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ORN Series 1, Vol. X: Report of Acting Rear-Admiral Samuel P. Lee, North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Regarding Obstructions for James River June 16, 1864

Report of Acting Rear-Admiral Lee, U. S. Navy, with enclosures, relative to the proposed obstruction of James River.

Flagship Agawam,
Farrar’s Island, June 16, 1864.


The Colonel Satterly and other vessels were used as obstructions in the James River at Trent’s Reach. (Library of Congress)

SIR: The Department’s dispatch of June 11, replying to my No. 325, enclosing the correspondence between General Butler and myself on the subject of sinking the vessels he had provided, wherewith to obstruct James River, and leaving action on the subject to my discretion, was received on the 13th instant.

I took no action on the subject.

I enclose copies of two dispatches received yesterday morning from General Butler, my reply to the last, and the instructions which I gave Commander Craven (Nos. 1,2,3,4).

Last evening I saw General Grant at City Point, who informed me that several days before his arrival here he had ordered General Butler to sink these obstructions, and that finding his order had not been received he had renewed it.

I understand that the army considers it a military necessity to make the river secure by every available means—as vital to the success of the campaign and the cause.

Sub-Assistant Bradford, of the Coast Survey, has, at my instance, been resurveying Trent’s Reach since his arrival, about the 6th instant.

His work shows 10 feet at low tide with 3 feet rise and fall, indicating that at the present stage of water, on a spring tide, with an easterly wind (which makes full tide in this river), the monitors, if lightened, may cross the bar.

The sunken vessels in the deepest water can be easily pumped out and removed. It would be very desirable to have an Andrews pump in a light draft steamer for this and other use in this squadron. I hope the Department will approve of purchasing one; also a dredging machine, which would be useful here in deepening the old artificial channel.

With this preparation we could, should the movements and policy of the army admit of it, be ready to cross this bar safely and cooperate. The pump boat and dredging machine, besides being useful for squadron purposes, would also be of good service at the Norfolk navy yard. Purchasing would be preferable to hiring the dredging machine at Norfolk.

I respectfully request the Department’s favorable consideration of this proposition. The expense will be inconsiderable, I suppose.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, yours,

S[amuel]. P. Lee,
Actg. Rear-Admiral. Comdg. North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Hon. Gideon Welles,
Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.



The Bureau of Yards and Docks has not an Andrews pump. A powerful pump is at the Norfolk navy yard, owned by contractors for raising sunken vessels, I believe, which could probably be hired at a high rate of compensation.

Bureau Yards And Docks, June 22, 1864. 

An old army dredge and two scows have been turned over to the Navy and now under repairs at Baltimore, to be sent to Port Royal. I do not know when they will be ready. The repairs are extensive and costly.

J. S.


[Enclosure 1.]

Signal Station, June 155 a. m.
(From General Butler’s Headquarters, June 15, 4 a. m.)

Can you temporarily spare a gunboat to aid in crossing of Grant’s army near Fort Powhatan? If so, please send one. I will send to-morrow, and with your aid put down obstructions in such spot as you may designate.

General Butler.

Acting Rear-Admiral Lee.


[Enclosure 2.]

Signal Station, June 159: 30 a. m.

I have just received the following from General Butler:

General Grant left here yesterday for Fort Powhatan. Tell the admiral that General Butler proposes to sink obstructions to-day, and will want his assistance.

Colonel Shaffer,
Chief of Staff.

General [Alfred H.] Terry.

Acting Rear Admiral Lee.


[Enclosure 3.]

Flagship Agawam, June 15, 186410:30 a. m.

General Terry: Commander Craven will in my absence give the engineer the assistance General Butler desires for sinking his obstructions.

S[amuel]. P. Lee,
Acting Rear-Admiral.


[Enclosure 4.]

Flagship Agawam,
James River, June 15, 1864.

Sir: I enclose a message just received from General Butler’s chief of staff, through General Terry.

In General Butler’s dispatch of the 2d instant he said that the point at which he desired to secure the river is the right of his line, near Curtis’s house, at the ravine.

I am going to Fort Powhatan. Give the army all the assistance it may ask, in securing its flank and communications, with engineering devices in the river.

Should you have any notice of the approach of the enemy (for which you will arrange a lookout), send a tug to bring up the Mendota and Hunchback.

Respectfully, yours,

S[amuel]. P. Lee,
Actg. Rear-Admiral, Comdg. North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Commander T[unis]. A. Craven,
U. S. S. Tecumseh.1

  1. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume X, pp. 149150
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