Lieutenant-Commander Woodrow to Mr. Robeson.
Off the Battery, New York,
December 30, 1873.
Sir: I have the honor to report that in obedience to an order from Admiral G. H. Scott, a copy of which is herewith inclosed, I took command of the steamer Virginius on the evening of December 17, off Dry Tortugas, relieving Lieutenant Marix.
Ensign George A. Calhoun and Second Assistant Engineer N. H. Lamden, together with three machinists, two boiler-makers, six seamen, E. F., six ordinary seamen, E. F., eight seamen, and fourteen landsmen composed her complement. Second Assistant Engineer Absalom Kirby and Midshipmen Underwood and Tyler subsequently joined the vessel.
I found her in a very filthy condition with over twenty tons of ashes [Page 1146] and dirt in her fire-rooms, and her crew exhausted by constant work since leaving Bahia Honda.
She was leaking under some cement in her fore-foot, and had water in all her compartments. She had about seventy tons of bituminous coal on board, but no other stores. During the night I received stores from the Ossipee in the different departments, and a working-party of fifty men, who coaled ship from the schooner Mattie A. Hand.
Next morning, finding that the water had gained two feet in the fire-rooms, I stopped coaling and used all hands pumping and bailing out the ship. At 8 a.m. the water was up to the grate-bars, with four feet of water in forward compartment and two feet six inches in after one.
During the day I received assistance from the Ossipee in the way of working-parties, to help clear ship of water, repack stuffing-boxes, and overhaul pipes and strainers about engines, and to repair the bunks in forecastle and cabins. Capt. William D. Whiting was on board during the day, and examined the leak in her forward compartment, with Chief Engineer King and myself.
This was the only leak of any consequence that we could find in the ship. At 4 p.m. the water was so much reduced that I was able to start fires in forward boiler, and at 8.15 p.m. in after boiler.
We were then riding by a hawser from the Ossipee, and as soon as steam was reported I backed the engines, and gained so much on the water with the main bilge-pumps that Captain Whiting expressed himself as satisfied that the Virginius was in a fit condition to go north, and left the ship. Shortly after we went to sea in tow of the Ossipee. During that day, and as long as the sea was comparatively smooth, I kept the water down with the main engine-pumps. As we proceeded north, and the sea became rougher, the rivets in one of her bow-plates became loose, as did also an old patch on the next plate abaft, and she leaked so badly that I had to plug up the limber-holes in her forward bulk-head to keep fire-rooms clear.
During the forenoon of the 22d instant I threw overboard her port bower anchor and over twenty tons of old iron, wire rigging, &c., from her fore hold, and shifted the coal aft.
On the afternoon of the 23d instant I had from eight to ten feet of water in the forward compartment, and so much water in the fire-rooms as to endanger putting out the fires, and I signaled to the Ossipee not to go farther north, that there was a dock at Charleston.
She answered, “We are bound for Charleston,” and changed her course to the southward. The increased speed enabled me to reduce the water in her fire-rooms, but I felt no confidence in being able to keep it in check, as the pumps were constantly breaking down and getting choked up, requiring sometimes an hour or more to repair them.
The pressure of water on the forward bulk-head was so great that it bulged out about six inches.
Besides this, my men were worn out, and had no place to sleep, as their bunks and bedding were drenched. The bows were working so much that the bunks in the forecastle came adrift from the ship’s side.
At 3 a.m., 24th instant, the crown-sheet of middle furnace after boiler gave out, and I had to haul fires from that boiler. Shortly after several blisters were reported in forward furnace, and at daylight I signaled condition of boilers and state of water to the Ossipee.
Chief Engineer King then came on board and examined the boilers, and when he returned to his ship we proceeded on up the coast, keeping in smoother water. That afternoon two furnaces in forward boiler gave out, although the steam-pressure was less than five pounds.[Page 1147]
On Christmas morning the sea and wind increased, and the Ossipee ran in under the lee of Cape Fear and anchored, and as the water commenced to gain in fire-rooms I backed the Virginius’s engines, but owing to want of steam I could not turn the engines over fast enough to do much good, and the water gained slowly until 5 a.m. on the 26th instant, when the fires went out and the donkey-pump stopped. The hand-pump was broken and could not be repaired with any means at my command.
I signaled to the Ossipee to haul us up and take us off immediately, as the fore compartment was full of water up to a foot of the spar-deck. There were six feet of water in fore hold, and it bad risen about six inches above the grate-bars in forward fire-room. The after compartment was dry, owing to the ship being so much down by the head.
When the Ossipee’s boat came under my bows the sea was very rough and it was blowing a gale of wind in squalls from the northward and eastward.
I succeeded with great difficulty in getting the men and officers transferred to the Ossipee, and deemed it inexpedient to attempt to save the bags and hammocks, on account of the great danger.
At 4.17 p.m., 26th instant, the Virginius sank in 8 fathoms water, her fore cross-trees above water. A pork-barrel buoys the end of her hawser and marks her position, in latitude 33° 44’ 10” N., longitude 77° 59’ W., Smithville light bearing N. ¾ W., (p. c.,) and end of island N. N. E. (p. c.)
Inclosed herewith please find Second Assistant Engineer Kirby’s report on the condition of boilers and engines. I also have the honor of forwarding the log of the steamer Virginius from December 16 to December 26, inclusive.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant Commanding, U. S. N.
Hon. Geo. M. Robeson,
Secretary of the Navy.