U.S. Colored Troops Defeat Confederate Cavalry

Action at Wilson’s Wharf, Virginia, 24 May 1864


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About the Book

Wilson’s Wharf was the first major clash between U.S. Colored Troops and the Army of Northern Virginia. The 1st and 10th USCT infantry regiments, supported by two cannon and two U.S. Navy gunboats, faced 11 detachments of veteran Confederate cavalry who were under orders to “kill every man.” Union commander General Edward Wild, a one-armed abolitionist, refused General Fitzhugh Lee’s demand for surrender, telling Lee to “go to Hell.” The battle resulted in a victory for the mainly black Union force.
This book describes the action in detail and in the larger context of the history of black U.S. servicemen, including the British recruitment of runaway slaves during the Revolutionary War, the black Colonial Marines who joined the British in torching Washington in the War of 1812, and the South’s attempts to enlist slaves in the final months of the Civil War.

About the Author(s)

The late Edwin W. Besch was wounded commanding a U.S. Marine Corps rifle company in Vietnam in 1966 and was a CIA analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon during 1971–73. He was the author or coauthor of 14 intelligence studies, more than 300 reports, and 100+ professional journal articles on military topics. He lived in Mobile, Alabama.

Bibliographic Details

Edwin W. Besch
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 292
Bibliographic Info: 52 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2017
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6663-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2737-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface 1
Prelude: The Significance of the Emancipation Proclamation 4
I.    The Commanders at Wilson’s Wharf: A Massachusetts
­Physician-Soldier vs. a Virginia Professional Soldier 9
II.   The Federal and Confederate Units That Fought 58
III.   The James River Campaign: Strategy, Preparations
and Movement; Rebel Orders Regarding Captured
U.S. Colored Troops’ Officers and Enlisted Men 90
IV.   Wild and His U.S. Colored Troops Create a Stir
in Charles City County 101
V.   The ­Land-Naval “Action at Wilson’s Wharf” 124
VI.  Conflicting Casualty Reports: Federal Casualties
Incomplete; Confederate Losses Covered Up
by Fitzhugh Lee and Richmond Papers 161
VII.  Covering Up a Dismal Confederate Failure 174
VIII. United States Colored Troops, Black Sailors
and Black Confederates 182
IX.  Fort Pocahontas, June 1864–June 1865 200
X.   Rediscovery and Preservation of Fort Pocahontas 214
Appendix A: Federal and Confederate Casualties at Wilson’s Wharf 229
Appendix B: Casualties At or Near Wilson’s ­Wharf–Fort Pocahontas During 5 May 1864–June 1865 240
Chapter Notes 243
Bibliography 263
Index 275

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Besch has conducted extensive research and accumulated a great store of factual information on the small battle at Wilson’s Wharf…[the author] is to be commended for his prodigious research…fills the void and tells us much about a small but significant engagement. There is much to be found in this book”—Civil War News.