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City Point Wharf: 1865

1865. "City Point, Virginia. Wharf, Federal artillery, and anchored schooners." From photographs of the main Eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865. Wet plate glass negative. View full size.

1865. "City Point, Virginia. Wharf, Federal artillery, and anchored schooners." From photographs of the main Eastern theater of war, the siege of Petersburg, June 1864-April 1865. Wet plate glass negative. View full size.


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I'm guessing the piles are ballast as well, which when you think about it is what you'd need at a port like this where ships would arrive with heavy cargoes but have very little being shipped out. I can't imagine City Point would generate much in the way of outgoing cargo.

There is a small steamer in this picture, the Relief, just to the left of the building and below the brigantine.

And the caissons keep rolling

Most of the carriages lined up are caissons, not artillery pieces (although there are a couple of cannon interspersed). Caissons were carts which held the boxes which had the shot and powder for the guns. An artillery section would normally have a gun pulled by a six horse team and one of these caissons, pulled by another six horse team. It looks like in this photo that they had some of the guns attached, by their limber, to the caissons, so they could be pulled together while awaiting shipment. A modern replica of this is the Fort Sill Half Section located here.

A Tale of Two Wharfs

This is the new Munitions and Coal Wharf that was built to replace the one destroyed in August, 1864 by a Confederate Secret Service agent's "horological torpedo" (time bomb) that was planted in a munitions barge. The resulting explosion killed over 40, wounded hundreds (the raining debris barely missed Gen Grant) and wiped out the docks. The long curved wharf with the limbers, caissons and a traveling forge on it was the Ordnance or Munitions Wharf. The wharf to the left with the barge and schooner alongside is identified on a June, 1865 Military Railroad map as the Coal Wharf. The coal was often brought out of the holds in sacks, carried to the top of the pile via the wooden ramp and dumped out. To coal a steamer they would do it in reverse. It was a very dirty and labor intensive job.

Cassions a Rolling

What you see here are caissons (a French word meaning box) and artillery cannons. Apparently the caissons and cannons were unloaded separately then assembled on the dock. I count a total of about 45 caissons most with their cannons. Early in the war this would have seemed like a very large number of cannon but by 1865 with the Union manufacturing base 45 was just another in a long line of cannon headed south.

Other uses for coal

On sailing ships, as on steam ships, coal could be used for cooking and heating.

Now THIS is a fantastic picture

What a gray, gloomy, cold looking mess. I love it! I'd really like to see more pictures of nautical subjects, Boats, ships et al. Really nice and smoky. Post 'em if you got 'em.

Wooden World

Just look at all the wood in this photograph. Human beings would never have created our modern world without mastering the use of wood. The pier appears new, as there is no staining on the deck, and the piledriver is still lashed alongside. Some of the piles even have their bark still attached, indicating the pier was erected in haste. I believe that is coal rather than ballast. There are two steam powered tug boats in the photograph, and what looks like the pilot house of a sternwheeler. Ballast would have been loaded on board at the shipyard, not at a small port such as this.

Schooners and Brigantines

I find the docked and anchored sailing ships to be very interesting. There doesn't appear to be a steamer among them which leads me to believe that the rubble piles on the wharves are indeed ballast. But who knows, flat bottomed river steamers also used these wharves.

The four vessels that have two fore and aft rigged masts are schooners. The two that have square rigged foremasts are brigantines.

Although any of these vessels could navigate the high seas, they are also typical of the coastal trade of the time.

Ballast or Coal?

On the pier to the left, would that be ballast or coal? My guess would be ballast.


It's Winter, see the long coats on the men by the close ship and the skeletons of trees. The water can't hold still for photograph, even river water in a harbor, calm and desirable for the men on the ships then and now ghostly for you to look at. And as we all know, artillery doesn't kill people, people kill people.


I also am a loyal Shorpy follower, and I love this photo for it's portrayal of the Civil War, but I don't see any life at all. The trees are dead, the water is dead, there are no people anywhere, the artillery is on its way to kill people. I don't think life describes it.

[There are easily at least a dozen people in this photo. - Dave]


I have been reading this blog since the beginning, and this one may be my new favorite. There's so much life in this picture.

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