June 27th Report of Commander Rowan, U. S. Navy, Commanding U. S. S. Pawnee

Potomac River, June 27, 1861.

SIR: About sundown the evening of the 26th instant, while at anchor off Aquia Creek, I received an order from Commander Ward, a copy of which is herewith enclosed, to send him two boats, armed and equipped, in command of Lieutenant Chaplin. This order was immediately complied with in all its details and the party left the ship in tow of the Resolute at 9 o’clock p. m. To-day about noon the Resolute returned with a request from Captain Ward that I should send her back if I had no more important service for her. I immediately dispatched the Reliance to Captain Ward, knowing the danger to which our people would be exposed if he contemplated a landing at Mathias Point, as I feared was his intention, judging from the nature of the order he gave me to furnish him with such equipment as were necessary to out down the trees on the point and burn them. At 9 o’clock this evening the Freeborn and Reliance came up, having been repulsed by the rebels at Mathias 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 of Commander J. H. Ward of the Freeborn. He was shot in the abdomen while in the act of sighting his bow gun.

I beg leave to call the attention of the Department to the gallantry, coolness, and presence of mind of Lieutenant Chaplin, of the Pawnee, commanding the party on shore. He remained steady and cool amongst a perfect hail of musketry from hundreds of men, while he collected his own people and made good his retreat without leaving the enemy a trophy beyond a few sandbags and some axes and, so far as I can ascertain, the muskets of the wounded men. The last man left the shore with him, and not being able to swim to the boat with his musket, Lieutenant Chaplin took him on his shoulders, musket and all, and safely reached the boat without a scratch, save a musket hole through the top of his cap.

In consequence of the want of ordinary comforts in the Freeborn for wounded men, I brought the two wounded men belonging to that vessel, with those two of this ship, with the remains of the late commander. H. Ward, to the navy yard, Washington, where I now await orders.

I must also call attention of the Department to the bravery of John Williams, captain of the maintop of the Pawnee, who told his men while lying off in the boat that every man must die on his thwart sooner than leave a man behind, and when the flagstaff of his boat was shot away and the ensign fell, he, although suffering from a gunshot wound of the thigh, seized it in his hand and bravely waved it over his head.

A copy of the surgeon’s report of casualties is herewith enclosed. The wounded have been removed to the hospital. I also enclose copies of orders addressed to Lieutenant Lowry.

Lieutenant Chaplin’s report of the affair is not yet ready. When it is presented, I shall forward a copy for the information of the Department.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant-,

S. C. Rowan,
Commander and Senior Officer of the Potomac.

Secretary of Navy, Washington.


Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series I, Vol. 4. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896.