U. S. STEAM SLOOP PAWNEE,
Washington, D.C., June 28, 1861.
SIR: In obedience to your orders of the 26th instant, I took charge of the first and third cutters, with twenty-three men, and went to the Reliance to be towed to Nanjemoy to report to Captain Ward, of the Freeborn. Not finding her that night, anchored at Nanjemoy, and yesterday morning proceeded to Mathias Point and discovered the Free born some 4 or 5 miles below. I immediately went to her and reported to Commander Ward for Service.
The Freeborn then stood up for Mathias Point, and on arriving there threw shot, shell, and grape into the woods near where we were to land. About 10 [a.m.] 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 300 yards from the boats discovered the enemy’s pickets, who fired and retreated. My men followed them for a short distance and fired on them. I then discovered the enemy coming toward me over the brow of a 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 lie off while he went on board his vessel and fired into the bush again. After some fifteen minutes’ firing I was ordered to land again and throw up a breast work of sandbags. I sent out four men as pickets and commenced the work, and at 5 [p.m.] 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 to leave when the enemy opened on us with muskets at a distance of 250 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 on the beach till 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 flagstaff shot away, and nineteen holes through the flag.
I am sorry to report that two of my men were seriously injured: Williams, captain maintop, musket ball in thigh; William J. Best, ordinary seaman, wounded in four places, the hand, the arm, the leg, and body.
I cannot speak in too high terms of the gallantry of my men, and particularly of John Williams. Though wounded he retained charge of his boat, and when the staff was shot away held the stump in his hand with the flag till we got alongside the Freeborn, when I learned of the injury to Commander Ward and also to several of his men. Commander Ward not being able to give any orders, and with the advice of the surgeon, started for the Pawnee for medical aid, where I arrived at 9 last evening.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. C. CHAPLIN,
Lieutenant, U. S. Navy.
Commander S. C. ROWAN, U.S. Navy.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series I, Vol. 4. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896.