Doc. 11.-St. John's River expedition.
Report of Lieut.-Commander Breese.
200] this vessel, with the Columbine in company, and proceeded to Picolata, where I had a consultation with General Gordon on the subject of the expedition. It was arranged that I should take two hundred and seventy troops on board this vessel and one hundred on board the Columbine, and proceed with them opposite to Pilatka, and there and them: the Columbine to retain thirty of hers on board as a guard. The steamer Houghton accompanied us with General Gordon and about three hundred men. At 4.15 P. M. we arrived at Pilatka, where the troops were disembarked, and the Columbine and this vessel proceeded up the river. I sent the Columbine ahead, as she was the faster, and the object was to reach Volusia as soon as possible. The Columbine was protected by fifty sand bags and some bales of hay. I enjoined caution on the Captain, and directed him to make the best of his way to Volusia, and take our troops on board if they were there, and return immediately; and if they had been captured to return at once. The understanding between the General and myself was, that I should go on up as far as the pilot could take the vessel, which I thought would be about Brown's Landing, two or three hundred yards above Dunn's Creek. At 7.20 P. M. of the twenty-second instant I came to anchor off Brown's Landing, about two hundred and fifty yards distant, and just astern of us the Houghton anchored. Not knowing why she came up, I took the dingey and went on board to ascertain, when I was informed that the General thought it best that she should be under the protection of this vessel during the absence of the troops. I had scarcely been told this when I was startled by the report of a field-piece fired at the Ottawa. I immediately jumped into my boat and returned to the ship before she had fired a shot in return; but she was all prepared, and in the act of firing. At 7.50 engaged the enemy, and fired by the flash of their guns; we could distinguish nothing else. The enemy had four field-pieces, of from six to twelve pounders I should judge, and fired shell, grape, and solid shot at us and the Houghton. The firing was quite rapid at first and very accurate, but after the third discharge of the one hundred and fifty-pounder rifle they ceased firing entirely, and retreated I presume. This vessel was struck by grape thirty-seven times, and received a shell through the smokestack, carrying away also the mainstay; fortunately there were no casualties. The chain was shipped as soon as possible to get the vessel in motion, as we were too good a target for them. The firing was continued on our side until 9.20 P. M., some time after the enemy had ceased, because I was not certain but what he might be lurking somewhere on the banks, and I spread the fire along the river. At 9.45 P. M. anchored off the mouth of Dunn's Creek. At nine A. M., on the twenty-third, got under way and weighed anchor, which had been shipped. The vessel was not again fired upon. The landing would scarcely be noticed, the woods were very dense, and the undergrowth extends to the water's edge. I do not know whether we inflicted any damage upon the enemy or not, but presume we did, or he would not have ceased firing so soon. I did not feel justified in landing a boat, as it would be in the way if fired upon. It is with pleasure I can testify to the spirited and manly conduct of the officers and men. On the afternoon of the twenty-fourth a messenger arrived from General Gordon, informing me that all had been accomplished by the expedition that could be, and that he wished this vessel to return to Pilatka and embark the troops she had landed there, and that he had sent a messenger to the Columbine to return. I immediately returned to Pilatka, and anchored at 5.20 P. M. I then saw an orderly from General Gordon, informing me that as the Houghton was not there he had concluded to go by land to Orange Mills, and there embark the troops. I remained at anchor all night, with the hope that the Columbine would return, but heard nothing of her. At 11.10 A. M., on the twenty-fourth, anchored at Orange Mills, but found no troops; the General had embarked part of his men on board of the Houghton, and the remainder he had marched across to Picolata. It left me in an awkward position, as the vessel could not float across the flats. I received on board seven stragglers left behind at Pilatka and from Orange Mills, belonging to the One Hundred and Fourty-fourth and One Hundred and Fifty-seventh New York volunteers. On the twenty-eighth instant crossed the flats unassisted, and anchored off Bay Point, agreeably to your order. Accompanying this is a report of ammunition expended in the engagement with the battery. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,