Hearing about the exchange of gunfire, Lee ordered his ships to retreat back to Hampton Roads. He believed it was too dangerous to stay. At the moment Lee wrote the order, Lamson and Cushing decided on their own to attack, avoiding any notion of withdrawal. They organized an assault group with sailors under their command with Union soldiers from the 38th Indiana and 89th New York. The joint force charged Hill's Point under the cover of fire from the gunboats.
Lee and his Army counterparts continued to argue about the merits of leaving wooden gunboats in such a vulnerable position. During this exchange of views, Lee's aide, Captain Peirce Crosby, informed his admiral that Lamson's assault resulted in capturing "five pieces of artillery and 161 rebel prisoners from the 44th Alabama." The upper Nansemond was now open.