Among the collections held by the Florida State Archives in Tallahassee is a series of letters written by Louis James M. Boyd. The collection is in Record Group 900000 and its call number is N2000-4. Boyd served as 3rd Assistant Engineer aboard the U.S. gun boat "Albatross" from March, 1862, until August, 1863. I have transcribed his description of the events of May 4, 1863, and have taken the liberty of correcting some spellings and changing some punctuation in the interest of clarity.
Excerpt from a letter from Boyd to his wife,Jannie, started on April 28, 1863, and completed on May 6. The following text begins on page 7 and is dated "Monday Night, May the 4th":
...”Dearest, you well know the situation we have been in for the last seven weeks, entirely cut off from any communications from our Fleet, only as we would communicate at the peril of losing our mails, for we would have to go inside of the Rebel lines, to get to our Fleet. Well, on last Saturday night we were reinforced by two of our Gun Boats* that came to our assistance; the first thing on Sunday morning, which was yesterday, the Admiral signalized for our Capt. to come on board of his vessel, a short time afterwards our Capt. returned from the Flag Ship with orders for us to proceed up Red river in search of a rebel battery that is situated on the river, accompanied by those other two Boats. In a short time we were all underway running up the river, the Albatross, as usual, taking the lead. Last night we came to anchor or at least tied up to the trees about 40 miles from where we started from. This morning the first thing we were underway again, looking with all our eyes for the Rebel Batteries. At about 8 am we saw a tremendous black smoke ahead,we then put on a full head of steam, and in a half hour, as we turned a point we were in full view of the Rebel Batteries and three of their boats, two of which were gun boats and were not more than four or five hundred yards off. They instantly opened fire upon us, and kept it up for forty minutes. Just as fast as they could fire, we were also firing at the same time, until we received a fatal shot in our wheel we steer with, which killed one of our Pilots, wounding another, and also killed the man that was steering. Neither was killed instantly but they both died a few minutes afterwards. After we had our steering wheel shot away, we were then virtually disabled, for it was a very difficult thing to steer without the aid of the wheel, especially in a place like that. The river at that point is very narrow, scarcely wide enough for us to turn around in. At times during the fight we were not more than three hundred yards from them so you can judge that we were pretty well peppered. After we got our wheel shot away we run aground. I tell you things began to look dusty. There we were, aground with our wheel shot away, within four hundred yards of the Rebel Gun Boats and Battery, and they firing into us as fast as they could. I tell you, Jannie, I had begun to think that I should have to take a passage home by way of Richmond, but we finally got off, and steamed out of range of their guns, after receiving eleven shots in our hull, and a great many that struck the rigging, masts, and smoke pipe. One ball came in through Mr. Ball’s room, passed out, struck our steam drum a glancing blow, which did no damage, then went through our Mess room, destroyed a great deal of crockery ware (which we intend to charge to the Southern Confederacy), then passed out on the opposite side of the ship and lodged in a cotton bale that we have tied on our side. The whole time we were fighting those boats, our boats never came to our assistance, I mean those two boats that went up with us. They layed off behind the trees and never fired a gun. I never saw such cowardly behavior in my life. If they had done only one half as much as we did, we could have captured those steamers, and taken the Fort from them. As it was, we disabled one of their boats for we could see the steam escaping from the boiler, and some of our officers said they could see men jumping over board. In all the shots we received, we had but two men killed, and four wounded, one dangerously, but the Doctor thinks he will recover. Well, after we got out of range of their guns, we started down the river to join Farragut again. On our way down we met Admiral Porter going up with six steamers, four of which were Iron Clads of the most formidable kind. The other two steamers that were with us were ordered back with him. When they arrive above, where we were this morning, they give the Rebels Hale Columbia. They are bound up to Alexandria, which is about 150 miles from here, to cooperate with Gen. Banks at the above place. My Dear, I suppose you will hear of the taking of Grand Gulf before you get this. It is now in our possession, General Grant now holds it with forty thousand men. My Darling, I did not write you the particulars of our fight to worry you, and I hope you will not worry about it, but I did it to give you the truth for you know how the Rebels do exaggerate about everything that they do, they would make it out to be a great deal worse than what it really is. I know you would hear of it sometime or other, so I thought it would be better to tell you the full particulars at once, and let you know the worst if over, from what I can understand. I don’t think we will be in any more fights.”.....
* Note: “..two of our Gun Boats..” These boats were the Arizona and the Estrella. PWB