Lt. Charles Flusser


Why would the commanding army general commend a naval officer in his battle report??? There it was in General Jesse Reno’s official report on the battle of South Mills:


“ I desire to return my thanks to Commodore Rowan and the officers and men under him for their untiring energy in disembarking and re-embarking my command, and also to Lieutenant Flusser for the gallant manner in which he assisted us by proceeding up the river and driving the enemy out of the woods along the banks.”


According to Lieutenant William B. Avery of the 1st New York Marine Artillery, “On our left we heard firing from the gunboats, which were shelling the woods and proclaiming our approach to the enemy.” They were doing much more than that. Lieutenant Flusser and the crew of the USS Commodore Perry were busy rousing the Southampton Cavalry from their sleep near Elizabeth City. James F. Bryant of the Southampton Cavalry gave this account:


“We remained there only until the next morning (Saturday), when we were driven out by the shot and shells of Yankees whose gun-boats were only a quarter mile away from our quarters and could be seen plain enough. Our company occupied two large buildings in the edge of the town, and three Union men escaped to the Yankees the night before we left and evidently informed where our quarters were, for they did not fire upon the town but directed their fires solely in the direction of our quarters.”


“They commenced their fireing upon us a little before sunrise, and our men escaped the best way and as quick as possible, having to leave a great deal of baggage &c.  The cannon balls before we could leave were bursting into our quarters and tearing them to pieces, splitting fence rails to pieces, knocking down trees, &c.”


Lieutenant Flusser wasn’t finished. In a letter to his mother, Flusser revealed, “At daybreak (I) received notice from the general in command that it was absolutely necessary to destroy a certain bridge. I got underway in five minutes, ran up the river, and tore away the bridge. Ran right through it with my steamer.” Destroying the bridge prevented Colonel Wright’s companies stationed near Elizabeth City from crossing the river and cutting the Union troops off from their ships. Flusser continues his story:


“ The morning when the bridge was destroyed as I wound up the river I caught some of the enemy’s cavalry napping. The men were in a house about three-quarters of a mile from the riverbank and their horses in the stables where some were just saddling their beasts when I caught sight of them and sent some nine inch and thirty two pound shells into the house and into the stable.”


Next it was the McComas Battery’s turn to hear from Lieutenant Flusser. He continues, “I had a man on shore the other night who went into their camp, sat on one of their field pieces and talked with the soldiers unsuspectedly.” The man left the camp walking in the direction of the river according to Captain McComas. The morning of the 19th, Flusser’s ship opened fire on the Confederate artillery camp. Thomas Mahood of the McComas Battery described the shells as being “as big as camp kettles.” Mahood credited the previous day’s spy with the accuracy of the Federal fire. “That fellow’s business thare was to get the distance and location of our camp which enabled them to put the shells among us,” concluded Mahood.


Flusser wasn’t finished yet. He moved to a smaller vessel and attempted to reach the South Mills Locks, which he intended to destroy with his bow gun. Orders from Commander Rowan to return to Elizabeth City stopped Flusser a couple of miles short of the battlefield.


So that’s how a navy lieutenant ends up getting commended in an army general’s official report!


(Note: The John Burgess House occupied by the Southampton Cavalry still stands at 513 North Road Street in Elizabeth City, NC.)




John Burgess’ house on Road Street shelled by Flusser