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Doc. 218. a fight on the lower Potomac. Lieut. Wyman's report.

United States steamer Harriet Lane, off Mattawoman Creek, December 9, 1861.
Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy:
Sir: I have the honor to report to you that this morning, about half-past 9 o'clock, seeing the enemy's pickets, three camp wagons, and a mounted officer coming down the road to the southward of Freestone Point, and halting at some buildings near the beach, I directed the steamers Jacob Bell and Anacostia to shell the buildings. I stood in with this vessel as far as the draft of water would admit to protect them in the event of the enemy's bringing a field battery to Freestone Point.

After shelling the buildings and bill, and driving back the pickets, Lieutenant-Commanding McCrae landed with a few men, and fired four houses, which have since burnt to the ground. They contained sutler's stores, flour, &c. As eighteen hours elapsed before the fire subsided, I judge that the quantity of stores must have been considerable. The enemy fired but a few musket shot.

I am, very respectfully, &c.,

R. H. Wyman, U. S. N., Lieutenant-Commanding Potomac Flotilla.

The correspondent with General Hooker's Division, near Budd's Ferry, says of this affair:

December 9, 1861.
The lower Potomac was enlivened this morning by the gunboats of the upper flotilla shelling the woods and burning the buildings at Freestone Point, while about the same time there was a fine review of New Jersey troops on the Maryland side. At nine o'clock in the morning the New Jersey Brigade, recently arrived in General Hooker's Division, was reviewed and inspected by him. The day was one of the finest ever known in Maryland at this season. It was like a delightful day of the early Indian summer. The brigade, consisting of the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth regiments, is under command of Colonel Starr, of the Fifth, an officer of extensive experience in the regular army. The appearance of the men was highly commendable, eliciting complimentary encomiums from the Commanding General, who never praises those who are undeserving. After the review he proceeded to carefully inspect the different regiments.

The morning being calm and clear, I made an ascension in the balloon to draw a sketch of the rebel camps on the Virginia side of the river. Six steamboats belonging to the upper flotilla were seen near the mouth of Mattawoman Creek. Presently, at half-past 10 o'clock, the Jacob Bell, Lieutenant McCrea commanding, got under way and went within about a thousand yards of Freestone Point. She fired five ten-second shells into the woods, and then put about. Several wagons were seen approaching the buildings near the shore, where the rebels had some store. Lieutenant McCrea, of the Jacob Bell, communicated with Captain Austin, commanding the Anacostia, and both vessels stood off Freestone Point, where they commenced shelling the woods and buildings.

The Harriet Lane, flag-ship of the flotilla, Captain R. H. Wyman commanding, was stationed a mile or more behind. She fired two ninety-six-pound shots. On a line with her, a little lower down the river, were the Reliance and Herbert, with the Stepping Stones immediately behind, all in the mouth of Mattawoman Creek. This was the position of the steamers, with a sloop lying near, when the cannonade commenced. For an hour and a half the two steamers poured shell into the woods. From the balloon I could see the shells burst over the tops of the trees and near the surrounding buildings. Some struck the residence of Mr. Fairfax, situated in a grove upon the hill. Fairfax is said to be a Colonel in the rebel army. The wagons moved away as quick as possible, and several mounted officers scampered off as well.

The booming of the cannon aroused the camps, and hundreds of our men covered the hills on the Maryland side, from which the whole action could be seen.

While the vessels were firing into the woods, our guns at Budd's Ferry sent a few shells across. The rebel batteries directly opposite, at Shipping Point, returned the fire. Several of their shells exploded on this side without doing any damage, and one of ours burst right in their upper battery. The rebels ran in every direction.

In the mean time I had descended in the balloon and embarked in a boat which Lieutenant-Colonel Wells, commanding the First Massachusetts regiment, had kindly placed at my disposal, with a crew under Lieutenant Carruth, and was on my way up to the flotilla.

The Anacostia fired twenty shrapnel, one five-second and two ten-second shell. The Jacob Bell fired seventeen six-inch and fifteen eight-inch shell. Fifty-seven were fired altogether. The Jacob Bell then went close to the shore, and Lieutenant McCrea, with four men in a small boat, accompanied by another boat from the Anacostia, landed and set fire to the buildings near the water's edge, which they said contained stores belonging to the rebels. One containing empty barrels was not burned. The other buildings were soon enveloped in a sheet of flame. They were formerly used as a fish house, and rented for three thousand five hundred dollars per annum. The boats presently returned to their respective steamers, which then fell back and anchored near the Harriet Lane.

The reflection of the setting sun on the Potomac, which was placid as a lake on a summer evening, together with that of the burning buildings, rendered the scene exceedingly beautiful. [460]

In the evening a light breeze came up, and to-night a number of small vessels, mostly oyster boats, are passing up the river.

It is now a quarter to nine o'clock, and the rebel batteries at Shipping Point have just opened on two of the larger ones — the Oriental and the Shining Light, Captain Walker--which the rebels can easily distinguish by reason of the clearness of the night and the brightness of the moon. Both batteries are keeping up a rapid fire upon them. The flashes of two, three, and four guns are seen simultaneously. Shells, with the burning fuse, are making graceful curves through the air like shooting stars, and then comes the loud reports of their bursting.

We have a fine view of this magnificent night cannonade from the rear verandah of Mr. Posey's residence. Some of the shells have struck the water, several are bursting in the air, and some have come over here to the Maryland shore. One shot which ricocheted along the water touched the side of the Shining Light about the water mark, but being spent did not do any damage. About forty shots were fired by the rebels, but none of the vessels sustained any injury. The firing soon ceased, and every thing was quiet during the remainder of the night.

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R. H. Wyman (3)
E. P. McCrea (3)
Hooker (2)
D. M. Fairfax (2)
John Wells (1)
Gideon Welles (1)
Samuel C. Walker (1)
Starr (1)
Posey (1)
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Doc (1)
Carruth (1)
Austin (1)
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December 9th, 1861 AD (2)
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