Records of the Confederate Navy
Flag-Officer Franklin Buchanan, C.S. Navy
Naval Hospital, Norfolk, Va.,
March 27, 1862.
SIR: Having been confined to my bed in this building since
the 9th instant, in consequence of a wound received in the action of the
previous day, I have not had it in my power at an earlier date to prepare the
official report, which I now have the honor to submit, of the proceedings on
the 8th an. 9th instant of the James River squadron, under my command, composed
of the following-named vessels: Steamer Virginia, flagship, ten guns; steamer
Patrick Henry, Commander John R. Tucker, twelve guns; steamer Jamestown, Lieut.
Commanding J. N. Barney, two guns; and gunboats Teazer, lieut. commanding W.A.
Webb; Beaufort, Lieut. Commanding W.H. Parker; and Raleigh, Lieut. Commanding
J.W. Alexander, each one gun. Total, twenty-seven guns.
On the 8th instant, at 11 a.m., the Virginia left the navy
yard (Norfolk), accompanied by the Raleigh and Beaufort, and proceeded to
Newport News, to engage the enemy's frigates Cumberland and Congress, gunboats,
and shore batteries. When within less than a mile of the Cumberland the
Virginia commenced the engagement with that ship with her bow gun, and the
action soon became general, the Cumberland, Congress, gunboats, and shore
batteries concentrating upon us their heavy fire, which was returned with great
spirit and determination. The Virginia stood rapidly on toward the Cumberland,
which ship I had determined to sink with our prow if possible. In about fifteen
minutes after the action commenced we ran into her on her starboard bow. The
crash below the water was distinctly heard, and she commenced sinking,
gallantly fighting her guns as long as they were above water. She went down
with her colors flying..
During this time the shore batteries, Congress, and gunboats
kept up their heavy concentrated fire upon us doing us some injury. Our guns,
however, were not idle; their fire was very destructive to the shore batteries
and vessels, and we were gallantly sustained by the rest of the squadron.
Just after the Cumberland sunk that gallant officer
Commander John R. Tucker was seen standing down James River under full steam,
accompanied by the Jamestown and Teazer. They all came nobly into action and
were soon exposed to the heavy fire of shore batteries. Their escape was
miraculous, as they were under a galling fire of solid shot, shell, grape, and
canister, a number of which passed through the vessels without doing any
serious injury, except to the Patrick Henry, through whose boiler a shot
passed, scalding to death four persons and wounding others.
Lieutenant-Commanding Barney promptly obeyed a signal to tow her out of the
action. As soon as damages were repaired the Patrick Henry returned to her
station and continued to perform good service during the remainder of that day
and the following.
Having sunk the Cumberland, I turned our attention to the
Congress. We were some time in getting our proper position in consequence of
the shoalness of the water and the great difficulty of managing the ship when
in or near the mud. To succeed in my object I was obliged to run the ship a
short distance above the batteries on James River in order to wind her. During
all the time her keel was in the mud; of course she moved but slowly. Thus we
were subjected twice to the heavy guns of all the batteries in passing up and
down the river, but it could not be avoided. We silenced several of the
batteries and did much injury on shore. A large transport steamer alongside the
wharf was blown up, one schooner sunk, and another captured and sent to
Norfolk. The loss of life on shore we have no means of ascertaining.
While the Virginia was thus engaged in getting her position
for attacking the Congress the prisoners state it was believed on board that
ship that we had hauled off. The men left their guns and gave three cheers.
They were soon sadly undeceived, for a few minutes after we opened upon her
again, she having run on shore in shoal water. The carnage, havoc, and dismay
caused by our fire compelled them to haul down their colors and to hoist a
white flag at their gaff and half-mast and another at the main. The crew
instantly took to their boats and landed. Our fire immediately ceased, and a
signal was made for the Beaufort to come within hail. I then ordered
Lieutenant-Commanding Parker to take possession of the Congress, secure the
officers as prisoners, allow the crew to land, and burn the ship. He ran
alongside, received her flag and surrender from Commander William Smith and
Lieutenant Pendergrast, with the side-arms of those officers. They delivered
themselves as prisoners of war on board the Beaufort, and afterward were
permitted at their own request to return to the Congress to assist in removing
the wounded to the Beaufort. They never returned, and I submit to the decision
of the Department whether they are not our prisoners. While the Beaufort and
Raleigh were alongside the Congress, and the surrender of that vessel had been
received from the commander, she having two white flags flying, hoisted by our
own people, a heavy fire was opened upon them from the shore and from the
Congress, killing some valuable officers and men. Under this fire the steamers
left the Congress, but as I was not informed that any injury had been sustained
by those vessels at that time, Lieutenant-Commanding Parker having failed to
report to me, I took it for granted that my order to him to burn her had been
executed, and waited some minutes to see the smoke ascending from her hatches.
During this delay we were still subject to the heavy fire from the batteries,
which was always promptly returned.
The steam frigates Minnesota and Roanoke and the sailing
frigate St. Lawrence had previously been reported as coming from Old Point, but
as I was determined that the Congress should not again fall into the hands of
the enemy, I remarked to that gallant young officer Flag Lieutenant Minor,
"That ship must be burned." He promptly volunteered to take a boat and burn
her, and the Teazer, Lieutenant-Commanding Webb, was ordered to cover the boat.
Lieutenant Minor had scarcely reached within 50 yards of the Congress when a
deadly fire was opened upon him, wounding him severely and several of his men.
On witnessing this vile treachery I instantly recalled the boat and ordered the
Congress destroyed by hot shot and incendiary shell. About this period I was
disabled, and transferred the command of the ship to that gallant, intelligent
officer Lieut. Catesby Jones, with orders to fight her as long as the men could
stand to their guns.
The ships from Old point opened their fire upon us. The
Minnesota grounded in the north channel, where, unfortunately, the shoalness of
the channel prevented our near approach. We continued, however, to fire upon
her until the pilots declared it was no longer safe to remain in that position,
and we accordingly returned by the south channel (the middle ground being
necessarily between the Virginia and Minnesota, and St. Lawrence and the
Roanoke having retreated under the guns of Old Point), and again had an
opportunity of opening upon the Minnesota, receiving her heavy fire in return,
and shortly afterward upon the St. Lawrence, from which vessel was received
several broadsides. It had by this time become dark and we soon after anchored
off Sewell's Point. The rest of the squadron followed our movements, with the
exception of the Beaufort, Lieutenant-Commanding Parker, who proceeded to
Norfolk with the wounded and prisoners as soon as he had left the Congress,
without reporting to me. The Congress, having been set on fire by our hot shot
and incendiary shell, continued to burn, her loaded guns being successively
discharged as the flames reached them, until a few minutes past midnight, when
her magazine exploded with a tremendous report.
The facts above stated as having occurred after I had
placed the ship in charge of Lieutenant Jones were reported to me by that
At an early hour next morning (the 9th), upon the urgent
solicitations of the surgeons, Lieutenant Minor and myself were very
reluctantly taken on shore. The accommodations for the proper treatment of
wounded persons on board the Virginia are exceedingly limited, Lieutenant Minor
and myself occupying the only space that could be used for that purpose, which
was in my cabin. I therefore consented to our being landed on Sewell's Point,
thinking that the room on board vacated by us could be used for those who might
be wounded in the renewal of the action. In the course of the day Lieutenant
Minor and myself were sent in a steamer to the hospital at Norfolk.
The following is an extract from the report of Lieutenant
Jones of the proceedings of the Virginia on the 9th:
At daylight on the 9th we saw that the Minnesota was still
ashore, and that there was an iron battery near her. At 8 [o'clock] we ran down
to engage them (having previously sent the killed and wounded out of the ship),
firing at the Minnesota and occasionally at the iron battery. The pilots did
not place us as near as they expected. The great length and draught of the ship
rendered it exceedingly difficult to work her. We ran ashore about a mile from
the frigate, and were backing fifteen minutes before we got off. We continued
to fire at the Minnesota, and blew up a steamer alongside of her, and we also
engaged the Monitor, and sometimes at very close quarters. We once succeeded in
running into her, and twice silenced her fire. The pilots declaring that we
could get no nearer the Minnesota, and believing her to be entirely disabled,
and the Monitor having run into shoal water, which prevented our doing her any
further injury, we ceased firing at 12 o'clock I and proceeded to Norfolk. Our
loss is 2 killed and 19 wounded. The stem is twisted and the ship leaks. We
have lost the prow, starboard anchor, and all the boats. The armor is somewhat
damaged; the steam-pipe and smoke-stack both riddled; the muzzles of two of the
guns shot away. It was not easy to keep a flag flying. The flag-staffs were
repeatedly shot away. The colors were hoisted to the smoke-stack and several
times cut down from it. The bearing of the men was all that could be desired;
the enthusiasm could scarcely be restrained. During the action they cheered
again and again. Their coolness and skill were the more remarkable from the
fact that the great majority of them were under fire for the first time. They
were strangers to each other and to the officers, and had but a few days
instruction in the management of the great guns. To the skill and example of
the officers is this result in no small degree attributable.
Having thus given a full report of the actions on the 8th
and 9th, I feel it due to the gallant officers who so nobly sustained the honor
of the flag and country on those days to express my appreciation of their
To that brave and intelligent officer Lieut. Catesby Jones,
the executive and ordnance officer of the Virginia, I am greatly indebted for
the success achieved. His constant attention to his duties in the equipment of
the ship; his intelligence in the instruction of ordnance to the crew, as
proved by the accuracy and effect of their fire, some of the guns having been
personally directed by him; his tact and management in the government of raw
recruits; his general knowledge of the executive duties of a man-of war,
together with his high-toned bearing, were all eminently conspicuous, and had
their fruits in the admirable efficiency of the Virginia. If conduct such as
his (and I do not know that I have used adequate language in describing it)
entitles an officer to promotion, I see in the case of Lieutenant Jones one in
all respects worthy of it. As flag-officer I am entitled to some one to perform
the duties of flag-captain, and I should be proud to have Lieutenant Jones
ordered to the Virginia as lieutenant-commandant, if it be not the intention of
the Department to bestow upon him a higher rank.
Lieutenant Simms fully sustained his well-earned reputation.
He fired the first gun, and when the command devolved upon Lieutenant Jones, in
consequence of my disability, he was ordered to perform the duties of executive
officer. Lieutenant Jones has expressed to me his satisfaction in having had
the services of so experienced, energetic, and zealous an officer.
Lieutenant Davidson fought his guns with great precision.
The muzzle of one of them was soon shot away. He continued, however, to fire it
though the wood work around the port became ignited at each discharge. His
buoyant and cheerful bearing and voice were contagious and inspiring.
Lieutenant Wood handled his pivot gun admirably, and the
executive officer testifies to his valuable suggestions during the action. His
zeal and industry in drilling the crew contributed materially to our success.
Lieutenant Eggleston served his hot shot and shell with
judgment and effect, and his bearing was deliberate, and exerted a happy
influence on his division.
Lieutenant Butt fought his gun with activity and during the
action was gay and smiling.
The Marine Corps was well represented by Captain Thom, whose
tranquil mien gave evidence that the hottest fire was no novelty to him. One of
his guns was served effectively and creditably by a detachment of the United
Artillery of Norfolk, under the command of Captain Kevill. The muzzle of their
gun was struck by a shell from the enemy, which broke off a piece of the gun,
but they continued to fire as if it was uninjured. ,
Midshipmen Foute, Marmaduke, Littlepage, Craig, and Long
rendered valuable services. Their conduct would have been creditable to older
heads, and gave great promise of future usefulness. Midshipman Marmaduke,
though receiving several painful wounds early in the action, manfully fought
his gun until the close. He is now at the hospital.
Paymaster Semple volunteered for any service, and was
assigned to the command of the powder division, an important and complicated
duty, which could not have been better performed.
Surgeon Phillips and Assistant Surgeon Garnett were prompt
and attentive in the discharge of their duties. Their kind and considerate care
of the wounded and the skill and ability displayed in the treatment won for
them the esteem and gratitude of all who came under their charge, and justly
entitled them to the confidence of officers and crew. I beg leave to call the
attention of the Department to the case of Dr. Garnett. He stands deservedly
high in his profession, is at the head of the list of assistant surgeons, and
there being a vacancy in consequence of the recent death of Surgeon Blacknall,
I should be much gratified if Dr. Garnett could be promoted to it.
The engines and machinery, upon which so much depended,
performed much better than was expected. This is due to the intelligence,
experience, and coolness of Acting Chief Engineer Ramsay. His efforts were ably
seconded by his assistants, Tynan, Campbell, Herring, Jack, and White. As Mr.
Ramsay is only acting chief engineer, I respectfully recommend his promotion to
the rank of chief; and would also ask that Second Assistant Engineer Campbell
may be promoted to first assistant, he having performed the duties of that
grade during the engagement.
The forward officersBoatswain Hasker, Gunner Oliver,
and Carpenter Lindseydischarged well all the duties required of them. The
boatswain had charge of a gun and fought it well. The gunner was indefatigable
in his efforts. His experience and exertions as a gunner have contributed very
materially to the efficiency of the battery.
Acting Master Parrish was assisted in piloting the ship by
Pilots Wright, Williams, Clark, and Cunningham. They were necessarily much
It is now due that I should mention my personal staff. To
that gallant young officer Flag-Lieutenant Minor I am much indebted for his
promptness in the execution of signals; for renewing the flag-staffs when shot
away, being thereby greatly exposed; for his watchfulness in keeping the
confederate flag up; his alacrity in conveying my order to the different
divisions, and for his general cool and gallant bearing.
My aide, acting Midshipman Rootes, of the Navy; Lieutenant
Forrest, of the Army, who served as a volunteer aide, and my clerk, Mr. Arthur
Sinclair, jr., are entitled to my thanks for the activity with which my orders
were conveyed to the different parts of the ship. During the hottest of the
fight they were always at their posts, giving evidence of their coolness.
Having referred to the good conduct of the officers in the
flag-ship immediately under my notice, I come now to a no less pleasing task
when I attempt to mark my approbation of the bearing of those serving in the
other vessels of the squadron.
Commander John R. Tucker, of the Patrick Henry, and Lieuts.
Commanding J. N. Barney, of the Jamestown, and W.A. Webb, of the Teazer,
deserve great praise for their gallant conduct throughout the engagement. Their
judgment in selecting their positions for attacking the enemy was good; their
constant fire was destructive, and contributed much to the success of the day.
The general order under which the squadron went into action required that, in
the absence of all signals, each commanding officer was to exercise his own
judgment and discretion in doing all the damage he could to the enemy and to
sink before surrendering. From the bearing of those officers on the 5th I am
fully satisfied that that order would have been carried out.
Commander Tucker speaks highly of all under him, and desires
particularly to notice that Lieutenant-Colonel Callender St. George Noland,
commanding the post at Mulberry Island, on hearing of the deficiency in the
complement of the Patrick Henry, promptly offered the services of 10 of his men
as volunteers for the occasion, one of whom, George E. Webb, of the Greenville
Guards, Commander Tucker regrets to say, was killed.
Lieutenant-Commanding Barney reports every officer and man
on board of the ship performed his whole duty, evincing a courage and
fearlessness worthy of the cause for which we are fighting.
Lieutenant-Commanding Webb specially notices the coolness
displayed by Acting Master Face and Third Assistant Engineer Quinn when facing
the heavy fire of artillery and musketry from the shore while the Teazer was
standing in to cover the boat in which, as previously stated, Lieutenant Minor
had gone to burn the Congress. Several of his men were badly wounded
The Raleigh, early in the action, had her gun-carriage
disabled, which compelled her to withdraw. As soon as he had repaired damages
as well as he could Lieutenant-Commanding Alexander resumed his position in the
line. He sustained himself gallantly during the remainder of the day and speaks
highly of all under his command. That evening he was ordered to Norfolk for
The Beaufort, Lieutenant-Commanding Parker, was in close
contact with the enemy frequently during the day, and all on board behaved
gallantly. Lieutenant-Commanding Parker expresses his warmest thanks to his
officers and men for their coolness. Acting Midshipman Foreman, who accompanied
him as volunteer aide; Midshipman Mallory and Newton; captain's clerk Bain, and
Mr. Gray, pilot, are all specially mentioned by him.
On the 21st instant I forwarded to the Department correct
lists of the casualties on board all the vessels of the squadron on the 8th;
none, it appears, occurred on the 9th.
While in the act of closing this report I received the
communication of the Department, dated 22d instant, relieving me temporarily of
the command of the squadron for the naval defense of James River. I feel
honored in being relieved by the gallant Flag-Officer Tattnall.
I much regret that I am not now in a condition to resume my
command, but trust that I shall soon be restored to health, when I shall be
ready for any duty that may be assigned me.