May 31st Report of Commander Ward, Commanding Potomac Flotilla

Off Aquia Creek, Potomac, May 31, 1861.

SIR: My immediate commanding officer (Flag-Officer Stringham) not being present to receive it, I communicate directly to the Department the report of a serious cannonade made by this vessel, supported by the Anacostia and Resolute, steamers, upon the batteries at Aquia Creek this morning.

After an incessant discharge, kept up for two hours by both our 32-pounders, and the expenditure of all the ammunition suitable for dis­tant firing, and silencing completely the three batteries at the railroad terminus, the firing from shore having been rapidly kept up by them until so silenced, and having been recommenced from the new batteries on the heights back, which reached us in volleys, dropping the shot on board and about us like hail for nearly an hour, but fortunately wounding but one man, I hauled the vessels off, as the heights proved wholly above the reach of our elevation.

Judging from the explosion of our 10-second shell in the sand batteries, two of which were thrown by the Anacostia, it is hardly possible the enemy can have escaped considerable loss. Several others of the Anacostia’s shells dropped in the vicinity of the battery.

I can not speak in too high terms of the officers and men, whose cool­ness and activity under great exposure are beyond praise. As the former are all acting, having volunteered from civil life, none but myself being of the Regular Navy, I beg leave to ask for them a favorable consideration by the Government.

The long 32-pounder in use is of the old pattern cast in 1819, and cannot be excelled in precision.

Both the guns are on carriages of the new construction, devised by myself, and answered admirably, working with such ease that the crews came out of action wholly unfatigued. In the extreme sweep of 140° which these carriages have, together with their ease and rapidity of movement, enabling the vessel to constantly change position, yet keep up accurate fire, which impaired the enemy’s range and direction–he firing always with rifled cannon–is to be materially attributed our escape without loss of life or damage to the vessel or machinery. The men say they are as free from fatigue as when they entered action.

We cannonaded for an hour before the same batteries the day before yesterday, but the tide being out, neither party reached with any con­siderable certainty.

I doubt if it is possible to reduce the batteries now established on the heights from ships; nor is it at all important, considering that they are remote from the ship channel of the river and command only the railroad terminus.

Yesterday I landed in person with Acting Master Budd and Master’s Mate Lee and a small party of seamen and made a most minute explora­tion, extending over the whole of Mathias Point. I am therefore able to speak with ocular certainty and to say that not a sign of a move­ment, the cutting of a sapling, driving a stake, or casting a shovelful of earth toward the erection of a battery exists. The jungle is very thick, but we penetrated a belt of it 300 yards wide from the shore and 3 miles in length, assuring ourselves of the facts as stated in this report.

I have especially to ask for the steamers Reliance and Resolute, of the flotilla, each a small rifled cannon in addition to the smoothbored gun with which they are provided. For the want of a rifled gun in them I was obliged to forbid their coming closely under a fire to which they could not reply with even an approximate effect.

Lieutenant Commanding N. Collins, of the Anacostia, will make his own report.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,

Commander, U.S. Navy, Commanding Flotilla.

Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.


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