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Doc. 152. reconnoissance at Matthias Pt.

Col. Graham's official report.

Headquarters Fifth Regt. Excelsior Brigade, camp Fenton, near Port Tobacco, Md., Monday, November 11, 1861.
General: Shortly after my arrival at this point, Capt. Arthur Wilkinson, of Company I, of this regiment, by my orders seized several boats, and manned them with crews of sailors picked from his company. They were employed in reconnoitring the Potomac shore and neighboring creeks, and in keeping a general surveillance over the movements and actions of the secession sympathizers on this shore. In his numerous reconnoitring expeditions Capt. W. was frequently materially assisted by Lieut. Samuel Magaw, of the U. S. steamer Freeborn, and Acting-Master Arnold Harris, of the U. S. steamer Island Belle.

I was on board these steamers in several of their explorations, and from information gleaned from reliable sources, I became convinced that there were no batteries at Matthias Point sufficient to oppose the landing of troops. The commanders of the gunboats above named agreed with me in this opinion, and also as to the desirability of a thorough reconnoissance of this point. They very kindly placed their vessels at my disposal for such a purpose. Sunday evening was the time agreed upon for this service, but Lieut. Magaw was unfortunately prevented by orders from his superior officer from carrying out his intention in this particular; but Acting-Master William T. Street, of U. S. cutter Dana, volunteered the services of himself and vessel.

The, Island Belle, with the Dana in tow, ran up Port Tobacco Creek to Chapel Point, and on them I embarked about four hundred picked men of my regiment. The embarkation was conducted silently and in good order. Arrived at Matthias Point, I landed my force, under the admirable direction of Masters Harris and Street, and made a most thorough inspection of the point for several miles around.

Master Arnold Harris, of the Belle, was the first to land, and, accompanied by a squad of skirmishers, pushed forward and took possession of “Grimes' House.” About a quarter of a mile from shore he came suddenly upon three of the enemy's pickets, one of whom raised his musket and was about to fire, when Master Harris shot him dead in his tracks with his revolver. The other two pickets ran. We secured the musket (flint lock) of the slain, and the horses of all. The main body of the command, under my own guidance, then made a thorough inspection of the point for some four miles inland; we met two more of the enemy's pickets (mounted) and endeavored to capture them, but they escaped; one of them, however, wounded by a musket ball. We discovered a few rifle pits and a battery partially masked, but with no guns mounted. We burned a number of rebel houses and barns. Beyond this point there were no batteries or troops to be seen, except a party of perhaps twenty cavalry, who retreated precipitately as we advanced. We were informed, however, that a rebel camp existed at Hamstead, at which was located, also, a battery of three pieces of rifled artillery. Capt. Street tendered the use of his twelve-pound howitzer and crew, but I preferred not to expose my command, by the risk of a too great advance over the enemy's country, to attack his camp nine miles distant, the force not being sufficient to keep the avenues of retreat open in case of an attack by overwhelming numbers. A large amount of forage and grain was burned, and several horses and some cattle belonging to the enemy were captured. It also fell to the lot of the Fifth to capture Mr. George Dent and son as prisoners, and bring them to this camp. We found them armed, and under circumstances which leave no doubt of their complicity with treason. I shall transmit them to you, with the papers found in their possession, as soon as possible. Several attempts were made to burn the heavy growth of timber [360] on the point; but, owing to their non-inflammable nature at this season, with but qualified success; by this means, however, the only earthwork on the point was unmasked.

After having completed my reconnaissance, the force was withdrawn in good order to the beach, and reembarked on the gunboats, and reached camp about one P. M., without injury of any kind. A large number of negroes followed, some on board of the gunboats, but a majority in a large launch, which, by some means, they had obtained.

I cannot close this report without again referring to the valuable services rendered by Master Harris, of the Island Belle, and Master Street, of the Dana. Both gentlemen exerted themselves to the utmost to render the expedition a complete success, and all that their vessels afforded was cheerfully placed at my disposal. The bravery of Master Harris in boldly advancing as he did upon the rebel pickets cannot be too highly spoken of. Master Street personally supervised the embarkation and landing, and the orderly manner in which it was accomplished is chiefly due to him.

Of the officers and men of my regiment concerned in the expedition, I cannot speak in too high terms. Not the slightest trepidation was evinced by any, and all vied with each other in striving for the posts of danger. Had we met the enemy, as we had hoped to, in force, the coolness and bravery of the little force with me, I doubt not, would have been still more manifested. I need not particularize the officers, as all did so well; it is proper to state, however, that to Capt. Arthur Wilkinson, of Company I, much of the credit of arranging and carrying out the general plan of the expedition is due. Quartermaster O'Kell, Lieut. C. W. Squier, and Master's Mate John McMillan (of the Island Belle) accompanied me as aids.

This successful reconnaissance, by so small a force, and upon so important a point, cannot fail to inspire the enemy with fear for the large portion of the unprotected coast along the Potomac, and will, no doubt, cause them to scatter their forces along the exposed points, and thus prevent them concentrating a large force at any one position. The following is a list of the officers employed in the expedition:

Colonel, Charles K. Graham; Assistant-Surgeon, J. Theodore Calhoun; Quartermaster, Wm. O'Kell, Acting Aid; Lieut. C. W. Squier, Company F, Acting Aid; Capt. George Quarterman, Company C, Acting Major; Capt. A. Wilkinson, Company I; Capt. George A. Morey, Company E; Capt. Henry M. Allen, Company B; Capt. William F. Mew, Company F; Lieut. James H. Stewart, Company A; Lieut. Purchase, Company C; Lieut. Lounsberry, Company D; Lieut. R. D. Andrews, Company F; Lieut. Conway, Company G; Lieut. Harrison, Company H; Lieut. Bonnan, Company B; Lieut. Francis Tyler, Company A; Lieut. Loicq, Company B; Lieut. F. Corse, Company C; Lieut. Willard Bu'lard, Company I.

I have the honor to remain your obedient servant,

Charles K. Graham, Col. Com'dg Fifth Regiment Excelsior Brigade U. S. V. To Brig.-Gen. D. E. Sickles, Headquarters Excelsior Brigade, Asbury, near Mattowoman Creek, Md.

A correspondent of the New York Times gives the following circumstantial account of this reconnoissance:

Charles County, Md., Tuesday, Nov. 12, 1861.
There is no place on the whole Potomac about which so much has been said, and so little known, as Matthias Point. It was off this point that the lamented and gallant Ward met his untimely death, and within more recent dates rumor has variously ascribed to it batteries of enormous or of Lilliputian size. Gunboats shelled it mercilessly, and it was presumed, and generally believed, that there was upon it a battery of eighteen heavy guns. But nothing was positively known about it. The Fifth Excelsior regiment, under the command of Col. Graham, was sent down to watch it, and encamped in full view of the point, on Port Tobacco Creek, about a mile below the village of Port Tobacco.

Here they lay encamped several weeks, apparently inactive, but really keeping an open eye on the Maryland rebels and their Virginia neighbors. Two small boats were captured. One of them was placed under command of Capt. Arthur Wilkinson, well known to the merchant marine, but now the captain of Company I, of the Fifth regiment. With this little boat Capt. Wilkinson thoroughly explored the shores of both sides of the river, frequently availing himself of the kind offices of Capts. Harris, of the Island Belle, Magaw, of the Freeborn, and Street, of the Dana. These officers convinced themselves that the rebels were not in any very great strength immediately on the point, and that a force could be successfully landed on the point, and an attack, if thought advisable, made on the rebel camp a few miles inland.

In conjunction with the officers of the flotilla just mentioned, Col. Graham determined to make the attempt. He was aware of the hazardous nature of the service, but deemed that important information could be obtained with but little loss, if successful. The plan, as arranged, was for the colonel to embark his force on the Island Belle, Freeborn, and Dana, and to land them with the howitzers of the Freeborn and Dana, and their respective crews, under cover of the cannon of the gunboats; but the Freeborn was ordered off to another station by Commodore Harral, and it was determined to make the attempt with the other two vessels at midnight, the Freeborn promising to come down the next morning and assist, if her services should be needed.

The greatest secrecy was observed. Beyond the commander of the flotilla and assistant-surgeon [361] of the regiment, none were aware of the expedition, with the exception of the officers above named. At about nine o'clock in the evening, four hundred men were detailed from the various companies of the regiment, and provided with forty rounds of ball cartridge. They marched some four miles to Chapel Point, where the gunboats were lying. Here they embarked in good order and fine spirits. The moon was hidden by the clouds, and a fresh breeze was blowing. The Island Belle took the Dana in tow, and in a short time the expedition was lying off the point.

The gallant Capt. Harris, of the Belle, insisted on landing with the skirmishers or advance guard. These consisted of twenty-six men under Lieut. Loicq, of Company B. Col. Graham immediately followed in the second boat. Capt. Harris, with a few picked men from his own crew, and some picked men from Company I, pushed rapidly forward to what is known as “Grimes' House,” a large house used as a station for the rebel pickets. After proceeding about a quarter of a mile, they came suddenly upon three rebel pickets, one of whom aimed his musket at Capt. Harris; but the captain was too quick for him, shooting him dead with his revolver, while his men fired, but unsuccessfully, at the other two, who were retreating on the full run. The picket's musket (an old flint lock) was brought away, as were also their three horses, found tied near by.

Grimes' House has long been known as a station for the rebel pickets, and standing fully exposed, it has frequently been fired at by the gunboats, which have attempted to set fire to it with shell, but in vain. The doors and windows were barricaded, so as to afford a good shelter for riflemen. No person was, however, found in it.

As soon as the shots were fired, Assistant-Surgeon Calhoun was put on shore ready to render any assistance to the wounded that might be needed, and the whole force was speedily landed under the able direction of Capt Street, of the Dana, and master's mate, John McMillan, of the Island Belle; forming in line, and preceded by an efficient band of skirmishers, the party proceeded rapidly forward. After proceeding two or three miles, two mounted men rode up, and were taken for some of the skirmishers, who, it was supposed, had captured the horses, and were returning with them. One of the men inquired, “How many men were coming?” When the question was asked, “Who are you?” He replied, “Oh! We are all right — we are pickets.” “Then you are just the men we want,” said Capt. Harris, seizing the horse by the bridle. The fellows found that instead of being the Thirtieth Virginia, whom they expected, it was a party of these “cussed Yankees,” and clapping spurs to their horses, scampered off to the woods, followed by a volley of balls. One of them was evidently wounded, as he dropped his gun, (a double-barrelled shot gun,) and blood could be traced some distance.

The party proceeded several miles, but finding that the rebels were encamped at Hampstead, nine miles from the Point, and that they had the evening before been reinforced by Walker's battery of three pieces of artillery, and that they were hourly expecting Col. Carey's Thirtieth Virginia, from Brooks' Station, it was deemed advisable to return. A portion of Company E had, however, in the mean time, surprised Mr. George Dent and his son, prominent Maryland rebels, for whom the authorities have long been searching. Mr. Dent was fully armed, and at first attempted to draw a revolver, but he saw resistance to be useless. He has long been connected with the Confederate signal service, and on his person were found the cards of several of the officers of the rebel navy, and a pass signed “Brig.-Gen. Holmes, C. S. A.”

The party, on its return, burned a large amount of forage for the rebel cavalry, and several houses which had been used for signalling purposes. Grimes' House, and the adjacent barns, were also burned. A mile or so from the point, a small battery, with no guns mounted, was discovered. It was masked by trees and cord-wood piled up. These were burned, and the gunboats will destroy the earthworks at their leisure. The woods were set on fire in several places, but they were not very inflammable, and no very definite results were obtained. It was now about nine o'clock A. M., and the party had returned to the landing-place, where were still to be seen the rifle pits from which was fired the fatal shot that killed Capt. Ward. The look-out on the gunboat detected a large force of rebel infantry advancing, on a hill-top, several miles distant.

The command were immediately drawn up in line, and the guns of the Dana and Island Belle shotted and manned. But after waiting an hour, no enemy appeared, and the men were all safely reembarked and again landed on Chapel Point, without the slightest injury to a single person of the force. They were followed by a large frigate's launch, filled with contrabands. These poor darkies were discovered approaching the gunboats shortly before the embarkation to return. Over a hundred must have been huddled into it, while from a pole in the stern waved a shirt, which may in its better days have been white. Their boat was of some value, and was retained.

About daylight the Freeborn hove in sight, and was coming to fulfil the duties assigned to her, when, much to the chagrin of the gallant lieutenant commanding, (Magaw,) she was opened upon by a heavy rebel battery, a short distance up the river, and forced to return. Since that time it has been discovered that the battery is located at Boyd's. Hole, not over two miles from the point reached by the reconnoitring party. The battery mounts six heavy rifled [362] guns, and the soldiers seen from the gunboat were three regiments advancing to its support. Had its location been known, it could and would lave been taken at the point of the bayonet, and its guns, as well as those of the three gunboats, turned upon the party advancing to its relief.

This is the first time that any of the Excelsior regiments have been on Virginia soil, as this brigade has been assigned to the important but onerous work of guarding and protecting the Lower Potomac. But the behavior of the detachment of the Fifth, on this occasion, was excellent. Landing at night, at a point clothed with mystery, and in the presence of an unknown force, not a man hesitated, and officers and men vied with each other in seeking the post of danger.

The many friends of Chaplain Boole will regret to learn that, while riding a day or two since, his horse stumbled and fell, and the chaplain sustained a fracture and dislocation of the wrist. Private Ricemeyer, of Company A, died of typhoid fever on Tuesday morning. This is the second death from disease in this regiment since its formation, early in June last — a remarkable state of health for a regiment constantly in active service.

I enclose the official report of this most successful reconnoissance.


A secession account.

Fredericksbubg, Va., November 12, 1861.
The enemy made a landing at Matthias Point about two hours before daylight on Monday morning, in numbers reported at from sixty to two hundred.

They immediately moved outward into the country, but so quiet had been the landing that our pickets in the vicinity were unapprised of the fact. One of the pickets, named Baker, belonging to Captain John Taylor's Cavalry, challenged some one approaching, when he was answered that “a friend” approached, and immediately thereafter received a ball from a pistol, which struck him in the breast and glanced around on the shoulder. The ball was afterward extracted with but slight injury to his person.

The enemy next fired and burned to the ground the residence of Custis Grymes, which had been so perforated with shot and shell during the last few months by the enemy's vessels in the river as to be nearly, if not quite, untenantable, and has been unoccupied, we believe, for some time.

They next visited the residence of Mercer Tennant, which they are reported to have fired and burned, together with his barn, wheat stacks, etc. Another report is that the house was not burned. They then advanced to the residence of Mrs. Stuart, (widow of the late Colonel John Stuart,) and arrested Mr. Dent and his son, of St. Mary's County, Md., and also an elderly gentleman named Nalley. Two of the Misses Snowden, of Alexandria, were at this house, and one report is, that all the ladies escaped to the woods in their night clothes; another report is that the ladies remained in the house and were not molested The Federals also visited the house of Benjamin Grimes, which they were reported to have destroyed, together with other property. This is confirmed. After these outrages the Federals commenced their piratical feats in stealing off the negroes in the vicinity, and from a dozen servants who arrived here last night we learn that, in many instances, slaves were forced off by the soldiery against their protestations to be allowed to remain where they were. A gentleman, who left the vicinity yesterday forenoon, reports that Colonel Carey's Thirtieth Virginia regiment were within eight miles of Matthias Point, en route, when he passed them, and that Colonel Stokes' North Carolina regiment were pressing on to the same point. Captain Cook's artillery are also reported to have been ordered to the same point. We have no idea of a fight, as that is not the object of the pirates who divide their time on water and land, and whose purpose is not to meet our forces in manly warfare, but to skulk around from neighborhood to neighborhood, where they can practically illustrate the principles of the Lincoln dynasty. We have just seen Colonel Arnold, of King George, who was in the vicinity of Matthias Point yesterday. He states that the enemy had all reembarked, and that their vessels were lying off in the Potomac. Colonel Carey's regiment had returned from the point as far as Fairview Gate, awaiting orders. About forty negroes escaped on Saturday night and were carried off by the enemy on Monday morning.

Among those losing are the following: ten servants belonging to the estate of the late R. H. Montgomery; eight to Henry Gouldman; four to W. D. Watson; five to Fielding Lewis; one to Dr. Hunter; a number belonging to H. M. Tennant; some belonging to Mrs. M. C. Stuart; one belonging to Mr. Coleman, of Spotsylvania, hired, we suppose, in King George.

The county of King George has lost, since the war, at least one hundred negroes, whose aggregate value is not less than one hundred thousand dollars.

--Fredericksburg (Va.) Record, November 12.

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