Report of Commander Parker, U. S. Navy.1
Norfolk, Va., January 31, 1865.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 26th instant.
When the rebel rams came down the river I ordered both torpedo boats to endeavor to destroy them, but they failed to do so. The reason assigned was unsatisfactory. The Spuyten Duyvil was in charge of Acting Second Assistant Engineer [C. H.] Stone, Mr. John L. Lay being absent in New York after shells and other apparatus. The steam picket cutter was in charge of Acting Master’s Mate [W. H.] Bolton and Second Assistant Engineer [W. F.] Fort, of the Onondaga.
I moved the Onondaga below the pontoon bridge because I thought there would be more room to maneuver the vessel, and to avoid the batteries bearing on Dutch Gap. The vessels now in James River are enough to capture the whole rebel fleet if they are within supporting distance, but this will leave several important points exposed. I regret very much that I did not receive your letter of the 26th instant before, in which case I should have remained at the obstructions, but I thought my chances of capturing the whole fleet would be increased by allowing them to come down the river to the bridge, where I intended to attack them. This decision I now think was wrong, and I beg your forgiveness for it. Only allow me one more chance to retrieve my reputation and your good opinion, and I shall be happy; one unfortunate mistake ought not to ruin the hopes of a whole lifetime.
I earnestly beg that you will grant me your protection and patronage and I shall be indebted to you forever, and I ask one more chance to save myself in your estimation.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Wm. A. Parker,
Rear-Admiral D. D. Porter,
Commanding North Atlantic Squadron.
Abstract log of the U. S. S. Onondaga.
January 23, 1865.— At 8:30 p. m. heard heavy firing in the direction of Fort Brady and Howlett’s battery. At 10:30 p.m. received a dispatch from the Signal Tower, stating rebel boats removing the obstructions in Trent’s Reach. Saw a rocket fired from our pickets ; went to quarters.
January 24. — All hands at quarters. At 1:20 a.m. beat the retreat. Heavy firing in the direction of Trent’s Reach. At 2:10 picket launch No. 4 and tug Alpha came down and reported rebel vessel below the obstructions. Tug Epsilon came down the river, went to quarters. At 3 hove up anchor and dropped down below the pontoon bridge in charge of pilot, got aground on the south bank, ran a hawser to the tug Alpha, who pulled us off. At 8:30 a.m. weighed anchor and went up river with tug Alpha helping us. Went up in company with gunboats Massasoit and Hunchback and torpedo boat Spuyten Duyvil. At 10:30 came to anchor in 5 fathoms off Sleepy Hollow. At 10:45 engaged two rebel rams, distant about one-half mile. At 11:10 one left and went up the river. At 12 the other left and went up out of range Fired from forward turret— 5 XV-inch solid shot, 3 8-inch rifle shot, chilled ends. From after turret— 5 XV-inch solid shot, 5 8 inch solid shot, 3 8-inch percussion shell. Hit the rebel rams several times. Spuyten Duyvil and tug Epsilon came alongside, got underway, dropped down to Aiken’s landing and anchored. Had our whaleboat and two dingeys stove in during the engagement with the rebel rams.
January 25.— Lieutenant-Commander H. C. Blake in command, temporarily. At 3 a.m. tug Alpha came alongside and reported that the Miami had anchored above the pontoon. Navy artillery firing near Fort Brady. The Hunchback reported the rebel rams moving up the river. All hands employed in stripping schooner ready to sink. From 4 to 6 p.m. heavy firing from Fort Brady and the rebel rams. At 8:10 p.m. the schooners for the obstructions were towed up the river. At 9 Mr. Hays returned, having sunk two army schooners in the obstructions.
January 26. — From meridian [i.e. noon] to 4 p.m. the rebel batteries firing on signal battery. Vice- Admiral Farragut came on board.
January 27. — At 11 p.m. the Eutaw‘s boat came down from the obstructions with rebel torpedo boat in tow.
- Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Volume XI, pages 655-657 ↩