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ORN Series 1, Vol. X: Letter from Acting Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, June 23, 1864

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

Letter from Acting Rear-Admiral Lee, U. S. Navy, to Lieutenant-General Grant, U. S. Army.

Flagship Agawam [sic, Malvern?]1,
James River, June 23, 1864.

Illustration of Howlett Battery and Trent's Reach in the London Illustrated News

Illustration of Howlett House Battery and the Union monitors at Trent’s Reach in the London Illustrated News.  (October 22, 1864 London Illustrated News)

General: In the engagement day before yesterday with the rebel battery at Howlett’s, in which their ironclads, out of view in a reach above, participated, we silenced one of the guns at Howlett’s, but expended a good deal of our heavy and expensive ammunition.

One of the monitors was injured by a X-inch solid shot from the battery at Howlett’s.2

The XV-inch gun has a short life, so far as it has been proved, and it is difficult to replace it in the turret of a monitor. We have to fire it at extreme elevation to reach Howlett’s battery, which increases the strain on the gun and breaks its long screws.

As it was arranged yesterday between Assistant Secretary Fox and yourself to increase the obstructions already placed by the army in Trent’s Reach, so that two monitors would be sufficient here for the present, leaving the Navy Department to withdraw the other two, one of which is now under orders for sea for more pressing service elsewhere, I respectfully suggest that the cheapest and most convenient control of rebel battery at Howlett’s, of Trent’s Reach, and its obstructions, and of Dutch Gap, would be by mounting a few heavy guns at the lower end of the reach. This would allow the ironclads to drop around the point, withdrawing a few hundred yards, where they could keep their hatches off in hot weather, whence they could in a few minutes return and engage the rebel ironclads, should they appear in the upper part of the reach or interfere with the obstructions.

Our naval resources would thus be reserved for their ironclads and not exhausted on their earthworks.

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

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

Lieutenant-General US. Grant, U. S. Army,
Commanding Forces in the Field.3


  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: I rarely comment on the Official Records, because they are almost always correct. In this case, the flagship is listed as Agawam, even though every other report, telegram and order from this time frame but one shows the flagship had shifted from Agawam to Malvern. Also, Lee sent several messages throughout June 21, 1864 from Malvern and listed her as his flagship.  So was this a typo, or did Lee switch flagships during an active fight? It seems pretty clear the reference to Agawam as the flagship was a typo, and Malvern should be listed instead, but I do not suggest corrections to the ORs lightly.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: Saugus is probably the monitor to which Admiral Lee is referring, though the Canonicus also suffered some damage.
  3. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 10, p. 184
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