off from her and commenced to pull up. At about 12.15, noon, we arrived off Smithfield, having up to this time seen no enemies. The first launch proceeded a short distance beyond the wharf, to a jetty, where Mr. Wilder sent me with a guard of four men to bring down one of the inhabitants of the town--one of whom we saw sitting in front of a store. I brought him to Mr. Wilder, who examined him closely concerning the rebels and about the torpedo boat. He stated that there were no troops in the vicinity, nor had there been any since the Smith Briggs was destroyed; but occasionally some of the rebel picket came into the town. He also stated that the torpedo boat had been there twice, and had come from Richmond. He told us that the David had left the village on last Sunday night, at ten o'clock, and had returned to Richmond. We then went back to the wharf, and Mr. Wilder left the launch and communicated with Acting Master Campbell and the officer commanding the forces on shore. At two P. M. Mr. Wilder said to Mr. Birtwistle that he was going a short distance up the creek, and desired him to follow at a short distance, and cover us in the first launch, which he did accordingly. We then proceeded up the creek, and past the town, till we came to the ruins of a bridge, where we saw an old negro sitting; we went alongside the bank, and Mr. Wilder put various questions to him, and the answers he gave corroborated the statement of the man who was previously examined. Apprehending no danger, though we were prepared for it, we proceeded through the bridge and up the creek, and were followed at the proper distance by the second launch. When we were about three hundred yards from the bridge the enemy opened fire on us from the right bank of the stream, and from a thickly wooded bluff. Immediately we pointed the boat's head for the bluff and returned the fire from the howitzer and the rifles--Mr. Wilder going to the howitzer, and I attending to the boat and using small arms. We had fired two rounds at the rebels, and Mr. Wilder had the lock string in his hand ready to fire, when, I regret very much to say, he was struck by a rifle ball in the left temple and instantly killed. H. H. Miller, one of my men, was also struck by a rifle ball and badly wounded. I discharged the gun, and got the launch with her head down stream, thinking itwas useless to endanger the lives of my men any longer. Mr. Birtwistle got a good position and ably supported me, and I will now add that through the whole expedition my men behaved well, and especially while under fire. This morning my boat, in company with the second launch, covered the army steamer Emma while she ascended the creek. We gave the woods a vigorous shelling, and had the satisfaction of starting some of the enemy from the woods. The town of Smithfield has a deserted appearance, and I saw no one in the town but old men, women, and children. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Report of Ensign Birtwistle.
United States steam frigate Minnesota, off Newport News, Va., April 25, 1864.Sir: I have the honor to report that on the thirteenth instant, pursuant to your orders, I left the ship, in charge of the second launch, with Master's Mate J. M. Simms, (20) twenty men, and heavy twelve-pounder howitzer, subject to the orders of Acting Master Charles B. Wilder, in command of the first launch, with Acting Ensign Fred A. O'Connor, (19) nineteen men, and heavy twelve-pounder howitzer, smooth bore. Both launches were taken in tow by the Stepping Stones. She anchored a short distance up the river until two o'clock next morning, the fourteenth, when she got under way and arrived off Smithfield Creek, which we entered at daylight and came to anchor just inside, awaiting the arrival of the army steamer which steamed in towards us at about nine. A. M., but grounded outside. The Stepping Stones went out to pilot them in, while the launches lay at anchor until they came up, when we were taken in tow by the army steamer Emma to within about (3) three miles of Smithfield, when we cast off and took stations to cover the advance and landing of the troops, and arrived at Smithfield at about 12.30. Troops landed, launches advanced, and Mr. Wilder stationed me to guard the main street and back entrance to the town, while he commanded the main approaches to the right of the town; and while in this position Mr. Wilder interrogated an aged colored man who was living in a toll-house to a destroyed bridge near him in reference to the Torpedo, the nature of the creek, force and vicinity of the rebels, and other necessary and important questions, while I, on the left, questioned an aged white man in a similar manner. Shortly afterwards we compared accounts, and found them to agree. Though they said the Torpedo had left there last Sunday evening, Mr. Wilder was not satisfied, nor any of us; we thought possibly their statements were not true, or she might have returned. Mr. Wilder having called me to him, placed me in command of the right of the town, while he went to consult Acting Master Campbell, commanding the Stepping Stones. He returned, and said he was going a little way up the creek, and ordered me to follow him and cover his advance. He proceeded through the bridge a few hundred yards, when he was fired on from an ambushed bluff by concealed riflemen. Fortunately the second launch was lying on their oars — waiting for the first launch to get about (100) one hundred yards ahead — with the gun manned and trained directly on the bluff. I primed and fired a percussion shell right in their midst, and the second volley they fired was quite scattering; backed the second launch and fired rapidly, each shell bursting beautifully. The first launch, on being fired on, promptly rounded to and fired three effective shots from their gun, and discharged all their small arms, pulled from under the bluff under cover of the second launch, and I most sincerely regret to have to say that while in close action Mr. Wilder received a shot in the left temple which killed him instantly, and