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ORN XI: Report of Commander Kell, C. S. Navy, commanding C. S. S. Richmond, on the Battle of Trent’s Reach, Jan. 23-25, 1865

Report of Commander Kell, C. S. Navy, commanding C. S. S. Richmond.1

C. S. Steam Ironclad Richmond,
Off Chaffin’s Bluff, James River Squadron, January 26, 1865.

Sir: I have the honor to report to you that on the 23d instant, at 6:30 p. m., I, in obedience to order, got underway with the gunboats Drewry and Beaufort, lashed on either side abreast of shield, and torpedo boat Wasp towing on starboard quarter of Drewry, and took up position in squadron for steaming down the river in first order of battle; all hands were then called to quarters and ship cleared for action. To avoid drawing the fire of the enemy I had the battery run in, port shutters closed and rammer holes stopped up on board the gunboats and torpedo boat Wasp. I had all lights covered, and their crews lying close under the bulwarks. Near Battery Semmes I was hailed by the torpedo boat Scorpion, being aground. Dispatched the Wasp to her assistance. The Wasp returned, reporting she had hauled the Scorpion off. She was immediately after run into by her, carrying away her torpedo pole, thus disabling her for further service as a torpedo boat.* At 8:30 p.m. the enemy’s battery at Signal Hill opened on us, all of their shot passing over us, their pickets at the same time kept up a heavy fire of musketry. At 11:45 p.m. anchored in position with a kedge from the stern in 5 fathoms in Trent’s Reach, just above the enemy’s obstructions. Dispatched Lieutenant Read in the Beaufort’s boat to report to you for sounding the obstructions. Lieutenant Read returned with orders from you to send the Drewry to the assistance of the Torpedo, aground near Cox’s mill, which I at once did. Immediately after I ordered the Beaufort to cast off and take a towline from the Virginia, starboard quarter, in obedience to an order received from you. At this time, finding the current setting down strong, and swinging our stern on the north bank, I had a kedge taken out on the starboard quarter. Upon heaving it taut, found that the ship was aground, which I at once reported to you. The Drewry then came to my assistance, but in attempting to get her position got aground close on my port quarter. Every exertion to get her off proved unsuccessful, and the enemy’s batteries pouring in a heavy fire upon us of shell and shot, besides their mortar batteries throwing with great precision, I felt satisfied that at daylight the Drewry would suffer seriously without being able to return the fire. I therefore ordered Captain Wall to proceed on board and report to you his condition. He returned with instructions from you to be governed entirely by my orders. Deeming it proper, I at once abandoned her, taking her crew on board the Richmond. This was at 6:55 a.m. of the 24th instant. At 7:10 a.m. the Drewry was blown up; the shock felt on board the Richmond was terrific. I ordered the crew to keep silence and remain at their quarters, which was observed with prompt obedience, the officers and crew exhibiting great coolness and presence of mind. Up to 11:10 a.m, the ship was struck so constantly by shot and shell that it was impossible to keep account of the number — three times with heavy shot, causing decided shocks and knocking off the heads of bolts, with slight indentures in the shield near starboard bow port and starboard side of stern port. At 11:10 a. m. sprung the ship off by the kedges, and started the engines. When in deep water let go my port bow anchor to swing ship by. At 11:36 a. m. weighed anchor in obedience to your orders and proceeded up to Battery Dantzler for the Fredericksburg to return in company and engage the enemy. At this time a heavy shot struck us, carrying away the chain to stern port shutter. At 11:50 a.m. repaired the chain to port shutter, sent a portion of the crew of the Drewry to the Fredericksburg, with orders to her to proceed and engage the enemy, when I received your further orders to remain at anchor. At 10:15 p.m. I got underway in obedience to your orders to proceed down the river in the order of second line of battle. As we rounded the point at the head of Trent’s Reach, discovered the enemy showing a reflecting light of intense power up the reach. At 10:25 p.m. received orders to return to our anchorage. At 1:40 a.m. of the 25th instant got underway and took position in obedience to your order for steaming up the river. From 3 to 4: 30 a.m. we were under heavy fire of musketry, and in passing Signal Hill battery were struck twice with shell, one passing through smokestack and the other striking on starboard side of shield. At 7:30 a.m. came to anchor below Chaffin’s Bluff. The smoke pipe is much riddled by shell, all of the stays cut away, and the bars to starboard ventilator on shield deck carried away. I take pleasure in stating that the officers and crew behaved with the greatest coolness while exposed to the heavy fire from the enemy’s batteries, and their conduct throughout in the prompt obedience of orders meets with any highest approbation.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Commander, Provisional Navy C. S.

Flag-Officer John K. Mitchell,
Commanding James River Squadron.

*The Scorpion was disabled. See report of Lieutenant Read, p. 684.


  1. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Volume XI, pages 673-674
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