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Thu, 05.05.1864

Fort Pocahontas, a story

Fort Pocahontas Plaque

*On this date, in 1864, the construction of Fort Pocahontas began.

This was an earthen fort on the north bank of the James River at Wilson's Wharf in Charles City County, Virginia, which served as a Union supply depot during the American Civil War.

The fort was constructed by Black soldiers of the United States Colored Troops under the command of Brig. Gen. Edward Augustus Wild. On May 24, 1864, in the Battle of Wilson's Wharf, an estimated 2,500 Confederate cavalry attacked the partially completed fort under Fitzhugh Lee. Approximately 1,100 troops repelled the attack under General Wild, aided by naval gunfire from the USS Dawn. According to research by Ed Besch, a Virginia military historian credited with much of the rediscovery of the "lost" site of the fort, Lee was humiliated by defeat at the hands of Black Union soldiers when he was a candidate for promotion.

After completion, Fort Pocahontas served as a refuge for escaped slaves and was used to hold suspected Confederate sympathizers during the Siege of Petersburg until hostilities ended in April 1865.  The remote site had been largely forgotten and untouched by development for 130 years when, following Besch's research, it was purchased in 1996 by Harrison Ruffin Tyler. Tyler, born in 1928 and who lived nearby at Sherwood Forest Plantation, was the grandson of President John Tyler and a descendant of John Rolfe, Pocahontas, President William Henry Harrison, and Edmund Ruffin. The site has since been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research of the College of William and Mary has done extensive work at the site and about the events which took place there. More recently, annual Civil War reenactment events have been held at Fort Pocahontas. In 2005, many scenes of the motion picture The New World were filmed on-location at Fort Pocahontas, as well as at other places nearby along the James and Chickahominy Rivers. 

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