Coffee has key role in Battle of Smithfield 160th anniversary

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The 160th anniversary of the Battle of Smithfield will be celebrated Sunday, Feb. 4 on Main Street at several locations.

The day will culminate in a gathering at Wharf Hill Brewing for an informal discussion of Civil War history, according to a news release.

Once the Smith Briggs gun boat was destroyed, it was reported that citizens in Smithfield enjoyed coffee for the first time in a long time. As the Union was blockading ports, coffee was in short supply in the south. 

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Organizers of the event plan to highlight the coffee connection during this year’s event. Visitors and guests will be able to sample coffee and coffee substitutes throughout town this day at our varied sites. Cure Coffeehouse and Wharf Hill Brewing also will have specialty drinks for purchase. 

The 1750 Courthouse, Christ Episcopal Church and Ivy Hill Cemetery are participating in this year’s event.

The 1864 Battle of Smithfield will be commemorated from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 4 with the following activities:

9:30 a.m.: Ivy Hill Cemetery walking tour 

9:30 a.m.: Christ Episcopal Church bell ringing 

10:30 a.m.: Christ Episcopal Church service (all are welcome) 

Noon: Christ Episcopal Church bell ringing 

Noon-3 p.m.:  Tours of Christ Episcopal Church 

Noon-4 p.m.: Isle of Wight County Museum exhibits, living historians and Civil War history 

1-3 p.m.: Meet Randall Booth at the 1750 Courthouse 

3 p.m.: Christ Episcopal Church bell ringing 

3 p.m.: Walking tour down Wharf Hill begins at the Isle of Wight County Museum 

3:30 p.m.-5 p.m.: Informal Civil War discussion at Wharf Hill Brewing 

“Join us on Main Street for the 160th anniversary of “the Town of Smithfield’s most dramatic event.,” Jennifer England said in a news release. “This engagement between Union and Confederate troops saw artillery and musket fire reverberating up and down Main Street eventually resulting in the destruction of the U.S. Army Gunboat Smith Briggs.”

The day also features living historians and scheduled events at these locations: 

  • Ivy Hill Cemetery: 66 Civil War veterans are buried here, 451 North Church St. 
  • Isle of Wight County Museum. Living historians, Civil War history and exhibits. Purchase a Battle of Smithfield book here, 103 Main St.  
  • Christ Episcopal Church. On Sunday, Jan. 31, 1864, services were interrupted at Christ Episcopal Church when the janitor rushed in with cries of, “Yankee gunboats are in the creek!” The congregation dismissed, and all hurried home. The church’s bell will ring throughout the day, and the regular church service will be followed by guided tours. 111 South Church St. 
  • 1750 Courthouse. Meet a living historian portraying Randall Booth, the enslaved man who saved Isle of Wight County’s court records in 1862. 130 Main St.  

At the end of the 1864 engagement, the local residents were said to have enjoyed coffee in Smithfield for the first time in a long while, the release explained. Visitors can do the same throughout the day. Make plans to caffeinate and spend the day in downtown Smithfield. 

The Coffee Connection 

Equipped with goods and considerable supplies of coffee and tea, the Smith Briggs was unloaded by local citizens before she was destroyed by Confederate soldiers. Local resident Mollie Cowper recalled that she enjoyed coffee for her supper that night. It was the first she had in many months as the Union had blockaded southern ports and cut off the south’s access to coffee.  

During the event, a variety of locations will offer coffee and coffee substitutes. They include:

  • Cure Coffeehouse, 113 North Church St., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Purchase a cup of Cannon Fire.  
  • Wharf Hill Brewing, 25 Main St. Purchase a pint of Espresso Stout to enjoy during a casual discussion of Civil War history.  
  • Isle of Wight County Museum, 103 Main St. Enjoy a sample of Peanut Coffee while learning more about coffee substitutes during the Civil War. 
  • 1750 Courthouse, 130 Main St. Get a sample of Blockade Coffee here. Sweet potatoes play a starring role. 
  • Christ Episcopal Church, 111 South Church St. Acorns, beets and chicory root were often added to coffee to stretch supplies. Sample Chicory Coffee here. It’s caffeine-free. 
  • Ivy Hill Cemetery, 451 North Church St. Acorn Coffee will add to the ambiance of this walking tour. Hulled, dried, roasted and ground, acorns taste like coffee and have been used as a substitute all over the world in times of war.

The event is free. For more information, contact the Isle of Wight County Museum at 757-356-1223 or visit