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Doc. 100.-operations on James River. Co-operation with army expedition under General Graham.

Report of Acting rear-admiral S. P. Lee.

flag-ship Minnesota, off Newport news, Va., February 2, 1864.
sir: Returning here Sunday afternoon, thirty-first ultimo, after an absence of a few hours at the navy-yard, I was informed by Lieutenant Commander Upshur, of this ship, that General Graham had a few hours previously gone up the James River with the army gunboats on an expedition, the object of which was to capture some rebel troops, said to be about forty, (40,) and tobacco, and that, on the application of General Graham, Captain Gansevoort had sent Lieutenant Commander Gillis with the Commodore Morris, in the Nansemond, to cooperate.

The Commodore Morris being very short of her complement, a detail of fifty (50) men from this ship was put on board of her to supply her deficiencies, and Lieutenant Commander Gillis was instructed by Lieutenant Commander Upshur not to allow them to land without it was absolutely necessary.

On my return I ordered the Shokokon and Commodore Barney to follow General Graham, and cooperate.

At half-past 7 next morning, in a dense fog, I received from General Graham a letter explaining his situation, and asking for assistance. Immediately ordered the Minnesota's launches to be got out, armed, provided, and despatched to the assistance of the army expedition, and telegraphed to General Butler on the subject.

Soon afterward Acting Ensign Harris, of the navy, who is on service with the army, and was in this expedition, came off in the fog to our picket-boat, Commodore Jones, and reported that the detachment of cavalry, infantry, and a howitzer squad, in all about ninety (90) men, which General Graham had landed at Smithfield the previous afternoon, had on their march to Chuckatuck encountered a superior force of the enemy, and at eight P. M. had been driven back to Smithfield, where they were surrounded, and in great danger of being cut off. Unfortunately, none of the army gunboats or transports were then at Smithfield to protect or bring off the detachment.

The fog still prevailed. I sent Ensign Miller, with Acting Ensign Harris, and General Graham's letter to me, to General Butler, that General Butler might understand the situation, and if he thought proper, might send troops in the rear to relieve this beleaguered detachment. At the same time I despatched the Shokokon to tow our launches, as near as the water would allow her to go, in the direction of Smithfield, and I sent the Commodore Barney up the Nansemond with an order to Lieutenant Commander Gillis, providing for the assistance which General Graham desired there.

At five P. M. the launches returned, and reported the army gunboat Smith Briggs had, after the Shokokon had taken them up as far as her draught would allow, towed them several miles, to within close proximity to Smithfield, where a hot engagement immediately commenced between the enemy and our forces on shore, supported by our launches and the Smith Briggs, which resulted in the capture and destruction of the Smith Briggs by the rebels, with the capture of nearly all the detachment landed at Smithfield by General Graham.

The reports of Acting Ensign Birtwistle and Acting Master's Mate Jarvis--who, after the wounding of Acting Master Pierson, had command of the launches sent from this ship — show that, after sustaining a heavy fire of musketry and artillery in these open boats, and the guns of the Smith Briggs being turned upon them by the rebels, the launches were compelled to retire without being able to render any further assistance.

Acting Master Pierson and three (3) men of this ship were, I regret to state, seriously wounded.

It appears from the report of Lieutenant Commander Gillis that the second detachment, composed of thirty-two (32) men from the Smith Briggs, and twelve (12) from the Commodore Morris, landed in the Nansemond with instructions to meet the first detachment from Chuckatuck, returned safely.

I inclose the following papers pertaining to this affair, among which is a request from me to General Butler that expeditions requiring naval cooperation, or passing the lines of the blockade, should be previously determined between him and myself.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully yours,

S. P. Lee, A. R. Admiral Commanding N. A. B. Squadron. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

Communication from General Graham to Admiral Lee.

Headquarters Naval Brigade, Dept. Va. And N. C., On board transport Long Branch, off Halloway's Point, 5 A. M., February 1, 1864.
Admiral: I landed a party of ninety men, consisting of twenty cavalry, one howitzer squad, and the remainder infantry, at Smithfield, at twenty-five minutes past one P. M. yesterday, with orders to march to Chuckatuck, where I was informed there was a small force of the enemy.

At Chuckatuck they were to have been met by another detachment which left Halloway Point. This latter detachment marched as far as Chuckatuck; saw no enemy; heard distant firing, which the commanding officer supposed to be the first detachment endeavoring to make a landing at Smithfield. This last detachment returned to its place of landing about sundown. [439]

At three o'clock P. M. yesterday, I despatched the gunboat Flora Temple to Chuckatuck, but unfortunately she grounded, and remained ashore until I came up with the General Jesup, and transport Long Branch.

The Flora Temple had been despatched to Chuckatuck to occupy the attention of the enemy on shore, while the other parties were advancing from the points indicated.

I left Smithfield at forty minutes past three P. M., having remained there at the request of the officer commanding the first detachment, so that his detachment might return to the vessels, if it met with any serious opposition, before it had marched a distance beyond possibility of communication.

Up to the time I left, no firing was heard at all. After the vessels with me had succeeded in drawing off the Flora Temple, we steamed as rapidly as possible for the mouth of the Chuckatuck, but it was quite dark and very hazy when we reached there; consequently we kept on for the Nansemond and reached there at eight o'clock P. M., when I was informed by Lieutenant Commander Gillis that the second detachment had reported as above.

Immediately thereupon I sent orders by the Smith Briggs to the Flora Temple and General Jesup to proceed at daylight to the Chuckatuck, make a reconnoissance, and report to me as early as practicable at the mouth of the Nansemond.

At daylight I intend landing with a detachment and feeling my way, cautiously, to Chuckatuck village.

As soon as I have definite tidings I will communicate with you again.

In the mean time, please request your vessels to keep a look-out on the banks of the James River for any of our men that may have strayed from the main body, if it has been captured.

Please communicate the above facts to Major-General Butler, and oblige.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant.

Charles K. Graham, Brigadier-General, etc. Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, Commanding N. A. B. Squadron.

Please send a boat up the Nansemond to me, and the bearer, Captain Rowe, will proceed with his vessel to Smithfield.

Report of Captain Guert Gansevoort.

United States iron-clad Roanoke, Newport news, Va., February 4, 1864.
Admiral: I have the honor to inform you of the facts (as far as I can recollect) relating to the expedition which went up the river on January thirty-first, under the command of General Graham.

Sunday morning, January thirty-first, about ten A. M., three army steamers came up from Fortress Monroe and went near the Minnesota, and shortly after I saw a boat coming toward this vessel with an army lieutenant (whose name I do not remember) and Lieutenant Commander Gillis. On their arrival, the army lieutenant stated to me that General Graham was going on an expedition, and wanted Lieutenant Commander Gillis to go with him. I referred him to the Admiral, and was informed that he was absent at Norfolk and would not be back until late in the afternoon. I replied that I did not consider that absence; to which they said that, to all intents and purposes, it was absence as far as the expedition was concerned; that the time that will be taken in sending to the Admiral and the return would defeat the object of the expedition. I then asked him what was the object of this expedition. He replied that it was to capture about “fifty (50) men.” I asked him how he expected to accomplish it. He said that they intended to go up the river a short distance, land the men, and then march down. I then asked what assistance Lieutenant Commander Gillis would be to them. He said that General Graham wanted him to take charge of the boats. I asked him if he expected the sailors were to be landed. He told me no; that they had a force large enough, and that it was not the intention to land the sailors.

He also stated that they were not going far from the ship, and would be back in sixteen or eighteen hours, as they were ordered to return in that time.

Under these conditions, I consented to let Lieutenant Commander Gillis accompany the expedition, believing that it would meet with your approbation.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant.

Guert Gansevoort, Captain United States Navy. Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, Commanding N. A. B. Squadron, Newport News, Va.

Report of Lieutenant Commander James H. Gillis.

United States gunboat Commodore Morris, Newport news, February 1, 1864.
sir: I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by this vessel in an expedition under Brigadier-General Graham, having for its object the capture and breaking up of the camps of a body of rebels on the Chuckatuck Creek, in Isle of Wight county. At the request of General Graham, and after communicating with the senior officer present, I took command yesterday of the forces on Nansemond River, both army and navy, which were to act in conjunction with the forces (under the immediate command of General Graham) from Smithfield, on Pagan Creek. The force placed under my command by General Graham consisted of the army gunboat Smith Briggs and two launches, manned by thirty-four (34) men of the Naval Brigade, under command of Captain McLaughlin; besides which, I had fifty men obtained from the Minnesota. The force under General Graham consisted of seventy (70) men of the Naval Brigade, and twenty (20) cavalry; this latter force to land at Smithfield and march to the village of Chuckatuck, on Chuckatuck Creek. It was supposed that at two o'clock they would have [440] been two hours on the road, and therefore General Graham directed that the party he had placed under my command should land at that hour, and also march on Chuckatuck, where he expected they would form a junction. I did not arrive at Ferry Point, from which place they were to debark, until about five minutes before two o'clock, but at a quarter past two all the men were landed, and at twenty minutes past two they had taken up their line of march for Chuckatuck, with directions to proceed to that place and remain two hours, at the expiration of which time, if they neither saw nor received any intelligence of the other party from Smithfield, they were to return; which instructions were carried out, they having remained the specified time and received no intelligence of the other party, but hearing heavy firing in the direction of Smithfield, which led them to suppose that the enemy had been met in considerable force, and that our men had been obliged to retire. Returning without having seen any of the enemy, they reembarked at half-past 6 P. M. I then got under way, the Smith Briggs in company, towing launches, and stood down to opposite Town Point, where I came to anchor, feeling certain that the expedition had most signally failed. At half-past 7, General Graham arriving in the Long Branch with the information that the party which he had taken had landed and were on their way across the peninsula, I got under way, and in company with the Long Branch and Smith Briggs returned to Ferry Point, where we again came to anchor, hoping to receive some intelligence. Having received none during the night, at seven o'clock this morning General Graham started for Chuckatuck with thirty (30) men of the Naval Brigade, and the fifty (50) men belonging to the Minnesota, hoping either to meet or receive some word from those about whom he now began to feel great anxiety; but being unsuccessful in his efforts, he returned to the vessels, determined to proceed again to Smithfield, to which place he had sent the Smith Briggs at an early hour in the morning. Before getting under way, however, the United States gunboat Commodore Barney brought your despatch of this date to me, and at the request of General Graham I immediately proceeded to the mouth of Pagan Creek, where I communicated with the commanding officer of the United States steam gunboat Shokokon, who informed me that the launches sent to Pagan Creek by yourself had been repulsed at Smithfield, with a loss of five wounded, one being Acting Master Pierson, of the Minnesota, and that the Smith Briggs and all on board had been captured; and that the smoke which had been seen in the direction of Smithfield was supposed to be from the burning of that vessel, which supposition was confirmed in a short time by the rapid explosion of her shells; and soon thereafter, at fifty minutes past three P. M., by the explosion of her magazine.

About this time a flag of truce was discovered on shore, on the lower side of Pagan Creek near the mouth, and a launch belonging to the Naval Brigade, under command of Captain McLaughlin, was sent in to communicate. He brought off five of our men, including Captain Lee, (who had command of the force landed at Smithfield,) who had succeeded in making good their escape.

Captain Lee informed me that in the fight of Sunday he succeeded in driving the rebels; but having received information that heavy reenforcements were coming in from Ivor station to cut him off from his advance on Chuckatuck, and also that there was a company of cavalry at Cherry Grove, he deemed it advisable to fall back on Smithfield, where he hoped to be able to communicate with General Graham in time to receive assistance before the enemy could advance in sufficient numbers to render his capture or destruction certain; but the Smith Briggs, which had been sent to his assistance, did not arrive until too late. The strength of the enemy, as reported by Captain Lee, was one regiment of infantry, one of cavalry, and one battery of artillery.

Deeming any further demonstration with the means at hand against so strong a force of the enemy impracticable, not being able to get up the river any further with my vessel, I directed the commanding officer of the Shokokon to return to the Minnesota with the launches and their crews, and the wounded men and officer, after which I returned and reported to you in person.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant.

J. H. Gillis, Lieutenant Commander United States Navy. Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, Commanding N. A. B. Squadron, U. S. Flag-Ship Minnesota, Newport News, Virginia.

Letter from Acting rear-admiral Lee to Lieutenant Commander J. H. Gillis.

flag-ship Minnesota, February 1, 1864.
sir: I send this by the Barney. Ensign Harris has just come off on the Commodore Jones, and reports that the first detachment fell back upon Smithfield at eight P. M. yesterday, where they are surrounded and short of howitzer ammunition. I have sent him to General Butler.

I am sending on launches to Pagan Creek, with plenty of ammunition. The Morris or Barney can bring General Graham out and take him there if he wishes it. Leave a gunboat in the Nansemond to pick up stragglers.

Respectfully yours,

S. P. Lee, Acting Rear-Admiral, Commanding N. A. B. Squadron. Lieutenant Commander Gillis, Commanding Commodore Morris.

Report of Lieut. Com. John H. Upshur.

United States flag-ship Minnesota, off Newport news, Va., February 1, 1864.
sir: In your absence yesterday, at the Norfolk navy-yard, Brigadier-General Graham appeared here with three armed steamers and a detachment of men, and sent a request that a gunboat might go up the Nansemond River to assist in an expedition, the object of which, as stated to me by one of General Graham's lieutenants, was to capture a number of the enemy's troops, [441] (about forty,) and a quantity of tobacco, supposed to be located on the peninsula formed by the Nansemond River and Pagan Creek.

The matter was referred to the senior officer present, Captain Gansevoort, who gave his consent, and the Commodore Morris, Lieutenant Commander Gillis, commanding, was assigned the duty. A detail of fifty men was sent from this vessel to the Morris to supply the deficiencies in her crew.

This morning, in obedience to your order, the launches of this ship were armed and equipped, put under the command of Acting Master Pierson, and sent to aid in rescuing a party of General Graham's men at Smithfield, said to be in a critical position.

I herewith inclose the reports of Acting Ensign Birtwistle and Acting Master's Mate Jarvis, officers of the launches, of the part taken by them in an engagement with the enemy at Smithfield, Virginia, Acting Master Pierson having been seriously injured.

I also inclose the surgeon's report of the wounded belonging to this ship.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. H. Upshur, Lieutenant Commander, Com'g U. S. Steamer Minnesota. Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, Commanding N. A. B. Squadron.

Report of Acting Ensign James Birtwistle.

United States steamer Minnesota, off Newport news, February 1, 1864.
sir: In obedience to your orders I left the ship this morning, at half-past 9, in charge of the second launch, heavy twelve-pound howitzer, and crew of twenty-three men, subject to the orders of Acting Master Pierson, who had command of the first launch, rifled howitzer, and twenty-three men. We were taken in tow by the United States steamer Shokokon, and arrived off Smithfield Creek at about twelve A. M. The army steamer Smith Briggs came to us; we cast off from the Shokokon, and were taken in tow by the Smith Briggs, up Smithfield Creek, to within about two thousand yards of the village of Smithfield, when we discovered our army detachments on shore, and the enemy engaged — the enemy having a battery to the southward of the village, on which the Smith Briggs and first launch opened fire, it being about three thousand yards distant. We continued in line toward the village, when we discovered our army men on shore running from the direction of the battery. The Smith Briggs ran alongside a wharf, and our men commenced getting on board of her, when the rebel riflemen opened a murderous fire on her and the launches from behind houses, etc., on the hill, about two hundred and fifty yards from the wharf, driving the men from their guns on the Smith Briggs, and capturing her by charging down the hill; the launches during this time kept up a fire with shrapnel. We could then no longer stand the fire of the riflemen, and Mr. Pierson headed the first launch down the creek, and, as he passed me, told me to follow him. We rounded the point near the village, rounded to, and fired a few more shots. Our flag was still flying on the steamer, and they appeared to be working her about. This I thought strange; but as soon as we were fairly under way down the creek again, they turned the guns of the Smith Briggs on us, and also artillery from the side of the hill. During the engagement, George Anderson, (seaman,) while at the gun in the second launch, was wounded in the right hand, and when I overhauled the first launch at the mouth of the creek, I learned that Mr. Pierson was wounded in the abdomen and right arm; George Cook, (seaman,) thigh and testicle; William B. Kelly, (seaman,) in bowels by sword-thrust by Mr. Pierson.

In nearing the Shokokon, which was lying off the mouth of the creek, we met a boat from her in charge of her executive officer, with Shokokon's doctor and steward with necessaries for wounded; landed our wounded on the Shokokon. At about forty-five minutes past two P. M., she towed our launch to the Minnesota. During the attack on the Smith Briggs, the first launch was about two hundred yards from her, and the second launch was about five hundred. I think it was well that we retreated; could they have managed the steamer and outflanked us on the beach, we could not have returned.

I am, sir, very respectfully,

James Birtwistle, Acting Ensign. Lieutenant Commander J. H. Upshur, Commanding U. S. Steamer Minnesota.

Report of Acting Master's Mate James Jarvis.

United States frigate Minnesota, February 1, 1864.
sir: The following is a true report of the boat expedition which left this vessel ten A. M., in charge of Acting Master Pierson, in tow of the United States gunboat Shokokon.

We proceeded to the mouth of Pagan Creek, and finding we could not proceed any further, we then were taken in tow by the United States gunboat Smith Briggs and proceeded up the creek. Mr. Pierson and the pilot then went on board.

At half-past 11 A. M. the enemy opened fire; it was immediately returned, and silenced the enemy's. Mr. Pierson gave orders to haul up alongside; he and the pilot returned to the launch. We cast off and proceeded nearer the town. Mr. Pierson then gave orders to Mr. Birtwistle to look out for his launch, for he should give him no more orders. Mr. Pierson said he would go above the town, but not fire, for our men held the town. When abreast of the town, the enemy commenced firing with muskets, (I should judge about one hundred and fifty,) which caused a confusion with the greater part of the launch's crew.

Mr. Pierson gave orders to turn the launch so the howitzer would come to bear on the enemy, using profane words to the crew. When the second volley was fired, wounding Mr. Pierson and three men, Mr. Pierson then said, “I am gone; you must get out the best way you can,” giving [442] the order to strike the flag. I then made answer: “That cannot be done.” The coxswain, Thomas McCarty, and quartermaster, Julius Bartlet, repeated the answer: “No, no.” By this time we were out of musket-range, with the exception of those who ran down the bank and kept up a brisk fire until we were out of range.

The muskets in the boat were discharged at the enemy by those who did not man the oars. We then proceeded down the creek to the United States gunboat Shokokon, having our wounded put on board and cared for. At five P. M. reported on board.

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,

James Jarvis, Acting Master's Mate. Lieutenant Commander J. H. Upshur, Commanding Minnesota, off Newport News, Va.

Report of Acting Master W. B. Sheldon.

United States steamer Shokokon, off Newport news, Va., February 1, 1864.
sir: I beg leave to submit the following report, so far as my knowledge extends, of the circumstances of the attack on the boats, and wounding one officer and three seamen (up Smithfield Creek) belonging to the United States flag-ship Minnesota. About ten o'clock A. M. this day I left the flag-ship with two launches belonging to the Minnesota, and proceeded with them in tow up the James River, arriving off Smithfield Creek at half-past 11 A. M. The army gunboat Smith Briggs arriving, offered to take the launches alongside of her and tow them in, there not being water enough for this vessel to proceed further, it being very foggy at the time.

The Smith Briggs proceeded up the creek with the launches about four miles. I heard heavy and rapid firing; soon after it cleared away enough to see that the firing was from shore, and was returned by the Smith Briggs and launches; they then passed around a point of land, from sight. About a half-hour after, saw the launches returning. I immediately sent a boat with the surgeon to assist the wounded, if any. At half-past 3 P. M. the boats returned, having on board Acting Master Pierson and three seamen, wounded. I learned that the Smith Briggs had been captured and destroyed. I started with the wounded for the flag-ship, arriving at about half-past 5 P. M. this day. Yours, very respectfully,

W. B. Sheldon, Acting Master, Commanding. Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, Commanding N. A. Blockading Squadron.

Report of pilot Henry Stevens.

United States flag-ship Minnesota, off Newport news, Va., February 4, 1864.
sir: According to your orders, I proceeded as pilot of the expedition in command of Acting Master A. B. Pierson, he having the two launches of this ship under his command. After leaving this ship, the United States steamer Shokokon took the launches in tow and proceeded to the mouth of Smithfield Creek, where she anchored, the water being too shallow for her to proceed up the creek. The army boat Smith Briggs, on coming up, volunteered to take the launches in tow, which Mr. Pierson agreed to. After proceeding about two and a half miles up the creek, we perceived a man on the shore waving a white rag. The captain of the Briggs hove his vessel to, and sent a boat to get the man, who proved to be a soldier belonging to our forces, and was taken the night previous by the rebels, but had escaped. When within half a mile of Smithfield wharf, the captain of the Briggs said: “I must let you go; I cannot tow you further.” We cast off then from the Briggs and immediately opened fire on the rebel battery, they having opened fire on our forces about five minutes previous, and being about a mile and a half distant from us. After firing about five rounds, we followed the Briggs toward the village. After getting to within about two hundred and fifty yards of the dock, I observed that it was crowded with soldiers, the Briggs at that time lying close to the docks, and firing at right angles to it. We kept on our course toward the wharf for a couple of moments longer, when a body of rebels ran down a hill and charged on our soldiers on the wharf, driving many of them overboard, and at the same time opening fire on the launches from the left bank of the creek. At that time Mr. Pierson gave the order to turn round with her head down the creek, and at the same moment received a shot in the right arm, and ordered the flag to be hauled down. Mr. McCarty, coxswain of the launch, said, “I will kill the first man that touches the colors,” or some words to that effect. Mr. Pierson said then: “If you will not haul it down, let it stay up.” At this time the boats were going slowly down the creek, the enemy meanwhile keeping up a brisk fire at us. Mr. Pierson received another shot which struck him in the breast, and after a moment or so said, “I must lie down; I feel faint;” which he did accordingly. I think the rebels had possession of the Smith Briggs at that time, for while we were going down her guns were trained on us, and opened fire. We made the best of our way down the creek, and got alongside of the Shokokon at half-past 2 P. M.

I ought to have stated that previous to the boats turning round, three of the men were wounded and fell to the bottom of the launch. I saw the Briggs on fire, and also saw her blow up at fifty minutes past three P. M.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Henry Stevens, Pilot. Lieutenant Commander J. H. Upshur, Commanding United States Steamer Minnesota.

Report of Assistant-Surgeon A. Matthewson.

United States steamer Minnesota, off Newport news, Va., February 1, 1864.
sir: I respectfully report, that in the engagement of this date with the rebel force at Smithfield, Va., the following persons, attached to the United States steamer Minnesota, were wounded: A. B. Pierson, Acting Master, by a musket-shot, producing severe flesh-wounds of the right-arm [443] and chest; George Cook, ordinary seaman, by a musket-shot, producing flesh-wounds of left thigh and scrotum; John B. Kelly, seaman, by a sword-thrust in the abdomen, producing a serious wound; George Anderson, seaman, by musket-shot, producing flesh-wound of left hand.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Arthur Matthewson, Assistant-Surgeon United States Navy. Lieutenant Commander John H. Upshur, Commanding United States Steamer Minnesota.

A national account.

Norfolk, Va., Tuesday, February 2.
Shortly before dark, on Saturday, an expedition started from here, under the command of Brigadier-General Graham. It was composed of the army gunboats Smith Briggs, Flora Temple, General Jesup, and the transport Long Branch, with detachments of men to the number of one hundred and fifty from the Third Pennsylvania artillery, Twentieth New-York cavalry, Ninety-ninth New-York, and Twenty-first Connecticut infantry.

The expedition proceeded up the James River to Logan Creek, to the small village of Smithfield. Here Captain Lee, of the Norfolk Harbor Police, landed at about one o'clock on Sunday noon, with ninety men from the Long Branch. He took command of the party, and the boats then left to go up the Nansemond River to reconnoitre, it being understood that after Captain Lee and his command had accomplished what they intended, they would march down to the north-western bank of the Nansemond, and there again join the boats.

Taking a direct road for Suffolk, he penetrated the country to the distance of about four miles and a half, where, in a dense wood, he met a force of the enemy, about two hundred and fifty strong, with two twelve-pound guns. Notwithstanding the inferiority of our numbers, the rebels were completely surprised, their advance-guard capturd, the main body driven back, and so great was their consternation, that they finally retreated in the greatest confusion.

Information was then received from prisoners and darkeys that there was a strong force of the enemy posted a short distance beyond, at a place called “The Mill.” Their position was such that our men could not pass them on either flank, and consequently they were compelled to fall slowly back to Smithfield, which was reached about a half-hour after dark. Captain Lee then intrenched his force on the main street of the town. Previous to this, however, as he was marching into the place, he was fired on from both sides of the road, and his advance-guard of five cavalrymen, of the Twentieth New-York, was captured.

About half-past 7 o'clock yesterday morning the rebels made a fierce attack with their cavalry and infantry. The fight continued with great vigor until nearly eleven o'clock, when a communication came, under flag of truce, from Colonel Gordon, commander of the attacking forces, for an immediate and unconditional surrender.

In order to gain as much time as possible, and thinking that in the mean while some assistance might come to hand, Captain Lee sent a reply to the rebel Colonel asking for a personal interview to be granted. This was denied, and a peremptory demand was made for a surrender within five minutes. The second reply of Captain Lee was that he would not surrender, and that if the rebel commander wanted him he would have to come and take him.

In less than a quarter of an hour, he opened with four guns, beside the infantry and cavalry fire. A reply was made with a howitzer as rapidly as possible, which was kept up with great spirit until about half-past 12 o'clock, when Captain Lee was so hard pressed on all sides that it became evident that he would soon have to yield.

But, in the mean time, the gunboat Smith Briggs hauled in sight. The position becoming untenable, the howitzer was rolled into the stream, and the men then followed along its line to reach the protection of the gunboat. They were followed by nearly a regiment of rebel infantry and cavalry, which harassed them in their flight. A stand was then made opposite the Smith Briggs, and a desperate engagement continued until our men were completely overpowered by the superior forces of the enemy, which was continually augmented by the arrivals of reenforcements.

All this time the gunboat kept up a constant fire, but so great were the numbers that had to be contended with, that at last our men had to give up fighting and take to the boat. To reach it, however, the poor fellows had to swim from the shore to where she lay in the stream, and in doing this many yielded up their lives to the merciless foe, who shot them as they were really drowning.

Upon reaching the boat, Captain Lee found its Commander, Rowe, severely wounded in the throat. The engineer was also seriously wounded, and out of a crew of about fifty there were left on board hardly a half-dozen men who were not disabled. At the request of Captain Rowe, Captain Lee took command of the boat.

He found her to be greatly damaged from the fire of the enemy. The pilot-house was entirely demolished. The wheel could not be worked, and it was with much difficulty that the engine could be gotten to move sufficiently to propel her further out into the stream from the range of the rebel guns.

Firing was continued, and about three o'clock a shell from the enemy entered the boiler of the boat, and a great explosion followed. Resistance could no longer be continued, as the boat was now a mere wreck. She then surrendered, and all on board of her were prisoners. Some, to make their escape from captivity, jumped overboard, and, no doubt, the most of those who were not recaptured, sealed their fate with a watery grave.

Captain Lee, a Pamunky Indian pilot, and George Smith, a volunteer pilot, with two other men, are the only ones out of the whole party, [444] which in the aggregate amounted to nearly one hundred and fifty, that escaped, except two others that were sent out the night before in a small boat to report the perilous situation of the force under Captain Lee. These men were picked up near the mouth of the James River, and taken on board the flag-ship of the navy that is stationed there. Their mission was to go up the Nansemond River to report to General Graham for reenforcements, but being detained, word did not reach him as soon as the exigency of the case required.

Captain Lee and those who escaped with him, five in all, walked about seven miles, when they fell in with the gunboats of General Graham going to their relief. They were taken on board of one of the boats, and reached Fortress Monroe last night about eight o'clock.

The gunboat Smith Briggs is a total wreck, and what remains of her is in the possession of the rebels. Nearly all our brave men who fought so valiantly are now prisoners. The most of them are supposed to be badly wounded. The number killed is not known, but must be very large. The rebels, too, must have suffered severely, as our men fought long, persistently, and to much effect.

It is surmised that, though the rebels were finally victorious, they lost at least three to our one in killed and wounded. The rebels greatly outnumbered us. They had a full regiment of infantry, one of cavalry, and a battery of artillery, while our whole force engaged did not amount to over one hundred and fifty men.

During the fiercest part of the shelling, two small navy boats came up, and were apparently about to render assistance to the army gunboat Smith Briggs, when their commanding officer was shot through the breast. They then immediately retired, as the officer was evidently badly wounded.

Our men cannot be too highly praised for their valor, and it is to be greatly regretted that they suffered so much. The boats that reconnoitred the Nansemond returned safely.

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