NAVY DEPARTMENT, C. S. A.,
Richmond, May 24, 1864.
Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON, Secretary of War:
SIR: Your letter of the 20th instant, in reply to mine of the 19th instant, upon the subject of making a passage through the obstructions in the James River, has been received. My object was to place the action of this Department upon this subject in a clear and correct light, and not to complain of the action of others. I believe that your views upon this subject corresponded with my own, and you promptly referred my letter to you of the 10th of April, 1863, to the Engineer Bureau for a full report, and that report was against my proposition. I have just read a report of Colonel Stevens of the 20th instant upon this subject, together with a letter from Colonel Rives of the 21st instant, in which he refers to letters of Colonel Gilmer of the 14th and 20th of April, 1863, and to his own previous letter of September 10, 1864. These papers are now brought to my attention for the first time, and as they refer specially to the action of this Department and to that of the Engineer Bureau, I deem it proper to place this statement on file.
Upon the completion of the iron-clad steamer Richmond, I deemed it important to the river defenses that she should be at liberty to pass and repass the obstructions. The work of making a practicable passage was not difficult; a position below them, under the guns of Drewry's and Chaffin's, would have been safe, and by holding a vessel or caisson ready to sink in the gap at any moment, the passage could have been rendered secure. I applied to General Randolph, Secretary of War, in September, 1864, to have such passage made. He referred the subject, as I learn from Colonel Rives' letter, to the Engineer Bureau, and it was not done.
On the 10th of April, 1863, I wrote to you the following letter repeating my views:
I have the honor to request that the James River obstructions be opened at the earliest practicable moment to permit the Richmond to pass below them. I deem it very important that our armored vessels in the river should be able to pass the barrier at any time; and I respectfully suggest that this be provided for. The large schooner Gallego may perhaps be used in connection with this measure.
To this application I received no response; and I now learn for the first time from Colonel Rives' letter that my communication was referred to the Engineer Bureau, and that Colonel Gilmer referred it to Colonel Stevens for a report, which was made. I also learn for the first time that Colonel Gilmer, on the 20th of April, 1863, report against my proposition, and the following is a part of his report:
In conclusion, considering the fact that there are two bars in James River between Drewry's Bluff and City Point, over which the Richmond can pass only in time of freshest, and further that her machinery and speed are so defective, I most respectfully but earnestly represent that it will be judicious to make an opening in the James River obstructions, only when a second iron-clad is on the eve of completion.
I regret that the several reports of these officers and the action of the Engineer Bureau were not communicated to me, and that I now learn them for the first time. It was certainly due to this Department and to the public interests that I should have been so informed. I am not aware of the grounds upon which Colonel Gilmer pronounced the machinery (the engine I presume he meant) of the Richmond "defective." It is not so regarded by the engineer-in-chief of the navy, who is familiar with it, and no defects have been reported. The engine is too small for the vessel, and her speed is