The capture of gunboats on the Rappahannock.

[Correspondence of the Richmond Dispatch.]
Port Royal, Aug. 28, 1863.
Some two weeks ago a party of seamen, armed to the teeth and accompanied by four splendid boats, left the city of Richmond on the Mechanicville road. Their destination was a matter of conjecture, and more than one anxious quidnunc puzzled his brain over the problem. The quickened imagination of a curious man soon works out a troublesome secret, and before half the day had elapsed I was regaled with a dozen different accounts, each of them undoubtedly correct. It may seem singular that when the Secretary of the Navy gave me orders to join the party he did not take me into his confidence, and I was therefore as ignorant about the matter as about the plans of Gen. Lee. I must confess, then, to a certain amount of interest in the stories confidentially whispered into my buttonhole, and I listened attentively to the recital of disasters about to befall me, and saw work marked out that would occupy several months, and finally consign me to Fort Delaware or to — somewhere else. --It was a cheerful prospect — but beyond a doubt. My orders came late in the day, when I was on liberty in the city, enjoying the luxury of leisure and white linen. I was to start at daylight in the morning, but, owing to the difficulty of obtaining a passport from the courteous officers of that delectable office on 9th st., I was delayed until meridian the following day. My command was then some eighteen hours ahead of me, and I had to overtake them upon as sorry a piece of horseflesh as one could well imagine. That animal was nearly the death of me: he was somewhat rough and shook me until every joint in my body was loose and my teeth rattled in their sockets. Complaining did no good, and I determined to let no trials ruffle my good nature. By careful inquiry along the road I was enabled to trace the party across the Pamunkey, the Mattaponi at Mantua, on through Essex, half-way through the adjoining county. Towards evening of the third day I was fortunate enough to strike the trail, and in three hours after reached the end of my equestrian journey.

That night we bivouacked on the Paintbank, some twenty-five miles from its month. The boats were in the water in readiness for sailing, while the men, secreted between two hills, lounged about upon the grass, or cooked their rations by the bivouac fire. Lt. Wood, the commander of the party, was off on a reconnaissance, and did not return until the following evening, at which time immediate preparations for departure were begun. We knew then, for the first time, that our object was to capture one of the Yankee blockaders by boarding her in the night. At 4 o'clock the men were called to quarters, arms inspected, and ammunition distributed, and, after prayer by Mr. Wood, the boats were manned. The crews were in fine spirits, and with muffled oars rowed rapidly and silently down the stream, sending out no noise save the rippling of the waves around the cutters' bows as they ploughed their way through the water.

About 10 o'clock the mouth of the river was reached, and the boats were halted for an hour to rest the men and issue instructions for the attack. Towards midnight we were again in motion, pulling cautiously towards the spot where the gunboats usually lay. It was a warm, quiet, starlight evening, with hardly a breath of wind afloat. Upon reaching the mooring ground the steamer was nowhere to be seen, and no trace of her was visible. As we were searching for her, however, a signal light some mile or so away showed us her position, and soon afterwards the sound of machinery told us she was in motion. This was contrary to her usual custom, and seemed evidence that our coming had been made known by spies and traitors on the shore; and, as it was impossible to board her while under way, nothing remained but for us to return and wait a more favorable opportunity.

Turning up the river, keeping out of sight under the wooded banks, we pulled some fifteen miles and entered the mouth of a creek with high shores on either side. Here the boats were secreted, and men and officers, thoroughly exhausted, threw themselves down on the ground to sleep. Daylight soon came, and with it the sound of an approaching steamer, making her way directly towards us. From this Lt. Wood naturally supposed we had been seen, and that the steamer was in pursuit of us. His plan of battle was quickly formed, and was an excellent one. Sending the boats high up the creek for protection, he ordered Lt. Hoge, with the main body of men, to follow them on land, keeping about a dozen men with him at the mouth of the creek. The Yankees, if in pursuit of us, would undoubtedly follow the boats, and we could thus get them between two fires and possibly cut off their retreat.--Upon reaching the creek the steamer came to anchor and sent ashore five boats, containing some eighty men. Our men lay ambushed in a small coppice, some five or six yards from the water; but, unfortunately, just as the first boat came abreast of them, one of them incautiously exposed himself and drew the attention of the Yankees. They immediately fired upon him, shouting from boat to boat, Shoot him--kill him--don't let the d--d rebel get away, firing their rifles rapidly and at random. After the first shot Lt. Wood, with all his coolness, was unable to restrain the men. They were bound to fire, and immediately poured a volley into the boats. This produced a great consternation, and all that were able pulled away as rapidly as possible — not waiting to load their muskets after the first discharge. The foremost boat was now aground, and to this our men turned their fire. The Yankees dropped into the bottom of the boat, and the Captain, the only brave man in the party, shouted, and cursed to make them point their cars and shove off. Two or three of the men were wounded before this could be accomplished, and just as the boat got out into the stream the Captain also received a fatal shot. At the sometime the flag was shot down, but was instantly replaced upon a shorter staff. The steamer also commenced shelling the woods, and the fire was kept up until the boats were in, when she, too, hastily retreated down the river. From the Philadelphia Inquirer, of the 20th, received since, we learned that the Yankee Captain, Hotchkiss, was killed, and several of the men wounded "by guerillas." We have ascertained also that the Yankees were ignorant of our presence, and came up the river to destroy the house of Mr. Jones, now a prisoner in the Old Capitol prison. On the way up, early in the morning, they had desolated the home of Mr. Hutchins, carrying off everything possible, and shooting his stock in the field.

That evening we pulled up to our original starting point, and by dark had the boats again out of the water. When the wagons came they were put upon them, and we started across the country for a new scene of operations.

Worn out by hard marching and severe labor, it was necessary to give the men a day of rest, and it was not until the 19th that we reached the Rappahannock. The boats were again launched in Meachum's Creek, just inside of Gray's Point, and about ten miles from the Chesapeake. Just at the mouth of the river is a small bay or cove, called Butler's Hole, in which the blockaders usually run at night for a safe anchorage.--The river is some three or four miles wide. Upon the opposite side is Stingray Point, from which the land runs down into Mobjack bay and the mouth of the Paintbank. There are two sets of blockaders here. Off the mouth of the latter mentioned river the steamers belong to the "North Atlantic Squadron, " while at the Rappahannock they are from the "Potomac Flotilla." They communicate with each other, however, and are near enough to signal at night with blue and red lights. At this time three steamers were off the Rappahannock — the Currituck, the Reliance, and the Satellite. One or all of these we were determined to have.

It was about 6 o'clock in the evening of the 19th when the boats were again manned, and started down the creek.--The sun was just setting as we entered the Rappahannock, and at dark we were running under the dim shadow of the wooded shore. It was a beautiful night. The land loomed up in the dark, the river ran calm and placid to the bay, the stars shone in the sky, and in the East brighter than all hung the crescent moon.--Added to the picture was a line of black boats, filled with armed men, creeping snake-like over the water, prepared to spring upon the foe whenever he came in sight. Late in the night Lt. Wood called the boats alongside his own and gave instructions for the attack; then, after a fervent prayer, we pushed out into the bay. From pickets on the point we learned the steamers lay some three miles out towards Butler's Hole, but after a careful search they were not to be found, and we were forced to return without accomplishing anything.

It was daybreak when we entered Meachum's Creek, and in half an hour after the boats were moored in their former hiding-place. The next night we tried it, but with no better success. Friday, the next day, we remained inactive, but Saturday night resolved to try again.

It was late in the night when we hauled out into the stream, and once more ran down towards the bay. It was just such an evening as before, but there were signs of an approaching storm. As we rounded Gray's Point the air was still and sultry. The crescent moon, blood red and clouded, stood upon the tops of the trees, the stars shone dimly, the dark pines threw a solemn shadow upon the water, and from the shore came the thousand night sounds of bird and insect.--Presently the sky became obscured, and a northerly storm rose rapidly. Behind us a black cloud towered into the sky, from which came frequent flashes of lightning, and short gusts of wind began to agitate the waters. Before reaching the bay the storm had come, and we were tossing upon the waves like children's boats, while the wind whistled with fury around our ears.

Upon reaching Butler's Hole a flash of lightning showed the blockaders a short distance ahead, their black hulls rising from the water, some two or three hundred yards apart. The boats were now ranged alongside each other and the plan of attack made known. There being two of them, it became necessary to divide our forces, and consequently Lt. Wood, in the second cutter, and Lieut. Hudgins, in the first, were to attack one, while Lieut. Hoge and Midshipman Gardner, in the third and fourth cutters, were to take the other. Each man had a white badge around his arm to distinguish him from the enemy. Everything being in readiness, the four boats pulled towards the steamers in line of battle. I was in Mr. Wood's party, in the boat with Lieutenant Hudgins. We pulled slowly and silently on. When within about fifty yards the sentinel on deck sang out his "boat ahoy."--Mr. Wood answered in some unintelligible words, and then we gave way strong towards them. We had the starboard bow, Mr. Wood the port. It was a moment of anxiety — almost of misgiving. If the Yankees were aware of our approach, destruction was certain. There was no retreat now — death lay in the silent guns ahead and in the mad waters around. The waves had increased, and the sea was fast lashing itself into fury. Long black lines started from the horizon, ran towards us like some huge leviathan, for a moment raised us in the air, then rolled away in the dusky distance. The sentinel's hail was the signal to give way, and every man put his whole strength to the oars. Our boat nearly sprang out of the water at every stroke, and shot over the waves with the velocity of an arrow. In a few seconds the dark hull rose before us, the boat struck its sides, there were a few shots; and, as quick as thought, twenty of us were climbing over the nettings upon her decks. The watch fired their rifles at us and gave the alarm, and immediately the Yankees came pouring from below, grasping cutlasses and side arms as they ran up the hatch. They fought well considering the circumstances, but it was of no avail; in a few minutes the vessel was ours and the crew had surrendered. Lt. Wood, followed by Midshipman-Goodwin, were first upon the decks upon their side, while Lt. Hudgins and Mr. Wilson led the way on ours. The whole was over almost with the rapidity of thought.

Just as the decks were ours sharp firing was heard upon the Reliance. We watched for a moment, but not seeing the preconcerted signal, were anxious about the other party. Our boat was immediately manned, and we pulled over to his assistance; but Lieut. Hoge had done the work well before our arrival. He had met with more determined spirits, and had to encounter two or three deserters from our army, who fought well. Captain Walters, of the Reliance, was also a brave man, and did everything possible to save his ship. Upon the first alarm he sprang forward to slip the cable, but was met by Lieut. Hoge, who ran forward to encounter him, and was almost instantly shot through the body with a pistol. At the same time Lieut. Hoge received a dangerous wound through the neck, and fell beside the water tank. Although wounded, Captain Walters sprang to the pilot-house and blew the whistle to get help from the Satellite, but he was soon secured. --There was sharp firing on the decks, both with rifles and revolvers, during which Midshipman Cook, who was foremost in the fight, received a wound in the side, and one of the seamen was shot through the arm. Several wounded Yankees lay around the decks, and one negro was stiff in death.

In fifteen minutes after the attack both vessels were secured, the prisoners were put in irons until they could be confined, and the wounded taken below. The new crew went to their work readily; the engineers got up steam, the firemen took their places, the pilot was at the wheel, the quartermaster on the deck, and the officers at their posts. Everything was made ready for sailing, the boats were hauled alongside, the anchor raised, and just as day was dawning the C. S. steamers Satellite and Reliance got under way and stood up the Rappahannock. About sunrise the anchors were dropped off Urbana.


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Matthew Wood (10)
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Jones (1)
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Hotchkiss (1)
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Gardner (1)
Wm Cook (1)
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August 28th, 1863 AD (1)
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