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ORN Series 1, Vol. X: Report of Commander Enoch G. Parrott, USS Canonicus, June 21, 1864

[Engagement of Federal fleet with Confederate ironclads and shore batteries at Howlett’s, June 21, 1864.]

[Enclosure 4.]

U. S. S. Canonicus,
James River, Virginia, June 24, 1864.

Image of US monitor Canonicus taking on coal from a schooner on the James River

USS Canonicus, picture here with a schooner supplying her with coal, took hits to her smokestack and deck on June 21, 1864 during the Action at Howlett’s Bluff. (Library of Congress)

Sir: On the 21st instant, near noon, the rebels unmasked near Howlett’s a battery of four guns, whose completion we had been for some time endeavoring to prevent or retard by occasional shots, and opened a fire upon us and the vessels in our vicinity, which was kept up until dark. They had a large smoothbore, a large rifle, and two smaller guns. As soon as they commenced unmasking, we opened on them with our two XV-inch guns, firing rapidly at first, but afterwards only occasionally, to economize ammunition.

One of their guns was dismounted by a shell from the ironclads, and another shell was seen to traverse an embrasure, but the distance, 2,200 yards, was large for firing at single guns.

We were struck twice. The effect of these shot is described in the accompanying report of Chief Engineer Macomb. The injury is slight. We fired forty shells with 35-pound charges. Everything stood well about the guns and gun carriages. The rebel ironclads came down the river, but not in sight, and opened upon us a random fire, over the trees, which hit nothing, and which, I believe, was not noticed.

The batteries have since continued silent and their guns are again masked.

I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,

E. G. Parrott,

Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee,
Commanding North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.



U. S. Ironclad Steamer Canonicus,
James River, June 23, 1864. 

Sir: In obedience to your order, I have to make the following report in relation to the effect and position of the shot upon the deck and smoke pipe (they being the only parts struck) of this vessel:

The indentation in the deck plating was made by a solid shot from a 7 or 8 inch rifle gun, as the groove from the rifle can be plainly discerned upon the plating. The position on the deck of the place struck is 45 inches from the side of the vessel, being 40 inches from the outside of bulwark timbers, the shot striking nearly in the center of an 18-inch by 12-inch beam, where three beams of 12 inches by 12 inches, 18 inches by 12 inches, and 12 inches by 12 incites are bolted together, 6 feet forward of the center line of smoke pipe, and in a line with starboard main boiler, but not over it, being just between the line of hull proper and the boiler. There are two deck plates injured, as the shot struck where they butted, the indentation extending fore and aft 25 inches, 7 ½ inches athwartships, and 1 ½ inches deep in the center. There are six slight fractures in the plates, five in one and one in the other. There were 38 deck plate bolts loosened in the two plates, from slightly loose to three-eighths of an inch up from deck, but these were driven down again by a slight blow from a sledge. There are no perceptible fractures of the beams, or starting of bolts in the beams, or planking underneath the deck. The plate iron of deck seems to be of good quality, or else I judge it would have been fractured much more than it is. The deck under the plating where it has been struck does not leak.

The shot hole through the smoke pipe is about 8 ½ inches in diameter, the shot passing through both sides about 2 feet from the top or upper edge, being 22 ½ feet from the deck. The fragments which were detached from the hole on front side were driven with such force that they went through the other side of the pipe, making three ragged holes about 2 feet from the shot hole in the port side. The upper tier of pipe is made of quite thin iron, only full one-eighth inch thick, and was put up merely to prevent water from coming down while at sea. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

David B. Macomb,
Chief Engineer, U. S. Navy.

Commander E[noch]. G. Parrott, U. S. Navy,
Commanding U. S. Ironclad Canonicus.1

Map of the June 21, 1864 Action at Howlett's Bluff

This map shows the June 21, 1864 Action at Howlett’s Bluff, covered in this report by Rear Admiral Lee.


  1. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, pp. 182183
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