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Doc. 105. Cushing's reconnoissance.

Beaufort, N. C., June 29, 1864.
One of the most daring reconnoissances made during the war has just been successfully achieved by Captain Cushing, of the gunboat Monticello. On the night of the twenty-fourth instant the captain took a first cutter, with fifteen men and two officers (Acting Ensign Jones and Acting Master's Mate Howard), and succeeded in passing the forts of the west bar at Wilmington, and started up the Cape Fear river. After a narrow escape of being run over by one of the rebel steamers plying the river, he passed the second line of batteries and continued his course until Old Brunswick was reached, where the rebels have a heavy battery, when he was halted and fired upon, but succeeded in passing unscathed, by feigning to pass down the river and crossing to the friendly cover of the oppsite bank. He then continued his course up the river. By this artifice the rebels were deceived, and signalized to the forts to intercept him as he came down the river, which they supposed was the direction taken.

At half-past 2 the next morning the captain had reached a point seven miles distant from Wilmington, where he caused the boat to be hauled on the banks and concealed from view by bushes and marsh grass. Day had now dawned, and it became necessary to select a place of concealment, which was found in the brush on the banks.

Soon after daylight the rebel steamers, block-ade-runners and transports, could be seen by the party plying up and down the river, and, in fact, the flagship of the rebel Commodore Lynch passed by, pennant flying, the distinguished gentleman entirely unconscious of the fact that [596] a rifle in a steady hand, could, and would, but for obvious reasons, have given him his quietus. Two blockade steamers of the first-class passed up and one down during the first twenty-four hours. When night had fairly set in, the captain prepared to launch his boat, when two boats rounded the point, and, he supposed, having discovered his position, they designed to attack him; but it proved to be a returned fishing party. The entire party were captured--eight in number. Compelling them to act in the capacity of guides, he proceeeded to examine all the fortifications, river obstructions and other objects of interest within three miles of Wilmington. Here he was compelled to pass through a creek running through a cypress swamp, for several hours, through grass eight feet high and immense cypress trees on each side, whose shadows cast a dark gloom, only exceeded by darkness.

By two o'clock that morning a road was reached, which proved to be a branch to the main road to Wilmington, and joining it at a point two miles distant. The party was here divided, ten being left to hold this road; and the captain, taking the remaining eight men, took position at the junction of the roads, one of which was the main. Several prisoners were here captured, but none of importance. At about eleven o'clock A. M., the rebel courier, with the mails from Fort Fisher and lower batteries, en route to Wilmington, whose approach was awaited, came duly along, and he, with his entire mail, was captured.

On examination this proved to be a prize of value, there being upward of two hundred documents, private and official, and many of great importance. The party, having thus far labored successfully, experienced the necessity for refreshment for the inner man, and accordingly Master's Mate Howard garbed himself in the courier's clothes, and, mounting the same worthy's horse, proceeded two miles to a store and purchased a supply of provisions with which he safely returned. The prices the mate thought exorbitant, but did not feel disposed, in his liberal mood, to haggle or beat down.

Shortly after more prisoners were captured, and all that was now required to add to the eclat of the achievement was to capture the courier and mail from Wilmington, whose advent was looked for at five P. M. The impatience of the party may be imagined when it is stated that the mail would contain the day's papers issued at Wilmington at one P. M., and our nomadic friends were anxious to obtain the latest news early.

The courier arrived slightly in advance of time, but one of the sailors having moved incautiously across the road, was seen by him, and taking alarm, he took to his heels at full speed. Captain Cushing, like Paul Duval, No. 2, awaited him on the road, with pistol cocked, put spurs to his horse and pursued for about three miles. But the courier speeded on like a whirlwind, and the captain being rather further from his base than he thought prudent, took to his line of retreat, and fell back in rapid but good order.

The telegraph wire leading to Wilmington was then cut for several hundred yards, and the party, with prisoners and spoils, rejoined the squad left with the boat, and, proceeding down the creek, reached the river about dark. The prisoners impeding the speed of the boats, measures were taken to dispose of them by depriving one of the fishing-boats of oars and sails and setting it adrift in the middle of the river, thus rendering it impossible for them to give the alarm until the tide floated them on some friendly bank. But while putting this plan into execution a steamer approached rapidly, and detection was only avoided by the party leaping into the water and holding on to the gunwales of the boat. The steamer passing, the prisoners and boat were sent adrift.

Nothing of interest occurred on the route down the river until a point between the batteries at Brunswick and Fort Fisher, when a boat was discovered making rapidly toward the shore. After an exciting chase she was overtaken, and her occupants, consisting of six persons, four of whom were soldiers, were taken on board, and the boat cut adrift. From them information was obtained that the rebels were on the qui vive, having boats posted at the narrow entrance between the forts to intercept the return. To understand the position of the party, it should be known that they were then but three hundred yards distant from two forts, and this on a moonlight night. Captain Cushing, on learning the rebels' designs, resolved to take a desperate chance of fighting his way through, supposing that, in case there were but one or two boats he might, by giving a broadside, escape in the confusion. On arriving at the mouth of the harbor he perceived, as he imagined, one large boat, which, wonderfully prolific, soon gave birth to three more, which were afterwards increased in number by five from the opposite bank. This completely blocked up the narrow entrance to the harbor. The helm was put hard aport to gain distance, and, seeing a large sail-boat filled with troops (seventy-five musketeers), at once decided that the only hope lay in outmanoeuvring them. The rebels, providentially, did not during this interval fire a shot, no doubt anticipating the certain capture of all. There being another means of entrance into the harbor (the west bar), the only possible hope was in impressing the rebels with the opinion that he would attempt that, the only remaining chance of escape. Accordingly, apparently making for this point, the rebel boats were drawn together in pursuit, when, rapidly changing his direction, the captain brought his boat back to the other entrance (the east bar), and, deeply loaded as she was (twenty-six in the boat), forced her into the breakers. The rebels, evidently foiled, dared not venture to [597] follow, and the guns of the batteries, which were pointed to rake the channel, were unprepared to inflict damage.

Captain Cushing has arrived safely, with his eight prisoners and mail. and can congratulate himself in having performed one of the most hazardous and daring feats of the war. His escape from this position of jeopardy is regarded by the navy officers as little short of miraculous, and the rebel prisoners have not yet recovered their amazement at the boldness of the feat.

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W. B. Cushing (5)
O. O. Howard (2)
Lynch (1)
Samuel Jones (1)
Paul Duval (1)
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June 29th, 1864 AD (1)
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