Transcribed from L. H. Jones, Captain Roger Jones of London and Virginia, Some of his Antecedents and Descendants. Albany, N. Y.: Joel Munsell's Sons, Publishers, 1891. pp. 263-269.
If you know of the original copy of this "Sketch of Catesby ap Roger Jones," please contact Mabry Tyson. I only know of these extracts and have not found the original.
"He was born in Clark county, Virginia, in the valley of the Shenandoah at the foot of the Blue Ridge. His father was Genl. Roger Jones, for many years Adjt. Genl. Of the U. S. Army, and he was named after his uncle Commodore Catesby Jones of the U. S. Navy. On his mother's side he is closely connected with the Pages and Lees of Va.
Educated with a view of entering the Navy he received an appointment as midshipman at an earlier age than usual in order to serve under his uncle, then in command of the Exploring Expedition. His services as a midshipman were continuous, and when examined for promotion he took a very high stand in a class remarkable for talent and professional skill. His duties while in the U. S. Navy were unusually active and varied. He served through the war with Mexico, at first in the Gulf and then on the West coast, and was at one time attached to the naval batteries in the siege of Vera Cruz. He was the first officer of the U. S. Navy who had circumnavigated the world three times. He served in the U. S. Coast Survey with Maury and at the Naval Observatory. Recognizing the vital importance of Ordnance, he paid especial attention to it in all its branches, and while studying it he was three years with Dahlgren, and assisting him in constructing his experiments which resulted in the introduction of the Dahlgren gun, which completely revolutionized the * * * of the navy. The U. S. steam frigate, "Merrimac" subsequently so well known in the Confederacy as the iron-clad Virginia was the first ship equipped with these heavy guns, and at the particular request of Dahlgren Lieut. Jones was ordered to her as ordnance officer, being at that time the only one in the navy beside the inventor familiar with the working of these new guns on their novel carriages. At the expiration of the cruise of the Merrimac, he was selected by Dahlgren as his executive officer of the ordnance ship Plymouth, on board of which, for the first time, in any navy, was mounted an eleven-inch gun, an experiment which proved eminently successful. A regulation of the navy department in regard to this ship was that the officers should be changed each year, but Lieut. Jones was continued as her executive officer until near the end of the cruise, when he was directed to return immediately to Washington, and ordered as ordnance officer of the Paraguay expedition. He was the only officer recalled from a foreign station to serve in this squadron. Jones like a true Virginian felt a pride in his State, and believed that his allegiance was due first to her, and also believed in the right of secession. When Virginia seceded he chanced to be in Richmond on that eventful day, and altho' attached to the Union and devoted to his profession, he immediately resigned his commission in the navy of the U. S. He and Capt. Pegram, who had also resigned at the same time, were appointed captains in the Va. Navy by Gov. Letcher and ordered to Norfolk. Capt. Jones under Capt. Pegram organized an expedition and seized the naval powder magazine, in which he was assisted by Lieuts. Sinclair and Harrison, from under the guns of the frigate Cumberland and other men-of-war. To divert attention he directed a sham attack to be made on the navy yard.
The battle of Manassa was fought with this powder, and in fact there was little other for months afterwards in the Confederate States. Returning to Norfolk, after taking the powder to Richmond, he found that the Federal ships had sailed leaving the navy yard in flames. He was appointed * * * and chief of staff to the commanding officer, and assisted energetically in placing the harbor in a state of defense early in May when he was ordered to the defense of James river. He erected and commanded the batteries at Jamestown Island, keeping them by the closest attention in an admirable state of efficiency and discipline, for which he was highly complimented by Generals Lee and Magruder. The volunteer soldiers, many of whom were of the best families in the State, gentlemen of education and refinement, were at first restless under the trammels of this strict discipline, but soon learned to appreciate it and their commander. He was in great request at this time, the Governor of Tennessee having tendered him a high command in that State, which the Governor of Virginia was unwilling he should accept, as Gen'l Lee represented that his services could not be dispensed with in Virginia at so critical a period. Disappointed at obtaining the facilities for erecting these batteries-which had been promised him, he took the responsibility of carrying on the work without the aid of the government, and appealed to the people of the neighborhood who promptly responded by sending negroes, materials and provisions, and so energetically was the work pushed that guns were actually mounted and fired before a single soldier was on the island; Jones himself loading and firing the first gun with his own hands. While in command at Jamestown Island, in conjunction with Lieutenants Brooke and Minor, he experimented upon targets representing the section of a ship, to test the angle of inclination, thickness of iron, and disposition of different kinds of wood required to resist the penetration by shot of heavy weight with a view to the construction of the armor of the iron-clad steamer Virginia, then preparing for service at Norfolk. Railroad iron and rolled iron plates were each experimented upon with heavy guns and the experience thus gained, the thickness of iron and angle of inclination adopted in constructing the Virginia. In November, '61, he was ordered to the Merrimac or Virginia as she was afterward called, as the executive and ordnance officer, and directed to select her battery, superintend its equipment, and was made responsible for its efficiency. Jones was the first officer ordered to the ship.
The Secretary of the Navy in his office handed him the Navy Register with a request to select officers for the vessel, and those then designated by him were ordered to her. Steps were promptly taken to obtain a crew, an order having been issued by the War Department permitting soldiers to volunteer for the ship, and Jones sent officers to the various camps to obtain them, in which great difficulties were encountered, the colonels and captains being exceedingly loath to give up good men-some positively refused to do so, and were court-martialed. After great exertions a crew was obtained, most of them being landmen. Some of the "so-called" volunteers had bad characters from their commanding officers, who could not manage them, and were brought on board in double irons. Jones immediately had their irons struck off, and informed them that he would have no forced volunteers on boar, and that if they wished to remain they could do so and start fair with the other men, and make a character for themselves. This course proved eminently judicious, as some of them were the best men on board, and after serving on board the Virginia followed Jones to another command.
The batteries selected consisted of &c. * * *
The prow was of cast iron bolted to the stem and projecting several feet from it. Jones condemned the material of which it was made and the mode of fastening and predicted that it would be lost on the first collision. His strenuous and repeated efforts to have it changed were unavailing. It will be seen that his prediction was unfortunately verified.
Capt. Franklin Buchanan had been ordered as flag officer though he remained in charge of his bureau till late in February, leaving Jones, whose rank was only that of Lieutenant, to fit out and equip the ship. In order that he might not be interfered with in this duty no commander was ordered to the vessel.
Flag Officer Buchanan made a rigid inspection of the ship immediately after joining her, and found her in admirable condition, and expressed himself very highly gratified.
The engines had been thoroughly overhauled, and improved in some particulars, but still were not trustworthy.
It had been determined to make the attack by night on the frigates Cumberland and Congress lying at anchor off Newport News. All preparations were made for doing so, the ship's sides being heavily slushed under the belief that it would tend to aid in glancing off the projectiles that might strike her. But the pilots, of whom there were five on board, announced, only a few hours before the hour fixed upon for her departure, their objection to take the ship out at night, after having previously consented and made their arrangements to do so. This was on Thursday night and the ship did not leave the navy yard until Saturday morning about 11 o'clock.
What estimate the officers of the Merrimac had of Jones may be inferred from their having asked after the fight that he might be retained in command until Buchanan recovered from his wounds. Another severe test proving his intelligence and efficiency was that not a single improvement in the working or efficiency of the battery could be suggested after the two days' fight, by any of the officers, captains of guns, or quarter gunners, though each one was separately asked if he could suggest any improvement."