Medal of Honor Monday - Gunner's Mate Bibber's Explosive Mission

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!


Lieutenant General
Managing Member & Webmaster
Apr 1, 1999
Martinsburg, WV
Charles James Bibber



Service/Branch: United States Navy​
Entered Service at: Massachusetts​
Entered Service on: May 2, 1864​
Unit: U.S.S. Agawam​
Rank: Gunner's Mate​
Discharged: Mustered Out 1866​
Service Notes: None​


Location of Action: Near Fort Fisher, North Carolina​
Date of Action: December 23, 1864​
Date Award Issued: Not Listed​
As Per War Department, General Orders No. 45, issued on December 31, 1864:​
Citation: Bibber served on board the U.S.S. Agawam, as one of a volunteer crew of a powder boat which was exploded near Fort Fisher, December 23, 1864. The powder boat, towed in by the Wilderness to prevent detection by the enemy, cast off and slowly steamed to within 300 yards of the beach. After fuses and fires had been lit and a second anchor with short scope let go to assure the boat's tailing inshore, the crew again boarded the Wilderness and proceeded a distance of 12 miles from shore. Less than 2 hours later the explosion took place, and the following day fires were observed still burning at the forts.​
Additional Notes:
Admiral Porter's request was for about 8,000 troops and enough vessels to fire 150 guns in broadside. As most of the ships would be wooden vessels, and Fort Fisher had seventy five guns mounted behind heavy earthworks, the granting of this request still left the odds against the navy.​
The fleet under Porter assembled at Hampton Roads by October 15, 1865 to the number of 121 vessels. It was divided into three divisions each under command of a commodore, and by the end of October the navy was ready. On November 1st, General Butler came on board Admiral Porter's flagship and unfolded to him a novel plan that of bringing a boat containing 150 tons of powder as close as possible under the fort, and blowing up the vessel, the tremendous shock it was supposed would level the fort, or at least dismount the guns.​
After thorough investigation by competent men, the plan was viewed as perfectly feasible, and as prospective of complete success provided the whole cargo of 150 tons could be detonated simultaneously. This some army engineers said could be done easily enough, and Admiral Porter telegraphed the Navy Ordnance Department for the powder. In his haste, according to his own statement, he wrote two zeros too many in the telegram, and Captain Wise of the Ordnance Department shook his head in amazement when he received the request to furnish the squadron with 15,000 tons of powder. He telegraphed back: "Why do you not ask us to send you Niagara and Vesuvius down there, that would satisfy you?!" There was considerable merriment about this otherwise harmless mistake.​
The steamer Louisiana, an old vessel, was selected to serve as the powder boat, and was taken down from Newberne to Hampton Roads, where she received her dangerous cargo, brought together from both army and navy magazines, and stowed away, on board in bags.​
In Beaufort N.C., the powder boat was fitted out for her perilous trip, fuses being carefully laid to assure the simultaneous explosion, which was to be started by candles, and some system of clock work. The fleet had in the meanwhile left Hampton Roads, and anchored off Fort Fisher, twenty five miles from the shore on the 16th of December, in twenty fathoms of water. The army transports and General Butler, with his flagship, were at anchor off Masonboro Inlet, out of sight of the naval squadrons. The admiral intended to send the powder boat in on the 18th, and informed General Butler accordingly.​
General Butler objected to the date as being premature, and nothing was done on the 18th, although the weather was comparatively calm with only a light swell on the sea. The next day a heavy gale set in from the southeast, and the way in which the large number of vessels rode out this hurricane, each with two anchors out in twenty fathoms of water, and 120 fathoms of chain out on each anchor, was a glorious sight to see, and a feature which reflected the greatest credit on the seamanship of our navy.​
The powder boat started at last on the night of the 23d of December and finally anchored as near the beach as possible. She was in command of Commander Rhind, and the following officers and men who volunteered for this dangerous mission, Lieutenant Preston, flag lieutenant of the admiral, Second Assistant Engineer Mullan, Master's Mate Boyden, Gunner's Mate Charles J Bibber, Quarter Gunner John Neil, Seamen James Roberts, William Garvin, Robert Montgomery, Charles Hawkins, Dennis Conlan, and James Sullivan, Firemen William Hinnegan, and Charles Rice. The men were all from Commander Rhind's vessel the Agawam.​
Admiral Porter who seems to have regarded the clock work and candle arrangement with some skepticism suggested that it would be wise to light some pine knots in the cabin before leaving the boat so as to make sure of the explosion anyway. His advice was followed Commander Rhind and Lieutenant Preston lighted the candles and Engineer Mullan the pile of pine knots in the cabin after which the members of the crew made their escape hurriedly in small boats The candles and the clock work were to explode the ship in an hour and a half After nearly two hours there was an explosion but only the after part of the powder boat went up. It is reasonable to believe that the clock work missed fire and Porter's pine knots did the work. Of course they did not cause a simultaneous explosion and consequently the enterprise failed Although the shock of the explosion was considerable not the least damage was done to the fort The next day a boat with four deserters came on board the Malvern and Admiral Porter asked one of them about it "Oh it was terrible, Admiral; we all woke up from it," said he.​
Text Excerpted from: Deeds of Valor, Walter Frederick Beyer & Oscar Frederick Keydel, Perrien-Keydel Co., 1902, Pages 80-81.

Birthdate: March 22, 1837​
Birthplace: Portland, Maine​
Spouse: Unknown​
Died: October 8, 1883, Age of 46​
Cenotaph: Rumney Marsh Burial Ground, Revere, Massachusetts (Dedicated by the Citizens on Revere, George V. Colella, Mayor, May 28, 1984)​
Buried: Woodlawn Cemetery, Everett, Massachusetts​
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!