Report of Lieutenant Shepperd, C. S. Navy, commanding C. S. S. Fredericksburg.1
C. S. Ironclad Fredericksburg,
Off Chaffin’s Bluff, James River, January 25, 1865.
Sir: I have the honor to report that at 6:45 p.m. on the 23d instant, with the gunboat Hampton and the torpedo boat Hornet alongside of this ship, she proceeded down the river, followed by the rest of the squadron, according to instructions previously received.
Passing over and with safety the reported locality of all the torpedoes (36 in number) placed in the river by Lieutenant Kennon, and with the same success, through the ordeal of occasional artillery and almost incessant musketry Are, the ship arrived and anchored at 9 p. m. off Point of Rocks, Trent’s Reach, to wait the coming up of the other vessels of the squadron.
The rest of the squadron coming up, I got underway at 9:40 and proceeded in the direction of the obstructions below, and in obedience to your orders, anchored about 50 yards above them, while a passage was being sounded out, and a spar removed which extended from one of the hulks, at an angle of about 30 degrees across the passage.
A channel being found to exist between this and another hulk on the north side, but the spar not removed, I got underway and ran the ship through at 1:30 a.m. (24th instant).
In going through the passage, three of the ship’s outriggers on the starboard side were torn off by the spar above mentioned and nearly all on the port side by the upper hulk.
Both pilots and one or two officers of the ship concur in a statement that as we passed through they felt the ship strike something apparently underneath the water and observed pieces of timber come to the water’s edge close to the ship’s side.
To this may be attributed the fact that since that time the ship has leaked much more than previously, making between 2 and 3 inches of water per hour.
I think the leak is forward on the port side. After passing through the obstructions, anchored about 100 yards above the south mouth of the Dutch Gap Canal, head down the river. Anchored with a stern kedge. The Hampton followed and came alongside.
While at anchor an annoying mortar fire was directed at us by the enemy; only two shells struck the ship, doing no damage.
Finding that the rest of the squadron was not following me, I communicated with you and was pained to learn that the flagship and the Richmond were aground, and in obedience to your instructions I returned through the obstructions and anchored above Battery Dantzler, where the ship was occasionally fired upon by the enemy’s batteries, one shell striking upon the forecastle, cutting away the port cable.
About 11 a.m. I visited Battery Dantzler, and discovering a monitor and several smaller vessels of the enemy coming up I returned to the ship with a view of going to your assistance.
Upon getting on board the ship I discovered the Richmond coming up, and in obedience to the orders of Commander Kell I hove short and made every preparation to attack the enemy.
I received a similar order from you when the Virginia came up soon after; which order was countermanded on account of the falling tide.
In obedience to previous instructions (the flagship and the Richmond having proceeded down the river with the intention of executing the plans of the previous night) I was getting underway at 10 p.m., when I received orders from you to keep fast.
Under the unfortunate circumstances existing at the time on board the Virginia, it was decided necessary for the squadron to return to Chaffin’s Bluff; accordingly at 2:30 a.m. today I got underway and returned to this point in obedience to your orders.
The enemy fired upon the ship with musketry and artillery whenever she was in range.
The officers and men on board behaved remarkably well, all evincing the utmost zeal in the enterprise in which we were engaged.
I regret to be compelled to state that Pilot Lewis Parrish rendered but little service and was not, in my opinion, sufficiently cool under the fire of the enemy’s sharpshooters.
Pilot William Skinner (a brave and cool man) rendered important aid to Pilot Barnes in returning to this point this morning.
The advanced age of Pilot Parrish may be regarded as a partial excuse for his timidity under circumstances of danger.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
F. E. Sheppard,
Flag-Officer John K. Mitchell, Provisional Navy G. S.,
Commanding James River Squadron, Flagship Virginia.
- Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Volume XI, pages 677-678 ↩