April 14, 1862: Union forces made the first of what would be for landings at Tapphannock during the war. The first was relatively uneventful, almost comic in its moments.
Carroll M. Garnett, writing in 1981 in the Essex County Historical Society newsletter (“Tappahannock Vol. 19, November 1981) recounts the tale:
The first such invasion was part of The Rappahannock Expedition as referred to by the Union Navy.
On Monday, April 14, 1862, after the shelling and burning of Fort Lowry [a few miles south on the river], the six attacking gunboats plyed to Tappahannock and anchored. The commander of the squadron Lieutenant E. P. McCrea, USN, fired a blank shell over the town and hoisted a white flag. Townspeople were seen running in all directions, waving truce materials, and many left their homes open and exposed.
Since no authorities from the town met the ships with a similar truce flag, Lieutenant McCrea landed with an armed launch, still exhibiting the signs of truce. At the shore he was met only by overjoyed negroes and he sent for the town’s authorities. Three came, one being a Doctor Gordon. McCrea said the town would not be harmed but he would take possession until he left. Later, he hoisted the American Flag from one of the tallest buildings, Dr. Roane’s house, which had been temporarily abandoned. Offshore, there was loud cheering from the crews of the vessels in seeing the National Flag. One of the townspeople told McCrea the flag would be torn down as soon as the boats left and McCrea replied he would then give them six hours to leave town before he burned it….
One of the negroes told McCrea not to drink whiskey in the town because it might be poisoned… He and his men visited the hotel and helped themselves to drinks at the bar but asked several times if the drinks had not been poisoned. Several townspeople followed McCrea and his group around and were impertinent to them, Dr. Gordon stating, “if I were able I would kill every damn one of you where you stand.” Philip Lewis, assigned to Company F. Essex Light Dragoons, as in the area, mounted and armed, making reports and sending off couriers. He was seen doing this and the Yankees attempted to capture him. He escaped by having his horses leap a ditch, then a fence, and turning in his saddle, waved good-bye to the enemy…
About twenty minutes after the Yankees left the town, Dr. Gordon chastised the men present for not immediately tearing down the American Flag, stating, “I will find a lady who will take it down.” This obtained the desired response for a shamed, now brave male proceeded to the high roof, tore down the flag…
A civilian reporter was present with this expedition and described Tappahannock as follows: “the town is very prettely situated on the left bank of the river, some fifty miles below Fredericksburg. It contains two churches, a jail, a hotel and a large steam saw-mill, and many handsome old mansions that are fast going to decay, like the rest of the old ancient towns of the revolution.”