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WASHINGTON, February 10, 1862. Captain Gustavus V. Fox, sworn and examined.
By Mr. Chandler:
Question. Do you know of any attempt having been made, or a project formed, to take possession of Matthias's Point at any time; if so, will you state the particulars ?
Answer. The Navy Department, as early as in June last, proposed to the War Department to take possession of that point, and an examination was made by the War Department with reference to the project by Captain Woodbury, of the engineers, and Captain Palmer, of the topographical engineers. The War Department, or General Scott, decided to send a force down there as early as June. Captain Ward sent up a very urgent request just before he was killed, asking for only 300 men to occupy that point, and General Scott consented to allow 300 men to go, but General Mansfield thought that there ought to be as many as 5,000, and it fell through, probably, on that account, though General Mansfield was very earnest, and very positive, in his opinion that that point ought to be occupied in force. Mr. Welles went over to see General Scott about it, I think, in June, and pressed it upon him personally as well as by letter. The first official letter that I find upon our books was written on the first day of July. It is as follows, addressed to Mr. Cameron:
“Navy DEPARTMENT, July 1, 1861. “SIR: I have the honor to inform you that this department is entirely satisfied, from reports of its officers, that the Potomac river will soon be closed by the batteries of the rebels, unless one or more prominent points are occupied by the federal troops.”
Then Bull Run intervened between that other and the next one which I find upon our books, which is dated August 20, 1861, to Mr. Cameron from Mr. Welles. It is as follows:
“Navy DePARTMENT, August 20, 1861. “Sir: The importance of keeping open the navigation of the Potomac is so obvious that no argument is necessary upon the subject. So far as possible, this department has and will continue to discharge its duty in this matter by an armed Aotilla; but there are one or two points where shore batteries can be made to intercept communication, and, in view of that danger and recent investigations, I would most urgently request that immediate measures be taken by the War Department to fortify and entrench Matthias's Point. A single regiment, aided by two of our steamers, could heretofore, and perhaps may still take possession, and secure it; but if more than a regiment is required, it appears to me indispensable that the requisite number should be furnished.
"Attention, on separate occasions, has been called to the particular necessity of having that place as absolutely essential to the unrestricted navigation of the Potomac. The navy will, at any moment, contribute its efforts towards seizing and hold that place, and apprehend there need not be any delay. Cannot a sufficient force be sent down forthwith to seize, and, in connexion with such armed vessels that we can order, hold Matthias's Point, and thus keep the navigation of the Potomac.
"I understand that troops will be sent to the lower Maryland counties to keep the peace, and prevent batteries from being erected on the left bank. This is a timely and wise precaution; but it is equally necessary that we should take possession of Matthias's Point. Should the insurgents get possession of that point, it would require a very large force to dispossess them."
On the 31st of August I find the following letter from the Navy Department to the War Department:
“AUGUST 31, 1861. “SIR: I have the honor to enclose copies of despatches received from Captain Craven, in command of the Potomac flotilla, and beg leave to call your attention to his suggestions of the necessity of prompt and efficient measures for keeping open the navigation of the Potomac. I have heretofore, on repeated occasions, called the attention of the War Department to this subject, which is of immense importance to this city, and the operations of the army, as well as of the navy
It appears to me there should be no delay in taking the precautionary steps recommended by Captain Craven; and this department, with the naval force in the Potomac, is ready at all times to aid in this measure.”
Nothing, however, was done at that time.
In October there were in the Potomac the Pawnee, the Pocahontas, and the Seminole-three very heavily armed vessels and the R. B. Forbes, with two very formidable guns on board. These vessels were detailed to go with DuPont's expedition to Port Royal. But before they went, the Navy Department proposed to the President and to the War Department that the rebel batteries that had then begun to appear upon the river should be destroyed, and their places occupied by the army. It was urged that these were the heaviest ships we had here in the river, and that we must withdraw them for this southern expedition, as ships were too scarce to allow these to remain here in the river doing nothing, and an effort was made to get the army to co-operate with us, or rather to permit us to co-operate with the army.
They agreed to send down 4,000 men to take possession just above Matthias's Point. This was some time in October. I do not find any written communication upon our books in regard to it; but I can get the exact date if necessary. The orders were sent down from the Navy Department to Captain Craven and Captain Dahlgren; and scows and steamers were provided for carrying the troops and landing them at Matthias's Point. Captain Craven collected at Matthias's Point all the boats of his flotilla, and we notified him that 4,000 men would arrive there in the middle of the night. Those troops did not go. The first intimation we had of that was a tug-boat sent up the next day from Captain Craven with word that the troops had not come. I went over to see the President about it, and we went over to see General McClellan. He told us that the engineers were of the opinion that troops could not be landed in such large numbers, and they had concluded not to send them. I told him that the business of landing the troops belonged to the navy, and that we had the means provided for it; and that nobody had inquired of us whether we could land them or not. It was then concluded that they should go the next night. And we sent down word to Captain Craven to be prepared the next night. But the next night they did not go. They never went, and we never knew what the reason
We then sent our boats out of the river. We told the President, who was exceedingly earnest upon the subject, that the election had been made that the river should be closed; that we had done our part and we had nothing further to do; that we had the vessels and could destroy the batteries, but the vessels would be of no use here if that was not done, and it would be of no use to destroy the batteries unless they were occupied by our troops. We told him that these vessels, as he very well knew, must go down to Port Royal; they were of very light draft, very powerful, and their machinery was covered. They ac
cordingly went out, one after another. One of them was hit by shots from the batteries, but no injury of consequence resulted.
Question. Is it your opinion that four thousand men could have taken and held Matthias's Point, and prevented the closing of the Potomac !
Answer. With the aid of the navy, 4,000 men could have made a lodgment and intrenched themselves, and the vessels could have covered their position and prevented an attack while they were intrenching themselves. The operations the enemy were carrying on there were perfectly well known. Every step they took was known not only from deserters, but from observation.
The commander of our flotilla was so discouraged that he threw up his command, and applied to be sent to sea. He said he was losing his own reputation; that the closing of the river was attributed to him and the navy, and he declined to remain there any longer. He has now gone to sea, and the flotilla is really under command of a lieutenant.
I have heard a great many reasons assigned for this course, as I have gathered them from conversations. General McClellan thought it would bring on a general engagement to attempt a move there. The engineers were under the impression that the proper way to carry those batteries was to march down he river. The President assisted the Navy Department as far as he could in urging this plan upon General McClellan, and he manifested more feeling and disappointment than I have ever seen him before exhibit, when he found the men had not gone.
Question. General McClellan objected to furnishing the men ?
By the chairman : Question. When General McClellan agreed the second time that the men should be sent, I should have supposed that he meant to send them.
Answer. We kept the boats there two nights, and did not know until the next morning that the men had not gone.
Question. Did he assign any reason ?
Answer. The first night the reason assigned was the troops could not be landed, the engineers thought. I remarked to the President that that belonged to the navy, and nobody had asked the Navy Department whether it was prepared or not prepared to land the troops. The President insisted that they should go forward. General McClellan said they should go the next night. He sent down word to be ready the next night. But they did not go the next night, and I cannot call to mind that I ever knew why they did not go the second night.
Question. Were there really any obstacles in the way of that enterprise having been successful, had the troops been sent down there according to promise?
Answer. My own impression is, gathered not from any particular declaration of any one man, but from numerous conversations with these gentlemen, that they thought it was doubtful if they could hold themselves upon the bank of the river, exposed, as they contended, to the whole rebel army. They said they would be without supports. Well, they would be without army supports, but the navy is there to help them; and ships can always enfilade an approach to those works. A lodgment on the bank of the river can always be protected by ships from an attack in the rear, for ships can lay above and below, and by their guns can always protect them from an attack. The position at Hilton Head does not require any intrenchments to hold it, because the men-of-war are there.
Question. The objection was that it would bring on a general engagement ? Answer. Yes, sir.
Rep. Com. 108-16
Question. Is there any better place for a general engagement than somewhere outside of their intrenchments ? Even if it had been thought to lead to that, would not that be a better place for a general engagement than Manassas ?
Answer. Well, sir, that was the remark I heard made; and then, again, after conversations we had had together, he seemed to be of the opinion that the proper way to turn those batteries would be to march down the river on the land side with a very heavy force. And I got the impression from all those conversations that there would soon be a movement down there for that purpose, and I gave that same impression to Captain Craven. He was overwhelmed with mortification at the reproach that would be cast upon himself, because, having charge of the flotilla upon the river, it was allowed to be closed by the rebel batteries. He came up here one day, and Mr. Welles said that he never saw a man more agitated than he was.
Question. You have referred to conversations. In those conversations was the Navy Department convinced of the propriety of abandoning the work of taking possession of those points on the river ?
Answer. No, sir; we never have abandoned it; we have always persisted that it should be done.
By Mr. Chandler : Question. You thought it a military necessity that Matthias's Point should be taken?
Answer. Yes, sir; and we' stated distinctly to the President that he must elect between that expedition and the closing of the river; that we had the force here to accomplish that work; but it could not longer remain here, for it must go to insure success to Captain DuPont. They gave
it up, and all the efficient ships left the river.
By Mr. Odell : Question. Has it been the judgment of the Navy Department that the navigation of the Potomac could have been kept open since June last, and that it should have been done? Answer. Yes, sir ; unquestionably.
By the chairman : Question. That Port Royal expedition was delayed vastly beyond what the public expected. What was the cause of that delay ?
Answer. Bull Run was the first thing that upset it. It was preparing before the battle of Bull Run. It had been talked over, and the number of 12,000 men talked about; but, for a long time after the battle of Bull Run, every soldier was drawn here to Washington ; none could be spared.
By Mr. Chandler:
Answer. That was the principal reason. All the soldiers were withdrawn to the defence of Washington, and there were no extraordinary means used to carry the expedition forward after that battle. It was not lost sight of, but it was considered necessary to bring all the troops here. General Sherman's camp at Hampstead, Long Island, was broken up just as he began to form it.
WASHINGTON, March 12, 1862. J. S. POTTER sworn and examined.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question. We understand that you have been out as far as Manassas, and one of the first persons from this side to reach there. Will you give the committee a short narrative of what you saw and learned out there?
Answer. I left Washington about six o'clock in the morning for Manassas, passing eight or nine regiments of infantry and some batteries. At Fairfax there was a large gathering of troops, and from there to Centreville the woods on each side of the road were filled with our troops that had halted. Upon arriving in view of Centreville, the fortifications upon the slope as you entered the place appeared very formidable, extending two or three miles, I should think, on either side of the road. I did not number the different forts, but I should think there were eight or nine of them, connected by a line of earthworks between them. I entered some of the forts on each side of the road as I entered Centreville, and found in the embrasures logs imitating cannon, with a dark spot on the outer end in the centre. I found no indications, as far as I was able to judge, of there having been any artillery in position there. I was told by several colored persons, and by one white person, (a daguerreotypist there,) that there had never been any guns in position there, and that there never had been any but field artillery in the place. I made inquiries in regard to the number of troops that had been stationed there, and was answered that for the last six weeks there had not been over 15,000 there, if there had been that many—about twenty regiments they thought, and none of those regiments were full. The accounts of all the persons correspond in putting the number from 13,000 to 15,000. Their huts extended along from Centreville to near Bull Run, at intervals. They were mostly log huts, all standing, in good position, and seemed to be quite comfortable.
By Mr. Covode: Question. Did you see, on examination, any platforms in the forts on which large guns had been mounted ?
Answer. No, sir; nowhere. I saw nothing of that sort until I got into Manassas, where there were several forts.
Question. None at Centreville?
Answer. Those that I saw were only painted on the outer ends; the bark was still on. I should think they were selected very fairly as to size to imitate cannon, but the ends only were painted. From Centreville to Bull Run the roads were very bad, and on each side there were large numbers of dead horses to be seen.
Question. What number of dead horses did you estimate there to be?
Answer. From Centreville to Manassas I should think there were probably, 1,000 or 1,500. They were on each side of the road, and very many right in the road. For a half a mile on either side they were very numerous indeed. To the best of my judgment, I should think there might be 1,500. While at Bull Run, I made an examination for the purpose of satisfying myself in reference to the masked batteries about which so much has been said. I found immediately on the verge of the run, on the other side, perhaps eight or nine old batteries that were covered with brush, and so situated that they were undoubtedly intended to deceive, and could not easily be detected by anybody if the brush was green.
Question. Any guns there?
By Mr. Gooch: