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ORN XI: Report of Lieutenant Dunnington, C. S. Navy, commanding C. S. S. Virginia, on the Battle of Trent’s Reach, Jan. 23-25, 1865

Report of Lieutenant Dunnington, C. S. Navy, commanding C. S. S. Virginia, regarding the operations of that vessel.1

C. S. S. Virginia,
Off Chaffin’s Bluff, January 25, 1865.

Sir: In obedience to orders this vessel got underway at 7 p.m. on the evening of the 23d instant and took her position in the first order of battle and proceeded down the river with the squadron.

The gunboat Nansemond was lashed on port beam abreast of shield; the steamer Torpedo on starboard beam abreast of shield, and the torpedo boat Scorpion on starboard quarter. As soon as the ship was underway the crew was called to quarters and every preparation made tor action.

Deeming it advisable in passing the enemy’s batteries and pickets the guns were run and the port lids triced up, and all lights covered.

When just above Dutch Gap Canal, about 8:30 p.m., the steamer Torpedo grounded on south side and parted her lashings; the gunboat Nansemond was cut adrift and sent to her assistance.

At 10 p.m. the vessel had reached the head of Trent’s Reach, not having been hit by any of the enemy’s artillery.

At 10:40 p.m. anchored by a kedge from port quarter, while a boat was sent to make observations and cut away obstructions.

At 11 p.m. the Nansemond returned and was made fast on port beam.

About 12 the ship was found to have swung closer inshore and grounded; the kedge was immediately weighed and effort made to work off with the engine and use of gunboat Nansemond. Failing in getting the vessel off, the Beaufort was called to our assistance. All efforts to tow the ship off proving ineffectual, at 3:30 a. m. a kedge was taken out on starboard quarter, but came partly home when a Navy strain was brought on the hawser. In this condition it was decided to remain until the tide would enable us to get afloat.

January 24, about 12:30 a. m., the steamer Torpedo reported for orders.

At 7:30 a.m. received a shot on starboard side forward that started timbers on berth deck. Repaired the same as soon as possible.

At 8 a.m. pendant of starboard bow port was shot away. At 8:15 a.m. the pendant for port bow port was shot away. Repaired it, and triced up port again.

At 8:35 a.m. a heavy shell struck iron grating over gun deck, breaking it in and crushing timbers. Shored up timbers.

At 9 a.m. received a shot on starboard hawse pipe that loosened it.

At 9:15 a.m. exhaust pipe was shot away.

At 9:30 a.m. smoke came from shield deck. Water was thrown on and hose turned on it, which stopped the smoke.

At 9:35 a.m. the smokestack was hit by a shell. During all this time it had been frequently struck by fragments of shell and was completely riddled. Most of the stays were also carried away.

At 9:40 a.m. a heavy shot struck the ship, jarring her from stem to stern.

At 9:45 a.m. smokestack struck by another shot, and one struck shield forward that shook the vessel.

At 10 a.m. a heavy shot struck the knuckle forward on starboard side that broke off the iron.

At 10:10 a.m. smokestack struck twice.

At 10:15 a.m. struck by two shots, one hitting just over starboard bow port, the other over starboard broadside port.

At 10:17 a.m. smokestack, hurricane deck, and knuckle forward on starboard side all hit.

At 10:20 a.m. a shell struck and exploded in forward bow port, wounding one man.

At 10:20 three shots struck vessel in quick succession, one of which jarred the vessel from stem to stern.

At 10:30 a.m. a small shell struck starboard bow port, glanced inboard, struck starboard compressor of bow gun and exploded, wounding Lieutenant Mason, and 7 men slightly, filled gun deck with smoke. This shell passed entirely through starboard side of gun carriage before exploding. At 10:32 a.m. ship was found afloat, weighed the kedge; at 10:35 a.m. got underway, swinging ship. A heavy shell struck forward, glancing over shield and bursting near smokestack.

At 10:40 a.m. fragments of shell struck smokestack, two shells bursting over shield deck.

At 10:55 a.m. shell struck forward.

At 11:15 a.m. struck by a heavy projectile on port quarter, which broke the iron and crushed in the woodwork, bent stanchions inboard.

At 11:20 a.m. headed upstream.

At 11:30 a.m. a heavy shot struck on after part of shield between after center and port ports, breaking the iron and crushing the woodwork completely in, making a large hole through. One man was killed and 2 wounded by the concussion and splinters. Steamed up the river under heavy fire of the batteries and one monitor.

At 11:38 a.m. fired a second shell from the after gun at the turreted monitor.

At 12:15 p.m. came to anchor at Battery Dantzler, with starboard anchor.

Three men detailed from this vessel to go in torpedo boat Scorpion were blown overboard; two are still missing, supposed to have been killed. One was wounded, but swam to the ironclad Richmond. Up to this time the number of shots could not be noted, but the marks indicate upwards of seventy-two shots.

After anchoring at the battery, left quarters, cleared up ship, and landing the wounded and dead.

At 9:15 p.m. got underway in the second order of battle. At 9:40 p.m. rounded to, head upstream, about the head of Trent’s Reach, keeping the ship under steam in the same position.

The pilots reported the escape of steam from escape pipe so badly blowing over and around the pilot house that they could not see to steer the ship. Made an effort to repair it. Observed the enemy had lighted a large Drummond light that reflected up Trent’s Reach and on obstructions.

January 25.—At 2:45 a.m. steamed up river, went to quarters, ports triced up and guns run in.

As we steamed up river the enemy opened on us with heavy artillery and musketry, inflicting no damage.

Off Signal Hill two shots struck us, one from a light gun hitting the shield, and a very heavy one striking on port counter, jarring the ship greatly and knocking off the heads of a few bolts.

At about 5:30 a.m. the vessel grounded, upper part of Devil’s Reach. I immediately got a kedge ready to send out, but at 5:50 a.m. the ship swung off.

When passing obstructions in Kingsland Reach, the ship struck one of the obstructions.

At 6:45 a.m. came to anchor below Chaffin’s Bluff. The conduct of the officers and men has been all that could be desired. During the time we were under fire and receiving serious damage I found them all at their stations and cool and prompt in obeying orders.

I herewith enclose the surgeon’s report.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Lieutenant, Commanding.

P.S.—I neglected to mention that about 10:15 a.m. a double-turreted monitor, accompanied by a double-ender, made their appearance coming upstream. At 10:35 the monitor rounded to, head across stream, presenting broadside to us at a distance of 1 ,500 or 2,000 yards. The double-ender stopped a little below her. The monitor opened on us, and I am of the opinion that the two most damaging shots, one aft on port side of shield, and one between after port and port quarter port, were fired from the monitor.

J. W. D.

  1. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Volume XI, pages 674-676
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