The fight at Mathias' Point.
A letter to the New York Herald, written on board the steamer Freeborn, given the following details of the fight: ‘
On reaching Mathias' Point, the Freeborn anchored, broadside on, opposite the wooden building so often fired on, to the left of which is a gentle slope, leading to the top of the table lands, and to the left of that a ravine, called Jotank Swamp.
Beyond the ravine, still further to the left, is a dense thicket of pines, running a considerable distance along the high bank to the extremity of the Point.
The Reliance anchored a little lower down than the Freeborn, while the Dana anchored further out. On board of her a hawser was made fast, connecting her with the Freeborn.
The Freeborn then opened a cannonade from both guns, throwing in shot and shell in various parts of the land to check the advance of an enemy while the boats landed.--The landing was safely accomplished, the boats employed being those of the Pawnee, Captain Ward going off in the first cutter.--The table land was soon gained, when the rebel pickets opened fire on our men, which the latter returned.
On seeing this the Free-born's boat, with eight men, the coxswain and your correspondent, under command of master's mate John Kellogg, put off from the Freeborn.
On grounding, the other boats put off, Captain Ward telling Mr. Kellogg to cover the retreat of the other boats, which he did. No enemy appeared, and the men lay on their cars between the Freeborn and the shore.--Meanwhile, Captain Ward went on board the Freeborn, to superintend the working of the guns to cover our second landing, which was effected by the three boats, when, the acclivity being climbed, pickets were thrown out to the right and left, extending to the right considerably beyond the wooden building, and to the left beyond Jotank Swamp.
The former was composed of the Freeborn men; the latter of those of the Pawnee.
The erection of a sand-bag battery by the Pawnee's men, under the superintendence of Lieutenant Chaplin, was then commenced at the summit of the table land up the acclivity, at the foot of which the landing was effected.
The ground was well chosen, for a strong fence ran across, with an embankment and a ditch on the side of our party, forming a ready made defence, under cover of which our men could check the advance of the enemy.--Only one little spot, forming an angle of forty-five degrees with the fence, was left exposed; and it was at this spot that the sand bags were being laid as fast as they could be filled. ’
The landing was effected a little after 12 o'clock, and an incessant cannonade was kept up till four.
From the right of the wooden building, looking from the river, a view of the enemy's encampment was obtained, about three miles off, and men could be seen moving to and fro. Some of them were on horseback, and one man was seen galloping down the road leading to the camp.
To this point the Freeborn's shots were directed, under the information furnished from the shore by Mr. Kellogg.
The shots were well aimed.
At four o'clock the Freeborn ceased firing, and resumed at five, the bow gun throwing in round shot and the after gun five-second shell Capt. Ward stood on the gallows frame directing the fire, which was excellent.
Several of the shot and shell were distinctly seen to strike the white house, belonging to Mr. Grimes, at some distance above the wooden building, in which was ascertained that rebel troops were concentrated, and it was consequently the object of the second cannonade.
The battery on shore was now nearly completed, and a large quantity of branches of trees was placed over it to mask it. A number of the Freeborn's men were now seen running in the direction of Mr. Grimes' house, and the thicket had no sooner concealed them from the view of the Freeborn than four shots were fired at them from the house, which were returned by our men. The voice of Mr. Kellogg was distinctly heard, shouting rescue, and more men were then seen working to aid him. Presently they all returned, and Mr. Kellogg subsequently reported that the rebels had been all cleared out. The Freeborn had ceased firing, so as not to hit our own men, when on their reappearance Capt. Ward gave the order to train the forward gun sharp forward, as it had been trained sharp at all along.
He was on the gallows frame all this time, but whether he saw the rebels when he indicated the pointing of the gun, he never lived to tell.
The gun was trained when he sounded the whistle, at the same time hailing the shore, ‘"All hands on board."’ The order was obeyed, and they were making for the beach when a rifle shot was fired from the thicket to the left of Jotank creek, at the picket stationed near by, going through his cap. He fell back on the main body, discharging his rifle before doing so. Two or three shots, and next a terrible volley, were fired from the rebels from the extreme point to the left, all the way to the commencement of Jotank creek, on the men, who were fast running for their boats and the Freeborn.
The shots flew as thick as hail all around Lieut. Chaplin and men. The Major was among the last to leave the beach, seeing that the men were safe off. Several of the men had to swim for their lives, among them Mr. Chaplin, who, as well as the rest, succeeded in gaining their boats.
Not a tool nor a weapon was left behind.
On board the Freeborn, when the enemy opened fire, Captain Ward came down from the gallows frame and seized a rifle, which he fired at the enemy, as did pilot Pierson and myself.
We fired several shots, when the captain ran down to the forecastle deck and began to sight the gun, first ordering it to be loaded with a round shot.
He had got the sight, and was about to withdraw and give the word to fire, when he was struck by a bullet, saying to Harry Churchill, the boatswain's mate, ‘"Churchill, I am killed."’ He fell into one of his arms, while Churchill pulled the string with the other, throwing the shot clear among the enemy.
A five-second shell and two rounds of grape were then fired from the bow gun, while the after gun fired about the same quantity.
‘"Slip the cable and start her,"’ was now Lieut. Lee's order, on assuming the command.
It was done, and soon the Freeborn and all the boats were out of the range of the deadly rifles and muskets.
The Pawnee was now ordered alongside, and Dr. J. A. Moore, our surgeon, who had been sent on board of her in the morning, came on board the Freeborn, accompanied by Mr. Frederick Ward, the Captain's second son. Dr. Moore immediately pronounced the wound mortal.
The ball had entered the umbilicus, and came out on the right side, near the back, perhaps passing through the liver and other vitals.
The Captain was first laid on the quarter deck, but subsequently removed to a more convenient position.
In removing him he said.
‘"Why remove me?
I am quite comfortable."’ Here Lieutenant Lee asked if he could do anything for him. He only said, ‘"Raise my head a little higher."’ To Dr. Moore he once said, ‘"Dr., the wound is here,"’ pointing to the pit of his stomach.
The Captain lingered for about three-quarters of an hour, when he expired after a few gasps.
His son was by him when he breathed his last.
The most profound grief pervaded the whole of the officers and crew of the Freeborn.
When it was known that the Captain was mortally wounded, George Couch, captain of the after gun, exclaimed, ‘"Boys, let us have our revenge."’ The gun was then pointed true, and the five-seconds shell burst right in the midst of the enemy.
He was about to fire again, when the Doctor forbade the disturbance of the Captain's last moments, and Couch desisted.
Several of the men of both vessels had narrow escapes, being shot through their caps and various parts of their clothing.
A round bullet went through the engine room, cut a broom handle in two, and fell on board.
The Washington papers furnish the following official report:
a Northern account.
U. S. Sloop Pawnee, Sir:
Potomac river,June 27th, 1861.
--I have to report the following casualties resulting from the action at Mathias' Point this afternoon: Killed, 1.--Commander J. H. Ward, commanding flotilla; gunshot wound of abdomen, almost immediately fatal. Wounded dangerously, 2.--1. Wm. J. Best, O. S., belonging to the Pawnee; gunshot wound, fractured both bones of left leg; a second gunshot wound in soft part of right fore-arm; a third gunshot wound of right hand. 2. Wm. McChenny, belonging to the Thos. Freeborn; gunshot wound of left thigh; fracturing the temem. Wounded severely, 2.--1. John Williams, captain of main top of Pawnee; gunshot wound of soft part of right thigh. 2 Geo. McKenny, yeoman of Thomas Freeborn; gunshot wound of soft part of left thigh.
F. M. Gunnell,
Surgeon U. S. N.
The Washington correspondent of the Baltimore Sun writes: ‘ One of the officers who was present during the affair at Mathias' Point, states that of the thirty odd Federal troops that were assailed not above three got off without being hit in one way or the other. The fire of the Confederates must have been a hot and close one. As a regiment has come up the river to-day, it would seem that the Confederates have erected no battery as yet at Mathi'ss' Point. ’