Letter from Lieutenant McLaughlin. C. S. Navy,
to Lieutenant Jones, C. S. Navy, regarding accident on board the C. S.
COLUMBUS, GA., June 1, 1863.
MY DEAR JONES: I hasten to inform you of the sad accident which happened on board the Chattahoochee, and as the quickest method I enclose the account furnished the newspaper by Gift, who, though not on board at the time, came up on the Young with the wounded. Young Mallory is badly hurt and his recovery considered doubtful. The statements as to how the accident occurred are very conflicting. Some say that the steam gauge had been out of order the day previous. At the time of the explosion it was showing only 7 pounds of steam. Others say that pumping water in the boiler, the water at the time being low, was the cause. She was at anchor and only waiting for steam to be reported to get underway. Mr. Fagan at the time was sick, though had just gone into the engine room. He was the only one on board having any knowledge of the engines. The gunner is at the vessel with most of the crew. The medical officers have moved their effects to Chattahoochee. Captain Guthrie is here. I will write you again soon.
[Commander Cap. R. JONES, C. S. Navy.]
[Enclosure (newspaper clipping).]
Gunboat Chattahoochee destroyed--Terrible loss of life.
Just as the steamer Jackson was pushing out from the wharf at Chattahoochee, Fla., a courier arrived from below with news that the boilers of the gunboat Chattahoochee had exploded, killing the pilot, William Bilbro, for a long series of years a pilot on the Chattahoochee River, and wounding nearly every officer on board. The Jackson could not remain to learn any further particulars; they have doubtless been received before this. The steamer Munnerlyn went down to the scene of disaster.
Since the above was put in type we have received, through the courtesy of Lieutenant G. W. Gift, the following list of persons killed by the explosion of the boiler of the Chattahoochee May 27, viz: Henry Fagan, second assistant engineer, of Key West, Fla.; Euclid P. Hedges, third assistant engineer, of Maryland; Fred W. Arents, third assistant engineer, Richmond, Va.; Eugene Henderson, paymaster's clerk, Tuskegee, Ala.; William B. Bilbro, pilot, Columbus, Ga.; Joseph Hicks, first-class fireman, Georgia; Enoch C. Lanpher, second-class fireman, Columbus, Ga.; Edward Conn, coal hearer, Apalachicola, Fla.; Charles H. Berry, quartermaster, Tampa, Fla.; John Joliff, seaman, ; Lewis C. Wild, landsman, Florida; John S. Spear, landsman, Florida; William Moore, landsman, Florida; James Thomas, landsman, Florida; Charles Douglas, second-class fireman, residence unknown; James H. Jones, landsman, Florida.(editor's note---see their gravesite monument under Florida webpage)
Mortally wounded.--M. Faircloth, landsman, Florida.
Dangerously wounded.--Midshipman Charles K. Mallory, of Virginia, face, hands, and feet badly scalded; Cornelius Duffy, of Apalachicola, Fla., face and hands badly scalded.
Slightly wounded.--Hamilton Gelder, master's mate, Maryland, right arm scalded; Joseph Sis, Apalachicola, face burned: Midshipman W. J. Craig, Kentucky, foot slightly burned; Joseph E. Coles, coal heaver, Florida, foot burned.
The vessel was sunk below her decks. The wounded were brought up to the city last evening by the steamer William H. Young.
Detailed report of Lieutenant McLaughlin, C. S. Navy, regarding the accident on board the C. S. S. Chattahoochee.
NAVAL STATION, COLUMBUS, GA., June 15, 1863.
My DEAR JONES: Your letter of the 8th has just reached me, enclosing a letter to Gift. As he has left here permanently with orders to Mobile, I have done as you directed, opened the document and forwarded the letters of recommendation, through Pembroke Jones, at Savannah, with a request that he will hand them to the men. I will go on to explain and endeavor to furnish you with all the information connected with the lamentable accident which happened to the ill-fated steamer. The accounts, such as we get, are most conflicting, but Gift, having taken an active part in placing the information before the public, I think, has prevented the matter from being as freely discussed as would otherwise have been the case.
The only officers on board at the time were Guthrie, Midshipmen Craig, Mallory, and Gibbs, Gelder, Dr. Ford, and the gunner, and the engineers, whose names have already appeared in print with the exception of Third Assistant H. (?) Blanc, of New Orleans, who, not being on duty, escaped uninjured. The vessel had started for the obstructions, and had gone but 20 miles when it was found there was not sufficient water on the bar to admit of her crossing. The vessel was anchored. The next morning it was ascertained that the river had swollen, when orders were given to raise steam, and, as near as I can learn, they commenced firing up at or near 10 o'clock with wood. At 12 m., when the relief came down (which, by the way, accounts for the number of deaths), the steam gauge was showing 7 pounds of steam. It is now understood that it was out of order the day previous. A discussion now arose with regard to the quantity of water in the boiler. Mr. Fagan, the senior engineer, being at the time in his bunk with a chill, hearing the dispute, and fearing from the length of time since the fires had been started that something was wrong, hastened to the engine room and was descending the ladder when the explosion took place. Curiosity had taken the pilot to the engine room, and some think it was he who started the pump. The explosion was instantaneous with the starting of the pump. Guthrie, at the time, was in his cabin. There is some difference of opinion about the time of his arrival on deck. Otherwise I do not hear of his name being mentioned, except by Dr. Ford, who speaks of his administering baptism to those who had been wounded and were about to die.
It being reported that an explosion of the magazine was imminent, caused a panic among the crew. Three, I believe, were drowned in trying to reach the shore. Among the number was a quartermaster by the name of Berry. No description, I am told, could possibly be given of the scene on the deck of the Chattahoochee, men running about frantic with pain, leaving the impression of their bleeding feet, and sometimes the entire flesh, the nails and all, remain behind them. The dead and wounded were taken on shore, where they remained until the next afternoon, most of the time a terrible storm raging. Finally they were taken on board the Young and reached Columbus on Sunday night, just five days after the accident. No attempt was made to dress the wounds until after their arrival here, which could not be avoided. Poor Mallory! I shall never forget his appearance. I would not have known him had he not spoken. His face, hands, and feet were scalded in the most terrible manner; he plead piteously to have his wounds attended to. I urged the doctor, who, by the way, was almost used up himself, to pay Mallory some attention. He then told me that he would have to wait for some assistance. He then said that Mallory could not live. You would have thought differently had you seen him. I could not make up my mind that he would die. When they first commenced to remove the cloths he was talking cheerfully, but the nervous system could not stand the shock. He commenced sinking and was a corpse before they had gotten half through. Duffy, the fireman, expired on the next day. You would have been surprised to have seen the effect produced on Mr. Craig and Golder, who were only slightly injured, Mr. Craig in the foot, Mr. Golder side of face, arm, and hand. They were so prostrated after their wounds were dressed that they were only roused by the use of stimulants. It seems almost useless to mention that they received all the attention that could possibly have been bestowed. The Home was literally besieged with ladies, and for one week the street in front of the Home was blocked up with vehicles of all descriptions. I really looked on with astonishment. The four worst cases were placed together in the room upstairs, directly in front of the steps. It was with the utmost difficulty that I could remain in the room sufficiently long to ascertain what was required and to see what service I could render, the atmosphere was so unpleasant, yet the ladies did not seem to notice it and remained at their post till the last.
Guthrie came up on the boat, bringing the guns, which, strange to say, he turned over to Major Humphreys, with a request that he would hold them subject alone to his order or that of the Secretary of the Navy. I immediately made a report of the affair. The Secretary, through the Office of Ordnance, replied promptly by telegraph, directing the guns and everything pertaining to them, as well as ship's stores, be turned over to me. The matter caused considerable talk among the people in town. It was not understood why naval guns should not have been placed under the control of naval officers. It does appear to me that Guthrie's conduct throughout the whole affair has been most singular. He has given leave of absence to some of his crew to visit a place in possession of the enemy, and some 13 of his men left him at Chattahoochee with the intention of not returning. Among the number was a man by the name of Lee, whom you will no doubt recollect. After placing the guns in charge of Major Humphreys he took his family and started for Chattahoochee, where [he] remained four or five days, when he again embarked for Columbus, bringing the crew, minus the 13 mentioned above. At that time I had in my possession a telegram from Richmond to Guthrie, directing him to send the crew to Savannah. He remarked he would turn them over to me, and I might do what I pleased with them, but he thought I had better wait for further instructions. As Guthrie appeared to be laboring under some bodily infirmity, I gave the men quarters in my mold room, and sent 40 of them the next day to Savannah. They arrived on the day the Savannah was put in commission. The men were all nicely dressed when they left here, and on their arrival at Savannah, being all straight and in good condition, were the cause of many remarks. It was certainly reflecting great credit to those who had organized and disciplined the crew. I felt proud of them. During their stay with me there was not one guilty of the slightest impropriety. Cronin (?), May, and Rosier expressed deep regret that they had not time to put a piece in the paper thanking the ladies for their many kindnesses, but said they would do so on their arrival at Savannah. The crew of the Chattahoochee will ever remember the latter and the paymaster. They would have been willing to have gone anywhere to have gotten rid of the vessel. Webb was exceedingly anxious to get hold of some of the men. He will have some of the landsmen; the remainder will remain on the Savannah. I ordered Dr. Jones and Midshipman Gibbs and Mr. Golder with the crew. They are now attached to the Savannah.
The 6.4-inch rifle belonging to the Chattahoochee I was directed to send to Charleston. It is to be double-banded and returned, to be used, I suppose, on the Muscogee. 1 am doing very well. The calkers have commenced to-day, and I am laying the spar deck. The engines are about being placed in position. I will keep you advised from time to time of the progress.
With kind regards to Simms, I remain, truly, yours,
[Commander CATESBY APR. JONES, C. S. Navy.]
Additional report of Lieutenant McLaughlin, C. S. Navy, regarding the accident on board the C. S. S. Chattahoochee.
COLUMBUS, GA., December 26, 1863.
MY DEAR JONES: The Chattahoochee, her officers and men, have been turned over to me. I have succeeded in having her towed to this place, and will commence work on her at once. She is not as badly damaged as I had supposed. The deck immediately over the boiler on the port side was raised by the explosion some 6 inches. Beyond that there has been no damage to the boiler. Mr. Warner has not had an opportunity to examine the boiler. From a casual observation he thinks she can soon be in running order; the machinery has not been injured. It has been to me still more a matter of surprise why that vessel should have been allowed to sink. A pine plug driven into the feed pipe, which had been blown off, would have been all that was necessary. She draws in her present condition 6 feet 3 inches aft, 5 feet 3 inches forward. Nearly all her outfit has been plundered, and in some instances sold and given away by those who were left in charge. Things were scattered around, some at the arsenal, Johnston's, and Eufaula. Johnston had the entire control in raising the vessel. After she was up she remained in charge of his negroes. She has been stripped of everything that could be converted into money. The paymaster's clerk gave furlough to the men, some of which are still away. There was a regular communication kept up with Apalachicola by means of the dingey, which was at the disposal of Father Somebody, the Catholic priest. No doubt the enemy have been kept fully posted with regard to movements in the Confederacy, more particularly with matters on the river.
Guthrie has made one round trip on the Advance, a vessel belonging to the State of North Carolina. I was at Wilmington when he arrived. He seemed to be perfectly happy; says he has now established his reputation. I don't know why he did not continue on her. Crossan is out with her now. Guthrie has been spending some of his time at Eufaula, where he has purchased a house, and intends his family to reside there during the war.
Washington is here. He seems anxious to get detached. I hope he may. His conduct while down the river was shameful.
D. S. Johnston has taken a contract to build Morino a barge 90 feet long, 22 feet breadth of beam. The contract was closed on Sunday last. He pledged to have her ready by the 1st of January.
The Muscogee is all ready for launching. I am only waiting for the river,, which, from present appearances, will not keep me waiting, long. The internal arrangements are complete, with the exception of the magazine. I wish I could have the benefit of your advice in fitting it up.
I was pleased to hear that you had met with such success in casting guns. I hope you will be ready to furnish the Muscogee her battery. I am told it is the only chance. They are not doing much in Richmond, Governor Milton informs me that so soon as this vessel is ready for service, Apalachicola will be reoccupied. He expressed himself thoroughly disgusted with Morino and all his works. Morino wants to make a wagon road over the river, using the obstructions as a foundation. Old Milton says he will blow them all to the devil and open the river. He has already communicated with the President on the subject, who thinks favorably of it. * * *
Hope soon to hear from you.
I remain, very truly, your friend,
[Commander CATESBY AP R. JONES.]
to the Georgia Gravesites page
Return to the Florida Gravesites page