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NP: June 3, 1864 Kennebec Journal: The Rebel Torpedoes in James River

Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Bryce Suderow and is included in a collection of articles from the Kennebec Journal. His transcription of this article is published here with his written permission.


A private letter received from an officer of the iron clad Onondaga, dated “15 miles from Richmond, James River,” says:

The morning after leaving City Point [May 6, 1864]1 the pickets of Gen. [Quincy] Gilmore brought us down an old contraband, who said he knew all about the torpedoes between this and Fort Darling. So, after sending him to the Admiral, he was sent on the advance vessel under Captain Beaumont. When pretty near a point he showed them a tree where a torpedo had been hanging a few days before, and warned them not to go any further. The Commodore Jones, formerly a ferryboat, was hailed to stop, but the captain had either to go on or run ashore, and he chose the first, but his vessel was blown to pieces, and about seventy persons were killed and wounded. The vessel was turned completely from her course and her decks driven up. Very little noise was made, as the torpedo was fired by a galvanic current, but the rebel who touched off the battery was shot dead by a sailor from the Commodore Morris.

Shortly afterwards, First Assistant Engineer Young volunteered to look for more torpedoes, and after dragging a while pulled up a wire, which led to the shore, and then he dug away until he reached a clump of newly laid bushes, out of which popped a couple of rebel officers, who begged for their lives; and it was with great difficulty that he prevented his men from killing them. They were concealed in a box, with provisions, and had stakes leading to the beach, so as to know when a ship was in line, and then to make the galvanic current. He sent these two fellows off to the Admiral, and they have pointed out several other interesting localities. So much for the engineers.

It seems that we had passed a torpedo, so the old contraband was sent down in the Shoshone, formerly the Albany tug Young America, and while dragging for the machine, was attacked by a large rebel battery of flying artillery. Her steam pipe was broken, and there she lay at their mercy, and little of it did they show. All her men are gone, either killed or missing, except five, among whom is the chief engineer. He was terribly burned by the powder from a shell, and then the steam scalding him, he jumped overboard and was afterwards picked up. The men set fire to the vessel, and she burned until her magazine exploded, just a little below us; and I would like to know what became of the poor negro who was of so much service to us. I suppose they made short work of him. The Malvern, however, soon shelled them out and everything was quiet, except an attempt to board one of the “double-enders” last night, which was immediately repulsed.

– [Augusta Maine]2

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Commodore Jones was destroyed by a torpedo, as described in this article, on May 6, 1864.
  2. “The Rebel Torpedoes in James River,” Kennebec Journal (Augusta, ME), June 3, 1864, p. 2 c. 4
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