Civil War & Reconstruction Civil War Steamboat Wawaset

Steamboat Wawaset

The Wawaset may have been among the many Union steamboats anchored off a newly constructed Potomac Creek landing called Belle Plain, Virginia.  Fredericksburg is nine miles distant. This area, a New York newspaper told its readers on June 11, 1864, “was constantly crowded with transports and naval vessels, receiving and unloading stores and troops; and the scene from the heights on a clear day was almost as full of life and animation as New York Harbor.”

The Wawaset had been a wooden workhorse from her construction by the reputable Pusey & Jones in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1863.  A Philadelphia firm ordered the steamer built, intending that she should run fruit from Duck Creek and Smyrna to the Pennsylvania city, but she was soon taken over by the Union army for use as a troop transport vessel. The Wawaset served as a hospital transport during the last year of what southerners call the War Between the States.  The service was on the Potomac River, in and out of land projections that were sometimes without wharf or landing.  Belle Plain, Virginia, was an example of a port created by a naval task force — simply by its offshore presence during one of General U.S. Grant’s final campaigns in Virginia.

Dr. Henry T. Child wrote to his wife from “on board the Wawaset, Aquia Creek, at Belle Plain, May 12, 1864.” Union soldiers, he said, were

placing the wounded men on the boat.  More than 3,000 were sent to Washington this afternoon.  This morning, Surgeon Cuyter detailed me to go in the boat … with 527 wounded men … I only stay a little while in Washington while we unload the men & take in the coal.