United States Steamer Massachusetts,
At Ship Island, October 21, 1861.
Sir: I have respectfully to report that a rebel steamer, with a horizontal engine, made her first appearance in the Mississippi sound on the morning of the 19th instant, and after steaming up within six miles of the Massachusetts "slowed down " and fired a lee gun. I ordered steam immediately, and, after obtaining permission from Captain Powell to engage her, got under way with a full head of steam and approached the enemy as near as he would permit me to do, which matter he controlled entirely, having the advantage of great speed. At no time was the enemy less than one and three-fourths miles distant; hence the greatest elevation of the guns became necessary, and even then the majority of the shot fell short or exploded before reaching my target. I am of the opinion, however, that some of my shot and shell took effect, from the facts that the heavy gun was silenced after its third discharge, and the evident anxiety of my opponent to reach the shoal water, which he accomplished with most unbecoming speed.
The steamer is supposed to be the Florida, cut down and strengthened by log frames, and her armament judged to be six broadside guns and one 68-pound rifled pivot; the latter we had demonstrated to our satisfaction by the messenger itself. It entered the starboard side abaft the engine, five feet above the waterline, cutting through 18 plank of the main-deck, carried away the table, sofas, eight sections of iron steam-pipe, and exploded in the state-rooms on the port side, stripping the bulkheads of four rooms, and setting fire to the vessel. A fragment of the shell hit a timber, breaking all the outside planking from the main to the spar deck, a distance of 5½ feet. The missile that did the damage was exploded by a time fuse four inches long, the shell measuring 15 inches in length, 7 inches in diameter, with an internal cavity of 5 inches. Twelve pieces of the fragments have been collected and weigh 58 pounds. The engagement was continued until my ammunition was exhausted, and the enemy out of the range of my guns, making the best of his way towards Pass Christian, in shoal water, which rendered it impossible for me to pursue him further, as we were in 17 feet water and the Massachusetts drawing 14½ feet. Seventy-six projectiles and 455 pounds of powder were expended, and I am happy to inform you that during the engagement no one was hurt. It affords me great satisfaction to state that the officers and crew of this vessel did their whole duty fearlessly and with becoming zeal.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Commander United States Navy.
Flag-Officer Wm. W. McKean,
Commanding United States Blockading Squadron, Gulf of Mexico.