Boatswain Josiah B. Aiken, owing to a deficiency of officers, had charge of the one-hundred-pounder rifle and served it admirably. I have to express my satisfaction at the excellent behavior of the officers and crew, and do not doubt that when the occasion arrives when they should do so, they will stand to their guns as long as enough men remain to serve them. In relation to the effect of the fire of the fleet on the fort, I beg leave to express my congratulations, as I did verbally on meeting you after the action. It did not require a visit to the fort to see that enormous traverses were nearly levelled, as at the south-east angle. The stockade or abatis must have been much shattered, and the debris from the parapets must have filled in the ditch greatly, I feel satisfied that everything was effected that can be by powerful batteries against a sand work, and that we could and can keep the enemy in their bomb-proofs pending an advance of troops to the foot of the parapet. The official letter of General Butler referred to states that General Weitzel advanced his skirmish line within fifty yards of the fort, while the garrison was kept in their bomb-proofs by the fire of the navy, and so closely that three or four men of the picket line ventured upon the parapet and through the sallyport of the work, is, I think, entirely confirmatory as to the effectiveness of our fire. He adds, “this was done while the shells of the navy were falling about the heads of the daring men who entered the work,” but appears to forget that at any given signal from an assaulting column this fire would cease, and the enemy be found not defending the parapet, but safely stowed away in bomb-proofs. I do not know what more could be asked of naval guns than to afford a safe approach to the foot of the parapet, with no lines of the enemy drawn up to receive our forces; beyond that, I suppose everything would depend upon the relative forces of the combatants and the vigor of the assault, and although the work might not, in a military sense, be much injured, I would think the likelihood of carrying the work would be greatly increased by such disposition, without loss of life, of the respective forces. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Report of Commander A. C. Rhind.
North Atlantic Squadron, U. S. Flag-ship Malvern, off Wilmington, December 26, 1864.Admiral — I have the honor to make the following report of the special service assigned me in connection with your attack on the defences at New Inlet. In obedience to your order of the twenty-third instant, the powder-boat was taken in the night as near to Fort Fisher as possible, the distance reached being estimated by all officers present at from two hundred and fifty to three hundred yards from the beach. Owing to the night being perfectly clear, it became necessary to anchor her there to prevent discovery by the enemy and consequent frustration of the plan. Had the night been obscure, she could have reached a point about one hundred and fifty yards nearer. The vessel, though having steam, was towed in and piloted by the Wilderness to a point within a short distance of her station, when the Wilderness hauled off and remained near to take off the party from the powder-boat. The arrangments and movements of the Wilderness were in charge of Lieutenant R H. Lamson, of the Gettysburg, assisted by Mr. J. S. Bradford, of the coast survey, and Mr. Bowen, bar pilot — the local knowledge and judgment of these gentlemen being of the greatest service to me in perfecting all the arrangements and carrying out the plan successfully. The party on board the Wilderness, commanded by Acting Ensign H. Arey, shared with us whatever of risk or danger attended the enterprise. Our arrangements being completed, we started in from the station vessel--the Kansas, Lieutenant Commanding Watmough--at about 10:30 P. M. At about 11:30 the Wilderness cast off the powder-boat and anchored, the latter steaming slowly ahead until she reached a point E. by N. 1/2 N. from Fort Fisher and within three hundred yards of the beach. The wind was light off shore, and it was expected the powder-boat would tend to the tide if anchored. The anchor was accordingly let go, the fires hauled as well as possible. and the men put into the boat Lieutenant Preston and I then proceeded to light the fuses and fires. The latter were arranged by Second Assistant Engineer Mullan. When all was fairly done, we observed that the vessel would not tail in-shore, and therefore I let go another anchor with short scope. We then took to the boat and reached the Wilderness in safety at precisely midnight, slipped her anchor and steamed out at full speed, reaching in less than an hour a point about twelve miles distant from the powder-boat, where we hove to and run our steam down. At precisely 1:40 A. M. the explosion took place, the shock being hardly felt, and four distinct reports heard. What result was occasioned near the vessel we can only estimate by the feeble fire of the forts next day. My opinion is that, owing to the want of confinement and insufficient fusing of the mass, much of the powder was blown away before ignition, and its effect lost. The fuses were set by the clocks, to one hour and a half, but the explosion did not occur till twenty-two minutes after that time had elapsed, the after part of the vessel being then enveloped in flames. The following officers and men manned the powder-boat: Commander A. C. Rhind; Lieutenant S. W.