make an effort to blow up the Federal
iron-clads, clear a passage for our fleet and force the abandonment of City Point
, or compel Grant
to fall back or bring his supplies from Norfolk
To drive him back would have necessitated an army equal in numbers to his own and a fearful cost of life.
Under these conditions Lieutenant C. W. Read
, of the navy, organized an expedition whose object was to carry boats, fitted with torpedoes, on wheels, and, turning Grant
's left, strike boldly across the country in his rear, cross the Blackwater
, and launch our boats in the James
above their anchorage at Hampton Roads
, capture some passing tugs, fix our torpedoes on them, ascend the river and strike the largest monitors at City Point
The larger monitors once destroyed, our fleet could easily scatter the wooden gunboats, and the James river
would be open from Richmond
to Hampton Roads
The expedition was a hazardous one from its incipiency, the enemy having declared their determination to show no mercy to prisoners taken on torpedo service.
We had to operate in rear of Grant
's army—a handful of men, with an army of one hundred and fifty thousand between us and our friends—and every man on the expedition fully understood and appreciated the danger we ran. If we were successful in reaching the James river
our dangers would have but just commenced, as we would have to board and capture an unsuspicious craft, of whose fitness for our purpose we would have to judge from appearances at long range; the capture might attract attention of the men-of-war and make us the captured instead of the captors, or, our plan discovered, we would have a long way to retreat in order to reach a place of safety.
Added to these difficulties, the weather was very cold, the roads rough, and the path before us a terra incognita
. Surely to face such dangers and hardships, even though success did not crown our effort, deserves a mention in history, and I am not aware that anything has been written in relation to this expedition, which, if successful, would have crowned each one of those engaged in it with laurels as undying as those that deck the brows of the heroes of Thermopylae
I suppose that the modesty of the principal actor, the brave Read, forbade his publishing an account of the expedition which was, through the treachery of one of our most trusted men, a failure; but reverses and failures, as well as grand successes, should be chronicled, as evidences of the spirit
that animated our men and the willingness to embark in almost hopeless undertakings, literal forlorn hopes, without the stimulus of the excitement of battle or the probabilities of a name on the roll of honor.