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Doc. 29.-fight in Stono River, S. C.

The following extracts of a private letter from one of the engineers on the United States gunboat Marblehead, dated in Stono River, December twenty-fifth, 1863, give an account of the attack of the rebels on that vessel:

We had expected for some days to go to Port Royal, and the rebels, probably hearing of it, determined to give us a parting blessing. I had the morning-watch to-day, from four to eight o'clock A. M., and was sitting in the engine-room, as usual, when one of the master's mates opened the engine-room door, and wished me “Merry Christmas.” This put me in mind of home; and while recurring in memory to the many pleasant Christmas-days spent at home, I little thought of what was at hand. It was not long before I was startled by the shriek of a rifle-shell close over my head, instantly followed by the loud summons of the officers of the deck: “All hands to quarters! We are attacked!”

Instantly, all was confusion, as you may well imagine. It was about six o'clock, and quite dark, so that we could not see from which side the attack came. I spread the fire, and started the blower, to get up steam quickly. We had hauled the fires on the starboard and best boiler some days previous, on account of a bad leak, and so had only half our power. But I did the best I could, and before the chief-engineer arrived, every thing was in readiness.

The cable was slipped, and one bell struck, to start the engine, which was done; but as we were deprived of one boiler, and the fires were small on the other, the pressure fell so rapidly that the gauge showed only five pounds. All this time, the shells were whizzing past us in all directions, as fast as we could count, and occasionally one would strike, throwing the splinters in all directions. The captain, half dressed, sword in hand, was rushing around the deck, encouraging every body, and giving orders for firing and working the ship. The engine worked slower and slower, and the captain came to the hatch every little while, shouting, “Give her more steam!” but all to no purpose; there was no steam to be had. How eagerly I watched the steam-gauge to note the first forward movement of the pointer, and how long I watched in vain! The engine was barely moving, and the pressure was diminishing. The captain sent for the chief-engineer, and told him that he must have steam; but what could he do? Already we had been struck many times, and one man was instantly killed, while we could not bring our guns to bear, as we were not able to move the vessel.

The Pawnee was at anchor three miles below, in the inlet, and the rebel batteries were masked. At last, the powerful blast of the blower began to tell upon our fires, and joyfully we watched the gauge, as it gradually showed more steam. But for a long time our case seemed hopeless, and we expected to get aground every minute. As we were able to increase the speed, we could manoeuvre with more facility, and our shots soon began to fall thick and fast among the woods on the shore, near the village, and exploding, created great havoc. The captain showed the most persistent bravery. As soon as he found he could work the vessel, he refused to go down the river, but said he would save the handful of our troops stationed in the village.

The eleven-inch gun was worked with most admirable precision and despatch, and its tremendous report was heard every three minutes. We continued to keep in motion, so as to destroy the enemy's aim, and as we now had plenty of steam, were able to move with great facility. The rebels also fired very rapidly, and with deadly effect. A shell passed through the maintop-mast, cutting away the shrouds, and scattering the splinters all over the decks and the engine-room. Whenever I stepped up to the hatch, the whiz of the shells was unusually distinct, showing that the enemy were good gunners. Word was now brought down that more men were killed, and the carpenter came down to sound the pumps. But although she had been hulled many times, there was no leakage, though we had every thing in readiness for such an event. The captain kept shouting, “Give it to them, boys, we are driving them;” and showed no fear, only dodging the balls, as we all did.

At last our rapid broadside fire of six guns began to tell, and soon the gallant “chivalry” were in full retreat, leaving their guns in the woods. They could not stand our rapid fire, [292] and so vamosed. We gave three cheers, and were then relieved from “quarters,” after an engagement of two hours. All hands were called to muster on the quarter-deck, and officers and men, begrimed with powder, assembled around the binnacle to hear the roll called. It was found that six did not answer to their names, and the corpses on the deck and wounded men on stretchers told the story.

At this moment the Pawnee came up, closely followed by the mortar-schooner C. P. Williams, which, though a sailing vessel, had come down from Folly River, some six miles, to our assistance, and showed the most praiseworthy promptness, although too late to participate in the engagement. The Pawnee never fired a gun or received a shot. The men “faced the music” with the most unflinching heroism, and did themselves credit. The Captain complimented them highly, and said that the victory was all due to their efforts. Two of the crew of the eleven-inch gun were almost instantly killed by shells, and the captain (a seaman) of the aft-howitzers was also killed by a rifle-shot, which took off the top of his head. One of the coal-heavers was badly wounded by the fragment of the anchor-bit, which was knocked to atoms by a shot, and two other men were quite badly injured, besides several others scratched by splinters. The enemy fled precipitately, leaving two large rifleguns and carriages, and many knapsacks and muskets, and one dead body.

We landed, but could not carry off the guns on account of the marsh, and so spiked them and threw them into the river. If we had not stood our ground so well, the “rebs” would have captured Legreeville and all our troops there, and would then have erected a battery so as to command the whole of the river. Our captain acted nobly, and we are all proud of him. All honor was shown to the brave fellows who fell in the action while in the performance of their duty. Their corpses were laid upon the starboard side of the quarter-deck, and carefully covered with the finest American ensign on the ship. Coffins were made for them on board the Pawnee, in which they were laid, and are now awaiting burial. A boat has just left the ship for the purpose of digging the graves, and most of us are expecting to be present at the burial, and are only too willing to do the heroes honor.

The guns used by the rebels were very heavy rifled pieces, and were worked with great rapidity.

We were struck twenty times, every shot passing through the ship or masts, and the deck was covered with splinters and blood. A rifle-shot struck the ship at the steerage, and, passing through, made a perfect lumber-room of it. The hole through the ship was as large as a hat, and much broken, and the shot passing through, broke up two of the berths on the starboard side and tore down the curtains, and, going on, struck the solid floor, making a long hole in it a foot wide. The shot then passed over to the engineer's side, breaking to atoms the glass, and passed through the lockers of the other two engineers, and then smashed Mr. S.'s berth all to pieces, ripping open his mattress and cutting the ends off from all the slats. We found the shot on the floor. It was more than a foot long, conical, and weighed thirty pounds. It was a wicked shot, and was evidently aimed at the engine, and if it had struck, as intended, a few feet further forward, it would probably have killed all in the engine-room and disabled the engine, when the boat would probably have been lost. Nothing but the mercy of the Almighty turned that tremendous missile from its course and saved the ship and our lives.

This is the severest fight we have had since the taking of Port Royal. Our proportion of killed and wounded is one in twelve.

H. W. R.

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