No. 13. Reports of Lieutenant Henry A. Pratt, First Connecticut Heavy Artillery, commanding Batteries Parsons and Wilcox, of operations January 23-24.1
BATTERY PARSONS, VA.,
January 28, 1865.
LIEUTENANT: I have the honor to forward the following report of the part taken by Batteries Parsons and Wilcox in the late engagement with the rebel rams:
About 10 p. m. January 23 intelligence was brought that one ram had passed the picket-line and that another was in sight. Owing to the extreme darkness they were not visible from my batteries until close at hand. One was so far down that my guns could not be brought to bear upon it. I therefore opened on the lower one with my mortar and on the river above with my 100-pounder. The lower one put out anchor at the instructions and began to clear a passage. I placed six men at the river edge to watch them. To annoy the working party, my spare men opened with musketry. Lieutenant Bergin, in charge of the mortar, fired thirty-one rounds at the obstruction; of these twenty-nine burst a few feet above the water, just over the obstructions two did not burst. At about midnight the first ram passed the obstructions, and was soon followed by a second. Meantime the fire from the 100-pounder continued, but owing to the darkness it was impossible to observe the effect. After an hour or two the rams returned and returned and proceeded a short distance up the river. Two other boats were reported as lying together under the Howlett Battery, landing troops on the left bank of the river. Both batteries continued their fire until morning – the mortar firing with long forces at the rams; the gun directing an occasional shell at the rams when their smoke revealed their position,
but mostly using case-shot to annoy the supposed landing party; solid shot were reserved for daylight. The night firing was very uncertain, as there was no means of correcting the range. It is probable that several shots from the gun may struck the rams, as they were heard to strike and richolet, and it was observed during the day that shots which struck the water did not richolet. During the night forty-four rounds were fired from the gun, fifty-five from the mortar – thirty-one at the instructions as before stated, the remaining twenty-four at the rams on their return from below. At daybreak I discovered that two rams and one wooden gun-boat were apparently aground on the left side of the James. The largest ra,m and the gun-boat were together, the boat partly behind the ram. Some 300 or 400 yards to the right was the smaller ram. I estimated the distance from Battery Parsons at about 1,500 yards. The rams were so situated that the line of fire from my battery was very far from perpendicular to their broadside; this caused the projectiles to easily glance off. As soon as the breach-sight could be used I opened with long percussion-shell, Sergeant Fox pointing the gun; the second struck the wooden beat, the third, forded at an elevation of four degrees, penetrated it, causing a magnificent explosion. As soon as the smoke lifted struck the ram with a percussion shell, which bounded off; we then tried solid shot; of six fired at the larger ram, one did not take the grooves, five struck it far. I then directed to fire at the smaller ram, Corporal Hunt pointing; of nine shots, one did not take the grooves, one went over, seven struck the ram. I then used long shell again, next short shell, last case-shot. Fired in all, after daybreak, from the 100-pounder, fifty-seven rounds. While firing the last fourteen the rams were in motion and the last disappeared as I fired my last round. Of the forty-three rounds fired at the boat and rams, while stationary, three did not take the grooves, four went, ten fell a little short, twenty-six struck fair. Of the fourteen fired while the rams were moving, four struck fair, ten fell short; probably nearly every shot would have struck the mark had I not been obliged to change the ammunition so many times; some which fell short struck the rams, I think, below their water line. I wished, if possible, to get under their armor. I deem the long shell superior in accuracy to the other ammunition, solid shot come next; out of thirteen solid shot which took the grooves, after daybreak, only one failed to strike the rams. Sergeant Fox struck them six times in succession, Corporal Hunt, five, with long shell and solid shot. During the forenoon twenty-five mortar shells were fired with long fuses – two struck a ram, others struck very close; the charge used was two pounds and upward. The engagement closed about noon, the t, the flood tide enabling the rams to float. The rebel land batteries opened on Battery Parsons with mortars, columbiads, and light pieces, about a dozen in number; the smaller ram fired one shot, the only one fired by the rebel navy. Officers on picket directly opposite the rams state that most of my shots glanced off, but that the armor of the rams was started and partially ripped off in a number of places.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. A. PRATT,
First Lieutenant, First Connecticut Artillery, Commanding Batteries Parsons and Wilcox.
Lieutenant T. J. BEERS,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLVI, Part 1 (Serial Number 95), pages 178-179 ↩