On May 31, 1861, Union Commander James Harmon Ward (above) of the Potomac Flotilla arrived ready for action. A two to three hour fight, beginning about 10 AM, commenced. The USS Thomas Freeborn (USS Anacostia and USS Resolute lacking rifled-guns were held back) bombarded the Confederate shore battery. The Union vessels withdrew when their long-range ammunition was expended.
A second Confederate battery, established on a more commanding height, then made a difference as Federal ships could not adequately elevate their guns to engage it. The engagement set off a torrent of recriminations. Although Commander Ward reported the Rebel guns were not a threat to the Potomac River channel, he returned the next day with Anacostia, Reliance, Pawnee and Freeborn and the latter two engaged shore batteries at 11:30 AM. The Southerners, believing the Federal ships were using the end of the wharf to sight on the battery, burned a building, resulting in the loss of the whole wharf (a loss of $11,200 to the R,F&P Railroad). The Confederates had employed at least eight guns in the fight, but the Federal gunners drove most away from their positions. The fight ended at 4:30 PM on June 1, 1861.