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Doc. 71.-opening of Nansemond River, Va.

Captain Hyner's report.

Fortress Monroe, V., June 15, 1862.
Col. D. T. Van Buren, Assistant Adjutant-General:
Colonel: According to instructions, I proceeded on the eleventh inst. on board the steam-tug C. P. Smith, Capt. H. C. Fuller. Got, at six P. M., the armaments of two rifled three-inch Parrot guns and one mountain-howitzer on board, and started at once for Fort Wool, to take Capt. Lee, Ninety-ninth New-York volunteers, and his command on board. As part of the men and stores were at Sewell's Point barracks, the tug was made fast for the night, it being not thought advisable to venture further in the darkness. On the twelfth, at four A. M., we got under way; arrived at five P. M. at Sewell's Point, got the men and stores on board, and had to return to Fortress Monroe to take an additional quantity of coal, also some shells for the rifled guns. At ten P. M. we got under way for the mouth of the Nansemond; passed Pig Point battery at seven o'clock P. M.; ran up the river about four miles; got aground on a sand bank at low-tide, and had to wait till return of high-water. I tried to collect all the information I could from some negroes dredging for oysters, and some contrabands coming down the James River, in a large boat, with their families. Two of them volunteered to stay with me, and, after having supplied the remainder with water, of which they were short, I directed them to report at Fortress Monroe. The two remaining on board volunteered all the information they had to give, assisted the boat's crew, and conducted themselves very well.

Waiting for the tide, I got the cutter and the small boat under way, and reconnoitred the first row of stakes, about five miles from Pig Point battery, also both shores for about a mile above it. On the eastern shore I found three batteries, respectively of two, one and five guns, commanding the stockade, but all abandoned, with the guns removed.

The exact location will be shown in the map.

As soon as the steamer was afloat, I attacked the stockade, and succeeded in opening a gap about one hundred feet wide, when darkness made further work impossible, which, however, was resumed at daylight, and the gap enlarged to about one hundred and fifty feet or more.

We then proceeded up the river, guided by William, (colored and free,) who had joined the boat voluntarily the previous night. This man, being a resident of this neighborhood, had a thorough knowledge of the river, the location and the nature of the obstructions in it, and subsequently his services became very valuable.

About twelve or thirteen miles from Pig Point, at the mouth of the western branch, we found a second obstruction, consisting of a row of piles driven in clumps of twos and threes across the channel, and connected by heavy chains. Behind [209] these logs the hulls of small vessels, loaded with heavy materials, were sunk; also, in the channels below. The tops of the piles were cut off, so as to be visible at low-water. At hightide vessels drawing from six to seven feet of water can be forced around the edges near the east shore, the bottom being soft mud.

Above the mouth of the western branch, was a masked battery for five guns, which, however, had been hidden or removed.

Being unable to do anything in this place as long as high-water lasted, I proceeded up the river to Suffolk, and reported my arrival verbally to Gen. Mansfield, and per telegraph to Major-Gen. Dix.

At noon as the tide had fallen sufficiently, I returned to the obstruction near the mouth of West Branch, and removed of it as much as possible, till the return of high-water forced me to abandon the work.

At five P. M. I returned to Suffolk, and embarked companies K, Capt. J. E. Mulford, and F, Capt. W. A. S. Sanders, of the Third New-York volunteers, all under command of Major Abel Smith; for I wished to make a reconnaissance up the west bank of the river. I left at nine o'clock P. M. At Halloway's Point, about half-way between Suffolk and Pig Point, a large, substantially-built pier afforded accommodation for landing to a steamer. Accordingly, at half-past 10 o'clock I disembarked the whole force, with the exception of ten men and a corporal of the Third New-York volunteers, and six men and a corporal of the Ninty-ninth New-York volunteers, to serve as artillery. The road to Chucatuck village, distant about five and a half miles, is a country road, but in good condition, and if only the first quarter of a mile is a little improved, artillery and transportation of the heaviest kind can be passed over it without any difficulty. Proceeding on, I took the necessary precaution to prevent intelligence of our approach being sent to the enemy, who, as I was informed, was in the habit of sending at night mounted scouts to the village. The people were for the most part somewhat violent in their expression of rebel sentiment; but reasonable arguments and kind treatment had a good effect on them, and when I left there next morning I felt convinced that a considerable revulsion in their ideas had taken place, for they certainly could not help to admire the good discipline of the troops, and the gentlemanly, soldier-like conduct of the officers. At about one o'clock A. M. the column reached Chucatuck village, at the head of Chucatuck River. I posted detachments on all the roads leading to and from it, and surrounded the village with a chain of sentinels. The whole was done so quietly that even no dog barked. After posting the necessary pickets, as also the reserve, in convenient positions, I directed my colored guide, and also one negro whom I found sleeping in the porch of a house, to collect all the negroes in the village, for I believed them the only ones willing to give reliable information.

From them I learned that the last scout of the enemy's troops had visited the place a week previous, but that four residents of the village were very active as spies, and in other nefarious practices. Their names are Henry L. Tynes or Tyner, Richard Denton, George Crum, a miller, and George Willis Duder, also a resident of the western shore, and Mr. Lewis, who lives about five miles above Barrell Point. The road from Chucatuck village to Petersburgh is a good turnpike, and, I was told, for a distance of at least twenty-five miles unobstructed. Everett's bridge is still unburned; probably also the county bridge across Black River, where the enemy's scouts pass in and out of their lines.

As daylight approached I returned on board, where the column arrived at five o'clock A. M. I can hardly speak in terms of sufficient commendation of the services of Capt. Lee, Ninety-ninth New-York volunteers, whose practical experience was of the greatest value in sounding and removing the obstacles. Also the men under his command, who were indefatigable, having worked hard from daylight till dark, and after that making a forced march during the greater part of the night.

The detachment of the Third New-York volunteers behaved likewise splendidly, showing the highest state of discipline and the most soldier-like conduct during the whole time they were with me.

Major Abel Smith made all the disposition of his command on the march in the ablest and most thorough manner, showing all the skill and discretion which are absolutely necessary for the success of secret reconnoissances.

Capt. Fuller, of the steam-tug C. P. Smith, was indefatigable in the performance of his duty, and handled his boat with the greatest skill and dexterity in steering her through the obstructions.

The colored pilot, William, rendered the most valuable service on the river and as a guide on the march to Chucatuck village; also, in collecting information.

Hoping soon to be able to report the entire removal of all obstructions, I remain, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

H. Hyner, Captain Volunteer Topographical Engineers.

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Abel Smith (2)
Robert E. Lee (2)
H. Hyner (2)
H. C. Fuller (2)
Henry L. Tynes (1)
Tyner (1)
W. A. S. Sanders (1)
J. E. Mulford (1)
Mansfield (1)
David Lewis (1)
Everett (1)
George Willis Duder (1)
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John A. Dix (1)
Richard Denton (1)
George Crum (1)
D. T. Buren (1)
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June 15th, 1862 AD (1)
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