Siege of Suffolk envelops Hampton Roads

Four days later — after sizing up his target from a tree — Getty staged his own attack with the Stepping Stones and 270 infantry.

Screening the soldiers with canvas, the gunboat approached the Confederate works at Hill's Point just after dark, blowing its whistle as if it intended to run past the guns. But 300 yards away Lamson turned and drove toward shore.

Grounding 30 feet from land, the expedition stalled perilously until Capt. Hazard Stevens of the 79th New York leapt into the waist-deep water and urged his men to follow. Fixing their bayonets, they raced to the undefended rear of the fort, followed by Lamson and four wheeled boat guns.

"They caught the Confederates completely off-guard," Suffolk historian O. Kermit Hobbs says, describing the lightning assault that earned Stevens the Medal of Honor.

"And that became the turning point of the siege."

Bringing home the bacon

So stunned and embarrassed were the Confederates that two officers staged a duel over who was more to blame for the debacle.

Newspapers across the South printed outraged editorials, heaping their ire on a rebel general who had been born in New Jersey.

After that stunning setback, however, the men in gray lost their fighting spirit.

Longstreet remained content to hold his lines and shield his massive foraging effort, leaving Suffolk only after sending millions of pounds of bacon, corn and feed north in a seemingly endless train of wagons.

That made him late for the early May Battle of Chancellorsville, where a badly outnumbered Lee had to rely upon lesser troops in a brilliant if unlikely triumph over the Army of the Potomac.

But when Longstreet finally arrived, he brought the provisions Lee so badly needed to take the war north to Pennsylvania.

"The food from Suffolk is what Lee and his army took to Gettysburg," former Virginia War Museum director John V. Quarstein says.

"Without it Gettysburg may never have happened."

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