War of the Rebellion: Serial 036 Page 0477 Chapter XXXVI. PASSAGE OF THE Vicksburg BATTERIES.

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Numbers 2.

Report of Colonel Charles Rivers Ellet, U. S. Army, commanding U. S. steam ram Switzerland.


Below Vicksburg, March 25, 1863.

GENERAL: I have the honor to report to you that, in compliance with your obstructions, I started before daybreak this morning, with the rams Switzerland and Lancaster, to pass the Vicksburg batteries. The short time which I was allowed for preparations, and the necessity of taking in large quantities of stores and provisions, delayed our departure until it was nearly light. The wind was extremely unfavorable, and, notwithstanding the caution with which the boats put out into the middle of the stream, the puff of their escape-pipes could be heard with fatal distinctness below. The flashing of the enemy's signal lights from battery to battery as we neared the city showed me that concealment was useless. The morning, too, was beginning to break and I saw that, if we were to pass at all, it was to be done at once. I ordered my pilots to give the Switzerland full headway, and we went round the point under 160 men pounds of steam. The rebels opened fire at once, but the first FIFTEEN or twenty shots were badly aimed. As we got nearer to the guns, however, the fire became both accurate and rapid. Shot after shot struck my boat, tearing everything to pieces before them. A few hundred yards behind us the Lancaster, under command of Lieutenant Colonel John A. Ellet, still steamed steadily down, but I could see the splinters fly from her at every discharge. When about three quarters of a mile below the point, and full in front of the enemy's heaviest guns, a 10-inch shell plunged through the boiler deck of the Switzerland and into her center boiler. The explosion of steam which ensued was very severe, and was welcomed by the traitors with shouts of exultation. The engines stopped at once, and even the pilot house was filled to suffocation with the hot steam, but the pilots stood to their posts like men, and, by my order, kept her out in the stream, when she floated down with the current. The enemy relaxed their fire, and the steam had scarcely cleared away from the Switzerland when I saw the Lancaster blown up. She commenced to sink rapidly, and in a few moments went down, bow foremost.

I ordered the crew of the Switzerland into as secure a position as possible, and floated past the remaining batteries without any loss of life or material damage to the boat. A few moments after your arrival on board with Adjutant-General Crandall, and when opposite the mouth of the canal, Lieutenant-Colonel Ellet came alongside in a yawl, having rowed down to us through a fire of grape and shell, to offer us any assistance in his power. He had previously set ashore his own crew and wounded men and fired the upper works of his boat. When out of range, the Switzerland was met by the Albatross and towed into shore.

I cannot conclude this report without referring to the heroic conduct of the officers and crew of the Switzerland. No fear or lack of discipline was exhibited by any person on board, and although we were within a pistol-shot of shore, not a man attempted to desert the boat or to leave his post without orders. Among those who especially distinguished themselves by their resolution and courage were Major John W. Lawrence, Pilot Alexander McKay, Lieutenant Edward C. Ellet, and THIRD Engineer Granville Roberts. This is the SECOND time that the three last-