Naval Skirmishes 2:

The "USS Eureka" at Urbana, Virginia,

April 21, 1864.

by Terry Foenander.

The following account of a minor skirmish on the Rappahannock River can be found on page 411, series 1, volume 5 of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (commonly referred to as the ORN), as well as on page 1 of the New York Daily Tribune, of Wednesday, April 27, 1864. Unlike the ORN, though, the account in the New York Daily Tribune actually includes a complete list of the personnel aboard the vessel at the time of the action. This list seems to have been omitted from the ORN for some unknown reason. The list has been included here, together with additional data for some of the personnel, extracted from several other sources. The dispatch, in which the account of the skirmish is mentioned, was sent by commander Foxhall A. Parker, commanding the Potomac Flotilla, and addressed from aboard the USS Commodore Read, Chesapeake Bay, April 22, 1864, to Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. The following is a transcription of that dispatch:

"Sir: Having learned from various sources that the rebel Government had established a ferry at Circus Point, a few miles below Tappahannock, on the Rappahannock River, and was busily engaged in collecting boats at same point on the river for the purpose of attacking the blockading vessels, I proceeded thither with a portion of this flotilla on the 18th instant, where I remained until this evening, visiting both banks of the river and all its various creeks (some of which, I was told, had not before been entered during the war), from Circus Point to Windmill Point, with the following result:

Two ferries broken up; 7 large lighters each capable of carrying 100 men; 3 pontoon boats, 22 large skiffs and canoes, 200 white-oak beams and knees (large enough for the construction of a sloop of war), 500 cords of pine wood, and 300 barrels of corn destroyed. Twenty-two fine boats (one of which is fitted for carrying small arms), 1,000 pounds of bacon, 2 horses, 60 bushels of wheat, a chest of carpenters' tools, and many other articles (a correct list of which will be sent to the Department at an early day) brought off.

Five refugees and 45 contrabands (men, women, and children) were received on board this vessel and landed in Maryland, with the exception of five stout fellows, whom I shipped.

At Bowlers Rocks, on the south side of the Rappahannock, the landing of our men was opposed by a large force of cavalry (said to be 500), which was kept at bay by the fire of the Eureka, commanded by Acting Ensign Hallock, and a howitzer launch in charge of Acting Master's Mate Eldridge. Acting Master W.T. Street, who had charge of this expedition, showed good judgement and proved himself a valuable and efficient officer. He speaks highly of Acting Ensign Roderick and Acting Master's Mate Borden, who accompanied him on shore.

In Parrott's Creek 8 seamen, led by Acting Ensign Nelson, chased 6 of the rebel cavalry.

Yesterday afternoon [April 21, 1864], as the Eureka got within 30 yards of the shore just below Urbana, where I had sent her to capture two boats hauled up there, a large number of rebels, lying in ambush, most unexpectedly opened upon her with rifles and a a piece of light artillery. Thus taken by surprise, Acting Ensign Hallock displayed admirable presence of mind, and I htink not more than five seconds had elapsed before he retured the fire from his light 12-pounder and with small arms, and, although the little Eureka with officers and men has but sixteen souls on board, for some ten minutes (during which time the fight lasted), she was one sheet of flame, the 12-pounder being fired about as fast as a man would discharge a pocket pistol. The rebels were well thrashed, and I think must have suffered considerably. They fortunately fired too high, so that their shells and bullets passed over the Eureka without injury to the vessel or crew. It was quite a gallant affair and reflects a great deal of credit upon both the officers and men of the Eureka, a list of whom I herewith enclose.

This morning, observing a party of eighteen men at a distance of about 2 miles from this ship with muskets slung over their backs, crawling on their hands and knees to get a shot at some of our men then on shore, I directed a shell to be thrown at them from a 100-pounder Parrott gun, which struck and exploded right in their midst, killing and wounding, I think, a large number of them, as only four were seen after the explosion, who were, as might be supposed, running inland at the top of their speed.

Lieutenant-Commander Eastman, who had the detailing of the various expeditions, well sustained in the performance of this duty the reputation which he had already acquired of an officer of marked energy and ability.

I have it from the best authority that the rebels have placed torpedoes in the Rappahannock just above Bowlers Rocks, where this flotilla was anchored off Fort Lowry, off Brook's barn, opposite the first house above Leedstown, and at Layton's somewhat higher up. All these on the port hand going up.

Others are said to be placed at various points in the river from Fort Lowry to Fredericksburg. They have also been placed in the Piankatank River and in many of the creeks emptying into Chesapeake Bay.

The Eureka continued patrolling the waters of the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers and their tributaries, for which her shallow draft was well suited, until shortly before the close of hostilities. She was sold at Washington, on September 15, 1865. [DANFS 2, 374.]

Officers and Crew of the "USS Eureka," April, 1864.

The following list of the officers and crew of the USS Eureka, at the time of her engagement at Urbana, was included with the report in the New York Daily Tribune of April 27, 1864.

William Abrahams, coal heaver.

John B.T. Atwell, landsman.

William Clarke, seaman.

Edward Dorsey, landsman.

Isaac Hallock, commanding; born in, and appointed from, New York; appointed master's mate, October 23, 1861; promoted acting ensign, April 2, 1864; acting master, May 25, 1865; honorably discharged June 8, 1868. [Callahan; 1865 Navy Register.]

John A. Harper, enlisted September 10, 1863, as first class boy; served at the Washington Navy Yard, on the USS Eureka and USS Heliotrope; discharged from Naval service, July 15, 1865. [Maryland Rosters 2, 61.]

William B. Horn, quarter gunner.

George Hyde, quartermaster.

David Lee, coal heaver.

Thomas E. Lynch, born in, and appointed from, Pennsylvania; appointed third assistant engineer, October 13, 1862; later served on the USS Anacostia; promoted acting second assistant engineer, April 1, 1865; honorably discharged September 28, 1869. [Callahan.]

James Miller, landsman

John Rodney, second class fireman.

Treadwell Scott, African American; born Flushing, New York; enlisted at New York, in 1863, aged 21, as landsman; previous occupation, cook/coachman; also served aboard the USS Coeur de Lion. [NPS.]

James H. Taylor, landsman.

Henry Washington, landsman.

Simeon D. York, landsman.

Additional Sources:

Callahan: "List of Officers of the United States Navy and of the Marine Corps, 1775-1900," edited by Edward W. Callahan; originally published by L.R. Hamersly & Co., New York, 1901; reprinted, circa 1988, by Olde Soldier Books, Gaithersburg, Maryland.

DANFS - "Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships," compiled by the Navy Department, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, Washington, D.C.; published by the United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.; reprint edition, 1977. Citation includes volume and page numbers.

Maryland Rosters: "The History and Roster of Maryland Volunteers, War of 1861-5," in 2 volumes, compiled by the State Commissioners (L. Allison Wilmer, J.H. Jarrett and George W.F. Vernon); published 1898-9, by the Press of Guggenheimer, Weil and Co., Baltimore, Maryland. Citation includes volume and page numbers.

Navy Register: "Register of the Commissioned, Warrant, and Volunteer Officers of the Navy of the United States, including Officers of the Marines Corps and Others, to January 1, 1865," published by the Government Printing Office, 1865.

NPS: Information from the National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database, available online at These compilations have been transcribed from original muster rolls, available at the National Archives. The Navy rosters have been transcribed by a team lead by Dr. Joseph Reidy of Howard University.

© Terry Foenander.

June, 2005. 1