Doc. 221. Ashepoo River expedition.
Commander Drayton's report.
United States steamer Pawnee, Port Royal harbor, Dec. 9, 1861.sir: In obedience to your order of the 4th instant, I proceeded to sea at daylight of the 5th, accompanied by the gunboat Unadilla, Lieutenant-Commanding N. Collins; steamer Isaac Smith, Lieutenant-Commanding Nicholson, and coast survey steamer Vixen, Captain Boutelle, and reached anchorage off the fort on Otter Island, St. Helena Sound, at mid-day. In the course of the afternoon, some negroes coming on board, and reporting that there was a body of soldiers at the entrance of Mosquito Creek, a place up Ashepoo, where the inland route to Charleston commences, I proceeded as far as that place, when night coming on, obliged me to return. I saw, however, no signs of the presence of white people, excepting that some buildings, which I discovered next day to have been on Hutchinson's Island, were burning. On the morning of the 6th, the United States steamship Dale, Lieutenant-Commanding, W. T. Truxton, appearing off the harbor, I sent the Isaac Smith to tow her in. Unfortunately, however, when half way up, the Dale stuck fast, and no exertions could get her afloat until one o'clock that night, when she was forced into deep water, having suffered no apparent injury, and towed the following morning by Capt. Boutelle in the Vixen, around Morgan Island. So soon as she was safely at her anchorage near us, I proceeded up Ashepoo with the Unadilla, Isaac Smith, and Vixen, to examine the river further up than I had been able to do on the previous occasion. On approaching Mosquito Creek, we saw a picket of soldiers, who took to their horses on our approach, and escaped into the woods, hastened perhaps in their flight by a shot or two which were thrown after them. Continuing up the river, I landed on Hutchinson's Island, and found that two days before, all the negro houses, the overseer's house, and outbuildings, together with picked cotton had been burned. The attempt had, at the same time, been made to drive off the negroes, but many had escaped, although some of their number, they said, had been shot in attempting to do so. The scene was one of complete desolation. The smoking ruins and cowering figures which surrounded them, of those negroes who still instinctively clung to their hearthstones, although there was no longer there shelter for them, presented a most melancholy sight, the  impression of which was made even stronger by the piteous wailing of the poor creatures, a large portion of whom consisted of the old and decrepit. They were not able to leave until some time after dark, and, singular enough, the moment we were fairly under way, a bright signal light was burned on the very plantation we had just quitted, showing that some of the blacks, for there was certainly no white man there, were communicating our departure. On the following morning, with the same vessels, I started to explore Coosaw River, but very soon after leaving, the Unadilla was completely disabled by the breaking of the main cross-head, and I was obliged to leave her at anchor and continue on with the other two vessels. When off Fort Heyward, I left the Isaac Smith, it not being quite safe to take so long a vessel higher up, and continued in the Vixen, so far as the entrance of Beaufort Creek, to a place called the Brick Yards, where I had been told there was either a fort or a guard of soldiers. Nothing, however, being seen of either, I anchored off a plantation belonging to Mr. Bychewood, close by, for the purpose of getting information, as I saw a great many negroes there. On landing, I found that a short time previously, the cotton-house, with its contents, had been burned, and all the negroes that could be caught, had been taken away. Here were large numbers of those, however, who had left Hutchinson's Island after their houses had been burned, and who, with their household effects piled up about them, lined the beach. Some of them, begging to be permitted to go to Otter's Island, saying that they had neither shelter nor food, were taken back with us. Late in the afternoon I returned down the river, reaching our anchorage off Fort Otter at sunset. As I did not see that the services of the Pawnee were any longer necessary in St. Helena Sound, and thinking it important to get the Unadilla as soon as possible to a place where her engines could be repaired, I determined this morning to tow that vessel to Port Royal harbor, which I have done, reaching here in company with the Vixen at half-past 7 this evening. In obedience to your instructions, before leaving, I transferred the charge of the fort and adjacent waters, to Lieutenant-Commanding Nicholson, who, with the Isaac Smith and Dale, will remain there until he receives further orders from yourself. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
P. Drayton, Commander. Flag-officer S. F. Dupont, Commanding South Atlantic Squadron, Port Royal Harbor.As about one hundred and forty negroes, most of them in a very destitute condition, had collected at Otter Island before my departure, I directed Lieutenant Nicholson to see that they were supplied with food, until some disposition would be made of them, or until he heard from you. Very respectfully,