From the New York Herald, 5/19/1862
The Repulse of Our Iron-Clad Gunboats in the James River.
The brief, incomplete, but very suggestive despatch which we published yesterday of the repulse of our gunboats – the Monitor, Galena, Naugatuck, Aroostook and Port Royal – from Fort Darling, on the James river, seven miles below Richmond, passed like the shadow of an ugly cloud over this metropolis. It was well for our stockjobbers and financiers, speculating upon another victory as the next thing in order, that this ominous and sinister looking first report of this repulse was published here on Sunday; for it had come upon them suddenly this morning the bears would doubtless have seized the opportunity for a panic and a raid among the astonished bulls and lame ducks of Wall street. As it is, we presume there will be no such ridiculous sensation among them today.
In the absence of any official detail in explanation of this repulse, we think that we may undertake to account for it, and to the satisfaction of our readers. First, the officers of our little squadron were ignorant, until they reached it, of the strength and perhaps of the existence of Fort Darling. Secondly, while it was doubtless extensively armed with rifled guns of the heaviest calibre, from the Tredegar Works at Richmond, our squadron could hardly bring over thirty pieces to bear against it. In the next place, our gunboats, in the very narrow channel of the narrow river at Fort Darling, were almost in a cul de sac in which they could neither manoeuvre to assist each other nor get beyond the point blank range of the enemy’s batteries without withdrawing from the contest; for we have no doubt that the advance of our ships above the fort was prevented by obstructions in the channel of the stream.
We dare say that this explanation of this unfortunate affair will be sustained by the facts. We speak only from some general knowledge of the lower James river in the neighborhood of Richmond, and from the defensive preparations there which have been recently hinted at by the Richmond newspapers. It is evident that the gallant men of our little fleet did all in their power to silence the enemy’s works. If we were disposed to find fault with the conduct of our commanding officer, we should say that, having ascertained the real strength of the enemy’s position, and the superior weight and pressure of his artillery, our vessels should have been called off to await the assistance of a co-operative land attack. But we have no complaint to make against any brave officer, soldier or sailor who is now to be convinced that he is fighting against impossibilities. It was this spirit of unshrinking courage which carried the fleet of Commodore Farragut through impediments supposed to be impassable to the city of New Orleans.
But the stubborn fact is before us that our advance towards Richmond, by way of the river, has met with a decided check, and that, in consequence of the restoration of the flag over that rebellious city depends only to a greater extent upon the army of General McClellan. If we had a dashing, enterprising and vigorous man of war of the present day at the head of the Navy Department we should say without hesitation that this repulse of our iron-clad gunboats in the James river is only the result of a mere reconnoissance to ascertain the position and strength of the enemy’s works, and that, having made these discoveries, the necessary means by land and water will be immediately employed to reduce those works. But, as the venerable Mr. Welles belongs to the old slow coach establishment of the last generation, we cannot undertake to promise that he will do anything to restore the prestige of his important branch of the public service at the very point where it has been so seriously shaken, unless President Lincoln shall stir him up to his duty.
In default, however, of any further attempts to run the rebel gauntlet of the James river to Richmond, we are quite easy, under the conviction that they way will be opened by Gen. McClellan, although this repulse of our little naval expedition will doubtless result in encouraging the rebel army to a very stubborn resistance.