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Doc. 37.-the battle on James River, Va.

Commander Rodgers's report.

United States steamer Galena, off City point, James River, May 16, 1862.
sir: I have the honor to report that this vessel, the Aroostook, the Monitor, and Port Royal, with the Naugatuck, moved up the river yesterday, getting aground several times, but meeting no artificial impediments until we arrived at Ward's Bluff, about eight miles from Richmond, where we encountered a heavy battery and two separate barriers formed of spiles and steamboats and sail vessels. The pilots both say that they saw the Jamestown and Yorktown among the number.

The banks of the river we found lined with rifle-pits, from which sharpshooters annoyed the men at the guns. These would hinder all removal of obstructions unless driven away by a land force.

The Galena ran within almost six hundred yards of the battery, as near the spiles as it was deemed proper to go, let go her anchor, and with a spring swung across the stream, not more than twice as wide as the ship is long. Then, at forty-five minutes past seven A. M., opened fire upon the battery.

The wooden vessels, as directed, anchored about thirteen hundred yards below.

The Monitor anchored near, and at nine o'clock she passed just above the Galena, but found that her guns could not be elevated enough to reach the battery. She then dropped a little below us, and made her shots effective.

At five minutes after eleven o'clock the Galena had expended nearly all her ammunition, and I [133] made signal to discontinue the action. We had but six Parrott charges, and not a single filled nine-inch shell. We had thirteen killed and eleven wounded.

The rifled one hundred-pound Parrott of the Naugatuck burst, half of the part abaft the trunnions going overboard. She is therefore disabled.

Lieut. Newman, the Executive Officer, was conspicuous for his gallant and effective services. Mr. Washburne, Acting Master, behaved admirably. These two are selected from among the number.

The Aroostook, Port Royal, and Naugatuck took the stations previously assigned them, and did every thing that was possible. The Monitor could not have done better.

The barrier is such that vessels of the enemy, if they have any, cannot possibly pass out; ours cannot pass in.

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

John Rodgers, Commander U. S. Navy.

Lieut. Wm. N. Jeffers's report.

U. S. Iron-clad steamer Monitor, James River, May 16, 1862.
sir: I submit the following report of the movements of this vessel during the action of yesterday:

Shortly after weighing anchor from our position near Kingsland Creek a sharp fire of musketry was commenced from both banks on all the ships.

At half-past 7 I discovered an extensive fortification on an elevation of about two hundred feet, with several smaller batteries, all apparently mounting guns of the heaviest calibre; at the foot of the bluff in the river an obstruction formed of sunken steamers and vessels, secured with chains, and the shallow water, piled across the river.

The Galena having anchored at about one thousand yards from the fort, and being warmly engaged, I endeavored to pass ahead of her to take off some of the fire; but found that my guns could not be elevated sufficiently to point at the fort. I then took position on the line with the Galena, and maintained a deliberate fire until the close of the action, when, in company with the other vessels, I dropped down to the anchorage of the morning.

The fire of the enemy was remarkably well directed, but vainly towards this vessel. She was struck three times--one solid eight-inch shot square on the turret, two solid spot on the side armor forward of the pilot-house. Neither caused any damage beyond bending the plates. I am happy to report no casualties.

In conclusion, permit me to say that the action was most gallantly fought against great odds, and with the usual effect against earth-works. So long as our vessels kept up a rapid fire they rarely fired in return, but the moment our fire slackened they remanned their guns. It was impossible to reduce such works, except with the aid of a land force. . . . .

Report of Lieutenant D. C. Constable.

May 16, 1862.
Commander Rodgers:
sir: I have the honor to report that in yesterday's attack upon the enemy's battery at Wood Hill, near Richmond,. Virginia, I placed the vessel under my command in the position assigned me by you in the line of attack, and opened fire upon the battery, which I continued until the bursting of our gun.

Whilst getting into position during the bombardment, and while falling back with the squadron, this vessel was under quite a heavy fire of musketry, which was constantly returned by us with shell and canister from our light broadside guns.

I have likewise to report to you that two of my crew are wounded--one by a musket-shot through the arm and the other by a severe contusion. They have been sent on board the Port Royal for surgical treatment.

My officers and crew behaved to my entire satisfaction.

I would respectfully request that you appoint a board of officers to examine into and report upon the cause of the bursting of the Parrott gun.

Surgeon Van Gieson's report.

The following is the report of Assistant Surgeon Van Gieson, of the Galena, giving an account of the killed and wounded in the action:

United States Steamer Galena.--Killed: Thomas Ready, Captain foretop; James H. Weber, third-class boy; Michael Many, landsman; Martin Milbery, do.; John Smith, ordinary seaman; Robert Boyd, do.; Richard A. Adams, seaman; John Quig, ordinary seaman; John Russell, landsman; Joseph Johnson, private marine; Jared D. Boorem, gunner; David Patterson, landsman. Wounded: John O'Conner, third-class boy, burned and wound of ankle-joint; William Stevens, seaman, not seriously; George McDonnel, slightly; Thomas Finnigan, arm seriously injured; Henry Walson, ordinary seaman, slightly; William Harrison, landsman, slightly; Thomas Clark, do.; Diedrick Vissers, seaman, do.; Andrew McCleary, Acting Master's mate, not seriously; Owen Doherty, coal-heaver, mortally; Frederick W. Johnson, first-class boy, not seriously.

Port Royal.--Wounded: George Morris, Commander, flesh wound of right leg.

Naugatuck.--James Wilson, musket-shot, not serious; Peter Dixon, not seriously.

Lieutenant Constable's letters: letter to his mother.

United States gunboat E. A. Stevens, Hampton roads, May 18.
my dear mother: I have to thank God for a life preserved under circumstances where it even now seems impossible that I could have escaped. [134]

On the fifteenth instant the squadron to which my vessel is attached, had a four hours fight with a strong rebel battery on James River, eight miles below Richmond. During the fight our one hundred-pounder Parrott rifle-gun burst, one third of it being thrown overboard; one third falling over on the starboard side of the deck, while the remaining third retained nearly its proper position. The heavy iron gun-carriage was almost entirely destroyed, our pilot-house shattered, and the captain of the gun blown some fifteen feet, but fortunately not killed. I was within two feet of the gun when it burst, having just trained it upon the enemy's battery.

The speaking-trumpet in my hand was crushed; a fragment of the gun, weighing nearly a ton, fell within an inch or two of me, actually tearing my coat as it fell, and one of the large squares of rubber attached to the gun struck me upon the head, stunning me for a moment, but still I was able to remain on deck and superintend the fighting of our broadside guns, which were engaged throwing shell and canister into the rebel rifle-pits, which lined the shore under cover of the woods. After the fight was over, and the squadron commenced falling back for want of ammunition, I fainted away and was taken below, where, after being cupped behind the ears, I was again enabled to take charge of the vessel.

This morning I arrived at Norfolk with the killed and wounded of the squadron, and reached here at one o'clock this afternoon.

I find that I cannot be made ready for another heavy gun without a thorough overhauling and great waste of precious time, consequently I have tendered my vessel to the Flag-Officer to again go up James River in her present condition, relying upon my broadside rifle-guns for fighting, and the ability of my vessel to remove obstructions, etc., etc.

The Commodore, before I left him up James River, told me that even in my present state I could be of great service to him. I shall know probably by to-morrow whether I am to return to the scene of our late fight, or to be sent to some place for repairs.

During the fight of the fifteenth instant a rifle-ball passed through my clothing and lodged in a hammock near me, and I now keep it as a memento of the fight. The ball was decidedly from an English Enfield rifle, but the rebel who fired it is no longer living. At least three well-directed shots had been fired at me from, one spot before I discovered where they came from; I then saw that they had been fired from a thick green bush about eighty yards from me. Once I even caught sight of the muzzle of the rifle as it was protruded through the bush to aim at me, and twice I raised a rifle to my shoulder to aim at him, but he dropped out of sight in a twinkling.

Finding that I must either shoot him or get shot myself, I tried another plan. I aimed one of our twelve-pounders, loaded with canister, to the bush, and directed the captain of the gun at fire at the moment I raised my signal. I then took my former position and watched the bush closely. Sure enough, when the fellow saw me standing without a rifle in my hand, he again thrust the muzzle of his gun through the bush, but before he could pull the trigger I raised my hand--“bang” went the twelve-pounder, and when the smoke cleared away rebel, gun, husband and all had been destroyed together.

The evening before the fight I learned that the Galena had on board several sheets of boileriron not in use. Twenty-five of these I procured and fastened up outside of our cabin and pilothouse, and it was most fortunate that I did so. Had it not been for the protection these afforded, I would have probably lost nearly all my men by the fire of the rebel sharp-shooters, whereas, by keeping my men under shelter as much as possible, and only exposing them for a moment while loading our guns, I succeeded in driving the enemy out of their rifle-pits, with the loss of only two of my men severely wounded.

For an hour and a half after the bursting of our one hundred-pounder we kept up the fight with our broadside guns, and only fell back when the Galena and Monitor set us example, the other two vessels of the squadron having drawn out of range of the battery at least half an hour before we moved. The iron-clad Galena was hit forty-six times--twenty-eight shot and shell having completely penetrated her armor, killing fourteen and wounding about twenty of her crew. The other vessels were but slightly injured.

Strange to say, four out of five of the commanders of the vessels engaged were more or less injured.

. . . . . . . .

It is now three o'clock in the morning, and I have not yet retired, which is rather late for a person who has not had his clothes off for the last eighteen days and nights . . . . .

Yours, affectionately,

Letter to Captain Faunce.

U. S. Gunboat Stevens, Hampton roads, May 19.
my dear Captain: We arrived here yesterday from Norfolk, having brought down the killed and part of the wounded in our last action and left them at the hospital there. The squadron to which we were attached, consisting, besides the Stevens, of the Galena, Monitor, Aroos took, and Port Royal, worked our way up James River, and at a battery at a place called Harding's Bluff, (about five miles above Day's Point,) we saw the rebel steamers Yorktown and Jamestown, but they ran from us, ascending the river. When we arrived at City Point we found the storehouses there, containing tobacco, etc., in flames, and nearly consumed.

On the evening of the fourteenth inst., we arrived about ten miles below Richmond. The Stevens had led the squadron, keeping about two hundred yards ahead of the Galena, sounding out the channel, and looking out for obstructions and torpedoes. We were (on account of our light draught of water and the readiness with which the vessel worked) of great service to the squadron. From information which we had [135] gained, we learned that the enemy had, about two miles above us, heavy obstructions across the river, consisting of spiles and sunken vessels, defended by a very strong battery on a high bluff, called Ward's Hill.

This Ward's Hill was but eight miles below Richmond, and at a council of war held on board the flag-ship, (the Galena,) consisting of the commanders of the five vessels, it was arranged that the squadron should the next morning attack the battery in the order arranged. If successful in shelling them out, the Stevens was to haul out the spies, while men from the squadron spiked the guns. I was provided with a chain for the purpose, and intended pumping out aft and submerging forward until making fast, and heaving taut — then pump out forward, and submerge aft to loosen the spile in its hold, and then haul upon it until drawn, etc., etc.

We likewise learned that the enemy had rifle-pits well manned; and even while at anchor on the afternoon of the fourteenth we were fired at several times from musketry in the bushes along the shore. At the request of the Commodore, I threw a shell from our Parrott gun at quite a large force of the enemy on a hill about two miles distant, which started them off at “double-quick,” and then threw two or three rounds of canister from our light guns into the bushes where the rifle-shots had come from, and during the night we heard nothing further from them.

I fortunately learned that evening that the Galena had several large sheets of boiler-iron not in use--(six feet by three feet.) Twenty-five of these I procured, and fastened them on the outside of the pilot-house and cabin, and to their protection we were all indebted for our lives in the action of the fifteenth.

The next morning, on the first of the ebb, the vessels moved up to their positions of attack, under a very annoying fire of rifles from the woods, (the river being less than two hundred yards wide.)

We opened fire upon the battery with our heavy gun, and threw shell and canister from our broadside ones into the woods. Our station was abreast of their rifle-pits, and was only about forty feet from the shore, so that their sharp-shooters had a fair chance at us. During the fight, and while our heavy gun was performing splendidly, it burst; but fortunately disabled but one man. It burst from the vent to the trunnions in two halves, throwing one half over-board on the port side, while the other half was landed on deck on the starboard side. The muzzle forward of the trunnions remained entire, and was thrown forward about two feet. The gun-carriage was destroyed, the pilot-house shattered, part of the upper deck crushed in, and some of the main-deck beams started.

How I escaped God only knows. I was within two feet of the gun when it burst, having just sighted and trained it upon the battery. My speaking-trumpet was completely crushed, and a fragment of the gun, weighing about one thousand five hundred weight, fell so closely to me that it tore my coat. I was hit on the head by some part of the gun or carriage, (I think it was one of the large rubbers,) which stunned me for a moment, although I was able to keep the deck and superintend the fighting of our broadside guns, (which were well handled under charge of Wilson,) until the squadron fell back for want of ammunition, about an hour and a half after our gun burst. After heaving up our anchor I fainted away; but after being cupped behind the ears by the surgeon of the Aroostook, who came on board to look out for our wounded, I was able to resume the charge of the deck.

Our little broadside guns did splendid execution, driving the enemy out of their rifle-pits and clearing the shore of every enemy within canister range. By keeping the crew under the protection of our “iron-clad” cabin, and only exposing them for a moment while loading, our loss by their fire was only two wounded.

The Galena was hit forty-six times; twenty-eight shot entered her armor and completely penetrated it; five passed through her smoke-stack, and three passed through her deck-plating. One or two shots passed entirely through her. She lost seventeen killed and about twenty wounded. The other vessels received but slight injury — the Monitor none at all.

The vessels had to fight at anchor on account of the narrowness of the river.

The Stevens did not haul off until the Galena and Monitor set her the example. The Aroostook and Port Royal dropped down half an hour before we hove up. The Aroostook hove up, but the Port Royal slipped her moorings. Since I have been in command of the Stevens, I have always observed the precaution of having a man on deck to “feel home” the shot or shell after the muzzle of the gun is elevated, for fear that the shot or shell might start while the muzzle is depressed in the berth-deck. At the time the gun burst, this precaution was attended to under my own eye, consequently the bursting could not have been caused by the shot not being “home.”

In making my report to the Commodore after the action, I requested him to appoint a board of officers to examine into the cause of the bursting. The board so appointed examined the gun, etc., and report that they find an old flaw extending from the inside of the vent to near the outside surface of the gun, and that, therefore, they consider that the bursting was caused by the gun heretofore having been subjected to severe and protracted tests, etc., and fully clearing me from any want of attention or neglect. This I am glad of.

. . . . I am anxious to rejoin the James River squadron at once, although it has been decided that another gun cannot be fitted without considerable delay, and I have therefore offered the Flag-Officer to return as I am, as Commodore Rodgers told me when I left him at City Point that the vessel, even in her present condition, could be of great service to him. . . .

Sincerely yours,


Rebel official report.

Drury's Bluff, May 15, 1862.
Hon. S. R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy:
sir: The enemy came up the river at half-past 6 A. M., the Galena ahead, the Monitor and a small iron steamer, a side-wheel and a smaller gunboat following in succession.

When about four hundred yards from our obstructions our batteries opened fire upon the Monitor and Galena. They did not reply until the Galena had placed herself directly athwart the channel. After which she and the Monitor opened a brisk fire, the other vessels keeping under way, and at about from a quarter to a mile lower down, and so close under the opposite shore that only four of our guns could bear upon them. Our fire was mostly directed upon the Galena, only occasionally paying a compliment to the others.

Several of our shots at long range passed through and through them, and they soon dropped out of range. The small iron-clad and the side-wheel gunboats were badly crippled. We turned our attention to the Galena, nearly every one of our shots telling upon her iron surface. At eleven o'clock A. M., one of the Patrick Henry's eight-inch solid shot passed into her bow port; immediately the smoke rushed out of her own ports, showing, evidently, that she was on fire. We gave her three hearty cheers as she slipped her cables and moved down the river. Our pickets heard her captain say to one of the other gunboats that she was “in a sinking condition.”

Our sharp-shooters did good service, picking off every man who showed himself.

There is no doubt we struck them a hard blow. The last that was seen of them they were steaming down the river.

Every officer and man performed their duties with coolness and determination, and it would be doing injustice to many if I should mention or particularize any. Capt. Drury and his company fought their guns with great effect.

casualties.--Seven killed, among them Midshipman Carroll, and eight wounded.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Eben Farrand, C. S.N., Commanding Post.

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