Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 27, 1861 (Sunday): A Geography Lesson

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Richmond, Va., May 27, 1861.
Capt. E. Ruffin Jr., Virginia Volunteers:
SIR: You will proceed with the company under your command to Burwell’s bay, to watch the movements of the enemy, in order to give notice of his approach, should he land in that vicinity and attempt to penetrate towards the railroad. In that case you will immediately dispatch messengers to Suffolk and to Zuni, where the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad crosses the Blackwater. You will then keep in front of the enemy, to observe his motions and retard his advance. Should it be necessary to communicate with you, such communications will be sent through the Smithfield post-office.
Very respectfully,
General, Commanding

The Civil War is not just history, but geography and you must always consider it in the context of existing roads and modes of transportation. Butler has landed troops in Newport News, Lee counters by sending Ruffin’s volunteer force to the opposite bank of the James to watch his movements. Zuni, (just below ‘Ivor’ on the map) is today a small town across a relatively narrow river (the Blackwater). But in 1861, a force could retreat to Zuni, fire the bridge, and cut a main artery to Petersburg and Richmond. Here we see Lee, a year before the Seven Days campaign, having to always keep an eye on any Union force coming near to the James, the river highway from Fort Monroe to Richmond.

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