The Narrative of a Blockade-Runner
by John Wilkinson
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Transcriber's note:

Some obvious typographical errors have been corrected. The use of double quotation marks for quotations within quotations has been retained as in the original, and the reader's attention is called to the author's failure to close some quotations.



J. WILKINSON, Captain in the Late Confederate States Navy.

New York: Sheldon & Company, 8 Murray Street. 1877 Copyright, Sheldon & Company, 1877.


In deference to the judgment of two or three literary friends, I have entitled this, my first attempt at authorship, "The Narrative of a Blockade-runner." They do not agree with Shakspeare that "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," to the reading public; nor that it is always advisable to call a thing by its proper name. It will be seen, however, by any reader who has the patience to peruse the work, that it embraces a wider scope than its title would imply. I have endeavored to give a full account of the passage by the U. S. fleet of the forts below New Orleans; and to contribute some facts that will probably settle the controversy, in the judgment of the reader, as to the real captors of that city. "Honor to whom honor is due."

It will be seen that I have been favored with access to Commodore Mitchell's official report of that conflict, a document never published. The information derived from it, added to facts and circumstances coming under my personal observation, furnishes the means of laying before the public an account of that action from a new point of view.

In bearing testimony to the kind and humane treatment of the prisoners of war at Fort Warren, I perform a most grateful duty. It was my good fortune to be captured and held a prisoner, before the "retaliatory" measures were adopted by the United States Government.

I have contributed some new, and, I hope, interesting facts about the manner in which blockade running was conducted.

I cannot do better than furnish the following extract from a literary friend's letter to me in reference to this effort of mine. "I am particularly glad, believing as I do, that such a volume will help to the production of that state of mind, North and South, which every good man wishes to see grow. It is only necessary that we shall all fall into the habit of talking and writing about war matters without feeling; that we shall forget the bitterness of the conflict in our interest in its history; and if you or I can amuse Northern readers, or entertain them with our recollections, we shall certainly leave them in a pleasanter and better state of mind than we found them in."

I should be happy to believe that I had contributed, in ever so small a degree, to this consummation so devoutly to be wished for. But I would make no sacrifice of principle nor of interest to achieve this end.

While accepting the situation consequent upon the unsuccessful appeal to arms, the Southern people do not stultify themselves by professing to renounce their conviction of their right and duty in having responded to the call to defend their respective States from invasion.

But they believe that the war was conducted by the Confederate Government in a spirit of humanity. Conceiving it to be the duty of every southern man to submit any testimony in his possession relating to this subject, and especially to the treatment of prisoners of war, I have quoted some passages from a "Vindication of the Confederacy against the charge of Cruelty to Prisoners." This work was recently published by the Southern Historical Society, and was compiled by the Rev. J. Wm. Jones, D.D., author of "Personal Reminiscences of Gen. R. E. Lee." The candid and dispassionate student of History, in seeking after the truth, should read this work before forming a judgment upon this point, which has, perhaps, caused more bitter resentments among the Northern people than all the other deplorable events of our civil strife combined.

WOODSIDE, AMELIA CO., VA., Oct. 15th, 1876.



Secession of Virginia.—Service at Fort Powhatan.—Volunteers at the Big Guns.—"Wide Awake" Clubs.—Want of preparation in Virginia.—Fort Powhatan abandoned.—Service at Acquia Creek.—The "Tigers."—Coal Mining on the Potomac. 15


Ordered to New Orleans.—The Naval Fleet there.—The "River Defence" Squadron.—The iron-clad "Louisiana."—Difficulty in managing the Fleet.—Going down the River.—Want of concert.—Admiral Farragut.—Our crew. 29


The 24th April.—Passage of the United States Fleet.—After the Storm.—The "River Defence" boats.—The Refuge in the Bayou.—Surrender of the Forts.—Extracts from Commodore Mitchell's official Report.—Council of War.—Destruction of the "Louisiana."—Our Surrender.—General B. F. Butler.—Transferred to the United States Frigate "Colorado." 44


Transferred to the "Rhode Island."—Meeting with an old Friend.—Arrival at Fort Warren.—Treatment there.—Correspondence, and its Result.—Prison Life.—Exchanged.—The Crew at quarters.—Burial of the "Unknown." 60


A Brief Stay at Home.—Report to the War Department.—Instructions to go abroad.—The Blockade-runner "Kate."—Voyage to Nassau.—Yellow Fever.—The Undertaker.—Our Skipper "Captain Dick."—The Major sick.—A Story for the Marines.—Arrival at Cardenas.—The Coolies.—Arrival at Havana.—The American Consul and I.—The Pirate Marti.—The Spanish Steamer.—Pretty Harbors.—Captain Fry. 83


San Domingo.—The Island of Hayti and its Inhabitants.—St. Thomas.—General Santa Anna.—The Mail Steamer Atrato.—Arrival at Southampton.—English Scenery.—The Major Fails.—The Giraffe purchased.—A Claim against the Confederate Government.—The Hon J. M. Mason.—Credit of the Confederate Government abroad.—An Improper Agent.—Captain Bullock.—The Giraffe ready for Sea.—Glasgow.—Our Last Dinner.—Our Scotch Landlady and Head Waiter.—We part with the Major.—Hot Punch and Scotch Babies.—A Reminiscence. 100


Voyage to Madeira.—A Capital Sea-boat.—The Island Ponies.—Mr. B. and his daughters.—Voyage to St. John's, Porto Rico.—Run across the Bahama Banks.—Nassau during the War.—High Wages and Low Characters.—Crew re-shipped.—Failure to enter Charleston.—The "Lump."—A Narrow Escape.—The Scotch Lithographers and their work.—Crossing the Bar.—Transfer of the Giraffe to the Confederate Government.—She becomes the "R. E. Lee."—The Major fulfills his promise, but fails in his object. 117


Dyer and the Sailing Captain.—First Voyage to Nassau.—Major Ficklen and the Two Young Lieutenants.—Our Old Skipper "Captain Dick."—Bermuda.—The Races there and elsewhere.—Description of Bermuda.—Moore, the Poet, and his Rival Mr. Tucker.—Tame Fish.—The Naval Station.—Col. B.'s Accident. 136


We sail for Wilmington.—Thick Weather on the Coast.—Anchored among the Blockading Fleet.—The "Mound."—Running the Blockade by Moonlight.—A Device to mislead the Enemy.—The man Hester. 149


The Confederate States Steamer "Florida."—Short Supply of Coal.—The "Florida's" Decks.—Tea and Costly China.—Narrow Escape from Capture.—Miss Lucy G.—Arrival at Bermuda.—Our uneventful Trip inward.—The Johnson's Island Expedition.—Another Narrow Escape.—"Pretty Shooting."—Arrival at Halifax, N.S. 159


The Lee Captured at Last.—Sandy Keith alias Thomassen.—Recruiting in the British Provinces for the United States Army.—Failure of the Expedition.—Return to Bermuda. 173


Take Command of the "Whisper."—High Rates of Freight.—Confederate Money and Sterling Exchange.—An Investment in Cotton.—The Ill-fated Ironclad.—The Point Lookout Expedition and its Failure.—A Faithful Servant and a Narrow Escape.—Futile Projects.—Wilmington during the War.—Light Houses reestablished.—Gloomy Prospects of the South. 189


Cruise of the Chickamauga.—Mr. Mallory's inefficiency.—Troubles in Bermuda.—The Three Wrecks.—End of the cruise. 209


Last Summons to Richmond.—Demoralization.—The Chameleon.—More trouble in Bermuda.—Another Narrow Escape.—Fall of Fort Fisher.—Maffitt's Escape, and Captain S.'s Capture.—Another Hard Chase.—Failure to enter Charleston.—Return to Nassau. 225


Sad News via New York.—Consternation among Speculators in Nassau.—Departure from Nassau via Bermuda.—Arrival at Liverpool.—The End. 244



Secession of Virginia.—Service at Fort Powhatan.—Volunteers at the Big Guns.—"Wide Awake" Clubs.—Want of preparation in Virginia.—Fort Powhatan abandoned.—Service at Acquia Creek.—The "Tigers."—Coal Mining on the Potomac.

When the State of Virginia seceded from the Union, on the 17th day of April, 1861, most of her citizens, belonging to the United States Navy, resigned their commissions, and offered their services to the State of their birth. Many of them had meddled so little with politics as never even to have cast a vote; but having been educated in the belief that their allegiance was due to their State, they did not hesitate to act as honor and patriotism seemed to demand. They were compelled to choose whether they would aid in subjugating their State, or in defending it against invasion; for it was already evident that coercion would be used by the General Government, and that war was inevitable. In reply to the accusation of perjury in breaking their oath of allegiance, since brought against the officers of the Army and Navy who resigned their commissions to render aid to the South, it need only be stated that, in their belief, the resignation of their commissions absolved them from any special obligation. They then occupied the same position towards the Government as other classes of citizens. But this charge was never brought against them till the war was ended. The resignation of their commissions was accepted when their purpose was well known. As to the charge of ingratitude, they reply, their respective States had contributed their full share towards the expenses of the General Government, acting as their disbursing agent; and when these States withdrew from the Union, their citizens belonging to the two branches of the public service did not, and do not, consider themselves amenable to this charge for abandoning their official positions to cast their lot with their kindred and friends. But yielding as they did to necessity, it was nevertheless a painful act to separate themselves from companions with whom they had been long and intimately associated, and from the flag under which they had been proud to serve.

During the brief interval which elapsed between the act of secession and the admission of the State into the Confederacy, the Virginia Army and Navy were organized; and all of the naval officers who had tendered their services received commissions in the Virginia, and afterward in the Confederate Navy; but as there were very few vessels in commission, the greater portion of these officers were ordered to shore batteries. My first experience was at Fort Powhatan, an earthwork situated on James River a short distance below City Point, and carrying six or eight guns mounted on ships' carriages, which had been transported from the Norfolk Navy-yard. "Grim visaged war" had not shown his "wrinkled front" in those fair portions of the land; and our time was chiefly spent in drilling the volunteers at the big guns, and visiting the hospitable families in the neighborhood; but all of us were soon to be transferred to more active scenes. The young gentlemen-privates of the gallant volunteer company, who so daintily handled the side and train-tackles of the 42-pounders in the battery, considered themselves fortunate, not long afterwards, if they obtained full rations of lean beef, or "Nassau" pork, and "hard tack;" and bore the brunt of many a severely contested battle as part of Stonewall Jackson's "foot cavalry." But at this period there were only a few so called croakers who at all realized the magnitude of the struggle about to ensue. The camps resounded with song and merriment; and many of the young warriors were attended, like the knights-errant of old, by a faithful squire, who polished the boots, cleaned the musket, and performed other menial service for his "young master." My own "fidus Achates," was old "Uncle Billy," whose occupation was gone by the stoppage of a tobacco factory in Richmond, where he had been used to take a prominent part in the peculiar songs of the "profession." He would sometimes give us a specimen of his vocal powers, and would nearly bring the house down, literally and metaphorically, while executing the mysteries of a "Virginny breakdown" in thick soled brogans sixteen inches long.

But to return from this digression, it was believed by many persons that a large party at the North would oppose the prosecution of a war of invasion. It will be remembered by those at all conversant with the history of events at that time, how strong had been the party opposed to secession in the Convention then in session at Richmond, (at least two-thirds of its members having been elected as Union men,) and what strenuous efforts towards peace and compromise had been made by the Border States Commissioners. The call upon Virginia, by President Lincoln, for her quota of troops to aid in subjugating the South, had settled the question, however, in the Convention; and in a few hours after Governor Letcher's reply to that call, Virginia had virtually cast her lot with the Gulf States, although two weeks elapsed before she became a member of the Confederacy. I had visited, some months previous to the secession of the State, many of the little villages in New England, where I saw that the population were in terrible earnest. "Wide awake," and other secret societies were organized; and inflammatory harangues aroused the populace. The favorite theme of the orators was the "martyrdom" of John Brown; the piratical and murderous raid of that fanatic into the State of Virginia being exalted into a praiseworthy act of heroism. When I returned to Virginia and contrasted the apparent apathy and want of preparation there with the state of affairs at the North, I trembled for the result. But when the State severed her relations with the Union, the Governor acted with great vigor and ability, and the most was made of the limited resources at his command. Volunteers responded with alacrity to the call to defend the State from invasion; and none responded more readily, or served more bravely, than those who had opposed secession in the Convention. It seems invidious to cite particular examples; but the "noblest Trojan of them all" will point a moral, and serve as an exemplar for generations to come. Wise in council, eloquent in debate, bravest and coolest among the brave in battle, and faithful to his convictions in adversity, he still lives to denounce falsehood and wrong. Truly the old hero, in all he says and does, "gives the world assurance of a man."—I allude to Gen. J. A. Early.

When Fort Powhatan was abandoned, I was ordered to the command of a battery at Acquia Creek on the Potomac. Although situated upon the frontier, few incidents occurred there to vary the monotony of our lives. Occasionally some of the gunboats guarding the river would steam in, and exchange a few shots with us; and we witnessed frequent skirmishes between them and Walker's afterwards famous battery of flying artillery; but ammunition being extremely scarce at that period in the Confederacy, the orders to us were peremptory to be very sparing in the use of it.[1]

The battery at Acquia Creek was constructed at the terminus of the railroad from Fredericksburg, and was manned by an infantry company acting as artillerists. Besides this force, permanently stationed at the battery, and quartered near it, a company of infantry from military headquarters was sent every evening to guard against a night attack. A company called the "Tigers," took their turn at this service, and we would gladly have dispensed with their "protection." Utterly undisciplined, they were more dangerous to friends than to foes. Mutinous and insubordinate, they were engaged in constant collisions with each other and with the companies so unfortunate as to be quartered near them; and their camp was a pandemonium. In addition to other sources of quarrel and contention, several women (vivandieres, they called themselves) followed the company. The patience of Gen. M.[2] who commanded the division, was finally exhausted. He summoned the Captain of the "Tigers" into his presence; and after severely reprimanding him for the misconduct of his men, insisted that the "vivandieres" should be sent away. The captain urged many reasons for keeping them; the chief one being the good moral effect of their presence! but the General was inflexible. Even gallantry to the sex must be sacrificed to the truth; and a proper regard for the latter demands the statement that a reformation commenced with the departure of the women; and our friends the "Tigers" eventually became well-behaved soldiers.

We passed many months of inglorious inactivity here until the spring of 1862, when the line of the Potomac was abandoned. While the Federal forces had remained comparatively quiet in this part of the Confederacy, they had achieved many important successes elsewhere. Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River, and Roanoke Island in North Carolina had been captured, with large garrisons; and New Orleans and Savannah were threatened. General Joseph E. Johnston, who at the time commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, determined to fall back to the line of the Rappahannock; and all the batteries on the Potomac were abandoned between the 8th and 10th of March, 1862; the guns being removed to other quarters.

The monotonous service at the batteries had tried the patience of all who were attached to them; and we rejoiced at the prospect of more active duty. The reverses sustained by the Confederate arms were not to be disguised, nor were our convictions of great danger to the country to be removed by the politic proclamation issued by the Confederate Government, to the effect that a contraction of the lines could exercise no material influence upon the issue of the war. But as it was deemed necessary by the military authorities to abandon the situation, we were not at all sorry to depart; for although we had seen no active service, insatiate war had claimed many victims, who had perished ingloriously by the malarial fevers of that marshy district. The naval officers were especially elated at the change. Their duties and their authority being alike undefined, there resulted a deplorable want of harmony between them and the military. This was, indeed, the inevitable consequence of the anomalous position held by the former; and this want of concert of action subsequently contributed, in some measure at least, to the disastrous issue of the conflict below New Orleans.

We having been trained in the strict discipline of a man of war, wanted "savoir faire" in dealing with the fastidious young captains, and the equally sensitive "high privates"; while they no doubt looked upon us as a domineering, tyrannical set of exclusives and wished that we were on board the Federal gunboats in the river, or farther. My personal intercourse, however, was always very pleasant with them. Capt. Brown, commanding the company of North Carolinians at the battery, had graduated at the U. S. Naval School a year or two previous to the war, and was a strict disciplinarian. Two years after our separation, I fell in with him accidentally; and he then gave me a sad account of the changes wrought by death and disease in his fine company. He had risen to the rank of Colonel, and was then on his return to duty in the army of Northern Virginia after recovery from wounds received in battle. The graphic account given by him of the manner in which he was wounded and his narrow escape from death, may interest others as much as it did me. His regiment formed part of Gen. Ed. Johnson's division, which held the salient angle in Gen. Lee's line at Spottsylvania C. H. when it was forced by the Federal troops. The attack was made at early dawn and in the additional obscurity of a Scotch mist; and so complete was the surprise according to B.'s account, that he was only made aware of the close proximity of the enemy by dimly discerning, a few paces distant, a Federal soldier with his musket levelled at him. The soldier fired, and B. fell insensible, shot through one of the lungs. Upon recovering consciousness, he found himself on a litter borne by Federal soldiers. An officer leaned over him, and offered him some liquor from his canteen, which revived him so far that he was able to speak. His humane captor then volunteered to transmit any message to B.'s friends and relatives. While B. was rallying his failing senses to deliver what he believed to be his dying messages to the loved ones at home, a rattling fire of musketry opened upon them, the litter bearers and the officer were shot down; the latter falling across Brown, who relapsed into insensibility. When he again recovered consciousness, he found himself borne in the same litter, now carried by Confederate soldiers. The position had been retaken. His good friend had been shot dead.

Our mess at Acquia Creek was abundantly supplied with food from land and water. Every member of it, no doubt, frequently longed afterwards for the "flesh pots of Egypt." We discovered, by chance, a large bulk of coal, which had been stored on the long wharf where the Acquia Creek steam-boats used to make their landings. When the Point was shelled about the commencement of the war by the gunboats, the wharf was destroyed, the coal falling uninjured ten or twelve feet to the bottom of the river. We fished up our supplies with oyster tongs as they were needed, and our snug quarters were kept warm during the winter. Towards the end of the season, one of the mess servants lately arrived from the rural districts, was sent in the boat for a supply from the coal mine. He had made many a fire of soft coal in the drawing room at home; but although an accomplished servant, his education had been so far neglected that he was ignorant of all the "'ologies." He was very much astonished at our process of coal mining, and asked me with great gravity, on his return with the load, "if coal grew like that all over the Potomac." Of course I replied in the affirmative. It was anthracite hard coal, a specimen of which he had never seen; so he was further informed that it was hard or soft according to the season when it was fished up, being soft in the summer and hard in the winter. He was much pleased to have acquired all this information, and probably took the earliest opportunity, on his return home, to enlighten his circle of friends and acquaintances upon the subject of coal mining on the Potomac.


[1] The belief still prevails, probably, at the North, that extensive preparations had been made by the South for the war. But General Joseph E. Johnston who was assigned to the service of organizing and instructing the Virginia volunteers called out by Governor Letcher states the contrary. He asserts that all the arms to be depended upon at that time, were those found in the Southern arsenals, U. S. muskets, and rifles of discarded patterns to the number of about 75,000; 40,000 flint muskets belonging to the State of Virginia, and 20,000 procured for the State of Georgia by Governor Brown.

It was charged that Mr. Floyd of Virginia while Secretary of War under President Buchanan had caused the removal of public arms to the Southern arsenals; but a Committee of the House of Representatives, in 1861, exonerated Mr. Floyd from the charge, and the chairman of that Committee was the Hon. Mr. Stanton, a prominent and zealous member of the Republican party.

General Johnston, who was in a position to know the facts, states in his "Narrative, etc.," that the "Confederate States began the war with one hundred and twenty thousand arms of obsolete models, and seven hundred of the recently adopted weapons rifled-muskets, and the United States with about four hundred and fifty thousand of the old, and all of the modern arms that had been made since the adoption of the new models."

When in August, 1861, it was in contemplation to send the Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland, want of ammunition, according to the distinguished authority just quoted, was one of the chief obstacles to the project.

[2] The allusion is made to Genl. Mears, who commanded at Acquia Creek and to the Baltimore "Tigers", at the time commanded by Captain Thomas.


Ordered to New Orleans.—The Naval Fleet there.—The "River Defence" Squadron.—The iron clad "Louisiana."—Difficulty in managing the Fleet.—Going down the River.—Want of concert.—Admiral Farragut.—Our crew.

I was ordered to report to Commodore Whittle, commanding the naval station at New Orleans, for duty afloat. A powerful fleet of ships of war and bomb vessels, under the command of Commodore (afterwards Admiral) Farragut, was then assembling at the mouth of the Mississippi, for an attack upon New Orleans, in which a large land force under Gen. Butler (afterwards called the Beast) was to cooperate. The citizens were under the impression that the place was impregnable. Gen. Duncan, commanding Forts Jackson and St. Philip, below the city, was considered one of the best artillerists in the service; and the land defence was intrusted to Gen. Lovell, with a well appointed force under his command. The people of that gay city were occupied as usual in business and pleasure, and continued unconscious of their peril up to the very time when the Federal fleet passed the forts. But the condition of affairs, so far as naval defence was concerned, was lamentable. The regular C. S. naval fleet consisted of the Louisiana (Captain McIntosh) and carrying the flag of Commodore Mitchell; the steamer McRae (Captain Huger), carrying six light 32-pounders and nine-inch pivot gun; the steamer Jackson (Captain Renshaw), with two pivoted smooth bore 32-pounders; the small ironplated "Ram" Manassas (Captain Warley), carrying one 32-pounder carronade in the bow; and two launches, each carrying a howitzer and a crew of twenty men. There were also present, at the time the passage was forced by the U. S. fleet, two Louisiana State gunboats, viz., the "Governor Moore," Captain Kennon, carrying two 32-pounder rifled guns, and the "General Quitman," with a similar battery. These were converted sea steamers, with pine and cotton barricades to protect the more vulnerable part of their machinery. All of the above vessels, with the exception of the Louisiana and Manassas, were too slightly built for war purposes. The unarmed steamboats, "Mozier," placed under Commodore Mitchell's command. In addition to the above force, there were six steamers carrying from one to two guns each, constituting what was called the "River Defence Squadron," under the command of Captain Stevenson. These vessels' boilers and machinery were protected by heavy timber barricades, filled in with compressed cotton; and they were prepared with bar-iron casing around their bows to act as "Rams."

The Louisiana was pierced for twelve guns rifled six-inch; and eight-inch shell guns, three in the bow, three in each broadside, and three in the stern. Her armor consisted of railroad-iron bars securely bolted upon the sides and ends of the long covered box built upon her nearly submerged hull. These sides and ends sloped at an angle of about forty-five degrees; around the upper deck was a stout bulwark about five feet high, and iron plated inside, to resist grape shot, and afford a protection to the sharp-shooters stationed there in action.

The propelling power consisted of huge wheels, boxed up in the centre of the vessel; and a propeller on each quarter. A more powerful and efficient iron-clad called the Mississippi had just been launched from the stocks, but the passage of the forts was effected before her battery could be put on board.

After a few days' service on board the Jackson, I was ordered on board the Louisiana (as executive officer) then lying alongside the "levee" at New Orleans. Her battery was not mounted; and the mechanics were at work upon her unfinished armor and machinery. Much was to be done, and with the most limited facilities; but many obstacles had been surmounted and affairs were progressing favorably, when we received orders from Commodore Whittle to proceed down the river as far as the forts. Our wheels were in working order; but a great deal was to be done to the propellers, and the crew were still engaged in mounting the guns. But Commodore Whittle, though cognizant of our condition, was compelled against his judgment, to yield to the urgent telegrams of General Duncan to send the Louisiana down the river. We had been unable to man the ship with sailors; for although many of this class belonged to the various volunteer companies around New Orleans, their commanding officers were not disposed to part with them; nor were the "jack tars" themselves willing to exchange camp life for the discipline and subordination of the naval service. Our regular crew being too small to man the battery, we gladly accepted the services of the "Crescent Artillery," a fine volunteer company raised in New Orleans. Two river steamboats were assigned to the Louisiana for the purpose of towage, if necessary, and for the accommodation of the mechanics who were still at work on board.

We cast off from the "levee" on Sunday, April the 20th. It was a bright day, and a large concourse was assembled to witness our departure. Steam had been got up, and as our big wheels were set in motion in the rapid current of the Mississippi, torrents of water rushed through the crevices in the bulkheads and deluged the gun deck, while the Louisiana drifted helplessly down the river, feeling the effect of the wheels no more sensibly than if they were a pair of sculling oars. "Facilis descensus Averno; sed revocare gradum, hoc opus, hic labor est." The aptness of the quotation will be appreciated by the reader who is in at the death of the Louisiana. We accomplished our object of getting down to the forts about seventy miles below the city, thanks to the current and our two transports; but our artillerists were in a shabby plight while trying to work the guns knee-deep in water.

Securing the Louisiana by hawsers to the left bank of the river near Fort St. Philip, on the morning of the 21st, we continued our labors upon the machinery and on the battery. The bombardment of the forts had been in progress for several days and nights, and the shells from the fleet were thrown with beautiful and destructive precision (some of them occasionally falling in close proximity to the Louisiana,) while the bomb vessels themselves were beyond the range of the fort's guns. The naval officers were quite sure that an attempt would soon be made by Admiral Farragut to force the passage, and that so far as the naval strength was concerned, it was apparent our means were inadequate to prevent it.

Commodore Mitchell, on our arrival below, had delivered to Captain Stevenson written orders from General Lovell requiring him to place all the "River Defence Squadron" under the Commodore's orders. Captain S., on receiving these instructions, addressed a written communication to Commodore Mitchell, to the effect that all of the officers and crew under his command had entered the service with the distinct understanding that they were not to be placed under the command of naval officers; and that, while willing to cooperate with our forces, he would receive no orders from the Commodore nor allow any vessel under his command to do so; reserving to himself the right of obeying or disobeying any orders the Commodore might issue. With this assumption of absolute independence, Commodore Mitchell's position was extremely embarrassing, but he did all that was then in his power. Not knowing at what moment an attack would be made, he endeavored to agree with Captain Stevenson upon a plan of cooperation; and he states in his official report made after the action that Captain Stevenson "seemed disposed zealously to second these objects in many respects."

A few days previous to the action, I had been sent down the river to communicate, under a flag of truce, with one of the ships of the squadron; and in the course of conversation with my old friend Captain DeCamp, the officer in command of a division of the fleet had been informed by him that they could force the obstructions across the river whenever they pleased, and intended doing so when they were ready. The interview took place in his cabin; and although I indignantly repudiated the idea, I could not help feeling how confidently I would stake life and reputation upon the issue if our situations were reversed. I had noticed many familiar faces among the officers and crew as I passed along the deck a few moments before. Every one was at his station; the guns cast loose for action; and it was in the nature of things, that I should contrast this gallant man of war and all this efficiency and discipline with the iron bound box and crew of "horse marines" which I had just left. But it was in no spirit of depreciation of the gallantry of my comrades, for I was quite sure that they would stand to their guns. The wretched "bowl of Gotham" which had no efficient motive power, and which could not even be got under way, when anchored, without slipping the chain cable, caused the misgivings. It is no disparagement to the prowess of the U. S. fleet which passed the forts, to assert, that they never could have successfully opposed our forces; but the battle was won quite as effectually when they succeeded in passing beyond the range of the guns of the forts and the "Louisiana."

After our official business was closed, DeC. and I began to talk of the war; and he expressed the opinions then entertained, beyond a doubt, by a majority of U. S. army and naval officers. They believed it to be the intention of the Government to bring the seceding States back into the Union, with their rights and institutions unimpaired. Since then a little leaven has leavened the whole lump, and the former doctrine of the extreme abolitionists has long become the creed of the dominant party. But some facts should be borne in mind by those who denounce slavery as the sum of all villanies; for instance, that the slave code of Massachusetts was the earliest in America; the cruelest in its provisions and has never been formally repealed; that the Plymouth settlers, according to history, maintained "that the white man might own and sell the negro and his offspring forever;" that Mr. Quincy, a representative from Massachusetts during the war of 1812, threatened the House of Congress that the North would secede "peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must" unless their demands for peace were acceded to; and lastly that the abolitionists of a later age denounced the Constitution and canonized John Brown for committing a number of murders and endeavoring to incite servile insurrection in time of peace. Truly "tempora mutantur," etc.

The river obstructions, above alluded to, consisted of a line of sunken vessels, and of heavy pieces of timber chained together, and extending from bank to bank. A few days before the attack was made, General Duncan was speaking rather confidently of his barricade, when Warley remarked, "General, if I commanded a fleet below, and my commission lay above your obstructions, I would come up and get it." Most of us belonging to that little naval fleet, knew that Admiral Farragut would dare to attempt what any man would; and for my own part, I had not forgotten that while I was under his command during the Mexican War, he had proposed to Commodore Perry, then commanding the Gulf Squadron, and urged upon him, the enterprise of capturing the strong fort of San Juan de Ulloa at Vera Cruz by boarding. Ladders were to be constructed and triced up along the attacking ships' masts; and the ships to be towed along side the walls by the steamers of the squadron. Here was a much grander prize to be fought for; and every day of delay was strengthening his adversaries. It was the general belief, indeed, at the time, that the admiral was in daily communication with the city by means of spies; and the public indignation was so deeply roused against Mr. T——t, the constructor of the Mississippi, ("a Northern man with Southern principles") who failed from time to time in launching that vessel as he had appointed to do, that he was in danger of "Lynch law"; and it is at least a singular coincidence that the naval attack was made immediately after that powerful vessel was launched, and before the guns could be put on board. But the idea of any collusion between Mr. T——t and the enemy, or of treachery on the part of the former, was never entertained, I believe, except by a few bigoted zealots, blinded by hate and passion against every one born north of the Potomac.

This class, which ought to have acted more fairly, found many followers among the multitude; from which little charity or justice can ever be expected. Nearly 1900 years ago the "plebes," influenced by their leaders, demanded the release of a robber and murderer and crucified the Saviour of mankind; and history further informs us that 500 years before that era, a Greek citizen could be banished without special trial, accusation, or defence; and that Aristides was sent into exile because people were tired of hearing him always called "the Just." Social ostracism will continue to exist till the millennium. The gentlemen of northern birth who were so unfortunate as to occupy prominent positions during the war, were mercilessly held up to scorn and distrust, if they failed to come up to the public expectation. In truth, they occupied trying positions; being regarded by many as aliens and mercenaries. "Mens conscia recti" will support us under many trials; but it does not furnish armor of proof against the "poor man's scorn, the proud man's contumely."

The interval between the 21st and 24th of April was occupied by Commodore Mitchell in organizing the force under his command, and in endeavoring to arrange some concert of action with the "River Defence" gunboats.

On board the Louisiana every effort was made to complete the works upon the propellers, and in mounting the battery, on which the mechanics worked night and day. Our "Crescent artillery;" a detachment of artillery from the forts under Lieutenant Dixon; and Captain Ryan's company of Sharp-shooters supplied the deficiencies in our crew. The Commodore was unsuccessful in his efforts to induce Captain Stevenson to employ one of his gunboats below the obstructions at night, to watch the U. S. fleet; and we had no vessel suitable for that purpose; the only one which would have answered (the Jackson) having been sent, with one of the launches, to watch the U. S. land forces near the Quarantine station, five miles above us. The only launch which remained to us was sent, by the Commodore's orders, below the obstructions every night, but the officer in command afterwards proved either a traitor or a coward, failing to make the concerted signal upon the approach of the fleet, and never reporting himself on board the Louisiana afterwards.

General Duncan urged upon the Commodore, the first or second day after our arrival below, to take a new position with the Louisiana at the river bank just below Fort St. Philip, and under cover of its guns, from whence she might open fire with effect upon the mortar fleet. The Commodore declined the proposition, and his action was sustained in a consultation with all the commanding officers of the C. S. naval forces present, on the grounds, "first, that the battery of the Louisiana was not in a condition for service;" "second, that the completion of the propeller and other mechanical work in progress, was indispensable to the efficiency of the vessel, and that it would be interrupted if she were placed under fire;" and third, "that placing the Louisiana in a position to receive the fire of the enemy, before her own battery could be served with effect, would be improperly hazarding, not only her own safety, but the security of the passage between the forts on which rested the possession of New Orleans."[3]

But on the afternoon of the 23d the work had so far progressed as to encourage the belief that the vessel might be moved to the point proposed, and the Commodore, after making a reconnoissance, had decided to do so, and notified General Duncan of this intention. Captain Stevenson was to assist with two of his gunboats which were especially well adapted to this purpose.

Commodore Mitchell, in his official report to the C. S. Secretary of the Navy, intimates that "he fully appreciated and admitted the importance of the proposed change of position for the Louisiana," but contends that "the state of the battery, independent of other weighty reasons, was sufficient to prevent its being made previous to the engagement of the 24th." One of these consists in the fact, that owing to the peculiar construction of the Louisiana's port-holes, her guns could not be elevated more than five degrees. The mortar fleet would have been beyond their range.


[3] From Commodore Mitchell's official report to the Secretary of the C. S. Navy, dated August 19th, 1862.


The 24th April.—Passage of the United States Fleet.—After the Storm.—The "River Defence" boats.—The Refuge in the Bayou.—Surrender of the Forts.—Extracts from Commodore Mitchell's official reports.—Council of War.—Destruction of the "Louisiana."—Our Commander General B. F. Butler.—Transferred to the United States frigate "Colorado."

On the night of April 23d, the bursting of the shells was as incessant as usual. Toward daylight of the 24th, an ominous calm of brief duration was broken by the first broadside of the advancing fleet, which had approached so rapidly as to remove and pass the obstructions undiscovered, and before the launch on picket duty could get back to our fleet. For a few minutes the roar of the guns was deafening; but objects were so obscured by the darkness and the dense smoke, that we could only fire, with effect, at the flashes of the ship's guns. The Louisiana's three bow guns (one rifled seven-inch and two seven-inch shell guns) and her three starboard broadside guns (a rifled six-inch and two eight-inch shell guns) were all that could be brought to bear during the engagement; for being moored to the river bank, the stern and port broadside guns were useless. The U. S. fleet came up in two divisions, delivering their broadsides in rapid succession. One of the ships was set on fire by one of the fireboats (a number of which had been prepared) but the flames were speedily extinguished. It is said that the unarmed tug Mozier, under her heroic commander, Sherman, while towing a fireboat alongside a heavy ship, was sunk by a broadside delivered at short range, all on board perishing. One of the largest ships, believed to be the Hartford, came in contact with our stern, and received the fire of our three bow guns while in this position, returning a broadside, but she soon swung clear of us and continued on her way up the river.

When day fairly broke, the storm had passed away, leaving wreck and ruin in its wake. The river banks were dotted, here and there, with burning steamers, and a large portion of the U. S. fleet had succeeded in getting beyond the forts. A few vessels of the attacking force had failed to pass the obstructions before daylight, and were driven back by the guns from the forts. The Louisiana and the McRae were the only vessels left to the Confederates; but the former was almost intact, her armor proving a sufficient defence against the broadsides, even when delivered at close range. The eight-inch shells of the Hartford buried themselves about half their diameter in our armor, and crumbled into fragments. All of our casualties occurred on the spar deck; our gallant commander being mortally wounded there; and many of the mechanics, who were quartered on board the tenders alongside of us, were killed or wounded. The McRae and the Manassas were in the stream in time to take an active part in the conflict; the former being considerably cut up. The Manassas struck two vessels with her prow, but did not succeed in sinking either. Having followed the fleet some distance up the river, and being hard pressed and seriously damaged, she was run ashore and abandoned. She shortly afterwards floated off and drifting down the river, sank between the forts. The Louisiana State gunboat "Governor Moore" made a gallant fight, sinking the U. S. gunboat "Verona."

Kennon, in his official report, states his loss at fifty-seven killed and thirteen wounded out of a crew of ninety-three. He ran his vessel ashore when she was in a sinking condition, and set fire to her with his own hand. The "River Defence" gunboats, with the exception of the "Resolute," were either destroyed by fire of the enemy's fleet, or by their own crews. The "Resolute" was discovered ashore, after the action, about a mile above Fort Jackson and abandoned by her crew. Lieut. Alden, with a party from the "McRae," took possession of her, and endeavored to get her afloat as she was very little injured, but being attacked by one of the gunboats from above, which succeeded in putting several shots through her hull at the water line, Alden was compelled to abandon her after setting her on fire. Among the mortally wounded on board the "McRae" was her commander T. B. Huger. The "Defiance," one of the "River Defence" gunboats, escaped without material injury. She was turned over to the command of Commodore Mitchell by Captain Stevenson on the 26th, without any of her officers and crew, who refused to remain in her, and went ashore.[4]

After landing the wounded, we continued the work upon the machinery of the Louisiana, buoyed up by the hope of soon being able to retrieve our disasters. Our number was increased by officers and men who had escaped from some of the abandoned vessels. Many of them, to obtain shelter from the shells and canister shot of the Federal fleet, had taken refuge in the "bayous" which lie not far from the river in many places; and they looked like half drowned rats as they came on board the Louisiana. One of the officers gave a ludicrous account of a poor girl, who had fled from her home on the river bank as the fleet was passing, with no clothing except her night dress, and no earthly possession but a lap-dog which she held in her clasped arms. She had sought the same place of refuge and as the shells and shot would whistle over her head she would dive like a duck under the water; and every time she rose above the surface, the lap-dog would sneeze and whimper a protest against the frequent submersions. The officer at last persuaded her to let him take charge of her draggled pet; and finally had the pleasure of seeing her safe back to her home before leaving her.

During the night of the 27th after unremitting labor, our machinery was at last completed, and we prepared to make the attempt to go up the river in pursuit of the fleet. Commodore Mitchell notified General Duncan of his purpose, and the latter seemed sanguine of a successful issue, assuring the Commodore of his ability to hold the forts for weeks. Orders were issued on board the Louisiana for the crew to have an early breakfast, and every thing to be in readiness to cast off from the river bank a little after sunrise. The situation justified the hopes entertained by us of at least partially retrieving our fortunes, when, shortly after daylight, an officer came across the river to us from Fort Jackson, with General Duncan's compliments, and to say that General D. was about to surrender the forts to Commodore Porter.[5] In nautical parlance, we were "struck flat aback" by this astounding intelligence. With the forts as a base of operations, we might repeat the effort, if the first were unsuccessful; and would be able to repair damages, if necessary, under shelter of their guns; but with their surrender we were helpless. The capture of the Louisiana would then become, indeed, a mere question of time, without the firing of a gun; for we would have been unable to replenish our supplies either of provisions or coal when exhausted. The most sanguine spirits on board, in the light of their experience of the motive power of the Louisiana, did not believe that we could accomplish more than the control of that portion of the river within the range of our guns; nor that the vessel could ever do much more than stem the rapid current of the Mississippi. The surrender of New Orleans was, indeed, inevitable; but even that catastrophe would not involve complete possession of the river by the enemy while we held the forts near its mouth. The gigantic efforts afterwards made by the Federal forces for the capture of Vicksburg showed the vital importance attached by the United States Government to the possession of the fortified positions on the Mississippi, while the equally desperate exertions made by the Confederacy to hold it, demonstrated our consciousness of its value to us.

Commodore Mitchell ordered his boat and proceeded with all haste to remonstrate with General Duncan; but all was unavailing; the General informing the Commodore that he had already dispatched a boat to the United States fleet, offering to surrender his command under certain conditions; disclaiming, in the offer, all control over the forces afloat. The Commodore's boat had scarcely got back to the Louisiana, when the quartermaster on duty reported one of the ships of the fleet below steaming up the river towards us, with a white flag flying at the mast-head. General Duncan, it is said, stated to the citizens of New Orleans a few days afterward, that a large number of his guns had been spiked by the mutineers of the garrison; and that he had no alternative but to surrender.

A hasty council of war was held on board the Louisiana, during which it was decided to transfer the officers and crew to our two tenders and to burn the ship. This was speedily carried into effect, and the two transports steamed across the river as the flames burst through the Louisiana's hatchway.[6] Those who wished to make the attempt to escape through the bayous, received permission to do so; and a few of the number, familiar with the locality, succeeded in evading the Federal pickets, and getting within the Confederate lines. The rest of us were entrapped; passing several hours of very unpleasant suspense, while the forts were being surrendered. It was a grand spectacle when the flames reached the Louisiana's magazine. The hawsers, securing her to the river-bank, having been burnt in two, she floated out into the stream a few minutes before the explosion; and at the moment of its occurrence, a column of pure white smoke shot rapidly high into the air from the blazing hull, wreathing itself at the top into the shape of a snow-white "cumulus" cloud; and in a few seconds afterwards, huge fragments of the wreck showered down, far and wide, upon the river and the adjacent shore. The Louisiana had disappeared before the deafening report attending the catastrophe reached our ears.

Immediately after the United States flag was hoisted upon the forts, the steamer "Harriet Lane" steamed slowly toward us, and sent a shot over our heads as a summons to haul down the Confederate flag which was then flying at our peak. The demand was promptly complied with, and we were prisoners of war.

Upon the pretext that we had violated the usages of war by burning the Louisiana while a flag of truce was flying, we were for a time subjected to unusual humiliations; learning afterwards, indeed, that Commodore Porter had recommended to the Secretary of the Navy a continuance of harsh treatment toward us upon our arrival at Fort Warren, where we were destined. The reply to the charge brought against us is obvious, viz., we were no parties to the flag of truce; nor were we included in the terms of the surrender; General Duncan treating only for the garrisons under his command, and expressly disclaiming any connection with us.

We were kept for a few days in close confinement on board the United States gunboat "Clifton,"[7] and were transferred from her on the 7th of May to the frigate Colorado, lying off the mouth of the Mississippi. Here we found Kennon, who had been consigned to a "lower deep" than ourselves. He was placed under a sentry's charge behind a canvas screen on the opposite side of the gun deck from us; and strict orders were given that no one should hold any communication with him. The charge against him was, that he had caused the death of some of his wounded crew by setting fire to his ship before their removal, a charge denied by him; but even if it were true, or admitted, that some of his crew were unable to escape, he was only responsible to his own government. In a few days, however, he was released from solitary confinement, and many restrictions were removed from all of us. But humiliations or physical discomforts weighed as a feather upon our spirits compared with our reflections upon the consequences of the disaster which we had witnessed; and our consciousness that this sad fate had been brought upon the country chiefly by treachery and want of concert. And, indeed, the extent of the disaster could scarcely be exaggerated. It gave the United States Government possession of the State of Louisiana, the almost complete control of the Mississippi river, and separated Texas and Arkansas from the rest of the Confederacy for the remainder of the war.


[4] Extract from Commodore Mitchell's official report dated August 19th, 1862. "The following is believed to be a correct list of the vessels that passed up by Forts Jackson and St. Philip during the engagement of the 24th April; mounting in the aggregate one hundred and eighty-four guns, viz.,

Hartford steamer, 28 guns 1st class sloop. Richmond, " 28 " " Brooklyn, " 28 " " Pensacola, " 28 " " Mississippi, " 21 " " Iroquois, " 10 " 2d class sloop. Oneida, " 10 " " Verona, " 11 " " Cayuga, " 5 " " Penola, " 5 " " Wissahickon, " 5 " " Winona, " 5 " "

How any controversy could arise as to which branch of the U. S. Service deserves the credit of the capture of New Orleans is a matter of wonder to those who were present at the time. The following article from the Richmond Enquirer of September 10th, 1875, written by an eye-witness of many of the scenes in the city which he describes, would seem conclusively to establish the fact that the navy alone achieved the capture.

"The question has again been raised as to whether the army or the navy is entitled to the credit of having captured New Orleans from the Confederates in April or May, 1862. It has been a mooted point in history ever since the event happened, and its discussion has caused no little angry feeling between the two branches of the service. Ben Butler, of course, laid claim to the honors of the capture, and proclaimed himself "the hero" of New Orleans, completely overshadowing Farragut and his fleet, and the lying histories of the day, written in the Radical interest on the other side of the line, have perpetuated the fraud. No citizen of New Orleans who personally knows anything of the circumstances of the fall of the city into the hands of the Federals has ever had any doubts as to who was or is entitled to the credit; but the persistent efforts of Butler and his friends to claim the lion's share in that exploit, have at last called out the Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy in Mr. Lincoln's Cabinet, as the champion of Admiral Farragut and his gallant tars. In the course of an article in the Hartford Times, Mr. Welles shows that "In January, 1862, the plan for the reduction of the forts below New Orleans and the capture of the city was fully matured in the Navy Department, Farragut receiving orders in detail for the work on the 20th of that month; that the memorable passage of the forts was made, and the surly submission of the Mayor of New Orleans received by Farragut on the 26th of April, formal possession being immediately taken and the United States flag displayed on the public buildings; that the army was not only absent alike from the plan and the execution of this great movement, but did not appear until May 1, when General Butler's troops arrived, and on the day following entered upon the occupation of the city captured by Farragut."

Quite correct, Mr. ex-Secretary. Farragut passed the forts as stated, with the Hartford and one or two other vessels, destroyed the ram Manassas, and the other Confederate vessels of war, after a most desperate battle, in which at least one of his best ships was sunk, and then made his way in his flag-ship unmolested up the river. He arrived alone in front of New Orleans on the 26th of April, and at noon brought his guns to bear on the city at the head of Girod street. He immediately dispatched Lieutenant Bailey with a flag of truce to the authorities demanding the surrender, and giving them thirty-six hours in which to reply,—at the expiration of which time he should open fire and bombard the place, if an answer favorable to his demand were not received. The city at this time had been partially evacuated by General Lovell and his troops, and all authority had been surrendered by the military to the mayor. The terms submitted by Farragut were discussed for fully twenty-four hours by the Council, assembled at the Mayor's office, and all this time the city was in the hands of a wild, reckless and excited mob of citizens, while people everywhere were flying or preparing for flight, many even in such haste as to leave their houses open and valuables exposed to the depredations of servants or the mob. Perhaps no more fearful scene of confusion was ever witnessed outside of Paris when in the throes of a periodic revolution. It was a novelty then for an American city to be captured or to fall into the hands of an enemy, and the people had some very queer notions about defending it to the last, and fighting the enemy with all sorts of weapons amid its ruins. It was with the utmost difficulty the police could protect Bailey and his middies with their flag of truce. But on the following day, and before the time of grace expired, the Council determined that as they had no means of defence against the enemy's ships, which held the city at the mercy of their guns, it was best to enter into negotiations for the surrender. Farragut then demanded that as a sign of submission the Confederate flag should be hauled down from all points where displayed in the city and replaced by the stars and stripes, and in the meantime he would send a battery with his sailors and marines ashore to maintain order. But no one was found in the city to take the Confederate flags down, and hoist the starry banner in their place; so a battery of ships' guns was landed and hauled through the streets till it reached the City Hall, and there it was placed in position to cover every point of approach. A young middy, apparently about fifteen years of age, then made his appearance at the entrance of the City Hall, bearing a United States flag. He was admitted without opposition, and was shown the way to the top of the building. The lad ascended to the roof, and in full view of an assembled multitude of thousands in the streets and on the housetops, deliberately undid the halyards and hauled down the Confederate, or rather Louisiana State flag; then replacing it with the one he carried, hoisted it to the peak of the staff in its place, and the capture of New Orleans by the navy was complete. Many who witnessed the act of this daring boy trembled for his life, as a rifle shot from any of the houses surrounding, or even from the street, would have proved fatal and put an end to his young life at any moment. So excited was the crowd in the street, when the middy came down, and so fierce the thirst for vengeance upon any object that might present itself, that it was found necessary to hurry him into a close carriage and drive with all speed through back streets, to keep clear of the pressing mob, who, in the blindness of their passion, would perhaps have sacrificed the youngster, had they caught him, to appease their rage.

After this the city began to quiet down. The foreign residents formed themselves into a police and took charge of the streets; and had succeeded pretty well in restoring order, when, on the 2d of May, Butler landed at the levee from his transports, and marched to the St. Charles, where he established his headquarters and took formal possession of the city. Still he found it no easy matter to subdue the spirit of a people who did not hesitate to jeer at his soldiers or jostle them from the sidewalks as they marched through the streets. But he soon enough became master of the situation, and made the most for himself out of what Farragut had so readily placed in his hands. The navy was certainly entitled to all the credit of the capture; one ship in front of the city with open ports was enough, it did what the entire army of Butler, had it been ten times as numerous, could never have accomplished. New Orleans never would have been taken by the army alone; but the guns of a sloop-of-war in front of an open city are conclusive and irresistible arguments. If it was heroism to capture that city the Confederacy will always be as free to admit that Farragut was the hero of New Orleans, as that Butler was the tyrant, robber, and oppressor of its conquered people.

[5] Extract from Commodore Mitchell's official report, dated Aug. 19th, 1862.

"During the night of Sunday the 27th we had so far succeeded in operating the propellers that we expected early the next day to make a fair trial of them in connection with the paddle wheels, when at daylight an officer sent by Gen. Duncan came on board to inform us that many of the garrison at Fort Jackson had deserted during the night; that serious disturbances had occurred; and that the disaffection of the men was believed to be general on account of what appeared to them to have become the desperate character of the "defence," etc."

[6] Extract from Commodore Mitchell's official report:

"I at once returned on board and called a council of war composed of Lieutenants Wilkinson, (commanding) W. H. Ward, A. F. Warley, Wm. C. Whittle, Jr., R. J. Bowen, Arnold, F. M. Harris, and George N. Shryock, by whom—in consequence of the enemy's having the entire command of the river above and below us, with an overwhelming force, and who was in the act of obtaining quiet and undisturbed possession of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, with all their material defences intact, with ordnance, military stores and provisions, thus cutting the Louisiana off from all succor or support; and her having on board not more than ten days' provisions, her surrender would be rendered certain in a brief period by the simple method of blockade; and that, in the condition of her motive power and defective steering apparatus, and the immediate danger of attack, she was very liable to capture—it was unanimously recommended that the Louisiana be destroyed, forthwith, to prevent her falling into the hands of the enemy, while it remained in our power to prevent it; first retiring to our tenders."

[7] The first and only time that I ever saw the notorious General B. F. Butler, who subsequently claimed for himself and the troops under his command, the honor of capturing New Orleans, was on board the "Clifton." He took passage in her to the city. No one who has ever looked upon that unique countenance can ever forget it; and as his glance rested for a moment upon us, each one conceived himself to be the special object of the General's regard; for owing to his peculiar visual organs, that distinguished individual seems to possess the Argus like faculty of looking steadily at several persons at one and the same time. With the pride that apes humility, or perhaps with the eccentricity of genius, he affected, upon the occasion, a rough costume; wearing a slouch hat, and having his trowsers tucked inside of his soiled boots; and he carried in his hand a long stick like a pilgrim's staff. He preceded his troops to the city, however, and might therefore, with equal propriety and regard for truth, claim the sole glory of its capture.


Transferred to the "Rhode Island."—Meeting with an old Friend.—Arrival at Fort Warren.—Treatment there.—Correspondence, and its Result.—Prison Life.—Exchanged.—The Crew at quarters.—Burial of the "Unknown."

On the 9th of May we were transferred from the Colorado to the steamer Rhode Island, bound to Fort Warren. On board of this vessel we were "tabooed" even more completely by the officers, than on board the Colorado; for the Rhode Island was officered, with the single exception, I believe, of her captain, by volunteers, who were not connected with us by any associations of friendship or congeniality of taste. The harsh order to hold no intercourse with us, had been evaded or violated, "sub rosa," on board the Colorado by old friends and shipmates. On board the Rhode Island, much to our satisfaction, it was strictly obeyed; for we would have lost our patience to be "interviewed" by fledgling naval heroes, many of whom had reached the quarter deck through the hawseholes. Upon one occasion, many years ago, when the question of increasing the United States Navy was under discussion by Congress, a rough western member, opposed to the measure, stated that his section of the country could supply droves of young officers whenever they were needed. The United States Government must have "corralled" lots of youngsters, without regard to their fitness or capacity, to send on board the ships of war during our civil conflict. The "noble commander" of the Rhode Island most of us had known of old as a prim little precisian, and a great stickler for etiquette, and by no means a bad fellow; but so strict a constructionist that he would probably have refused to recognize his grandfather, if it were against orders. But he had a humane disposition under his frigid exterior; and allowed us all the comfort and privileges compatible with discipline and safety.

We touched at Fortress Monroe; and while the vessel was at anchor there I received a gratifying evidence that this fratricidal war had not destroyed all kindly feelings between former friends and messmates. The executive officer of the Rhode Island called me aside to say that a friend wished to see me in his state-room; and as he did not mention the name, I was surprised to find myself warmly greeted by Albert Smith. We had served together during the Mexican war, and our cruise had not been an uneventful one; for the vessel to which we were attached ("the Perry") after considerable service in the Mexican Gulf, was dismasted and wrecked, during one of the most terrific hurricanes that ever desolated the West India Islands. Thirty-nine vessels, out of forty-two, which lay in the harbor of Havana, foundered at their anchors, or were driven ashore; all of the light-houses along the Florida reef were destroyed, and hundreds of persons perished. The Perry lost all of her boats, her guns, except two, were thrown overboard, and she escaped complete destruction almost by a miracle. She encountered the hurricane off Havana, and after scudding for many hours under bare poles, describing a circle as the wind continued to veer in the cyclone, she passed over the Florida reef with one tremendous shock as she hung for a moment upon its rocky crest. Her masts went by the board, but we had passed in a moment from a raging sea into smooth water. Captain Blake, who commanded her, achieved the feat of rigging jury masts with his crew, and carrying the vessel to the Philadelphia navy yard for repairs. Albert Smith and I had not met for many years. He offered me any service in his power, and pressed me to accept at least a pecuniary loan. The kind offer, although declined, was gratefully remembered; and I was glad, too, to find that he, in common with many others, who remained to fight under the old flag, could appreciate the sacrifices made by those who felt equally bound, by all the truest and best feelings of our nature, to defend their homes and firesides.

On our arrival at Fort Warren we were assigned quarters in one of the casemates. Little more than a year had passed away since I had planted a signal staff upon its parapet to angle upon; being then engaged, as chief of a hydrographic surveying party, in surveying the approaches to Boston Harbor. Then its garrison consisted of a superannuated sergeant whose office was a sinecure; now it held an armed garrison, who drilled and paraded every day, with all the "pomp and circumstance" of war, to the patriotic tune of "John Brown's body lies a-moulding in the grave, but his spirit is marching on;" and it was crowded with southern prisoners of war.

For a few days, in pursuance of Commodore Porter's policy, we were closely confined; but all exceptional restrictions were then removed and we fell into the monotonous routine of prison life. The following correspondence took place previous to the removal of the restrictions, and explains the reason of their withdrawal.

FORT WARREN, Boston Harbor, May 25, 1862.

Sir,—I was much surprised last evening on being informed by Colonel Dimmick that Lieutenants Wilkinson, Warly, Ward, Whittle and Harris, together with myself, have been, by your order, denied the "privileges and courtesies that are extended to other prisoners," on the ground that the act of burning the Confederate States Battery "Louisiana," late under my command, was held by the United States Navy Department as "infamous." In my letter to the Department, dated on board of the United States Steamer Rhode Island, Key West, May 14th, 1862, and forwarded through Commander Trenchard on the arrival of that vessel in Hampton Roads, together with a copy of my letter to Flag officer Farragut, and his reply thereto, I felt assured that all the facts connected with the destruction of the Louisiana were placed in such a light as not to be mistaken, nor my motives misconstrued. To render the affair still more clear I enclose herewith a memorandum of W. C. Whittle Jr., Confederate States Navy, who was the bearer of my message to Commodore Porter respecting my fears that the magazine of the Louisiana had not been effectually drowned. With all these statements forwarded by me to the United States Navy Department I am perfectly willing to rest the case with impartial and unprejudiced minds, as well as with my own Government, satisfied that nothing has been done by the foregoing officers, nor myself, militating at all against the strictest rules of military honor and usage.

Though I will not affect an indifference to the personal annoyance to us by the action of the United States Navy Department in our case as prisoners of war, yet my chief solicitude is to have placed on file in that office such a statement of facts as will, on a fair investigation, vindicate all the officers of the Confederate States Navy concerned from the odium of infamous conduct unjustly attempted to be fixed upon them by those of the United States Navy; against which and the infliction of punishment as directed by the Navy Department I enter my solemn protest.

I most emphatically assert that the Louisiana, when abandoned and fired by my order, was not only not "turned adrift" or intended to injure the United States forces as charged by Commander Porter; but that she was actually left secured to the opposite bank of the river and distant quite three-fourths of a mile from the said forces, for the very reason that they were flying a flag of truce, and for that reason I dispatched the warning message to Commander Porter respecting the magazine. That it is not only the right, but the duty, of an officer to destroy public property to prevent its falling into the hands of an enemy does not admit of question; and in addition to all which, it must not be overlooked that the forces under my command flew no flag of truce, and that I was not in any way a party to the surrender of Forts Jackson and St. Philip.

I have the honor to be Very respectfully your obedient servant, (Signed) JNO. K. MITCHELL, Commander C. S. Navy.

Hon. GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

Copy in Substance.


SIR,—The explanations of Commodore J. K. Mitchell are satisfactory, and the restrictions imposed on him and his associates by the department's order of the 2d instant will be removed, and they will be treated as prisoners of war.

This does not relieve Beverly Kennon from the restrictions imposed on him.


Colonel Justin Dimmick, Commanding Fort Warren, Boston.


NAVY DEPARTMENT, June 25, 1862.

SIR,—The letter of John K. Mitchell of the 20th inst., concerning the restrictions imposed on you, by order of this Department, at Fort Warren, has been received.

Will you please furnish the Department with the particulars of the destruction of the gunboat of which you had command in the engagement below New Orleans, with wounded men on board.

I am respectfully your obedient servant, (Signed) GIDEON WELLES. BEVERLY KENNON, Fort Warren, Boston.

(Copy) FORT WARREN, BOSTON, June 28, 1862.

HON. GIDEON WELLES, Secretary U. S. Navy.

Sir,—Colonel Dimmick, the commander of this post, delivered to me yesterday a letter signed by you under date of June 25th directed to me as "Beverly Kennon" and referring to a communication addressed to you on the 20th inst. by my superior officer, Commander J. K. Mitchell, of the Confederate States Navy, whom you are pleased to designate as "John K. Mitchell."

The purport of your letter is a request that I will furnish your Department of the United States Government with the "particulars of the destruction of the gunboat of which I had command in the engagement below New Orleans with wounded men on board."

When I destroyed and left the vessel which I had commanded on the occasion referred to, all the wounded men had been removed, the most of them lowered into boats by my own hands. I was, myself, the last person to leave the vessel. Any statements which you may have received to the contrary are wholly without foundation. It would not be proper, under any circumstances, that I should report to you the "particulars" of her destruction; that being a matter which concerns my own Government exclusively, and with which yours can have nothing to do. Should any charges be made against me, however, of which you have a right to take cognizance under the laws of war, I will with pleasure, respond to any respectful communication which you may address me on the subject. Indeed I shall be glad of the opportunity to vindicate my character as an officer from the unjust and unfounded imputations which have been cast upon it in the connection to which you allude, and upon the faith of which I have already been disparaged by unusual restrictions and confinements, here and elsewhere, since I have been a prisoner of war, without having been furnished an opportunity for such vindication. But your letter of the 20th inst. so studiously denies, both to Commander Mitchell and myself, not only our official designations, but those of common courtesy, that while I am unwilling to believe you would intentionally offer an indignity to prisoners of war in your power, I can not now make further reply without failing in respect to myself as well as to my superior officer and Government.

I am Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, (Signed) BEVERLY KENNON, Commander in Provisional Navy of the State of Louisiana in the Confederate service.

The restrictions were removed from Kennon in a few days after the close of this correspondence.

Many distinguished political prisoners were at that time confined at Fort Warren; and all of the officers captured at Fort Donelson. Among the former class, were those members of the Maryland Legislature, and of the Baltimore City Council, who had been arrested and imprisoned by the United States Government for alleged treason. It was my good fortune to be invited into this mess. It is not my purpose to inflict upon the reader a detailed account of prison life during the war, which has been described by far abler pens than mine. All the members of our mess took their turns, either at carving or waiting upon the table, and guests were never better served. The graceful and accomplished old Commodore B. and General T. shone conspicuous as carvers; while Colonels, Majors and Captains, with spotless napkins on their arms, anticipated every wish of the guests at the table. Colonel Dimmick was honored and beloved by the prisoners for his humanity, and he and his family will ever be held in affectionate remembrance by them; many of us having received special acts of kindness, while suffering from sickness. When his son was ordered to active service in the field I believe there was an unanimous prayer by the prisoners that his life would be spared through the perils he was about to encounter. The prisoners, first giving their parole not to attempt to escape, were allowed the range of nearly the whole island during the day; and not unfrequently suffered to see relatives and friends who had received permission from the proper authorities to visit them. In happier "ante bellum" times, I had known some of the good people of Boston, and had spent a portion of a summer with several families at that pleasant watering place, Nahant. One of my most esteemed friends—Mrs. L.—with the charity of a noble and Christian heart, wrote to me as soon as she learned that I was a prisoner; but she was too loyal to the flag not to express regret and distress at what she believed to be a mistaken sense of duty. The reader may remember the definition once given of "Orthodoxy" by a dignitary of the church of England to an inquiring nobleman. "Orthodoxy, my Lord, is my doxy, heterodoxy is your doxy if you differ from me." The same authority, it has always appeared to me, was assumed by a large portion of the Northern people. They demanded a Government to suit their ideas, and disloyalty consisted in opposing them.

We were permitted to write once a month to our friends in the Confederacy; the letters being left open for inspection. There were a few Northerners among us, but I know of only a single case where the individual concerned so far yielded to the persuasion of his friends outside, as to renounce the cause which he had sworn to defend.

Aside from the confinement, and the earnest desire to be doing our part in the war, there could be no cause to repine at our lot. We were allowed, at our own expense, to supply our tables from the Boston market, not only abundantly, but luxuriously; the Government furnishing the usual rations; and the prisoners grew robust upon the good fare and the bracing climate. A tug plied daily between Boston and the island on which Fort Warren is situated. We were permitted to receive the daily papers and to purchase clothing and other necessaries, either from the sutler, or from outside; and many of the prisoners were indebted to a noble charity for the means of supplying many of these needs; of clothing especially, which was chiefly furnished by the firm of Noah Walker & Co. of Baltimore. The firm itself was said to be most liberal, not merely dispensing the donations received in Baltimore and elsewhere, but supplying a large amount of clothing gratuitously. The policy of retaliation had not then been adopted. It is conceded that the United States Government, towards the close of the war, subjected the Confederate prisoners in their hands to harsh treatment in pursuance of this policy; but in justice to the Confederate authorities it should be borne in mind that they repeatedly proposed an exchange of prisoners upon the ground of humanity, seeing that neither provisions nor medicine were procurable; and, I believe, it is also a conceded fact that General Grant opposed exchanges. The testimony of General Lee given before the "reconstruction" Committee, clearly establishes the fact that he did all in his power to effect this object. In answer to a question he says: "I offered to General Grant around Richmond that we should ourselves exchange all the prisoners in our hands, and to show that I would do whatever was in my power, I offered them to send to City Point all the prisoners in Virginia and North Carolina, over which my command extended, providing they returned an equal number of mine, man for man. I reported this to the War Department, and received for answer, that they would place at my command all the prisoners at the South, if the proposition was accepted." The Rev. J. Wm. Jones, D.D., author of "Personal Reminiscences of General R. E. Lee," writes as follows upon this subject (page 194, et seq.) viz:

"1st—The Confederate authorities gave to prisoners in their hands the same rations which they issued to their own soldiers, and gave them the very best accommodations which their scant means afforded.

"2d. They were always anxious to exchange prisoners, man for man, and when this was rejected by the Federal authorities, they offered to send home the prisoners in their hands without any equivalent.

"3d. By refusing all propositions to exchange prisoners, and declining even to receive their own men without equivalent the Federal authorities made themselves responsible for all the suffering, of both Federal and Confederate prisoners, that ensued.

"4th. And yet notwithstanding these facts, it is susceptible of proof, from the official records of the Federal Department, that the suffering of Confederate prisoners in Federal prisons was much greater than that of Federal prisoners in Confederate prisons. Without going more fully into the question, the following figures, from the report of Mr. Stanton, Secretary of War, in response to a resolution of the House of Representatives, calling for the number of prisoners on both sides and their mortality, are triumphantly submitted.

In prison. Died.

U. S. Soldiers 260,940 22,526 Confederates 200,000 26,500

That is, the Confederate States held as prisoners nearly 61,000 more men than the Federals; and yet the death of Federal prisoners fell below those of the Confederates four thousand."

Lastly, the Southern Historical Society, Richmond, Va., has recently published a "Vindication of the Confederacy against the Charge of Cruelty to Prisoners," which is conclusive on the whole question. It was compiled by the Secretary of the Society, the Rev. J. Wm. Jones, just quoted, who concludes with the following summing up of his argument. "We think that we have established the following points:

"1st. The laws of the Confederate Congress, the orders of the War Department, the Regulations of the Surgeon General, the action of our Generals in the field, and the orders of those who had the immediate charge of the prisoners, all provided that prisoners in the hands of the Confederates should be kindly treated, supplied with the same rations which our soldiers had, and cared for, when sick, in hospitals placed on precisely the same footing as the hospitals for Confederate soldiers.

"2d. If these regulations were violated in individual instances, and if subordinates were sometimes cruel to prisoners, it was without the knowledge or consent of the Confederate Government, which always took prompt action on any case reported to them.

"3d. If the prisoners failed to get their full rations, and had those of inferior quality, the Confederate soldiers suffered in precisely the same way and to the same extent; and it resulted from that system of warfare adopted by the Federal authorities, which carried desolation and ruin to every part of the South they could reach, and which in starving the Confederates into submission, brought the same evils upon their own men in Southern prisons.

"4th. The mortality in Southern prisons (fearfully large, although over three per cent less than the mortality in Northern prisons) resulted from causes beyond the control of our authorities, from epidemics, etc., which might have been avoided or greatly mitigated had not the Federal Government declared medicines "contraband of war," refused the proposition of Judge Ould, that each Government should send its own surgeons with medicines, hospital stores, etc., to minister to soldiers in prison, declined his proposition to send medicines to its own men in southern prisons, without being required to allow the Confederates the same privileges—refused to allow the Confederate Government to buy medicines for gold, tobacco, or cotton, which it offered to pledge its honor should be used only for Federal prisoners in its hands, refused to exchange sick and wounded, and neglected from August to December, 1864, to accede to Judge Ould's proposition to send transportation to Savannah and receive without equivalent from ten to fifteen thousand Federal prisoners, notwithstanding the fact that this offer was accompanied with a statement of the utter inability of the Confederacy to provide for these prisoners, and a detailed report of the monthly mortality at Andersonville, and that Judge Ould, again and again, urged compliance with his humane proposal.

"5th. We have proven by the most unimpeachable testimony, that the sufferings of Confederate prisoners in Northern "prison pens," were terrible beyond description; that they were starved in a land of plenty, that they were frozen where fuel and clothing were abundant; that they suffered untold horrors for want of medicines, hospital stores and proper medical attention; that they were shot by sentinels, beaten by officers, and subjected to the most cruel punishments upon the slightest pretexts; that friends at the North were refused the privilege of clothing their nakedness or feeding them when starving; and that these outrages were perpetrated not only with the full knowledge of, but under the orders of E. M. Stanton, United States Secretary of War. We have proven these things by Federal as well as Confederate testimony.

"6th. We have shown that all the suffering of prisoners on both sides could have been avoided by simply carrying out the terms of the cartel, and that for the failure to do this, the Federal authorities alone were responsible; that the Confederate Government originally proposed the cartel, and were always ready to carry it out both in letter and spirit; that the Federal authorities observed its terms only so long as it was to their interest to do so, and then repudiated their plighted faith and proposed other terms which were greatly to the disadvantage of the Confederates; that when the Government at Richmond agreed to accept the hard terms of exchange offered them, these were at once repudiated by the Federal authorities; that when Judge Ould agreed upon a new cartel with General Butler, Lieutenant-General Grant refused to approve it, and Mr. Stanton repudiated it; and that the policy of the Federal Government was to refuse all exchanges while they "fired the Northern heart" by placing the whole blame upon the "Rebels," and by circulating the most heartrending stories of "Rebel barbarity" to prisoners. If either of the above points has not been made clear to any sincere seeker after the truth, we would be most happy to produce further testimony. And we hold ourselves prepared to maintain against all comers, the truth of every proposition we have laid down in this discussion. Let the calm verdict of history decide between the Confederate Government and its calumniators."

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse