Doc. 28. a voyage down the Potomac.
on board U. S. Transport Albany. Potomac River, Friday, August 30, 1861.To-day, at seven o'clock P. M., we left our moorings at Georgetown and proceeded slowly down the Potomac River to Alexandria, where it had previously been determined we were to lie at anchor till the succeeding daylight. This course was adopted in consequence of many of the various guides along the river having been destroyed by the secessionists, thereby rendering the navigation of the river extremely difficult at the present time. The scene generally, at the time of starting, was one beautiful to behold. On the left was Georgetown, with its multitudinous antique-like red brick houses, bent in the form of an arch, over nature's high hills; on the right Arlington Heights, capped with what, at that distance, seemed snow-white tents, cottage-houses, mansions, forts, fortifications of earth, leafy trees, and the vernal sod, and uniting these two beautiful pictures were the arches and beam-work of the bridge-like aqueduct. From this spray and water descended in greater or less streams, creating a broad foam; and which, in consequence of the reflection of the sun's rays on it, did not look unlike a cataract of liquid silver uniting with a monster glass of ice-cream. When abreast of the Western Wharves, we had a fine view of the seventeen new storehouses built by the Government. These were almost all filled to their utmost capacity with flour, hominy, oats, and other necessaries for the army. The other, or regular store-houses, appeared in the background, and were occupied in a like manner, and filled to a similar extent. Various steamers, from Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and elsewhere, were unloading Government property at the wharves. The utmost activity appeared to prevail among those thus at work. Government wagons crowded the piers. Government property and persons on Government business were constantly being transported across the river in great numbers by means of a flat boat attached to a rope connected with either shore. As we proceeded down the river to Alexandria, the tents on the Virginia side appeared as an unbroken chain of white canvas, and so close together and extending to such a depth inland, that the uninitiated, who had never seen a cotton-field, would have thought the Mother of States had been turned in the wrong direction, as the minds of a large portion of her inhabitants are at the present time. During the night, and while lying at anchor off Alexandria, we were boarded by one of the Government harbor police boats, and compelled to answer a variety of questions as to who we were, what we were, and the like. So strict are they at this point, that the steamer Jersey Blue, of New York, was boarded in the middle of the night, and her captain compelled to show his “right of way,” or Government pass. In accordance with a military order, all the yawl-boats are taken from sailing vessels the moment they arrange to lie at or near the Alexandria wharves, in order to prevent all illegitimate communication with the shore. The boats are always returned when the vessels from which they are taken are about to sail.
Saturday, August 31.At daybreak we again got under way and proceeded down the Potomac. At Hunting Creek, just below Alexandria, we passed the United States brig Perry lying at anchor. As we sped on our course her ports seemed alive with men, curiously gazing toward the “departing stranger.” When some fifteen miles from Washington we had a fine view of Fort Washington, with its vigilant sentinels, massive walls, and frowning battlements. The channel hereabouts is between eight and nine fathoms deep. It was nearly daylight when we came in sight of Mount Vernon. By the captain's orders the steamer was kept in shore as near as was deemed either safe or convenient. Mount Vernon! It looked as beautiful and as calm as a child in sleep on the bosom of its mother. Nothing appeared in the least disturbed. The tomb, mansion, trees, every thing betokened tranquillity. As seen from the water, the place looked none the less the Eden of every true American's heart. At White House Point there is a high bluff, which looks suspicious as regards the erection of a small battery on the top of it. While  some aver there is a battery in the neighborhood, others oppose any such idea. Certain it is the place looks suspicious, in that it seems as though the sand toward the top had been arranged to seem a continuation of the upper portion of the bluff. About twenty-five miles from Washington, and in the vicinity of Crane Island, the river is very broad and extremely shallow. Notwithstanding this, the channel is deep, and capable of floating the heaviest vessels, excepting Great Easterns, but not their “followers.” A short distance below we found a large number of fishermen in their crafts at work, apparently totally regardless of the “pomp and circumstance” of war around them. Below this again, on the Maryland side, the bluffs are so high that if batteries were erected on them and heavy guns mounted, they could be made to cover an immense distance of the Virginia territory opposite. At Indian Head Point, which is twenty-five miles from Alexandria, it is said the rebels have erected batteries and mounted heavy guns. Certain it is, nothing of the kind can be seen, even with the aid of a powerful glass. All vessels, in passing this and other suspicious points, give the Virginia shore as wide a berth as practicable. If there are batteries on the hills in this locality, it would be almost impossible to discover them, from the fact that the hills are thickly wooded, and hence serve as masks in a natural way. When thirty-five miles from Washington we passed a portion of the Potomac flotilla of the United States Government, being the steamers Penguin and Stillman Witt. These steamers were said to be lying here in order to watch all movements on the Virginia shore, it having been ascertained that the rebels intended erecting batteries in this neighborhood. Should these assertions prove true, these vessels would immediately open fire, and attempt by every available means to prevent such erections. On the Maryland side the hills are low, while on the other (Virginia) they are high and receding, and have the appearance of ridges. Alongside of the Penguin was moored a long-boat, with a gun in it, ready to be used at short notice. Both vessels appeared to have on board an unusually large crew, by the number of sailors who appeared to be in the rigging, at the ports, and elsewhere. Several trading vessels were in the vicinity of the steamers. Near eight o'clock we came in sight of Acquia Creek, which is forty-five miles from Washington. In approaching this place, the Virginia shore, which rises slightly perpendicularly, resembles somewhat a continuous line of batteries, broken here and there by patches of woods. We kept well off toward the Maryland shore, and soon came up with the United States steamers Jacob Bell, Freeborn, and Pocahontas. These were riding at anchor, out of reach of the enemy's guns, or about five miles from the uppermost point of the creek. At a short distance from the steamers two long-boats, with guns in their bows, were at anchor. By the aid of our glasses we got a fine view of the batteries, but at a distance of five miles off. The main battery has an apparent frontage of two hundred yards, is not masked, but on the contrary, in plain view to those on the water. In such a bold position is it located, that we could even trace out the guns, yet not plain enough to count them or obtain particulars. A short distance two new batteries were also in plain view. On the uppermost one--which is situated on the top of a hill resembling a sugarloaf, with a very large piece knocked out of one side — men were descried at work with shovels digging, or doing something like it. The lowest of the two new batteries is also located on a high hill, and in a very commanding position. It is partially covered by a thick wood. Numerous flag-poles were discernible, apparently with no flags flying. When we got in full view of the creek, the rebel steamer Page was seen lying at anchor, a short distance up stream. It is said this vessel, which originally served as a ferry-boat to convey passengers between Washington and the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, is now lined with railroad iron, fitted out with twelve guns, and a crew of eighty men. It was the property of the railroad mentioned above. Near it a Virginia pungy was anchored. A short distance from the Page was a black scow, used for the transportation of rebel troops. Abreast of Acquia Creek, and on the Maryland side of the channel, a vessel's masts were to be seen protruding above the water. We did not learn the cause of the sinking of this vessel. We had scarcely got full abreast of the main battery, still at a distance of five miles off, when every body on board our vessel was somewhat surprised to hear the report of a rebel gun. On turning our glasses toward the battery, nothing was observable but the smoke created by the discharge. This shot crossed our bow in such close proximity, that we detected its presence by a whizzing noise. From this peculiarity it was judged to have been a rifled-shot. No notice was taken of this, except that Capt. Chadsey gave orders to have the vessel kept right on its course, regardless of any thing that might happen. Subsequently another shot was fired; this one falling short a little less than one-third the distance between the battery and the steamer. During the whole time of passing these batteries, the greatest curiosity and excitement prevailed on board the steamer; and many were the necks stretched and eyes strained to catch a glimpse of every thing in general. If any of the vessels in the Government employ as transports should happen to get too near the Virginia shore, a warning gun would be fired from our gunboats; and if this did not have the desired effect of causing the vessels to lie off shore, it is more than probable a more forcible method would be used. At Potomac Creek, two miles from Acquia  Creek, there are more rebel batteries. On these, it is said, are mounted some of the largest kind of guns, and these are of the newest patterns. Owing to the peculiar formation of the hills and the thickness of the woods we could not see these batteries. Lying at a distance of five miles off from this creek were the steamers Union, Pembroke, and the Philadelphia Ice Boat, now in the Government service as a gun-boat. A boat boarded us from the Pembroke to procure copies of the Intelligencer, which Capt. Chadsey significantly termed the ship's papers. In answer as to what was the condition of things at Matthias Point, the officers in the boat replied, all was well and quiet. We then proceeded on our cruise without further interruption. When seventy miles from Washington and twenty miles from Acquia Creek we got abreast of Matthias Point, which is thought to be a dangerous locality. Stories are circulated that the people, who live in the neighborhood, are noted secessionists, and seek every favorable opportunity to pick off with fire-arms those who pass in vessels belonging to or in the employ of the Government. That such a thing could be done is true, for the river is very narrow at this point. All vessels in passing here, hug the Maryland shore as much as possible. It is reported that, forty-five miles from this place inland, there is a rebel encampment, and that stragglers are scattered along the shore from this force. The point all around is covered with dense woods. But two or three houses are visible, and these are a very considerable distance from the point proper. If there are batteries in this neighborhood they could not be seen, owing to the denseness of the woods. Port Tobacco, which lies directly opposite Matthias Point, on the Maryland shore, is said to be the rendezvous for numbers of secessionists, who lend aid to the rebels. But perhaps this is only one of the thousand and one stories in circulation all along the river. At Cedar Point Channel we passed the steamer James Jerome, of the Morgan & Rhinehart line, ashore. The Government steamers Yankee and Lance were trying to get her off, and lending all the aid they could, well knowing that if they left this steamer alone here overnight the Virginians would come off in small boats and do all in their power to burn it, for this had been done before. As the light-boats at this place have been burnt up by the rebels, the navigation is rendered positively dangerous at night, owing to the existence of fiats in the vicinity. All vessels arriving here in the night generally lie over till morning, under protection of the gunboats. The remains of the house burnt by order of Lieut Budd, in retaliation for the burning of one of our schooners which ran ashore, are still visible, but the place or vicinity shows no signs of life. Off Washington Point, or at Kettle Bellows, we passed the Government transport City of New York, bound to Washington with supplies. As we approached Blackstone lighthouse, ninety miles from Washington, we came in sight of a large number of trading vessels, heading up stream, and in all instances giving the Virginia shore a wide berth. Off Cape Lookout there were one Government gunboat and a number of trading vessels, the latter heading up the Chesapeake. At three o'clock P. M. the Potomac was left behind, and all excitement began to subside. As the light-houses on Capes Charles and Henry are both in Virginia, these have not been lit since the secession of the State. At Rappahannock River we found the U. S. steamer Monticello on watch. After a voyage of forty-eight hours we reached New York. So little is there now doing along the coast, that we did not meet one vessel between Cape Henry and the Capes of Delaware.
--National Intelligencer, Sept. 5.