Here is the unsung and all but forgotten story of a major failed mission of the American Civil War. Undertaken at the request of the President, the Navy dedicated a dozen gunboats (including the ironclads Monitor and Galena) and an untried secret weapon to the destruction of the railroad bridges connecting Petersburg with Richmond. Success would not attend their efforts, but the attempt was well worth the risk. Had it succeeded, the naval expedition bid fair to bring about or at least hasten the end of the Rebellion. That most of the squadron escaped unscathed was due entirely to the battles raging on the peninsula to the north. Southern leadership was necessarily focused on the Union army sitting but a few miles from their capitol—and missed the opportunity to capture or destroy a dozen of the Yankee ships on the James River.


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