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Fight with gunboats at Mathias point.

Report of Colonel Rugoles.

Headquarters Mathias point, June 30th, 1861.
To First Lieutenant H. H. Walker, A. A. Adjutant General C. S. A.:
Sir,--I had the honor to transmit, on the night of the 27th inst., a field report of the conflict with the enemy during that day and now transmit one more in detail.

On the 25th instant I communicated in general terms information of the repeated attempts made by the enemy to land men under the fire of his ships' guns, in which he was in one or two instances, in a measure, momentarily successful.

In the midst of this cannonade I came upon the field of action, and found the condition of things so complicated that I deemed it expedient to direct the forces in person, with the view of contributing, so far as my experience might enable me to do so, to successful results.

The bombardment closed about 1 o'clock, leaving on my mind an impression that the intention of the enemy was to accustom his men to land under the protection of his guns and that soon we should have a practical demonstration of such design. [497]

On Thursday morning, the 27th inst., the reappearance of the enemy's war steamer Freeborn, attended by two tugs with three boats lowered and one large launch, indicated an intention not already realized.1

These steamers, having anchored near Grymes's Point, about 1 o'clock P. M. commenced firing on our pickets, indicating an intention to land, which was soon effected by some fifty men, driving our pickets from the coast contrary to our reasonable expectation. Reinforcements were immediately sent, under a field officer, to meet the enemy. A few moments afterwards report was brought by a mounted scout that he was in the act of landing artillery on our coast. I then ordered the entire force under arms and directed in person the movements of some four companies along Grymes's Point, an elevated coast range, constituting the key to our position, commanding the point on which the enemy had landed, over which shot, shell, schrapnell and stands of grape were thrown in profusion, with a degree of skill and precision with which I had seldom met, sweeping our entire line of march.

While advancing down the coast range I received information that the enemy had taken possession of the pine forest, on a point below the place of his landing, and that he was actually establishing a battery for his guns already on shore.

As it was inexpedient to cross the low, open country, extending some five hundred yards, between Grymes's Point and the timber in question — especially under the then sweeping fire of the enemy's guns, involving the prospect of serious loss — I directed Colonel J. M. Brockenbrough, Fortieth regiment Volunteers,2 who was with me, to proceed to the forest on our right, leading to the Point, and direct the march of the two remaining battalions, then held in readiness, under Lieutenant-Colonel R. A. Claybrook and Major R. M. Mayo, and drive the enemy from the forest towards the point to which we were then marching with the forces on the left. In advancing I soon afterwards encountered three of the enemy's scouts, who sought shelter in a small skirt of underbrush, and we abstained from firing on them, as it would have precititated the retreat of the enemy from the forest before Colonel [498] Brockenbrough's force could have engaged him there, by which means he would have effected his escape unpunished.

About 6 o'clock P. M. Colonel Brockenbrough opened fire on the enemy, apparently retreating to his boats, but in reality returning to the steamers to carry a howitzer battery on shore, and drove him in confusion into his boats and the river. A brief skirmish ensued, in which several of the enemy fell and were supposed to have been killed and wounded. During the conflict the fire of our men was turned upon the steamer Freeborn, as well as upon the boats, which were pushed off with precipitation and alarm.3

The attack was made by Major R. M. Mayo, with Gouldin's company of Sparta Grays, under First Lieutenant Saunders, and Lee's Legion of Cavalry, under First Lieutenant R. L. T. Beale, belonging to his battallion, and terminated before the troops concentrating became generally engaged.4

There was every indication that the enemy suffered a severe loss, while on our part we met with none.

We captured------spades and------axes, and some two hundred and fifty sand bags, and a large coil of rope, with some arms and equipments.

I have great pleasure in expressing my satisfaction with the excellent conduct of the troops I have had the honor to command.

Major R. M. Mayo, First Lieutenant William H. Saunders, Second Lieutenant A. G. Dade, and First Lieutenant R. L. T. Beale are entiled to separate notice.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Daniel Ruggles, Colonel Provisional Army, Commanding.
Note.--Mr. Robert T. Knox accompanied me as a volunteer aid de camp during the above reported conflict.

The subjoined memoranda from the official reports of the naval commanders of the Federal gun-boats illustrate the nature and results of the conflict.

Lieutenant J. C. Chaplin, U. S. N., on the 28th of June, 1861, reported [499] to Commander S. C. Rowan, U. S. N., that “in obedience to his orders of the 26th instant, I took charge of the First and Third cutters (belonging to the steamer Pawnee, and which were thoroughly armed and equipped,)” with twenty-three men, “towed by the “Reliance,” to report to Captain Ward, of the Freeborn, * * and yesterday morning he found the Freeborn some four or five miles below Mathias's Point, and there reported to Captain Ward. Lieutenant Chaplin continues as follows:” The Freeborn then stood up for Mathias's Point, and on arriving there, threw shot, shell and grape into the woods near where we were to land. About ten the landing was effected, my party under the charge of Commander Ward, who landed with me. I threw my men out as skirmishers, and on getting about three hundred yards from the boats, discovered the enemy's pickets, who fired and retreated. My men followed them a short distance, and fired on them. I then discovered the enemy coming towards me over the brow of the hill, and judged there were some four or five hundred men. I went back to Commander Ward and reported, when he ordered me to take to the boats and lay off, while he went on board of his vessel and fired into the brush again. After some fifteen minutes firing, I was ordered to land again and throw up a breast-work of sand-bags. I sent out four men as pickets and commenced the work, and at five, had nearly completed it, when the signal was made for me to return. I sent everything to the boats, and with seven or eight men, covered the bags with limbs, that the enemy might not distinguish it from the dense thicket near, and was about leaving, when the enemy opened on us with muskets at a distance of two hundred and fifty yards, and for some reason, the “Freeborn” did not open on the place with her heavy guns to cover my retreat. I sent all my men in the boats, and stayed until I had counted and found they were all safe. By this time the boats had drifted some distance out, and rather than bring the men any nearer, swam to the third cutter and pulled off to the “Freeborn.” My boat was riddled with shot, the flag-staff shot away and nineteen holes through the flag. He also states, that when he reached the “Freeborn” he learned of the injury to Commander Ward, and also to several of his men. June 27th, 1861, Commander S. C. Rowan, U. S. N., of the “Pawnee,” reports to the Secretary of the Navy, a specific outline of the movement against Matthias Point. He states that, “at 9 o'clock this morning the ‘Freeborn’ and ‘Reliance’ came up, having been repulsed by the Rebels at Matthias Point, in which Lieutenant Chaplin and his command escaped utter destruction by a miracle.” * * * It becomes my painful duty to announce to the Department the death [500] of Commander J. H. Ward, of the “Freeborn.” He was shot in the abdomen while in the act of sighting his bow-gun.

Surgeon Gunnell reported Commander Ward killed, two men dangerously, and two men severely wounded.

1 I had previously applied to General T. H. Holmes for one of the three batteries of field guns, which I had organized, without obtaining it. These batteries were held in anticipation of a more formidable demonstration from the enemy.

2 Some companies were then assembled, but the Fortieth regiment had not been organized, except on paper, and all troops were undisciplined.

3 Then with a battery of field guns the enemy would have been crushed as well as defeated.

4 The Sparta Grays were armed with Sharpe's rifles, and all the other troops with old pattern flint-lock muskets and old sabres.

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