Attacking a Privateer


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, October 12, 1861

We have posted our extensive collection of Civil War Harper's Weekly newspapers on this WEB site to serve as a valuable source of original information of the War. We are hopeful that this extensive, free, online collection assists you in your research and study. These old newspaper have a wealth of eye-witness illustrations and narratives on this important part of American History. We hope you find this information useful.

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Attack on Privateers

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OCTOBER 12, 1861.]



to me too sacred to talk about. And Ashleigh Sumner then courts Lilian ! How do you know ?"

"I know every thing that concerns me; and here the explanation is simple. My aunt, Lady Delafield, is staying with Lady Houghton. Lady Delafield is one of the women of fashion who shine by their own light ; Lady Houghton shines by borrowed light, and borrows every ray she can find."

"And Lady Delafield writes you word—" "That Ashleigh Sumner is caught by Lilian's beauty."

"And Lilian herself—"

" Women like Lady Delafield do not readily believe that any girl would refuse Ashleigh Sumner ; considered in himself, he is steady and good-looking ; considered as owner of Kirby Hall and Houghton Park, he has, in the eyes of any sensible mother, the virtues of Cato, and the beauty of Antinous."

I pressed my hand to my heart—close to my heart lay a letter front Lilian—and there was no word in that letter which showed that her heart was gone from mine. I shook my head gently, and smiled in confiding triumph.

Mrs. Poyntz surveyed me with a bent brow, and a compressed lip.

"I understand your smile," she said, ironically. "Very likely Lilian may be quite untouched by this young man's admiration, but Anne Ashleigh may be dazzled by so brilliant a prospect for her daughter. And, in short, I thought it desirable to let your engagement be publicly known throughout the town to-day ; that information will travel—it will reach Ashleigh Sumner through Mr. Vigors, or others in this neighborhood, with whom I know that he corresponds. It will bring affairs to a crisis, and before it may be too late. I think it well that Ashleigh Sumner should leave that house; if he leaves it for good so much the better. And, perhaps, the sooner Lilian returns to L- the lighter your own heart will be."

"And for these reasons you have published the secret of—"

"Your engagement? Yes. Prepare to be congratulated wherever you go. And now, if you hear, either from mother or daughter, that Ashleigh Sumner has proposed, and been, let us say, refused, I do not doubt that in the pride of your heart you will come and tell me."

"Rely upon it, I will; but before I take my leave allow me to ask why you described to a young man like Mr. Margrave—whose wild and strange humors you have witnessed and not approved—any of those traits of character in Miss Ashleigh which distinguish her from other girls of her age ?"

"I? You mistake. I said nothing to him of her character. I mentioned her name, and said she was beautiful, that was all."

"Nay, you said that she was fond of musing, of solitude; that in her fancies she believed in the reality of visions which might flit before her eyes as they flit before the eyes of all imaginative dreamers."

"Not a word did I say to Mr. Margrave of such peculiarities in Lilian; not a word more than what I have told you, on my honor!"

Still incredulous, but disguising my incredulity with that convenient smile by which we accomplish so much of the polite dissimulation indispensable to the decencies of civilized life, I took my departure, returned home, and wrote to Lilian.


We illustrate on page 645 the BURNING OF THE DRY DOCK OPPOSITE PENSACOL.A, and on page 641 the CUTTING OUT OF THE PRIVATEER SCHOONER "JUDITH," by a party from Fort Pickens. A letter from Pensacola thus describes the first transaction :

On the night of the 31st of August Colonel Brown got an inkling of the design of the rebels to sink the dry dock lower down in the channel, from the unusual stir at the Navy-yard, the frequent passage of boats to and from the shore, conveying, what afterward proved to be fuel for the furnaces, to the dock, etc. His plans to defeat the accomplishment of the purpose which the enemy had in view were quickly formed. Selecting one of his most trusty officers, Lieutenant Shipley, he gave him orders to hold himself in readiness with a crew of picked men, to man a boat the following night, cautiously to approach the dry dock, land upon and set fire to it, then retreat as speedily as possible for the fort.

A few minutes after "tattoo" (nine o'clock) Lieutenant Shipley left the beach in front of the fort in a boat with eleven picked men, rowing noiselessly for the dry dock. The boat reached the dock without being challenged, was made fast, when the men sprang up prepared to encounter and overcome the sentries, who had often been seen stationed upon it at night; none were found, however, and they proceeded to accomplish their work. Combustible material of various kinds had been prepared and brought along, together with three large Columbiad shells. These were placed in the boilers. The combustibles properly arranged, word was given for the men to go aboard the boat, Lieutenant Shipley remaining to apply the match, which done, he quickly followed in their wake. Scarcely had a distance of twenty yards front the doomed structure been gained by the gallant little band when the flames burst forth, followed almost immediately by the explosion of the shells, which filled the air with fragments that fell in a perfect shower around the retreating boat, but fortunately injuring none of its crew.

The "cutting out" is thus described in a letter to the New York Times :

The affair occurred on the night of the 13th inst. A large schooner had for several days been observed in the harbor, near the Navy-yard, whose motions led to the suspicion that she was fitted out as a privateer, and intended to attempt to run the blockade. Information obtained from a deserter rendered these suspicions a certainty, and it was also ascertained that she was moored under a new battery being erected on one of the wharves, in which a Columbiad had already been mounted. It being determined to "cut out" the privateer and burn her, and also to render useless the guns of the battery, an expedition set out on the night before mentioned, on board the first launch, and the first, second, and third cutters of the Colorado, to carry out the desperate undertaking. The boats, with muffled oars, proceeded up the harbor to a point a little above the Navy-yard, when their course was changed, and they made all headway direct for the schooner and the battery. The men in the launch and second cutter were to board and burn the schooner, and those in the first and third cutters were to land, charge the battery, and spike

the eye of the true Pythoness matter has no obstruction, space no confines, time no measurement."

" My dear Margrave, you may well say that creatures so gifted are rare ; and for my part, I would as soon search for a unicorn as, to use your afffeted expression, for a Pythoness."

"Nevertheless, whenever there come across the course of your practice some young creature to whom all the evil of the world is as yet unknown, to whom the ordinary cares and duties of the world are strange and unwelcome; who from the earliest dawn of reason has loved to sit apart and to muse; before whose eyes visions pass unsolicited ; who converses with those who are not dwellers on the earth, and beholds in the space landscapes which the earth does not reflect—"

" Margrave, Margrave ! of whom do you speak?"

"Whose frame, though exquisitely sensitive, has still a health and a soundness in which you recognize no disease ; whose mind has a truthfulness that you know can not deceive you, and a simple intelligence too clear to deceive itself; who is moved to a mysterious degree by all the varying aspects of external nature—innocently joyous, or unaccountably sad; when, I say, such a being comes across your experience, inform me; and the chances are that the true Pythoness is found."

I had listened with vague terror, and with more than one exclamation of amazement, to descriptions which brought Lilian Ashleigh before me ; and I now sat mute, bewildered, breathless, gazing upon Margrave, and rejoicing that at least Lilian he had never seen.

He returned my own gaze steadily, searchingly, and then, breaking into a slight laugh, resumed :

"You call my word 'Pythoness' affected. I know of no other. My recollections of classic anecdote and lusters are confused and dim; but somewhere I have read or heard that the priests of Delphi were accustomed to travel chiefly into Thrace or Thessaly in search of the virgins who might fitly administer their oracles, and that the oracles gradually ceased in repute as the priests became unable to discover the organization requisite in the priestesses, and supplied by craft and imposture, or by such imperfect fragmentary developments as belong now to professional clairvoyants, the gifts which Nature failed to afford. Indeed, the demand was one that most have rapidly exhausted so limited a supply. The constant stretch upon faculties so wearing to the vital functions in their relentless exercise, under the artful stimulants by which the priests heightened their power, was mortal, and no Pythoness ever retained her life more than three years from the time that her gift was elaborately trained and developed."

"Pooh ! I know of no classical authority for the details you so confidently cite. Perhaps some such legends may be found in the Alexandrian writers ; but those mystics are no authority on such a subject. After all," I added, recovering from my first surprise or awe, "the Delphic oracles were proverbially ambiguous, and their responses might be read either way, a proof that the priests dictated the verses, though their arts on the unhappy priestess might throw her into real convulsions, and the real convulsions, not the false gift, might shorten her life. Enough of such idle subjects ! Yet no ! one question more. If you found your Pythoness, what then ?"

"What then ? Why through her aid I might discover the process of an experiment which your practical science would assist me to complete."

"Tell me of what kind is your experiment; and precisely because such little science as I possess is exclusively practical, I may assist you without the help of the Pythoness."

Margrave was silent for some minutes, passing his hand several times across his forehead, which was a frequent gesture of his, and then rising, he answered, in weary, listless accents:

"I can not say more now, my brain is fatigued; and you are not yet in the right mood to hear me. By-the-way, how close and reserved you are with me."

" How so ?"

" You never told me that you were engaged to be married. You leave me, who thought to have won your friendship, to hear what concerns you so intimately from a comparative stranger."

"Who told you?"

"'That woman with eyes that pry and lips that scheme, to whose house you took me."

"Mrs. Poyntz! Is it possible ? When?"

"'This afternoon. I met her in the street—she stopped me and, after some unmeaning talk, asked ' if I had seen you lately ; if I did not find you very absent and distracted ; no wonder—you were in love. The young lady was away on a visit, and wooed by a dangerous rival.' "

"Wooed by a dangerous rival!"

"Very rich, good-looking, young. Do you fear him ? You turn pale."

"I do not fear, except so far as he who loves truly loves humbly, and fears not that another may be preferred, but that another may be worthier than himself. But that Mrs. Poyntz should tell you all this does amaze me. Did she mention the name of the young lady ?"

" Yes ; Lilian Ashleigh. Henceforth be more frank with me. Who knows ? I may help you.

Adieu !"


WHEN Margrave had gone I glanced at the clock—not yet nine. I resolved to go at once to Mrs. Poyntz. It was not an evening on which she received, but doubtless she would see me. She owed me an explanation. How thus carelessly divulge a secret, she had been enjoined

to keep ? and this rival, of whom I was ignorant ? It was no longer a matter of wonder that Margrave should have described Lilian's peculiar idiosyncrasies in his sketch of his fabulous Pythoness. Doubtless Mrs. Poyntz had, with unpardonable levity of indiscretion, revealed all of which she disapproved in my choice. But for what object? Was this her boasted friendship for me ? Was it consistent with the regard she professed for Mrs. Ashleigh and Lilian ? Occupied by these perplexed and indignant thoughts, I arrived at Mrs. Poyntz's house, and was admitted to her presence. She was fortunately alone ; her daughter and the Colonel had gone to some party on the Hill. I would not take the hand she held out to me on entrance; seated myself in stern displeasure, and proceeded at once to inquire if she had really betrayed to Mr. Margrave the secret of my engagement to Lilian.

"Yes, Allen Fenwick ; I have this day told not only Dr. Margrave, but every person I met who is likely to tell it to some one else, the secret of your engagement to Lilian Ashleigh. I never promised to conceal it ; on the contrary, I wrote word to Anne Ashleigh that I would therein net as my own judgment counseled me. I think my words to you were that ' public gossip was sometimes the best security for the fulfillment of private engagements.' "

"Do you mean that Mrs. or Miss Ashleigh recoils from the engagement with me, and that I should meanly compel them to fulfill it by calling in the public to censure them—if—if- Oh, madam, this is worldly artifice indeed!" "Be good enough to listen to me quietly. I have never yet showed you the letter to Mrs. Ashleigh, written by Lady Haughton, and delivered by Mr. Vigors. That letter I will now show to you; but before doing so I must enter into a preliminary explanation. Lady Haughton is one of those women who love power, and can not obtain it except through wealth and station—by her own intellect never obtain it. When her husband died she was reduced from an income of twelve thousand a year to a jointure of twelve hundred, but with the exclusive guardianship of a young son, a minor, and adequate allowances for the charge ; she continued, therefore, to preside as mistress over the establishments in town and country; still had the administration of her son's wealth and rank. She stinted his education in order to maintain her ascendency over him. He became a brainless prodigal—spendthrift alike of health and fortune. Alarmed, she saw that probably he would die young and a beggar; his only hope of reform was in marriage. She reluctantly resolved to marry him to a penniless, well-born, soft-minded young lady whom she knew she could control : just before this marriage was to take place he died, from a mad steeple-chase, in a drunken fit. The Haughton estate passed to his cousin, the luckiest young man alive; the same Ashleigh Sumner who had already succeeded, in default of male issue, to poor Gilbert Ashleigh's landed possessions. Over this young man Lady Haughton could expect no influence. She would be a stranger in his house. She then suddenly remembered that she had a beautiful niece. Of that fact Mr. Vigors reminded her. Mr. Vigors and she both thought it would be an excellent thing to bring Ashleigh Sumner and Lilian together. Hence the invitation, and hence my advice to you to secure the hand of Lilian before that invitation is accepted. Now glance at this letter."

Mrs. Poyntz here went to her bureau, found and gave to me Lady Haughton's note to Mrs. Ashleigh.

It was short, couched in conventional terms of hollow affection. The writer blamed herself for having so long neglected her brother's widow and child ; her heart had been wrapped up too much in the son she had lost ; that loss had made her turn to the ties of blood still left to her; she had heard much of Lilian from their common friend, Mr. Vigors ; she longed to embrace so charming a niece. Then followed the invitation and the postscript. The postscript ran thus, so far as I can remember : "Whatever my own grief at my irreparable bereavement, I am no egotist, I keep my sorrow to myself. You will find some pleasant guests at my house, among others our joint connection, young Ashleigh Sumner."

"Woman's postscripts are proverbial for their significance," said Mrs. Poyntz, when I had concluded the letter and laid it on the table ; "and if I did not at once show you this hypocritical effusion, it was simply because at the name Ashleigh Sumner its object became transparent, not perhaps to poor Anne Ashleigh nor to innocent Lilian, but to my knowledge of the parties concerned, and to that shrewd intelligence which you derive partly from nature, partly from the insight into life which a true physician can not fail to acquire. And if I know any thing of you, you would have romantically said, 'Let me not shackle the choice of the woman I love, and to whom an alliance so coveted in the eyes of the world might, if she be left free, be proffered:"

"I should not have gathered from the postscript all that you see in it, but had its purport been so suggested to me, you are right, I should have so said. Well, and as Mr. Margrave tells me that you informed him that I have a rival, I am now to conclude that that rival is Mr. Ashleigh Sumner?"

"Has not Mrs. Ashleigh or Lilian mentioned him in writing to you?"

" Yes, both ; Lilian very slightly ; Mrs. Ashleigh with some praise, a a young man of high character, and very courteous to her."

"Yet, though I asked you to come and tell me who were the guests at Lady Houghton's, you never did so."

"Pardon me ; but of the guests I thought nothing, and letters addressed to my heart seemed

the Columbiad. These respective duties were accomplished in the most gallant manner. The "big gun" was disabled without the loss of a man; but the party boarding the schooner lost three men killed and a number wounded, a most galling fire being poured into each boat as it approached. When the schooner had been so effectually set on fire that she could not be saved, the boats hauled off again, and proceeded back to the Colorado—not, however, without giving the crowd of rebels who had, by this time, assembled on the wharf a parting salute of canister. The number of rebels killed in this encounter is not known. but it must have been considerable. A negro, who deserted to one of our vessels, subsequently reported the number at thirty.

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