previous next

Doc. 242. affair in Hampton Roads, Va., December 29, 1861.


A rebel account.

We have the satisfaction of spreading before our readers to-day some of the particulars of a spirited and dashing achievement on the part of Commodore Lynch, of the Confederate Navy, on board of his flagship, the Sea Bird, which gallant little steamer mounts a 32-pounder forward, and a 12-pounder aft.

Commodore Lynch went down to Sewall's Point on Saturday night, and took a position under the guns of our battery at that place, where she remained all night until Sunday morning, when she espied the Federal steamer Express making out from Newport News, with a transport schooner in tow. She got round the point of Newport News with her charge, when our gallant commodore put chase after them, and run them toward Old Point.

The Sea Bird opened fire on the Express, and after one or two discharges the latter cut aloose from her tow and left her. The position of the schooner where the Express left her was well over in the enemy's lines, but even that consideration did not deter the victor from securing his prize. He dashed into her and tackled on, and in making his way back eight gunboats and an armed transport put out for him from Old Point and Newport News, with the purpose of cutting him off. But it appears they were just five or six minutes too late, and in chasing her she kept up a continual fire upon them, turning around every time to give them the best she had, the forward rifled 32-pounder. The sport became so intensely interesting to the Yankees that they waded in a little beyond their depth, and woke up the boys on Sewall's Point, who opened fire on them. They finding further pursuit of the commodore vain, turned their attention on the batteries that were peppering them so unmercifully. And now the matter began to wear somewhat the appearance of earnestness, as though the boys were going to work, even allowing it was Sunday morning, and going on to church time. The batteries continued to fire at the Federal vessels, which did their best toward silencing them; but the job was some-what too extensive for them, and withal so warm, that they speedily determined to give Sewall's Point a very wide berth. They got well out of range of our shot as soon as they could, but not until three of them had got a dose which took the starch out of them.

The gunboats fairly rained the shot and shell at the Sewall's Point battery while they did have the courage to continue the engagement, which, altogether, including the chase after the Sea Bird, lasted two and a half or three hours. Several hundred shot and shell were fired at our battery, and not a single person received even a scratch.

An old rooster, however, which happened to get in the way was made into a roaster for his pains, as we are informed by a communication from a friend who was on the ground. We annex his communication:

Sewall's Point, Sunday, December 29, 1861.
Mr. Editor: Eight gunboats and an armed transport attacked a little Confederate gunboat this morning, and engaged this battery about two hours. We answered with some of the guns from our battery. Nobody hurt but one fine rooster, which was killed. The men were very cool. The rooster was duly prepared, roasted, and eaten by some of the boys. A rare treat for Christmas times.

What glorification for Yankeedom--one rooster killed; none wounded or missing. This brilliant affair will be heralded in capitals [519] in the New York Herald and other truthful prints.

S.

The Sea Bird proceeded on her way up to the city with her prize in tow, and we learn it is the schooner Sherwood, which formerly belonged to George Booker, Esq., on Back River, and was stolen from him sometime since by the Federals, and has been since used as a water transport between Newport News and Old Point. She was then carrying a supply of water to the Hessians at Old Point. It was thus a water haul; but that detracts nothing from the honor of the achievement, which may justly be classed as one of the most brilliant that has taken place in the two armies since the war began.

During the engagement between the gunboats and the Sewall's Point battery, the Sawyer gun at the Rip Raps opened fire and threw shell at the battery on Sewall's Point.

We learn that the gunboats threw several shell or shot at the battery on Craney Island, and received a prompt reply from that direction.

We are pleased to record the fact, that the boys at our batteries took deliberate aim with each gun they fired, and handled their irons with a masterly skill, taking their time in each case.

It has been reported, though with what truth we are unable to say, that the Sea Bird struck the Express and set her on fire, and that she was afterward put out without injury.--Norfolk Day Book, Dec. 30.


Commodore Lynch's report.

The following is an extract from the report of Capt. Lynch to the Navy Department:

The water being too low in the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal for this vessel (the Sea Bird) to proceed to Roanoke Island, we last evening steamed down and anchored in the bight of Craney Island. This morning, a little before daylight, we weighed anchor and stood across to Newport News. About half past 7 A. M. an enemy's steamer passed out of James River, with a schooner in tow, and steered for Fortress Monroe. We immediately gave chase, when she cut the schooner adrift, and carried a heavy head of steam, in order to get under the cover of numerous men-of-war lying off the fortress. We were fast closing in with her, however, when the explosion of our second shell set her on fire. Believing her destruction was certain, knowing that her crew could be rescued by boats from the vessels not far distant from her, and it being useless for this vessel to approach her, we steered for and took the abandoned schooner in tow. In the meantime one large steamer from Newport News, and ten others from Hampton Roads and the fortress, were making their way toward us, when an exciting scene took place; we endeavoring to carry the prize into port, and they making every effort to intercept, and, by constant firing, disable us. Many shells from the ships and the fortress exploded quite near us, and four or five passed immediately over the deck. We succeeded in fighting our way through, with the prize in tow, without the slightest injury to either, and gratefully attribute our escape to something more than chance or human agency. We know that a large steamer was struck once and a smaller one twice, by our shot; the former was reported to be seriously injured. The prize is a large schooner, her hold coated with zinc, and filled with water for Fortress Monroe.--Richmond Dispatch, Jan. 3.


New York Herald account.

Fortress Monroe, December 29, 1861.
The usual monotony of camp life at this point was broken to-day by a discharge of considerable gunpowder on the part of the navy rendezvousing at Hampton Roads. The steamboat Express, from Newport News, which place she left at seven A. M., had in tow the schooner Sherwood, belonging to the quartermaster's department, for the purpose of hauling water, and when about half way between the fort and her starting place the captain saw a steamboat shoot out from Sewall's Point. Having a flag hoisted from the stern, it was thought that the hostile craft bore a flag of truce, and the Express, instead of lying-to, proceeded somewhat out of her course toward the shore of Sewall's Point. Before the passengers were aware of the danger threatening them, a shot came whizzing in uncomfortable proximity to the smoke-stack, while another went over the hurricane deck. The captain of the Express understanding the state of affairs, at once gave orders to cut loose from the schooner, and the engineer put on an extra pressure of steam, and paddled as fast as possible to this place. The Express at once proceeded to the flagship Minnesota, to inform Commodore Goldsborough of the facts, when the flag-officer immediately signalized several gunboats to get under way.

The schooner, in the mean time, having been left to its fate, was taken in tow by the Northampton, (the name of the rebel gunboat,) and made off with toward Craney Island. The crew of the schooner, on finding themselves in such close proximity to gunpowder, lowered the lifeboat, and in that rowed back to Newport News for dear life. The United States gunboats Morse, Delaware, Louisiana, Captain Murray; Lockwood, Captain E. W. Graves; Whitehall, Captain Balsier; Narraganset, and Young America, Captain Hamilton, were sent in pursuit of the rebel marauder.

The rebel gunboat Wm. Selden now came to assist the Northampton, and both of them made a stand for a few minutes. The schooner, however, was still kept in tow, and in that position our boats opened fire on the rebels. The shots were returned, but the daring rebel crafts darted off and were soon after under the guns of the batteries at Sewall's Point. Our gunboats then opened fire on the last-named batteries, having taken position to within about three [520] miles of the shore, and about twenty shells were landed inside of the rebel intrenchments, with what effect, however, we are unable to determine.

The “duel at long range” lasted about two hours. The firing caused the most intense excitement. The docks and water-fronts facing the scene of action were thronged with spectators, and the ramparts of the fort were lined with officers and men anxiously watching the bombardment. After powder, balls, and shells enough had been expended, the order “to cease firing” was signalized, and the six gunboats returned to their stations. The official report I have not been able to obtain as yet.

This little episode, short and bloodless as it turned out, on our part at least, should not fail to be a lesson to all concerned. Here, in broad daylight, the regular boat plying between two points occupied by our forces is attacked by the rebels, who daringly approached to within almost point-blank range of the guns of the war vessels and captured a schooner worth about two thousand five hundred dollars, and is allowed to escape. We have at the present moment quite a flotilla of gunboats in this harbor, but they are all huddled together. If only one of them had been stationed a little nearer Newport News, in a hollow termed “Holmes' hole” the rebels would not have dared to venture on such an expedition. None of our gunboats were within six miles of the firing on the Express, and before this vessel could run that distance, inform the Commodore of the facts, and this official order the boats under way, at least one hour elapsed, and the intrepid rebels accomplished all they desired.

Besides several thousand gallons of good water on board of the Sherwood, a new pump, worth three hundred dollars, fell into the enemy's hands. It is to be hoped that the Navy Department at Hampton Roads will be more on the qui vive, and that our efficient Commodore will allow those vessels having guns of heavy calibre on board to plant an occasional shell into the enemy's stronghold on the opposite shore.

What the Department at Washington say to this affair is beyond my comprehension; but I do know that the same is viewed as disgraceful in the extreme by all parties on this point. The passengers, and, in fact, all hands on board of the Express, behaved in a shameful manner, with the exception of a midshipman of the United States frigate Congress, and a sick Zouave coming to the General Hospital, both of whom behaved in a gallant manner, and were the only ones on board who had presence of mind to hoist the American ensign, which had not been flying at the time she left Newport News. It is to be hoped that the squadron will do something now to avenge the outrage committed so wantonly on an unarmed vessel.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Bird (5)
John Lynch (4)
A. Murray (1)
Henry H. Lockwood (1)
Jan (1)
Theophilus H. Holmes (1)
John Hamilton (1)
E. W. Graves (1)
L. M. Goldsborough (1)
Editor (1)
Doc (1)
Christmas (1)
George Booker (1)
Balsier (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
December 29th, 1861 AD (3)
December 30th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: