On 1 April 1862, Cpl. John Mackie reported aboard the ironclad USS Galen. In May, the Galena was ordered to move up the James River in support of an advance on Richmond, Va. By the early morning of 15 May, the Galena and Monitor along with several other Federal ironclads and gunboats had reached Drewry’s Bluff, about eight miles below Richmond. There they encountered formidable defenses. Fort Darling stood atop the bluff and approximately two battalions of riflemen lined the river banks.
A Confederate Marine battalion was one of the units stationed on the banks of the James to protect Fort Darling. The stage was set with Marines on both sides. Action began at 0730 and continued for nearly four hours. During the morning action, Mackie commanded 12 Marines assigned to the gun deck. Initially, their mission was to engage snipers on the opposite bank away from Fort Darling. Mackie remained calm and collected as a leader under fire. After a 10-inch shell exploded directly on the gun deck and killed or wounded the crews of the guns, he had a chance to display his mettle. Acting on his own initiative, he had his men clear away casualties and debris, and put the weapons back into action. Mackie and his provisional gun crews were then credited with destroying at least one of the fort’s casements. Several months later, the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Gideon Welles, heard of Mackie’s gallantry and wrote the Commandant, praising Mackie for his meritorious service. The Commandant in turn, wrote to Mackie’s officer in charge, Capt. John Rodgers, explaining that however willing he may be to reward such gallantry, his means were limited and would, at the time, only be able to promote Mackie to the rank of sergeant on 1 November 1862. On 3 April 1863, Secretary Welles signed General Order No. 10, which announced the establishment of the Medal of Honor awards and set forth procedures that would govern the award in the naval service. With the procedures for awarding the Medal of Honor finally established by General Order No. 10, The Commandant was able to carry out his pledge to see Mackie properly rewarded. General Order No. 17 appeared on 10 July 1863, which bestowed the Medal of Honor on 24 sailors and 2 Marines. A month before General Order No. 17, Mackie was transferred to the USS Seminole. Finally at 1000 on 11 October 1863, when all hands mustered on the quarterdeck of the Seminole for a reading of the Articles of War and the Regulations of the Navy, Sgt Mackie was awarded his Medal of Honor.