Off Aquia Creek, Va., June 2, 1861.
SIR: In obedience to an order received on the evening of the 31st ultimo, I proceeded immediately to join Captain Ward.
In passing down the river I was informed by Lieutenant Mygatt, of the steamer Reliance, that Captain Ward had gone 10 miles below Aquia Creek for the night. I continued down the river, passing the creek about 3 o’clock a.m. of the 1st of June. At 6 o’clock I joined Commander Ward. At 9 I stood for Aquia Creek in company with the Freeborn for the purpose of attacking the batteries. We arrived off the creek at 11 o’clock and at half past 11 we ran in, the Freeborn leading, being of a lighter draft than the Pawnee, while this ship kept just outside on her starboard quarter to avoid grounding. As we ranged up the enemy set fire to the buildings on the and of the railroad wharf and then opened his fire, which was promptly returned by us. Finding my 15-second shell fell short with all the elevation the ports admitted of, I ranged ahead of the Freeborn and edged in as near as I could, feeling the way with the lead till I got within range of the forts with the 15-second shell, when we opened a heavy fire. I held this position as long as possible, when the ship fell off against our exertions to keep her steady and [it] became necessary to round out into the river and approach a second time on the same tack. Having got the ship nearer than the first position and as near as was safe, with but 2 feet of water to spare, and to the northward and westward of the Freeborn, we opened a terrible fire from five 9-inch guns. The batteries were twice silenced under the weight of our fire, but resumed again when our fire ceased. The houses near the forts were destroyed and the southern end of the bridge set on fire by the shells.
The wind being from the southward the bridge was destroyed. The enemy’s fire was almost exclusively directed at this ship, his rifled shot passing constantly over and around us.
This ship was struck nine times during the bombardment, four of the shot in the hull, one of them, passing through the bulwarks, tore up the deck and was glanced on board by one of the iron straps. Of the shot that hit the ship above the hull one passed through the maintop-sail yard, another shattered the mizzenmast head and topmast, and another passed through the smokestack.
The cool and gallant bearing of the officers and crew excited my warmest admiration. Every man of the divisions performed his duties coolly and promptly and intelligently, showing the ship in a high state of training; to attain this end I have been ably seconded by the divisional officers, Lieutenant Chaplin and Master Blue, but above all by my able executive officer, Lieutenant R. B. Lowry, whose fine bearing on the occasion was everything I could wish.
I am happy to inform you that I have no casualties to report; the only scratch was one that I received on the face from a small splinter.
At 4:30 p.m., having expended all my 10-second and 15-second shell and the 38 rounds of ammunition for the rifled cannon and 155 hollow shot, I hauled off out of range.
As soon as I am relieved by Commander Ward it will be necessary to return to the navy yard for repairs and supplies.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. C. ROWAN,
Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
Secretary of the Navy
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series I, Vol. 4. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896.