Doc. 12.-expedition to cut the Charleston and Savannah railroad.
Report of rear-admiral Dahlgren.
flag-steamer Philadelphia, Port Royal harbor, May 28, 1864.Sir: Since my last nothing of importance has occurred. The blockade is maintained as well as it can be with the present force. In the St. John's our positions are undisturbed, attention being given to tracing out the torpedoes. which the rebels are so industriously engaged in placing about the channel, and have already resulted in the loss of three transports by the army. On the twentieth Captain Balch writes to me:
From information received, by deserters, it is believed that the force immediately in front of Jacksonville has been much reduced; but whether our force here is strong enough to make an advance is somewhat doubtful.When I returned here, on the twenty-second, from Ossabaw, I found an expedition preparing by General Birney, to ascend a certain stream and sever the railroad. My cooperation being asked, I directed Lieutenant-Commander  Stone to take the McDonough, (Lieutenant-Commander Phythian,) and the Hale, Acting Master C. F. Mitchell, and render whatever aid might be needed. The Dai-Ching, Lieutenant-Commander Chaplin, was to assist as far as circumstances permitted. Two boat howitzers and a detachment of marines were added. The expedition left this place on Wednesday, and early on Friday the army transports returned. I was telegraphed that the affair was a failure, with the loss on the part of the army of a fine transport steamer,, the Boston, which grounded under fire, and was destroyed to prevent falling into the hands of the rebels; some lives were lost, and about sixty horses were burned. The Hale and McDonough did not return until the afternoon, not having been informed of the retreat of the troops. The reports of the commanding naval officers show that the gunboats did the part assigned them satisfactorily, and without loss. Lieutenant-Commander Stone was senior officer in command; Lieutenant-Commander Chaplin commanded the Dai-Ching; Lieutenant-Commander Phythian commanded the McDonough; and Acting Master Mitchell the E. B. Hale. I enclose the reports of these officers. Captain Boutelle, of the United States Coast Survey, with his usual zeal, accompanied the gunboats in the Vixen, and skilfully piloted them along the windings of the narrow channel. I take this opportunity of making my acknowledgments to the eminent head of the Coast Survey, Professor Bache, for the many advantages which I have derived, while in command here, from the accurate surveys executed by his orders. Their scientific and practical excellence have never been surpassed in any country, and have rendered them invaluable in conducting operations in this quarter. I have the honor to be, Very respectfully, Your obedient servant,
Instructions from Lieut.-Com. E. E. Stone.
General Birney up the Ashapoo River. Captain Boutelle, U. S. Coast Survey, informs me that you will have no trouble until you arrive at Bennett's Point, at the mouth of the Mosquito Creek, (marked A in the accompanying tracing,) at which point you may find some difficulty in turning, after which you will find the channel on the port hand. The object of your going is to act as a cover and feint. General Birney will land to-night at the mouth of Mosquito Creek, and take up his line of march on the road towards the Savannah and Charleston Railroad, which it is his intention to cut if possible. You will please communicate with the General, and render every assistance in your power, having due regard to the safety of your ship. When the expedition returns you will resume your station. I shall proceed up the South Edisto with the Vixen, McDonough, and Hale, and to-morrow morning open on Willstown if I can get near enough; therefore you will understand any heavy firing in that direction. I send you a tracing of the proposed route and points: A. Bennett's Point. B. As far as I think it prudent for you to go. C. The point at which I propose to land two howitzers and a few marines, in case I cannot get up to Willstown with the vessels. Proposed route of General Birney. You will find General Birney on board of the Plato, a small side-wheel steamer. Hoping you will have a merry time, I remain respectfully, your obedient servant,
Report of Lieut.-Com. E. E. Stone.
McDonough, Hale, and Vixen, to and up the South Edisto River, as far as Governor Aiken's plantation, on Jehossee Island, at which point I landed the marines and two howitzers on field carriages, who were ordered to cross the plantation to a point as near Willstown as they could get. I sent a boat to the point agreed upon with General Birney, with the expectation of communicating with him, but was disappointed, no vidette having been found. On the morning of the twenty-sixth, at thirty-five minutes past seven, I opened with the howitzers on Willstown, and in the supposed direction of the battery, which we afterwards discovered from the window of one of the mills, but entirely out of range. As soon as the fog lifted, the vessels were ordered up as far as it was deemed prudent to go, and fire opened at half past 11 in the direction of the battery and houses at Willstown, by the rifle guns of the McDonough and Hale. After firing for a couple of hours orders were given for the vessels to return to the previous anchorage, and for the marines and howitzers to fall back to the place of debarkation. I despatched an armed boat through Mosquito Creek to communicate with the Dai-Ching, being anxious to learn the cause of a large fire observed to the westward, and the whereabouts of General Birney. On her return, at three o'clock in the morning of the twenty-seventh, I received the melancholy news of the disaster to the steamer Boston, and that the General had returned to Port Royal; whereupon the marines and howitzers were ordered on board, and at daylight we proceeded down the river, en route for this place, where we arrived this evening. For the details of the loss of the Boston, and the part taken by the Dai-Ching, in compliance with my orders, are fully  set forth in the accompanying report of Lieutenant-Commander Chaplin. Although we did not meet the enemy, I am confident, from the alacrity and cheerfulness with which my orders were obeyed, that the naval portion of the expedition would have brought back a far different account than that which must be told of the army. Enclosed you will please find a copy of my orders to Lieutenant-Commander Chaplin, and a sketch showing the points occupied and covered by the forces under my command. Hoping I have carried out your instructions to your entire satisfaction, I remain respectfully, Your obedient servant,
Report of Lieut.-Com. J. C. Chaplin.
Admiral: In obedience to orders from Lieutenant-Commander Stone to cooperate with General Birney, in his expedition to cut the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, I have to report as follows: The transports, with the exception of the Boston, arrived here at half past 6 P. M., May twenty-fifth. I immediately called on General Birney for instructions, telling him I had no pilot, but thought I could find one on Ash Island. He replied, if I did not find one he would send the Captain of the transport Wyoming to pilot this vessel up in the morning; but in the mean time to send the Wild Cat outside to bring in the Boston. All the steamers proceeded up the Ashapoo, with the exception of the Boardman, which grounded near the mouth of the river. The Boston arrived about this time. I sent Acting Ensign Nelson on board the Boardman to render assistance, as he knew the channel; Mr. Nelson afterwards went on board of the Boston to pilot her to Bennett's Point. On his arrival at Mosquito Creek he informed Colonel Montgomery that that was the place where the landing was to be made. Colonel Montgomery, seeing a steamer standing up the river, said his orders were to follow. Mr. Nelson said he could pilot no farther. The Boston still kept on, and got in shore, under Chapman's battery, about midnight. At daylight, a pilot having been found, I started up the river to carry out my orders; while under way an Aid of General Birney's came on board and informed me of the grounding of the Boston, and the General thought it useless for me to attempt to get up, and to send our pilot and two boats to him. The pilot of this vessel was confident he could carry the ship up with safety; then the Aid said I had better try it, as we could render them valuable assistance in case of danger. I proceeded at once up the river to the point where the Boston was in shore, and on my arrival found the enemy firing briskly on her from the battery, and nearly all of the troops ashore in the marsh, having thrown away their arms and accoutrements, and, in many instances, their clothing. I immediately opened fire from all of our guns, and in a very few minutes silenced the battery. The army gunboat Plato then proceeded to the Boston, we firing occasionally for two hours without a response. I called on the General again, and asked if I could be of service in getting her off, or saving public property. He replied, “No;” that he had already sent one of the Dai-Ching's boats, with one of his own officers up to set her on fire, and. requested me to send another in tow of the Plato; however, before she arrived the vessel was in flames, having on board some sixty horses. After the rebels got the range, every shot struck the steamer; fortunately none were killed by the fire of the enemy, but some seven or eight were drowned in their hurried attempt to get on shore. It was supposed she had been struck seventy or eighty times, one or two shots going through her boiler. The colored troops, being in a position where they could not return the fire, seemed to have been panic-stricken, and Mr. Nelson says it was as much as the officers could do to keep them from crowding into the boats and swamping them. At eleven A. M. the General started down to Bennett's Point to embark his troops, as the object of the expedition failed. The Dai-Ching followed to cover embarkation. At two P. M., the troops being all on board the transports, they started down the river; we followed, covering the retreat, and anchored off Otter Island at 3.30. It was the impression of Acting Ensigns Nelson and Sheppard that the Boston could have been gotten off; at all events, the horses might have been saved, as the Plato was alongside of her for some time before she was set on fire, and not a shot fired at them by the rebels. Very respectfully, Your obedient servant,