Swift Creek, Battle of Facts

May 9, 1864

Key Facts about the Battle of Swift Creek.

Benjamin F. Butler portrait

Although the Battle of Swift Creek was a tactical victory for Union Major General Benjamin F. Butler, it achieved little. [Wikimedia Commons]


  • May 9, 1864


  • Chesterfield County, Virginia


Principal Union Commanders

Principal Confederate Commanders

Union Forces Engaged

  • Army of the James task force from the 10th and 18th Army Corps

Confederate Forces Engaged

  • Petersburg Garrison (reinforced by local militia and Confederate troops from North Carolina

Number of Union Soldiers Engaged:

  • Roughly 14,000

Number of Confederate Soldiers Engaged

  • Roughly 4,200

Union Casualties

  • 128 (killed, wounded, captured/missing)

Confederate Casualties

  • 137 (killed, wounded, captured/missing)


  • Union victory


  • On May 9, 1864, Major General Benjamin F. Butler deployed a large task force consisting of five brigades from 18th Corps, commanded by Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith, and two brigades from 10th Corps, commanded by Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, to confront the Confederate defenders at Swift Run Creek. 
  • The primary objective of Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s task force was to disrupt traffic between Petersburg and Richmond by destroying bridges crossing Swift Creek, particularly the Richmond Turnpike Bridge, the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad Bridge, and the Brander’s Road Bridge. 
  • Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s corps commanders, Major General Quincy A. Gillmore and and Major General William F. Smith, proposed bypassing the Confederate defenders and instead attacking Petersburg which they believed would be lightly defended. Butler rejected their proposal, thereby missing an opportunity to isolate Richmond by severing ties with the capital’s main supply center about twenty-five miles to the south.
  • Supporting Butler’s task force was a small flotilla of five Union gunboats steaming up the Appomattox River and an infantry division of U.S. Colored Troops deployed to anchor the far left of Butler’s line near the Rebel stronghold at Fort Clinton.
  • Awaiting the 14,000-man Union task force were roughly 4,200 well-entrenched Rebels under the field command of Brigadier General Bushrod Johnson. 
  • Puzzled by the listless conduct of the Yankee aggressors, Major General George Pickett instructed Major General Bushrod Johnson to order two regiments of Brigadier General Johnson Hagood’s Brigade to abandon their defenses for a “reconnaissance in force” north of Swift Creek to determine the strength of the Union troops. 
  • Upon crossing Swift Creek on the Turnpike Bridge, Brigadier General Johnson Hagood found the 11th South Carolina heavily engaged and moved to their support. 
  • Misinterpreting Hagood’s instructions, Colonel F. H. Gantt ordered a Confederate attack on Heckman’s brigade. In what was later known as “Hagood’s Charge,” the 21st South Carolina and part of the 25th South Carolina rushed forward screaming the “Rebel yell.”
  • Hagood’s Charge left thirty-one Confederate soldiers killed, eighty-two wounded, and twenty-four missing. The Yankees did not escape unscathed, losing thirteen killed and 126 wounded. Despite repulsing the Confederate assault, the Union officers did not follow up on their success.
  • Heavy artillery fire from Fort Clinton sank the USS Brewster and badly damaged the USS Chamberlain before forcing the Union flotilla to retreat down the Appomattox River. When the gunboats retreated, Union leaders also abandoned the infantry assault by U.S. Colored Troops on Fort Clinton.
  • On May 10, 1864, Brigadier General Bushrod Johnson ordered his artillery to resume firing on the Federal positions. After receiving no response, he ordered skirmishers across the creek who discovered that the Yankees had withdrawn.
  • Although the Battle of Swift Creek was a tactical victory for Butler, it achieved little. His task force failed to achieve its objective of disrupting supplies sent from Petersburg to Richmond by destroying the bridges spanning Swift Creek. 
  • Despite their higher casualties, the Confederate defenders at the Battle of Swift Creek were hailed as the saviors of Petersburg. 
  • The Battle of Swift Creek was Butler’s last attempt to threaten Petersburg during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.

Timeline of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign

These are the main battles and events of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign in order.