Sabotage and Loss of a Railroad's Steamboat

   The Richmond & York River Railroad connected, on the York River, with steamboats to Baltimore and other cities. At the start of the war, the road owned the steamboat West Point for that service.
   Below, extracted from the October 1st, 1864 Annual Report of that road is the story of the loss of that steamboat from an act of sabotage.
   It is with deep regret that your Directory have to report the loss of the steamer West Point, belonging to this Company. On the afternoon of the 29th of October, 1863, application was made to the undersigned by the Quartermaster's Department C. S. A. for the use of the steamer to transport to Chaffin's Bluff a portion of the forces of the Confederate States. She had then been lying idle for sometime, with only a watchman and negro man on board, and it being desired that she should be ready to leave the wharf at an early hour the ensuing morning, but a short time was allowed in which to obtain the services of a commander and crew. At length, with the assistance of the Quartermaster, a captain, fireman and crew were procured, and Capt. Gifford, late of the steamer Glencove, was placed in charge, with the crew and firemen above mentioned, taken from one of the gun-boats then lying in James river, with Mr. Furguson, her engineer, in charge of the engine. Thus manned, she was ready to leave her wharf at the appointed hour, before which time it had been raining heavily, and a very large number of troops rushed on board, and much to my surprise, in great disorder and confusion, without any one in command to whom to appeal could be made to restore and preserve order. Under these circumstances nothing could be done but order the gang boards to be drawn in and the steamer run out in the stream. This order was taken to the captain by Mr. John McFarland, master of transportation, but some delay ensured in executing it, by reason of the continued rush of soldiers, officers and men, until, it is believed that largely over one thousand had gotten on board. When the steamer had been gotten in the stream, and not till then, it was ascertained that Major Henley of the City Battalion, was the ranking officer on board, and he immediately assumed command, and in some short time restored comparatively good order, at least temporarily, and the steamer proceeded on her trip down the river, to the wharf near Chaffin's Bluff. When within a few miles of the Bluff, it was reported by Mr. Furguson, the engineer, that the boat was taking in water very rapidly, and by the time she had neared the wharf he further reported that the fires had been extinguished, and she very soon thereafter sunk, without having gotten fully up to the wharf, the water covering a small portion of the main deck -- the troops in the meantime being landed from her forward deck, without any accident whatever.
   Before leaving the wharf at Richmond, it had been ascertained that the windows both of the forward and after lower cabins were closed and fastened. When she was raised, they were most of them found open, and it is believed they were opened by some portion of the soldiers, who had gone below and engaged in playing cards. It is reported, that while the steamer was proceeding down the river a gun was fired from one of these windows, but with what truth I have not been able to ascertain. From all the circumstances attending the accident, the undersigned is very confident that the sinking of the steamer was caused by water taken in at the port holes or windows in the lower cabin, and that this was occasioned by the disorder of the troops, preventing the captain keeping her properly trimmed.
   By the courtesy of the Hon'ble James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, a force of some twenty-five men, some of whom were experienced wreckers, was detailed from a company of heavy artillery then stationed at Drewry's Bluff, to aid in raising the steamer, who, with the assistance of one of the fire engines, procured from the city council of Richmond, and its commander, Capt. Barnes, and one of the gun-boats of the C. S. N., under command of Capt. Clarke, succeeded in raising and placing her safely at her wharf in this city.
   As soon as arrangements could be made, and material procured, a competent force was placed on board the steamer to repair the damage occasioned by her sinking, and put her in complete order for future use, as I expected to charter her to the War Department to be used in transporting exchanged prisoners. The work was progressing satisfactorily with the small force which we had at our command, when, on the morning of the 24th day of February, 1864, she was again found in a sinking condition, having nearly filled with water to her main or lower decks, and was taken in tow by a gun-boat and carried out into the stream near the mouth of the ship-lock of the James River and Kanawha canal, where she very soon settled down to her main deck. Immediate application was again made to the Hon'ble Secretary of War for another detail of men to assist in raising her, -- it being impossible to obtain a competent force except through the War or Navy Departments. This request was immediately complied with, and Capt. John Lewis, an old and experienced wrecker, with some twenty competent men were detailed for the purpose. Capt. Lewis, with his men, reported in a few days, and proceeded at once to procure the necessary material and appliances required for raising the boat. But before the work could be accomplished, a heavy freshet occurred in James river, the heaviest for many years, and swept the boat from her then position, further into and across the stream on a sand bar, where she remained for two or three days, every precaution being taken in the meantime by Captain Lewis to secure her from further accident, by the use of all the chains, cables and ropes that could be obtained, but all proved unavailing, for the force of the current in the river continuing to increase, she was turned bottom upwards, and thus became an entire wreck.
   It now only remained to take her hull to pieces and take out the engine and other portions of the wreck, for future use or sale. This Captain Lewis was preparing to do, when he and his men were transferred from the War to the Navy Department, and ordered to report at once at Plymouth, N. C. We were thus deprived of the only means at our command to accomplish the object. It was then thought best to sell the boat and fixtures as then lying in James river, and a sale was accordingly ordered and advertised, but, very few bidders appearing, she was not offered. Another effort was then made to raise the wreck, and while this was being done, a sale of it was effected to one Nathaniel S. Carpenter, of North Carolina, and the work of removing the material at once abandoned. Mr. Carpenter failing to comply with his contract to pay the amount of purchase money, say $31,000, a suit has been instituted against him in the circuit court of the city of Richmond, and it is believed that a sufficiency of his property has been attached to answer the purposes of the suite.
   The cause of the last sinking of the steamer remained a profound mystery until the last effort was made to get up the wreck, when it was discovered that one of the large copper pipes used in conducting the water from the river to the boiler had been nearly severed by an axe, or some like sharp instrument, and piece several inches in length and breadth cut entirely out, thus admitting the water to the hold of the vessel. This was evidently done by design, and the work of some one who, from experience, personal knowledge and opportunity, had been bribed for the occasion.
   The cost of raising the steamer, after she was first sunk, and damages sustained, amount to the sum of $4,822.75; for which the Confederate States are justly liable. Application has accordingly been made to have the claim audited, and it was referred to Major Morris for a report. He has prepared one, I learn, adverse to the claim, but upon further proofs, which will be laid before him,  am confident he will report favorably, and that the claim will ultimately be paid.