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Doc. 112.-Colonel Roberts' exploit.


Flag-officer Foote's report.

United States Flag steamer Benton, off Island No.10, April 2, 1862.
Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy:
last night an armed boat expedition was fitted out from the squadron and the land forces at this point, under command of Col. Roberts, of the Forty-second Illinois regiment. The five boats comprising the expedition were in charge of First Master J. V. Johnson, of the St. Louis, assisted by Fourth Master G. P. Lord, of the Benton; Fourth Master Pierce, of the Cincinnati; Fourth Master Morgan, of the Pittsburgh, and Master's Mate Scamill, of the Mound City, each with a boat's crew of ten men from their respective vessels, carrying in all one hundred men, exclusive of officers, under the command of Col. Roberts.

At midnight the boats reached the upper or No. Ten fort, and, pulling directly on its face, carried it, receiving only the harmless fire of two sentinels, who ran on discharging their muskets, while the rebel troops in the vicinity rapidly retreated; whereupon Col. Roberts spiked the six guns mounted in the fort, and returned with the boats uninjured.

The commanding officer represents all under his command, from their coolness and determination, as being ready to perform more hazardous service, had it been required, to the fulfilment of the object of the expedition.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, etc., your servant,

A. H. Foote, Flag-Officer.


Chicago Tribune account.

on board steamer V. F. Wilson, off Island no.10, April 2, 1862.
The fleet this morning is exulting over a most daring and brilliant exploit, performed last night by Col. Roberts, of the Forty-second Illinois, at the head of a small expedition. In order to appreciate more thoroughly its character and difficulties, I must preface it with a brief meteorological statement. The night was intensely stormy. During the day the wind had blown strongly from the south, with occasional hot gusts. Heavy clouds, bank upon bank, piled up in the most fantastic shapes upon the distant horizon, gradually as night approached, drifted towards the zenith, in dark threatening tufts and whirls. The barometer fell rapidly. Everything indicated, even to the most experienced weather prophet, the advent of a terrible storm. During the evening the wind freshened, accompanied by frequent spatters of rain, which drove against the hurricane-deck like a sudden shower of shot. The river ripples were augmented into turbulent waves, whose white caps gleamed with phosphorescent sparkles in the gathering darkness. At midnight the storm burst upon us with fearful fury. The rain came down, not in drops, but in sheets, accompanied by the most terrific thunder and lightning I have ever witnessed. The Cimmerian darkness of the night rendered it all the more appalling. The gale developed at midnight into a raging tornado, tearing madly through the woods, snapping off branches like pipe-stems, and hurling them in every direction. The Swallow and Pike, lying near the point, lost their chimneys and other head — gear, and several other transports had their funnels and escape-pipes carried away. About one o'clock, signal — whistles of distress sounded through the storm, twice or thrice repeated. The Swallow had parted her lines and was fast drifting out into the stream. Unfortunately she was not coaled and had no steam. Every moment was growing more and more precarious, when fortunately, after drifting about a quarter of a mile, she struck against the Cincinnati and was made fast until morning. The storm lasted about four hours, raging with terrible vehemence, and tossing the steamers about on the mad waves like cockle-shells. Luckily the Swallow was the only one blown from her moorings.

It was during the height of this storm that Col. Roberts performed his daring mission. Yesterday [355] morning, the flag-officer, Capt. Phelps, Col. Buford, Secretary Scott, and other officers, held a conference upon the flag-ship, at which it was decided to make a night reconnoissance of the upper battery, the details of which were left to Col. Buford. He selected Col. Roberts and forty picked men of his regiment to be the chosen few. Each gunboat furnished a yawl, manned by six of their hardiest seamen. At two o'clock, in the thickest of the storm, the little party embarked. The flag-officer and his subordinates, with Col. Buford, stood upon the deck of the Benton, giving the final orders. The yawls set out on their perilous journey, and they retired anxiously to await the result.

Col. Roberts had previously made several very close reconnoissances at night by pulling through the overflowed brush, and had ascertained the locality of the battery.

The boats were manned as follows:

St. Louis cutter, John V. Johnson, commander.

Cincinnati cutter, John Pierce, commander.

Benton cutter, Geo. P. Lord, commander.

Mound City cutter,----Scoville, commander.

Pittsburgh cutter,----, commander.

Each of the cutters also carried a coxswain, and was manned by ten men. The boats were all in charge of First Master Johnson, of the St. Louis. The soldiers were picked men of company A, each man armed with a five-shooter Colt rifle.

The following was the plan laid out: The boats were to approach the battery in line, pulling slowly till at the point of the bar, after which, when five hundred yards, the St. Louis, Benton, and Pittsburgh, should run abreast, the Cincinnati and Mound City in the rear as reserves; and this plan was carried out to the very letter.

With muffled oars, and under cover of the friendly darkness, the boats advanced cautiously along the edge of the bank. Owing to the furious violence of the storm, and the darkness, they passed the bend unperceived, until they were within a few rods of the battery. For one instant, a blinding flash of lightning glared across the water, revealing to the rebel sentinels dark objects approaching them. The next instant the impenetrable darkness closed in. The sentinels fired wildly three or four times, the shots passing over the boats without doing any damage, and then incontinently fled to their tents, which were pitched upon a high ridge some distance back from the battery, evidently impressed with the alarming idea that the whole Lincoln fleet was upon them, and that immediate annihilation stared them in the face. Our boats made no reply. Not a word was spoken. In two or three minutes they touched the slope of the earthworks. The boys swung over the parapet, sledges and files were busy, and a few vigorous strokes told the tale. In less than three minutes time all the guns in the battery were spiked completely and thoroughly. They were six in number, all of large calibre--two sixty-fours, three eighties, and one of them a spendid nine-inch pivot-gun with cushion-lock, which received the personal attention of Col. Roberts' brawny arm. It was undoubtedly the Lady Davis. In an inconceivably short time, the boats were on their way back, ploughing a path through the surging waves at the imminent risk of submersion, as the current was washing against them with fearful velocity. All arrived safely, however, at the gunboats, exultant over the glorious accomplishment of their important and dangerous mission.

The extreme darkness prevented learning the plan of defence. It was found, however, that the embankments were very high, affording good protection. There were no casemates, however, nor any protection against shell.


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Pittsburg Landing (Tennessee, United States) (2)
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H. Roberts (9)
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Gideon Welles (1)
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