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[95]

On dangerous duty — officers on the “Philadelphia This river vessel was early pressed into service for one of the most important and dangerous performances of the navy in the war. After Virginia seceded, the Confederates promptly removed all lightships and buoys from the Potomac, completely cutting off Washington from the North. Selected by ballot of a board made up of the chiefs of departments at Washington, Lieutenant Thomas Stowell Phelps was entrusted as an officer “skilled in surveying” with the perilous task of resurveying the channel and replacing guiding marks. He was given the armed tender “Anacostia” and the “Philadelphia” for this work. Four 12-pound army field-pieces were mounted at either end of the latter vessel and covered with old canvas to conceal them. The crew and a company of the Seventy-first New York were kept carefully concealed below, while on the deck Phelps stood fearlessly at work. Near Aquia Creek it was particularly important that the river should be surveyed. Phelps ran boldly up under the guns of the Confederate batteries and worked for two hours, with the Confederate gunners, lock-strings in hand, plainly visible. Years afterward Colonel Wm. F. Lynch, C. S. A., who commanded the battery, explained that he had not given the order to fire because the “Philadelphia” seemed to him to be “the property of some poor devil who had lost his way and from her appearance was not worth the powder.” The “Philadelphia” was also flagship in the expedition, March 13-14, 1862, to Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, where Commodore S. C. Rowan invaded the Southern inlets.

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