Raynors HCA 2019-05
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A great Union naval commander's battle letter (formatted in real-time), 4pp. 4to., written by Acting Master Arnold G. Harris, as commander of the U. S. Steamer Island Belle, Potomac River Squadron, "off Mathias Point," [Va.], Nov. 3-6, 1861, to giving his brother an unusual real-time account of one of his many encounters with Rebel skirmishers, in part: "…the confounded rebels have got me completely hemmed in…as far as water is concerned…I can leave any time by leaving the steamer and taking the Maryland shore, but that I shall never do even if I have to make her [his ship] my coffin before one their batteries. I have got three months provisions for forty men and 700 rounds of ammunition for the large guns…I can stand a pretty good siege…I made a glorious drive last week on a party of pickets in Virginia. They have been threatening me for some time by riding don to the beach in parties of 25 and 30…and shaking their dish cloth…flag at us and as soon as we…train a gun for them, away they would go…as fast as their horses could carry them…I got tired of such humbugging…and found out where they quartered…I…got a large launch that pulls twenty oars with a rifle 12 ponder…manned her with part white men and the rest negroes and started for the Brick House of…the pickets. As we neared them I gave them a salute from the bow chaser…rip she goes right…through the House…what is that, three men running for the stable…I bring my rifle to bear on him…never mind its too late he has got into the stable. Give watt…give way. Let us get ashore and nail them before they get their horses out. Bang, bang, whiz, whiz. They are peeping at us…the balls all go over our heads…there is a small regiment of them…give them another shell…from the chaser now [and] now all the rest of you stand by to jump ashore…keep your arms dry away we all go ashore. The first plan for the Brick House…now boys, half of you fire a volley through the windows while the rest of you wait for the return fire. Bang, went the rifles. No answer. There is no body in the house…follow me all hands except four..and warn us if you see one approach…to make a long story short. We set fire to eight houses, twenty stacks of hay and ten thousand bushels of wheat…captured 36 head of poultry…retired without losing or even wounding a man…they swear eternal vengeance against that Northern S_B. as they term me, but still they like to keep out of the way of those Northern pills, as they term our shot. I have a negroe spy over every night so I know all that is going on…Arnold G. Harris, Comd. U. S. Str. Island Bell…[Nov. 6]…I have been waiting…for my messaged to return, but he has not made his appearance…I sent him up to the commodore five days ago…I am afraid he has been captured…if such should be the case. It will play the devil with my arrangements…I do not know how to send my mail…I am afraid to send it in these one horse Maryland Post Offices. I picked up four contrabands last night…they tell me that after I left those house burning…eight men were laying in ambush for me to come ashore…catch a weasel asleep…what a flat they must take me to be when I know there was 175 men not 3 miles from there…A. G. H." The USS Island Belle was in U. S. Navy service for a little over a month before her commander had his encounter with Rebel pickets as recalled in this letter. For the remainder of her service, the Island Belle performed valiant duty as part of the Potomac River Squadron, until she sailed south in conjunction with General McClellan's army during the Peninsula Campaign. Unfortunately, while on a mission to destroy a railroad bridge near Petersburg she ran aground in the Appomattox River and Harris burned the vessel in order to keep her from falling into the hands of the Confederates. On July 17, 1862, he was dismissed from the Navy over the loss, but on March 24, 1863, he was reinstated in the Navy as acting ensign and performed valiant duty before Charleston, S. C. Minor soiling, else VG.
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Attacking A Rebel Picket Position & Using Contraband Spies At Mathias Point, Potomac River In 1861

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