Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Brett Schulte.
OUR IRON-CLADS IN THE JAMES RIVER.
U. S. Iron-Clad “Onondaga,”
Dutch Gap, James River, Va.,
Dec. 11, 1864.
To the Editors of the Irish-American:
Gentlemen—Having completed our overhauling and repairing of machinery on Monday last [December 5, 1864], we got steam up that night and found everything satisfactory; next day we proceeded up the river to our old anchorage at the Gap [Dutch Gap], where we found before us the ironclads “Cannonicus,” [sic, Canonicus] “Saugus” and “Mahopac,” all single turreted monitors, which, with ourselves, comprise the fleet now here.—It was whispered around that on arriving at the Gap we were to make a combined attack on the enemy’s work at Howlett’s House, and above it on the river side. This was accordingly done, the monitors taking position as their names indicate above, while we lay astern of them under the “Crow’s Nest” signal tower, and directed our attention to the batteries above Howlett’s, the distance supposed to be about two thousand yards. At the appointed time we opened fire simultaneously, and continued pouring shot and shell into their works—as could be observed from the signal tower—for about four hours. We have not ascertained what damage was done, but, perhaps, may reasonably conclude that our work had the desired effect, and caused consternation among the “Johnnies,” if not creating vacancies at their mess tables. The bombardment for the time was short, sharp and vigorous, and I must say that we had not all the fun to ourselves, as they replied shot for shot, and manifested to the last convincing proof that they were “still there.” On our side there was some slight damage done to one or two of the monitors, but “nobody hurt.” The “Saugus” received a solid shot on her turret, having no more effect than making a slight indentation of about three inches; the “Mahopac” received about half a dozen taps on her turret, which, striking, glanced off, except one, going through the one inch flange plates on top of the turret, and passing harmlessly by the pilot-house. This goes to show, however, that the rebels can do some good shooting; and also settles the question of the fighting propensities of the monitors—let the torpedoes be cleared from the river, and Richmond falls in less than twenty-four hours. “That’s what’s the matter.”—Notwithstanding that we were as conspicuous as any other monitors, yet strange, we received “nary” [a] scratch. We are beginning to think there is some charm or supernatural spell about us; for we have lain here at the gates of Richmond, as it were, all summer, exposed to the rebel guns, and have had a brush, more or less, every day with our antagonists. Yet up to this they have not as much as touched us. But we have had, in the meantime, some narrow escapes. For instance, after the last engagement, when the retreat from quarters was sounded, we “lay up” on deck to view the scene after the battle, and while thus assembled forward of the turret in a group, a rebel shot came “whirling” and plunged in the river at our feet.—Then there was skedaddling at locomotive speed; and no wonder, for if it had a half foot more elevation, and had reached ten or fifteen feet farther. There would have been some widows made that evening, and not a few, at best, would have lost their appetites. Providentially, however, we came off with a slight sprinkling. My friend Thompson, being at the “head,” was more scared than hurt, as he beat a hasty retreat in good order, looking “pale, curious and genteel,” which caused some laughter at his predicament, eliciting from him the query, “What are ye laughing at?—do ye think a fellow is afraid of them things?” Well, nobody said he was; but we noticed he made himself scarce in that locality, and so we all did. The work on the [Dutch Gap] canal is progressing, but not finished, as is generally supposed, and the less said on the great national (!) undertaking the better. The weather during the fore part of the week was beautifully fine, representing the clear Indian summer, with bright moonlight nights, but towards the last of the week it changed into a bitter cold, accompanied with rain and sleet, which makes it very disagreeable and uncomfortable for our boys, who have to stand watch and keep a vigilant look out, inasmuch as the build of these ironclads affords no protection from the fury of the wind and weather. If the “stay at homes,” whose “voices are still for war,” would evacuate their comfortable firesides, and stand watch one night in this weather, my word for it the war would be finished in a short time. But no; protected by their breastworks of “greenback,” they “howl” for more victims to the national slaughter house, their hearts are callous to the sufferings of their fellow-creatures, who are not only ourselves exposed in the front, but the mental anxiety which prevails over us for the fate of our wives and “little ones” whom we have left behind to the mercy of the cold winter’s blast and the whims and caprices of an unforgetful and disinterested community, as some have shown, themselves to be. But, thank God, New York is not without her noble and patriotic people, which was so gloriously manifested to us on the late Thanksgiving festival, which will never be forgotten by the brave “defenders of the flag” on board the “Onondaga.”
Yours truly, GARRYOWEN.1
“Garryowen” of the USS Onondaga Series from 1864-65 New York Irish-American:
- NP: December 17, 1864 Irish-American (NY): Monitor Onondaga Engages Battery Dantzler, Nov. 29, 1864
- NP: December 24, 1864 Irish-American (NY): Four Union Ironclads Attack Battery Dantzler, Dec. 5-6
- NP: February 4, 1865 Irish-American (NY): Battle of Trent’s Reach from Deck of USS Onondaga, Jan. 23-24
- NP: July 9, 1864 Irish-American (New York, NY): The USS Onondaga in the Action at Howlett’s Bluff, June 21, 1864
- “Our Iron-Clads in the James River.” Irish-American (NY). December 24, 1864, p. 2 col. 5 ↩