Flag-Officer Lynch, C. S. Navy
Commanding naval defenses of North Carolina and Virginia
February 18, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to report that the enemy on the 7th instant, at 10:30 a.m., made an attack upon the squadron under my command and the battery at Pork Point, Roanoke Island. His force consisted of from 80 to 100 sail, of which 22 heavy steamers and 1 tug constituted the attacking force. This last division was again subdivided, one portion assailing us and the other the battery; but whenever we approached too near, the fire of the whole, except two or three close inshore, would be concentrated upon us. As his force was overwhelming, we commenced the action at long range, but as our shells fell short, whilst his burst over and around us, we were eventually compelled to lessen the distance.
The fight lasted continuously until 5 p.m., when the enemy withdrew for the night. The soldiers in the battery sustained their position under a terrific fire with a gallantry which won our warmest admiration. At times the entire battery would be enveloped in the sand and dust thrown up by shot and shell, and yet the casualties were only 1 man killed and 3 wounded. The earthwork, however, was very much cut up, but doubtless repaired during the night. I deem it proper to say thus much of the battery, because, in all probability, this communication will reach you before intelligence is received from the appropriate official source.
Repeatedly in the course of the day I feared that our little squadron of seven vessels would be utterly demolished, but a merciful Providence preserved us. Master Commanding Hoole, of the Forrest, received a wound in the head which was at first pronounced serious, if not mortal, but I trust that this promising young officer, who so bravely fought his ship, will be spared to the service. Midshipman Camm, acting as executive officer of the Ellis, had his left arm shot off, and the right arm of Seaman Ely, of the Curlew, was fractured. These, with three others slightly wounded, constitute the sum of our personal casualties. Our physical ones were serious. About 2:30 p.m. a heavy shell perforated the deck of the Curlew, passed through the magazine, and, driving out one of the iron plates of which her bottom consists, caused her to fill so rapidly as to make it necessary to run toward the shore, near which she sunk. About the same time the Forrest was disabled by the displacement of her propeller. We received other injuries from shot and shell (one of the latter passing through the flagship, but above the water line), but none of a serious character.
With the exception of the vessels named, we could have been prepared for action the ensuing day,if we only had ammunition; but I had not one charge of powder nor a loaded shell remaining,
and few of the other vessels were better off. In common prudence, I should, perhaps, have reserved some for contingencies, but the battery was so sorely pressed that I felt bound to annoy its assailants as much as possible. During the latter part of the engagement, when our ammunition was nearly exhausted, I sent to the upper battery for a supply, but ten charges were all that could be spared.
While recovering the rifled gun and other articles of value from the wreck of the Curlew, I sent Lieutenant Commanding Parker with the Beaufort to the upper battery with a note for the intention to proceed to Elizabeth City, 35 miles distant, for a supply, and return immediately.
I felt sure that Pork Point battery could hold out, and earnestly hoped that, profiting by the mistake at Hatteras, the enemy, who had landed on a point of marsh, would be attacked and defeated during the night. With this conviction and in this hope, with the Forrest in tow, I proceeded with my little squadron to Elizabeth City for ammunition, but finding only a small quantity there, dispatched Commander Hunter express to Norfolk for it.
There were reasons for retiring on Norfolk, had I known that very little ammunition could be procured at Elizabeth City. But even had I known it, the desertion of that town, situated near the head of the Dismal Swamp Canal, would have been unseemly and discouraging, more particularly as I had urged the inhabitants to defend it to the last extremity.
In the conflict of the 7th instant Commander Hunter, Lieutenants Commanding Cooke, Parker, and Alexander, and Masters Commanding McCarrick, Tayloe, Hoole, and Harris bravely sustained the credit of the service, and the other officers and most of the crews of the vessels were scarce less zealous than their commanders. To Commander Hunter and Lieutenants Commanding Cooke and Parker I am particularly indebted.
Lieutenant Commanding Simms was absent on detached service, and only returned at the close of the conflict, but exhibited such an eagerness to participate as to give assurance that if gratified he would have upheld his high reputation. .
Having procured fuel and ammunition sufficient for two steamers, I left Elizabeth City in the Sea Bird, with the Appomattox in company, on the 9th instant for Roanoke Island with the purpose of rendering what assistance we could. At the mouth of the river we met a boat, from which we learned that our forces on the island had capitulated. We then continued on in the hope of rescuing the men stationed at the Croatan floating battery, but were forced to retire upon the appearance of a division of the enemy's fleet, steering toward the river.
Immediately upon our return I sent an express to General Henningsen and distributed the ammunition between the Sea Bird, Ellis, Appomattox, Beaufort, Fanny, and the schooner Black Warrior, the gunboats forming in line of battle abreast across the river, a little above the fort, and the schooner moored parallel with and close to the eastern shore, opposite to Cobb's Point battery, the latter consisting of four smooth-bored 32-pounders. The Curlew, our largest steamer, had been sunk during the engagement off Roanoke Island: the Forrest was on the ways in Elizabeth City, undergoing repairs, and the Raleigh I had the day before sent up the canal to expedite forwarding ammunition from Norfolk. Shortly after daylight on the 10th the enemy appeared in sight, and it was reported by the lookout that he was landing troops below. I immediately went to the battery to arrange for its defense, and found it ungarrisoned, in charge of a civilian and seven militiamen. As the battery was our principal reliance, and the enemy must pass it before reaching the gunboats, I determined to defend it in person, and sent for Lieutenant Commanding Parker, of the Beaufort, to bring on shore his ammunition, officers, and crew, leaving only sufficient of the latter to take that vessel up to the canal. We at first manned three of the guns with the aid of the militiamen, but they speedily deserted, and we fought with only two 32-pounders.
The enemy advanced very boldly and, contrary to my expectation, instead of taking position as he did at Roanoke Island for the purpose of shelling out the battery, he continued to press on; in one hour and five minutes succeeded in passing it, and, with full complements of men, closed upon our half-manned gunboats. The commanders of the latter were instructed, when their ammunition failed, to escape with their vessel if they could; if not, to run into shoal water, destroy the signal books, set fire to the vessels and save their crew's.
The Appomattox succeeded in making her escape; the Sea Bird was sunk in the action; the Ellis was overpowered and captured, and the Fanny ran aground and set on fire by her commander, who brought her crew safely ashore.
By the capture or destruction of the gunboats the enemy gained positions to enfilade the battery (the guns of which could no longer be brought to bear), bringing the magazine in their line of fire, and as further resistance would have availed nothing, the town being at their mercy, the guns of the battery were carefully spiked and the officers and men deliberately withdrawn.
The Forrest, in obedience to my orders, was burned by her officers before leaving Elizabeth City; the Ellis was captured; the Beaufort, Raleigh, and Appomattox escaped; the Fanny was set on fire and blew up; and the flagship was sunk, so that of our little squadron of gunboats, the Ellis (next to the Forrest the most indifferent one) alone fell into the hands of the enemy. Of casualties, I regret to say that Acting Midshipman Jackson and 1 seaman of the Ellis, and Seamen Ballance and Bragg of the Sea Bird, were killed, and 1 seaman of the Ellis and Third Assistant Engineer Henderson and 4 seamen of the Sea Bird were wounded.
The officers exhibited great gallantry, but were not universally sustained by their men, for some of them, being raw recruits, shrunk from a hand-to-hand encounter with a greatly superior force. Until better informed I can not particularize the conduct of the officers afloat, but will do them full justice in a future communication.
Lieutenant Commanding Parker, Acting Master Johnson, and Acting Midshipmen Gardner and Mallory were with me in the battery, and by cool intrepidity sustained the confidence I placed in them. To Lieutenant Commanding Parker I am specially indebted, as well for his brave deportment in battle as for the judicious manner he conducted upward of 50 officers and men from Elizabeth City to Norfolk. Mr. Hinrick, the civilian whom we found in charge of the battery, stood by us to the last, and deserves to be gratefully remembered.
I have the honor to be,
WM. F. LYNCH
Naval Defenses of North Carolina
Hon. S. R. MALLORY,
Navy Official Records
Series I, Volume 6