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Chapter 34:

As soon as Flag-officer Goldsborough received the news of the battle of the Monitor and Merrimac, he returned to Hampton Roads to superintend matters in that quarter, leaving Commander S. C. Rowan in charge of the sounds of North Carolina.

The gallant service performed by Commander Rowan, in the capture of Newburn and Elizabeth City, has already been related, though complete justice has not been done to the officers and men who embarked in frail vessels never intended to go under the fire of a battery, and who exhibited as much courage as if they were fighting behind the bulwarks of stout frigates. The manner in which the little flotilla in the sounds of North Carolina operated is worthy of all praise, and confers the highest honors on the able commander and his officers, who, scorning all the dangers of an intricate navigation, concealed riflemen, and masked batteries, pushed on up the sounds and rivers wherever a Confederate flag could be heard of or a Confederate gun was mounted, and who never failed to achieve victory when there was an enemy to engage.

There was a large army force in the sounds, commanded by brave and energetic officers, but it is no disparagement to them to say that, without the hearty co-operation of the gun-boats, they would not have achieved half the success they did. It became evident, at a very early period of the war, that no army operations along rivers or sounds could be successful unless aided by gun-boats. Most of these vessels carried guns of heavy calibre which could not have been dragged along by an army, and these guns always proved to be more than a match for the lines of defence thrown up by the Confederates all along the rivers and sounds. The Federal Army could not have held these works unless the gun-boats were at hand to drive off or capture the improvised vessels-of-war, which it has been seen were equally as well armed as the Union vessels, and for a time made a sturdy opposition to the advance of the Navy.

It must not be supposed that the Federal officers and men conquered the enemy without [400] a struggle, or that their victories were easy ones; if they were, it was because the enemy were not prepared for the bold dashes that were made upon them, and did not suppose that any officer would lead a weakly built flotilla right up to the mouths of heavy batteries, around which the enemy's gun-boats had assembled for safety and protection.

The good account his officers and men gave of themselves in their various encounters with the enemy drew from Commander Rowan the following General Order, which is as remarkable for the handsome compliments it pays to all who served under him, as for its brevity and truthfulness; he could have said no more had he used a folio of words:


United States Steamer Delaware. off Elizabeth City. February 11th, 1862.
The commander of the flotilla in Albemarle Sound avails himself of the earliest moment to make a public acknowledgment of the coolness, gallantry and skill displayed by the officers and men under his command in the capture and destruction of the enemy's batteries and squadron at Cobb's Point.

The strict observance of the plan of attack and the steady but onward course of the ships, without returning a shot until within three-fourths of a mile of the fort, excited the admiration of our enemies.

The undersigned is particularly gratified at the evidence of the high discipline of the crews in refraining from trespassing in the slightest degree upon the private property of defenceless people in a defenceless town; the generous offer to go on shore to extinguish the flames applied by the hands of a vandal soldiery to the houses of their own defenceless women and children, is a striking evidence of the justice of our cause, and must have its effect in teaching our deluded countrymen a lesson in humanity and civilization.

S. C. Rowan, Commanding Flotilla, Albemarle Sound,

For the present we must discontinue the narrative of operations in the sounds of North Carolina.

As has been seen, there was scarcely a large gun left in the hands of the enemy, of the many that were mounted when the little naval flotilla entered the sounds through Hatteras Inlet, January 19, 1862, and the preparations which were made by the Navy Department for carrying on the war in this important section of the Confederate strongholds had been carried out with a judgment and success which entitled all concerned to the highest praise.

In the latter part of September, 1862, a joint expedition of the Army and Navy was prepared to operate against Franklin, a small town on the Blackwater River. It was agreed between the military commander, General Dix, and the commander of the gun-boats, that the attack should be made on the 3d of October.

The expedition was under the command of Lieutenant C. W. Flusser, on board the steamer Commodore Perry. Acting-Lieutenant Edmund R. Colhoun commanded the Hunchback. and Acting-Master Charles A. French the Whitehead.

On the morning of October 3d, 1862, the three above-mentioned steamers got underway and proceeded up the river, which was so crooked and narrow in some places that these vessels, small as they were, could not turn the bends without the aid of hawsers. At 7 o'clock the Perry, being ahead, came to one of three short turns, and, while engaged in running out a line, a heavy fire was opened upon her from a steep bluff, almost overhead, by a body of the enemy's concealed riflemen.

The guns of the steamer could not be brought to bear, and the only way to escape the fire of the riflemen was to work by the point and obtain a position where the great guns could be brought into play. This was attempted, but the vessel ran ashore. At this moment, a daring color-bearer of the enemy started towards the gun-boat, trying to get his companions to follow him and board her. But he was instantly shot down and the enemy were driven back to their cover.

In a few moments the gun-boat was off the bottom, and pushed ahead until she could bring her guns to bear, and from this position cover the passage of the other two steamers. Having passed the turn in safety, these vessels joined the Commodore Perry above,where they were still fired upon from the bluff, without being able to make any effective return.

To make their position more critical, they now came upon a barricade which they found it impossible to pass. The enemy soon noticed the dilemma of the gun-boats, and began to flatter themselves that they were about to have an easy victory. A large body of men collected below the Federal vessels and commenced felling trees across the narrow stream to cut off their retreat, after which they calculated to capture them all by driving the men from the decks with their rifles.

In his anxiety to get ahead, Lieutenant Flusser had not waited for the troops, and he now found himself caught in a trap. He had got into the difficulty through an error of judgment, and the only way to get out of it seemed to be to fight until the troops came up.

It was most difficult to work the guns under such a terrific fire from concealed riflemen without a great loss of life, but there was no alternative. Flusser threw 11-inch shells towards the town of Franklin, while with the forward 32-pounder he poured grape and canister into the woods on his [401] left. With the after 32-pounder and a fieldgun he fought the enemy on the right and with his 9-inch gun aft he shelled the bluff, from whence the weight of the enemy's fire proceeded. Thus he fought on like a lion at bay, scattering shell, grape and canister on all sides, while his men were exposed to a deadly fire from marksmen no one could see.

The other steamers were not idle, but followed the tactics of their leader, and their rapid fire disconcerted the aim of the riflemen.

When a lull occurred, the steamers made a dash down the river, and although their decks were still swept by the enemy's fire, they succeeded in passing the bluffs. During this movement the Union commanders kept their men under cover, and thus saved many lives. When they came to the fallen timber they put on a full head of steam and pierced their way through and over it. It was “neck or nothing” with them, and it was only through great exertions that they succeeded in getting beyond the range of the enemy's fire by nightfall.

The Commodore Perry lost two killed and eleven wounded (a severe loss for so small a vessel). The Hunchback had two killed and one wounded.

This was not a great battle, but it was more trying than some great battles have been, and was accompanied by much more danger. It shows that the gun-boat commanders were of good metal, determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible. There is nothing in the world. so harassing as to be caught in a narrow river under such circumstances, and there is scarcely anything to justify it, unless the vessels are supported by a land force. In the above case the land force unfortunately did not come up.

Flusser was a cool and daring officer, and his name has already been mentioned several times in the course of this narrative. He was always to be found where fighting was going on.

There was another young officer in the North Atlantic squadron at this time, Lieutenant William B. Cushing, who made a name for himself by his total disregard of danger.

He would undertake the most desperate adventures, where it seemed impossible for him to escape death or capture, yet he almost always managed to get off with credit to himself and with loss to the enemy. He commanded the small gun-boat Ellis, and in November, 1862, it struck him that he would enter New River Inlet, push up the river, sweep it clear of vessels, capture the town of Jacksonville or Onslow Courthouse, take the Wilmington mail and destroy any salt-works he could find on the banks. He expected to surprise the enemy on going up, and then fight his way out.

Five miles from the mouth of the inlet he came in sight of a vessel bound out with a load of cotton and turpentine. The enemy set fire to her in order to prevent her falling into Cushing's hands; but this officer did not waste time over her. After assuring himself that she was thoroughly ignited, and that the owner could not return and extinguish the flames, he proceeded on his way up the river. He reached the town of Jacksonville, landed, threw out pickets and placed guards over the public buildings.

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