Confederates who retreated down Three Chopt. The Northern cavalry made quick chase, following them as they fled.

The site of the skirmish by Bandy Field (Photo: Hank Thompson)

Today at Bandy Field stands the faint remnants of Confederate fortifications and trenches, built during the war to protect the Capitol’s western approaches from invasion. Junior Aidan Baird said, “My dad showed me those trenches when I was younger […] they helped me develop an interest in history and the Civil War.”

An inside view of trenches at Bandy Field (Photo: Hank Thompson)

As nighttime approached, another force of Confederate militia decided to make a final stand on Cary Street, next to Saint Catherine’s School. This force consisted of around 800 old men, teenagers, disabled veterans, and any other men unable to fight in the regular army.

Meanwhile, the Union cavalry turned onto Cary Street, unaware of the Confederate militia in front of them.

Hidden in the darkness of night, the Confederates only managed to fire twice before engaging in  close combat due to the night-time confusion. Using swords and bayonets as well as their rifles as clubs, the confrontation quickly turned barbaric as some resorted to throwing rocks.

The site of the skirmish by St. Catherine’s School (Photo: Hank Thompson)

Disorganized and confused, the Union cavalry fled back up Three Chopt Road. Now scattered and separated, many groups became lost and taken prisoner around Western Henrico. Ironically enough, they would be sent to the same prison camps they were sent to liberate.

Junior Brennan Berry said, “A few years ago we found Civil War bullets in our backyard, so maybe they were dropped during the retreat.”

Dahlgren himself fled east and was ambushed and killed on the Middle Peninsula the next day. Most of his men were either killed, wounded, or captured, making the raid a costly failure for the North.

“I think it is neat that a part of the Civil War happened this close to Freeman,” said Aidan. “You are not taught these special local events in history class.”

Published by The Commentator

Online Editor-in-Chief of the DSF commentator

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