The Potomac Blockade:
Atlantic Blockading Squadron

"On May 31, 1861, Commander Ward attacked the Confederate batteries at Aquia Creek, in the steamer Freeborn, assisted by the other vessels of the flotilla, the Anacostia and Resolute.
The shore batteries were silenced, and the enemy retreated to their works on the heights."

The Potomac Blockade flotilla was organized in May, 1861, under the command of Commander James H. Ward.

It formed at first a part of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Operations of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron began originally at Washington, and extended down the Potomac River and the Chesapeake outward to the capes.

As a result, the blockade was largely devoted to the restriction of communication between the two shores, and to keeping open the water approaches of the capital city of Washington.

The work of the Potomac flotilla was unique as south of the Potomac lay the mouths of the Virginia rivers [James and Elizabeth], near the upper waters of which were the great battlefields of the war.

This was the first naval engagement of the war.  On the next day, the Pawnee, under Commander Rowan, was sent down from Washington, and renewed the attack this time with the Pawnee joining in the bombardment with her heavy battery.

Early in 1862, the Confederate forces withdrew from their positions along the Potomac river.

As part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial celebrations in Virginia, here is an incredible opportunity to participate in an informative cruise along the Potomac River shoreline.

Many familiar sites along the river were critical to the successful blockade of Washington D.C. during the early months of the Civil War.

Every year, the Prince William County historical preservation division offers Potomac River Blockade boat tours.  Participants cruise along the Potomac River shoreline and view sites that were critical to the Confederate forces’ successful blockade of Washington D.C. from September 1861 through March 1862.

Local historians discuss the significance of the blockade, gun batteries and camps that supported the Confederate efforts. The cruise will include the preserved batteries at Freestone Point and Possum Nose, as well as Evansport and Shipping Point.

Tours includes lunch but they do not allow pets and the tours are not appropriate for children under six. Please call (703)792-4754 for more information and reservations.

Click HERE to view their schedule and calendar of events for 2014.

In other Virginian rivers such as the James, the Potomac blockade flotilla also took part in active operations connected with the movements of the Army and the protection of transports and supplies.

Here are statements as well as bits and pieces of written accounts, official or unofficial, made by those who took part in these events during the Civil War.

On April 19th, 1861, six days after the fall of Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring the blockade of southern states from South Carolina to Texas. By the 27th of April, he had ordered that the blockade be extended to Virginia...

"Now therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, have further deemed it advisable to set on foot a blockade of the ports within the States aforesaid, in pursuance of the laws of the United States and of the Law of Nations in such case provided.
For this purpose a competent force will be posted so as to prevent entrance and exit of vessels from the ports aforesaid. If, therefore, with a view to violate such blockade, a vessel shall approach or shall attempt to leave any of the said ports, she will be duly warned by the commander of one of the blockading vessels, who will endorse on her register the fact and date of such warning, and if the same vessel shall again attempt to enter or leave the blockaded port, she will be captured, and sent to the nearest convenient port for such proceedings against her, and her cargo as prize, as may be deemed advisable. "

The Potomac blockade began at Hampton Roads, and it continued to be maintained there with the highest efficiency. The only attempt to raise the naval blockade was made by the Merrimac in March, 1862.

After this attempt was defeated, the blockading squadron remained in undisturbed possession until the close of the war. The safe anchorage in the Roads, its proximity to Washington, and the protection afforded by Fortress Monroe made Hampton Roads a convenient naval rendezvous.

Its importance as a blockading station, especially in the early part of the war, was due to the fact that it commanded the entrance to the James and Elizabeth rivers. Early in 1862 the Confederates withdrew from their positions along the river. The work of the flotilla in the Potomac blockade during the remainder of the war, under its successive commanders, Wyman, Harwood, and Parker, was mainly confined to the suppression of the small attempts at illegal traffic.


Leesylvania State Park, Woodbridge, Virginia

Potomac Blockade