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Doc. 200.-destruction of blockade Runners.

Rear-Admiral Bailey's report.

United States flag-ship San Jacinto, key West, October 24, 1863.
Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy:
sir: I have to report the destruction of the blockade-running steamer Scottish Chief and the sloop Kate Dale, in Hillsborough River, by an armed expedition from the United States gunboats Tahoma and Adela.

Having learned that these vessels were loading with cotton and about to sail, and being apprehensive that by reason of their light load and draft they would escape the blockading vessel, I sent Lieutenant Commander Semmes to Tampa Bay to destroy them. It was planned between myself and Captain Semmes that he should, with the Tahoma, assisted by the Adela, divert attention from the real object of the expedition by shelling the fort and town, and that, under cover of the night, men should be landed at a port on old Tampa Bay, distant from the fort, to proceed overland to the port on the Hillsborough River, where the blockade-runners lay, there to destroy them.

The plan was successfully carried out, but not without considerable loss.

On the sixteenth instant the Tahoma and Adela ran in abreast of the batteries and shelled them slowly during the day. The firing was in an unusual degree accurate and precise. At dark, as soon as the moon went down, a force — consisting of Acting-Ensigns J. P. Randall and J. G. Kochler, with sixty men from the Tahoma, and of Acting-Ensigns Stomberg and Balch, and First Assistant-Engineer Bennett, with forty men from the Adela, and Acting Master's Mate Crane and Mr. J. A. Thompson, guides — was landed at Ballast Point.

The expedition was under the immediate command of Acting-Master T. R. Harris, executive officer of the Tahoma. The line of march was quietly taken up for the river, under the guidance of Mr. J. A. Thompson, who, being too ill to walk, was borne in a litter. A march of fourteen miles (rendered circuitous by the necessity of avoiding houses, creeks, etc.,) brought the party before daylight to the river-bank. As soon as it was light the vessels were discovered on the opposite bank. The force was, therefore, moved to a point opposite where they lay, and those on board brought under aim of the rifles and ordered to send a boat, which they did. A detachment was thereupon sent to bring over the vessels and to make prisoners of those on board.

At this time two men succeeded in escaping from the vessels, who carried the alarm to the garrison. The vessels, meantime, were fired effectually, [567] and the force thereupon set out upon its return. Encountering an armed party near the beach, a charge was made and two rebels made prisoners. The beach, finally, was safely reached without loss, and pickets were stationed and the party rested, waiting the arrival of the boats then being despatched from the Tahoma and the Adela. While so resting, word was brought that a detachment of cavalry and one of infantry were advancing. The party was formed to resist an attack, and, the boats having arrived, the embarkation commenced.

While this was proceeding the rebels opened fire. The First and Second divisions, with seven prisoners, proceeded in an orderly manner to the boats, and the Third division, spread out that the rebels might not fire into a mass, returned the fire energetically and with great coolness and bravery. The Adela meantime shelled the woods (in which the rebels were concealed, and from which they fired) with shrapnel. The First and Second divisions having embarked, the rear-guard, on receiving the order to do so, followed. This rear-guard stood nobly to their post, protecting the retreat under an extremely severe fire from a concealed enemy, loading and firing with the coolness of target practice, and finally leaving quietly at the word of command, bearing with them their wounded.

The rebels were under the command of Captain (a son of the late United States Senator) Westcott, and were so-called “regulars.”

The retreat to the boats was admirably conducted by Acting-Master Harris. The expedition throughout was characterized by a disciplined courage on the part of both officers and men. The force suffered severely at the beach, and both courage and discipline were called for. Our loss was as follows:

Killed — James Warrall, seaman, Tahoma; John Roddy, seaman, Adela; Joseph O'Donnell, seaman, Adela.

Ten were wounded, including Acting-Ensign Randall and Kochler, and two seriously. Five were made prisoners.

In reporting these losses, Lieutenant-Commander Semmes observes:

I regret seriously our loss, yet I feel a great degree of satisfaction in having impressed the rebels with the idea that blockade-running vessels are not safe even up the Hillsborough River.

I am respectfully, your obedient servant,

Theodorus Bailey, A. R. Admiral, Commanding E. G. B. Squadron.

A National account.

key West, Fla., Oct. 23, 1863.
On the twelfth instant, the United States gunboat Tahoma, Lieutenant-Commander Semmes, after three months repairing and preparation, and taking on board a two-hundred-pound Parrott rifle, left here for Tampa Bay, arriving on the evening of the thirteenth, where she found the United States steamer Adela, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Stodder, and schooners Stonewall Jackson and Ariel, blockading.

The next morning both steamers started up for Tampa, the county seat of Hillsboro County, standing at the head of Tampa Bay. The town is defended on the water-side by a battery of five guns, built on one end of the United States parade ground, and formerly called Fort Brooke, used during the war with the Indians. To the right of this are the United States docks and warehouses, now occupied by the rebels as barracks. Behind these are some blacksmith and machine shops, used by the rebel army, and also for fitting out blockade-runners.

Before going far the Tahoma's engine gave out, causing a delay until the next morning. On the fifteenth they continued on their way, the Tahoma taking the lead, and the Adela following. While crawling along shore, off Gadson's Point, looking for a battery reported to be there, the Tahoma got aground three times, and was hauled off after some trouble and breaking of hawsers by the Adela. In the afternoon the Tahoma's engine again broke down, and the Adela started with her in tow, when her engine also gave out. On the sixteenth, the Adela being again in order, the Tahoma was lashed alongside, and towed into position before Tampa, where she came to anchor as near the battery as she could get. The Adela being of much lighter draft, cast loose, ran up nearer the works and opened on them, throwing shell after shell into the battery, barracks, and buildings adjoining. Captain Semmes, after going out in a small boat and planting stakes with flags attached, as if preparing to land on left side of bay, returned to ship, and opened fire from his pivot, and twenty-pound Parrotts, the shell from both vessels making dirt and splinters fly, driving the men from the works, and the people from the town.

In the evening forty picked men from the Adela--fifteen from the Engineer's division, under Chief-Engineer Bennett; fifteen from the First division of riflemen, under Acting-Ensign Strandberg; ten from Second division, under Acting-Ensign Balch; and sixty men from the Tahoma--thirty from the First division, under Acting-Ensign Kaeler; thirty from Second division, under Acting-Ensign Randall; the whole under command of Acting-Master Harris, executive officer of the Tahoma, answered to their names on the deck of the Tahoma. She then got under way, manoeuvred about the bay, making feints of landing at several places, then ran some miles down the bay, and, at ten P. M., landed them at Gadson's Point, on the right-hand shore; the boats all returning to the ship, with the exception of one which the party carried with them. At three and a half A. M. of the seventeenth, they had made less than one half the distance necessary to travel before sunrise, and were much fatigued by dragging a heavy boat for some miles through swamps and thick underbrush. The boat becoming too much stove for use, was thrown in the bushes, the party pushing on and arriving near the bank of Hillsboro River, six miles above Tampa, at six A. M. There they divided into squads, each approaching [568] the river by a different route to prevent corn munication with the troops below. Acting-Ensign Balch and men were the first to reach the river, where, near the opposite bank, lay the steamer Scottish Chief, loaded with one hundred and fifty-six bales of cotton, and also the sloop Kate Dale, with eleven bales. He hailed some men moving about the steamer, and ordered his men to cover them with their rifles, gave them three minutes to lower their boat to come over after him, which they immediately did. Turning them out, and leaving them prisoners under a guard ashore, he took possession of the boat, taking six men with him, boarded the steamer, capturing all on board, and informing the Captain that he took possession in the name of the United States Government. When the rest of the party arrived, the vessel was ready for firing. The order having been given, he started a fire in her fore-hold. The sloop was served in the same way, and in a few minutes they both were a mass of flames. Ten minutes from the time of first seeing the vessels, the whole object of the expedition was accomplished, and the party started on their way back by a more direct route to the bay, making short halts for rest, and carrying some of their number who gave out on the road. One of the Tahoma's men became so exhausted that, by his own request, he was left behind, after being carried some miles through swamp and bushes. When within a mile of the shore, small squads of rebel troops were seen dodging about in the scrub ahead, at first in squads of five or six, then by eight, ten, fifteen, until when near the beach a sharp fire was opened on the advance scouts. The main body coining up scattered them in all directions, and, taking a number of prisoners, the line of march was continued to the beach, down the beach to nearly opposite where the Adela lay aground. Here they made signal for boats and came to a halt, first throwing out pickets to prevent a surprise. So exhausted were some of the men that they would sink down anywhere, and would rather die than go further. The Adela, on seeing them, fired a lee gun, and made signals to the Tahoma, which, with all the boats with her, lay aground on the opposite side of the bay, some miles from them. On seeing the Adela's signals, she sent the boats after them in charge of an Acting Master's Mate.

In the mean time some horsemen had been seen flying about through the woods, as if arranging matters, while others were seen dodging about behind trees and bushes, and apparently planting themselves in a half circle about them. Not appearing in any force or showing any disposition to make an attack, one of the men was sent out to half his depth in the water. When the boats got to him they were turned about. Acting-Master Harris ordered all, except the Tahoma's First division, to embark. No sooner had they got in the water some distance than the concealed enemy began to close up from all sides, and opened a rapid fire on them. Acting-Ensign Strandberg's division had not yet left. These faced about with the Tahoma's First division, charged on the enemy, and compelled them again to seek refuge in the bushes. Captain Harris ordered the remainder to take to the boats, which were now some quarter of a mile out. Before they had got half way out, a fire was opened on them from the bushes along the beach for the space of a mile, and from some light artillery masked among the bushes. A party of riflemen and cavalry, before unseen, came around from behind a building below them, charged up the beach with a yell, some of the horsemen riding along into the water, to cut them to pieces as they got into the boats. The Adela was the first to see this movement. Having but one gun that would reach, she opened on the advancing column, Captain Stodder himself sighting the gun, and making some splendid shots, bursting shell among the horsemen, compelling most of them to put back and go around through the woods. This with the fire from the boats, and from those in the water, kept the rebels in check until all the boats got off, bringing the prisoners with them. Orders were given to turn back and capture the guns, and fight it out, when it was discovered that in wading and swimming to the boats, nearly all the arms and ammunition had become wet and useless; the project was therefore abandoned, the boats returning to their ships. Shortly after the Adela got off and ran over to the place of conflict, and opened on the rebels, driving them up toward Tampa. On Sunday, the eighteenth, Captain Semmes sent in a flag of truce to ascertain what had become of our missing men. From what we can gather, the Tahoma lost one man, James World, killed. Acting-Ensign Randall, and six men wounded, and two men, Collins and Hilton, taken prisoners. The Adela lost two men, Roddy and O'Donnald, killed, five men wounded; one man, Donnelly, taken prisoner. The rebels lost six killed, a number wounded, and seven taken prisoners.

On the night of the sixteenth the citizens of Tampa held a crowded meeting in the courthouse, for the purpose of forming a military company, and electing a captain. Had Captain Semmes known it while they were balloting, he would have sent them several two hundredpound black-balls, which they would not have stopped to count.

Some time after the boats had returned, a head was seen projecting above water at some distance from land, while a party of rebels were on the beach firing at it, and calling out for the man to come on shore. A boat was sent in charge of Acting-Ensign Garman, to ascertain who the head belonged to, when it was found to belong to the pilot of the Tahoma, who had waded out up to his neck in water, determined rather to drown than be taken prisoner. He was nearly dead from exhaustion.

Among the trophies were some cartridges. In place of balls there are twelve large buckshot or pistol-balls wrapped up in cloth. Some of our men were wounded with these. Doctor Gale, of the Adela, took from one of the wounded a [569] home-made lead ball weighing four ounces. The wounded were taken to a Government building near the light-house, on Egmond Key, and left in charge of Doctor Gunning, of the Tahoma. Captain Westcott, commander of the post, (rebel,) and formerly of the United States Army, and representative from Florida, said that as our men who died on shore fought so bravely, they intended to give them the best funeral they could get up. The Adela raised a purse of one hundred and eight dollars and sent it to one of these men — Donoly, who is a prisoner. The Tahoma also sent money to these men to pay their way while travelling in Dixie. Most of the rebels engaged in this fight were old Indian hunters, who bushwhacked with the Indians but a few years ago, and beat them at their own game.

From the flag of truce and the prisoners taken, we learned many incidents connected with the fight. As the steamer approached the town, one of the garrison at the fort asked the others: “What are those two large steamers coming up here for?” The others answered: “They are coming here after oysters; I think you will soon see them throwing their shells over this way.”

One of the Tahoma's mammoth shells entered a house, and burst; one of the pieces, weighing about forty pounds, swept the dinner-table, at which sat Miss Crane, daughter of formerly Colonel Crane, of the army, now an Acting Master's Mate on the Tahoma.

Our party were surprised on receiving a charge from so large a body of cavalry, not knowing that there were any in the place. The way in which this happened was this: A party of fifty cavalry had been sent about the country to pick up cattle and send them to Bragg's army; these by chance arrived at Tampa on the day of the bombardment, and (as they say) eagerly took a hand in the sport.

The light field-pieces used in the woods were made in Tampa, by the rebels, by boring out an engine shaft.

The ruse de guerre of Captain Semmes succeeded perfectly. The rebs watched him putting down the stakes near the southern entrance, guessed its meaning, and in the evening posted a strong body of men in the woods, ready to annihilate any party attempting to land there. The smoke from the burning vessels gave them the first notice that we had landed on the opposite side and given them the slip.


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