Expedition up the James River, Va.
Reports of Brig. Gen. Charles K. Graham, U. S. Army, commanding Naval Brigade.
HEADQUARTERS NAVAL BRIGADE,
Norfolk, Va., January 25, 1864.
GENERAL: I have the honor to report the following as the result of an expedition organized under my command, consisting of the gnnboats General Jesup, with two launches, each mounting a 12-pounder Dahlgren howitzer; Smith Briggs, with three launches; Flora Temple, and the transport George Washington.
The troops which accompanied the expedition, besides the crews of the vessels above named, were the crew of the gun-boat Samuel L. Brewster, Ensign Harris commanding; a detachment of 15 men of the harbor police of Norfolk, and 20 cavalrymen under command of Captain Lee, of the harbor police; 80 men from the crew of the steamer Foster, Captain McLaughlin commanding, and a detachment of 150 men and 6 officers of the Twenty-first Connecticut Volunteers under the command of Captain Brown.
The expedition left Norfolk at 5 p. m. on the 24th instant, sailed to Newport News, arriving about 7 p.m., when the detachment of the Twenty-first Connecticut Volunteers was embarked on board the steamer George Washington. The expedition again sailed about 9 p.m. for Brandon, about 7 miles from Fort Powhatan, arriving at that place about 5 a.m. on the 25th instant.
The advance guard under Captain Lee, of the harbor police, was immediately landed, followed by the two launches armed with howitzers. No opposition was made to their landing, and in the course of an hour the whole force was disembarked. The wharf on the plantation was found to be completely destroyed, and it being impossible to land the cavalry that detachment was not used. Captain Lee, pursuant to instructions, advanced a line of skirmishers, surrounding the house of Dr. Ritchie, upon whose plantation the expedition landed. The doctor and overseers were taken and brought back as prisoners, it being ascertained that the doctor was a large contractor with the Confederate Government, from papers found upon his premises.
The information being positive that there was a signal station at Mount Pleasant, on the James River, Captain Lees detachment, having been increased by the crew of the gun-boat Brewster, 31 men, was ordered to advance to that place, which was about 3 miles from the landing. Coming upon the station, they found the non-commissioned officers in command and men asleep. Six of the party were captured, 1 effected his escape. All the signal apparatus, consisting of one large and one small telescope with their stands, one signal flag, and three night . signals, with the arms and accouterments of the men, were taken.
Another detachment was sent out on the left of the landing of the expedition, which, though it did not encounter any enemy, rendered valuable service by destroying immense quantities of wheat, corn, and hay, besides sending in a number of horses and mules. Upon the plantation of Dr. Ritchie were found about 5,000 bushels of corn, large quantities of hay and grain, and 24,000 pounds pork, all of which was destroyed.
The negroes everywhere evinced a disposition to give information, and large numbers flocked to the beach, and many of them, to the number of 80, returned with the expedition.
There were collected about 60 horses and mules, but owing to the fact that the landing was destroyed and the wind from off shore was quite high, it was almost impossible to embark them. Although officers and men labored for several hours, they were only able to place on board, by building a temporary platform, about 10.
During the operations of the force on land, which I personally superintended, the gun-boats General Jesup and Smith Briggs were ordered to proceed up the river to a position which commanded an extensive view in the direction of Richmond, both to command the neck of land Where the land forces were operating and to watch for the approach of the iron-clad Richmond, which was reported to be on the James River.
While executing this duty, the gun-boat General Jesup having the advance, two vessels made their appearance and were brought to and captured by that vessel. One of these was the sloop Birdloe, of Warwick, apparently used for the purpose of carrying wood, and was without a cargo, having 2 men on board as crew. The other was the schooner Thomas F. Dawson, of Richmond, loaded with 242 boxes of tobacco, William Henley captain, with 3 seamen and 5 foreign Jews, blockade-runners, as passengers. Upon searching the vessel a large box of jewelry was discovered, and upon the persons of the men papers proving them to be blockade-runners, also the following amount of money: $755 in gold, $656 in Treasury notes, $7,000 in bonds on the States of Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina, $347 in Confederate money, $3 in silver, $1,796.50 in Southern bank-notes, $10 in Northern bank-notes; in all, $10,567.50. Not a shot was fired at the expedition, either going or coming, and it is believed that its landing, owing to the capture of the signal party referred to, was not perceived until several hours after it was effected. Captain Lee, of the harbor police, is deserving of the most creditable mention for the judgment he displayed in making his dispositions and the celerity with which his movements were executed. Lieutenant Harris, of the General Jesup, also displayed much zeal and is entitled not only to recommendations but promotion for his services. The detachment from the Twenty-first Connecticut Volunteers, under Captains Brown and Long and Lieutenants Shepard, Crane, Dutton, McKinney, and Edwards, rendered good service. In the main all the detachments behaved well, although I regret to say that some of the men gave way to intemperance, a large quantity of liquor having been found on the premises of Dr. Ritchie.
Lieutenant Bullard, one of my aides, was with Captain Lee when the signal party was surprised, and he and Lieutenant Benson, likewise of my staff, were indefatigable in the performance of the arduous duties which devolved upon them.
At 10.40 p.m. the expedition arrived at Fortress Monroe.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Naval Brigade.
Comdg. Department of Virginia and North Carolina.
-The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.; Series 1- Volume 33