Essex County History
Essex County
Occupied by the Federal Forces

The Essex home-front was not immune to the violence in the War of 1812; it suffered much more in the Civil War. Once Fort Lowry was abandoned, the Rappahannock Valley was vulnerable. The river would serve as an increasingly open highway for Federal gunboats to patrol, raid, shell and loot. Many Essex family homes, wharfs, mills, crops and barns suffered; their stories have passed down through the generations.

One of the first documented attacks came in April 1862 by a flotilla of gunboats called the "Rappahannock Expedition" under the command of Lt. E.P. McCrea. The expedition attacked the abandoned Ft. Lowry and continued upstream igniting terror in Tappahannock. They occupied town and made Dr. Roane's home (later the Trible House and the Essex Inn) their headquarters. A romantic story emerged that Essex Dragoon Philip Lewis snuck into town that night to gather intelligence. Upon discovery he was ordered to halt, after which he turned in his saddle, waved and said, "No halt in me, gentleman" and rode off.

The most traumatic gunboat attack on Essex happened in June of 1864 by Colonel Alonzo Draper. Four gunboats, transport vessels and 500 African-American troops of the 36th Regiment made the infamous Draper Raid. Their destructive mission stole livestock and machinery, destroyed civilian boats and burned the mill of Senator R.M.T. Hunter. Judith Brockenbrough McGuire vividly details the chaos and damage in her diary (see below). The losses in combination with two years of war and blockade were devastating to Essex. The Draper Raid did, however, bring freedom to many African-Americans who had experienced many more years of slavery.

A war weary Tappahannock suffered its last reported attack on 13 March 1865. A Federal side-wheel steamer with three cannon and 57 sailors attacked the town, destroying the boats, the ferry and the Gordon's Creek (probably Hoskins Creek) Bridge. As the Federals moved down river, Confederate artillery at Paradise Plantation was able to send a final few shots at the intruders.

Essex County veterans list

camden exhibit

1. Settlers, Southerners and Americans: The History of Essex County, Va.. 1985, by James B. Slaughter (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)

2. Essex County Historical Society Bulletin, vol. 19. Tappahannock and Its Role in the War Between the States, by Carrol M. Garnett. November 1981

3. Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War, by a Lady of Virginia, 1889. by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire

ECMHS Home Page