The Pirate Ship "Sumter"


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, August 16, 1862

Welcome to our online archive of Harper's Weekly newspapers from the Civil War. This important archive allows you to "drill down" and study the Civil War in a level of detail never before possible. This collection documents the key events of the conflict.

(Scroll Down to See Entire Page, or Newspaper Thumbnails below will take you to a specific page of interest)


John Morgan

John Morgan

Lincoln Institutes the Draft

Lincoln Institutes the Draft

Lincoln's Draft Order

Abraham Lincoln's Draft Order

War in Alabama

The War in Alabama

Capture of Red Bill

Capture of Red Bill

The Pirate Ship Sumter

Pirate Ship "Sumter"

Sumter's Officer Journal

Journal from Sumter Officer

On Board the Sumter

On Board the Sumter

Franklin's Corps

General Franklin's Corps

McClellan's Prayer Service

General McClellan's Prayer Service

Battle of Fairoaks

The Battle of Fairoaks

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

Slave Cartoons

Slave Cartoons










AUGUST 16, 1862.]





[From the Private journal of one of her Officers.]

NEW ORLEANS.—June 3, 1861.—This morning the Sumter went into commission. The Confederate tricolor with its eleven stars, each star representing a sovereign State, was raised at the peak of the vessel, and duly honored by a salute from her guns. For the past fortnight strenuous exertions have been used to get her ready to receive her armament, ammunition, stores, coals, etc., in order that she may get to sea before the mouths of the Mississippi are sealed by the blockading fleet of the United States Government. Already reports reach New Orleans that two ships of the enemy—the Brooklyn and the Powhatan, both steamers, and represented as having powerful batteries and being uncommonly swift—are lying off the mouths of the Mississippi. In the face of these discouraging rumors the commander of the naval station and his subordinates have at length completed the repairs on the Habana, and christened her the Sumter—a cherished name to every Southron. Who knows but that this little steamer may bear the Southern flag to distant seas, and win for herself an immortal name? Much is expected of her. Her model is perfectly symmetrical, her masts are long and raking, her spars slender and nicely proportioned. She is a propeller, bark-rigged, carrying five guns—four 32's, and one 68 on a pivot. Her complement of men is 114. She is to he commanded by Captain Semmes, a veteran officer of the old navy. All who know him represent him as being a skillful seaman, a good tactician, an excellent diplomatist, and a brave man.

June 13.—The Sumter's trial trip took place today. As the ship was cast loose from her moorings, and steamed out into the stream, the river's banks were crowded by an applauding multitude. When about ten miles above the city the guns were tested with satisfactory results.

June 17.—Sailing orders are momentarily expected. We may sail to-night. How the people flock to see her as the time draws near for her departure!

June 18.—The ship is under sailing orders, and the executive officer is instructed to permit no one to go ashore.

June 19.—Arrived here (opposite Forts St. Philip and Jackson) to-day. On the way to this place stopped at the Barracks to take in powder. Will remain here a while to perfect the men in their exercises at the guns. After which—why, probably an attempt will be made to run the blockade!

June 24.—(Head of this Passes.)—After remaining anchored a week between the forts, the welcome order was at length given to heave anchor and get under way. Never was an order more cheerfully obeyed! It is a matter of wonder how human beings can live there. The mosquitoes are greater torments than the ten plagues of Egypt combined! Here, at the Head of the Passes, it is a comparative elysium. The gentle breezes from the Gulf are most refreshing. The mast-heads of the ships composing the blockading squadron can be distinctly seen from aloft. How the Sumter will ever get out is a mystery.

June 25.—An officer was sent to-day to reconnoitre the position of the enemy. He and his commander afterward landed at the light-houses at Pass-a-l'Outre and South Point, destroyed the buildings, and turned adrift all the oil. This daring feat was accomplished under the very eyes of the enemy—the Brooklyn and Powhatan lying not more than two miles off.

June 29.—Since the Sumter left New Orleans the little steamer Ivy has acted as her tender. This morning she went down the river to reconnoitre, and soon returned and reported that the coast was clear. Immediately the vessel's anchor was hove up, and she was got under way. In less than half an hour she was at the bar. Before crossing it the

huge hull of the Brooklyn was seen just behind a point of land not far off, with her top-gallant masts housed. She being too close to render the attempt to run the blockade safe, the Sumter's prow was turned in the direction whence she came, and soon afterward anchored at the Head of the Passes. Here she will wait, as did Micawber, for something to turn up. After all, who knows but that the wicked little Ivy brought a false report on purpose to create a little excitement—merely to prevent the boys dying of ennui?

June 29.—To-day a field howitzer—a 12-pounder —was brought down by the Ivy from Fort Jackson and added to the armament of the Sumter.

June 30, 4 1/2 P.M.—The Sumter has run the blockade at last! She is now bounding over the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico; and if she does not soon slacken speed she will ere many days be in the Caribbean Sea. Every thing was managed admirably. At two o'clock in the morning the steamer Empire Parish dropped alongside laden with coal, 200 barrels of which were transferred to the Sumter's bunkers before daylight. The Empire Parish then steamed down the river, returning about eleven o'clock—just as all hands had been piped to muster—with the welcome intelligence that the blockading squadron had disappeared. The Sumter was got under way in double quick time. Directly after crossing the bar the Brooklyn was seen in chase of a sailing vessel, which chase she soon abandoned and shaped her course for the Sumter. At this time the latter ship had no sail on, but soon a favorable breeze sprung up, and the order was given to unfurl. The Brooklyn followed her example, spreading every yard of canvas that would draw. The speed of the two ships seemed to be about equal, and for more than two hours it was doubtful whether the little "rebel" would come out victor or vanquished. She was sadly out of trim, being too much down by the head, which caused her to plunge greatly, keeping the forecastle continually covered with spray. To remedy this the field howitzer and about 1500 gallons of water were thrown overboard. Up to this time the Sumter carried only 18 pounds of steam; suddenly the hand of the steam-gauge indicated that it had been increased to 27 pounds. It soon became evident that the Sumter was gaining on the Yankee. The Brooklyn's hull gradually sank beneath the horizon, but still she continued the chase, until nothing could be seen of her save her white sails—of which she carried a huge quantity. After a chase of four hours her commander saved the credit of his ship as a fast sailer by turning back! As soon as the enemy wore ship the Sumter's crew manned the rigging and cheered ship most heartily.

July 2.—The Sumter has steadily continued on her course southward. It is a great relief to be rid of all bustle, and be thus quietly cruising along.

July 3.—This afternoon, about three o'clock, the look-out reported a sail. As it was the first one seen her appearance was greeted with pleasure. Chase was given; but she proved to be, not a Yankee, but a Spaniard. Her papers were found correct, and she was permitted to continue on her course. Immediately afterward another sail was descried—the American ship Golden Rocket—a fine vessel of about 1000 tons burden, hound from Havana to Cienfuegos, in ballast. She being a lawful prize her crew was transferred to the Sumter: her spare sails and a portion of her stores were taken out of her, and then she was consigned to the flames. The Rocket's sails were all set, and the flames leaped into them, dancing a wild fantastic dance from rope to rope. As the fire spread and took a firmer hold of the doomed ship the heavens were illumined gloriously. But it was indeed a sad sight to witness the destruction of such a splendid vessel. When last seen she was a mass of flame from bowsprit to tafrrail—enveloped in a winding-sheet of fire.

July 4.—This is the anniversary of the birth of freedom in the Western World; and on this day we, seamen of the Confederate States, captured the

American brig Cuba. First sending on board a prize crew, we took her in tow. Soon afterward, however, the tow-line parted, when instructions were given to the prize-master to permit none of his men to go aloft, lest an attempt might be made to recapture her, the old crew being still on board. Late this afternoon another vessel—the brig Machias—was captured, and given in charge of a prize crew.

July 5.—The sound "Sail ho!" is becoming familiar to our ears. It was heard twice to-day, and each sail was a prize. The names of the vessels are the Ben Dunning and Alibert Adams, both brigs, and both from Cuban ports, laden with the productions of the tropics. If the Sumter continues capturing at this rate, she will soon be compelled to go into port to leave her prizes and get back her men who are in charge of them. It is likely she will put into some Cuban port, near which coast she now is.

July 6.—Success still attends us. Yesterday the bark Louisa Kilham, and the brigs West Wind and Naiad, were captured. This is doing a wholesale business. The Sumter is as attractive to Yankee ships as the light of a candle is to the fire-fly, and equally as fatal. After the capture of the last-named vessel we shaped our course for Cienfuegos, Cuba, and anchored near the outer fort, about four o'clock this afternoon. We waited outside until all our prizes, except the brig Cuba, which has not yet made her appearance, sailed in; the Sumter then followed in their wake, like a mother watchfully protecting her children. All the prizes brought into this port will be taken charge of by the Cuban authorities, subject to the order of the commander of the Sumter. This is cheering. The Northerners predicted that no nation with which they were on terms of amity would permit any vessel belonging to the Confederate States to enter their ports.

July 7.—Finished taking in water and coal, and sailed this morning.

July 17.—Arrived off the harbor of St. Anne, island of Curacoa, yesterday evening, and this morning steamed in. The men are attired in their best clothes, the officers in full uniform, while the Confederate flag is flying, and the commander's whip-like pennant gayly fluttering at her main. Thousands of people are assembled on the quays to see the little stranger. Amicable relations have been established, and the Sumter is quite "a lion." She is in need of a few repairs, which will be made before we sail again.

July 24.—The Sumter sailed from St. Anne this morning. As she passed the guard-ship cheers were given, which were caught up by the multitudes assembled on either side of the inlet. Not the least gratifying part of this ovation was the waving of handkerchiefs by some of earth's fairest daughters. These friendly manifestations were duly appreciated, as we proved at the time.

July 25.—The old, familiar sound "Sail ho!" is heard once more. "Star-spangled banner, long may it wave!" Francis Key never uttered this prayer more fervently than do the Sumter "rebels;" for they know that wherever "floats that standard sheet" they are sure of a prize. This one is the Abby Bradford, a pretty little schooner, hailing from Portland, State of Maine. As she has a full cargo, a prize crew has been put on board, who will take her into the nearest port, the Sumter accompanying her.

July 26.—Anchored to-day outside the harbor of Porto Cabello, Republic of Venezuela. Owing to the commander's refusal to comply with a certain port regulation the authorities would not grant either the Sumter or her prize permission to enter the harbor.

July 27.—Being still unable to gain admission into the harbor the Sumter and her prize left Porto Cabello this morning. Not long afterward the bark Joseph Maxwell, of Philadelphia, was captured. Her cargo being very valuable, and selected with a view to its sale in the West Indies, or the Spanish Main, the Sumter returned with her to Porto Cabello. The authorities refused to admit either vessel, but a portion of the crew of the Maxwell was allowed to land, being taken charge of by the United States consul. Thereupon the Sumter and the Maxwell left the port; and when out at sea a prize crew was sent on board with orders to sail for Cienfuegos. At the same time the Abby Bradford was dispatched to New Orleans by way of Berwick's Bay.

July 30.—Arrived about noon at Port of Spain, Island of Trinidad.

August 1.—A great number of persons have visited the Sumter here. They can not conceive how it was possible for her to have run the blockade at New Orleans. They had read all the proclamations of the President of the Northern Republic, and believed he would make good his threats; and again, they believed that the Northern navy was sufficiently numerous to sweep from the seas every ship of the Southern Confederacy.

August 3.—The British steamer Cadmus arrived to-day. She is a stanch-looking vessel, carrying twelve guns. The most friendly intercourse exists between the two commanders and their officers. The remark was made, "The English here treat us more like princes than plain Republican Americans." No tidings have been received of the prize brig Cuba, captured off Cienfuegos. The journals male no mention of her arrival there; and fears are entertained that ill has befallen her.

August 5.—Sailed from Port of Spain.

August 16.—Arrived off the harbor of Cayenne, French Guiana. The commander being unwilling to comply with one of the port laws relative to war-vessels the Sumter left during the afternoon. Some of her officers, however, went ashore, and learned that two days before a United States gun-boat had been there looking for the Sumter.

August 18.—After leaving Cayenne the vessel's course was shaped for Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana, off which port she signaled for a pilot until sun-down; none having arrived at that hour she cattle to anchor. About twilight a sail was seen in the distance approaching the Sumter. It was soon

apparent that she was a steam war-vessel. Steam was raised, the anchor hove up, all hands beat to quarters, the guns manned, the old charges drawn and fresh ones put in their places. By the time all these preliminaries had been arranged it was ascertained, by the aid of the night telescope, that the strange vessel had anchored. The Sumter followed suit; but a vigilant look-out is kept upon the movements of our supposed enemy.

August 19.—Early this morning the look-outs had reported that the steamer outside was under way. Slowly she steamed toward the Sumter, seeming to have made every preparation for attack. She had not yet hoisted her flag, neither had the Sumter—each commander being apparently desirous of learning the nationality of the other first, and of letting him know, by a death-dealing broadside, that an enemy was at hand. The stranger looked like an American-built vessel, having long mast-heads and a sharp overhanging bow. Yes, there was no mistaking her—she must be one of the gun-boats sent in search of the Sumter. When she was near enough for the number of her guns to be determined, we were glad to find that she carried but one gun more than the Sumter, and that the disparity was no greater. Slowly and cautiously the vessels neared each other. When not more than a cable's length off, our first lieutenant hailed her in aloud voice, "Ship ahoy!" "Hallo!" was promptly answered. "This is the Confederate States steamer Sumter—what vessel is that?" After waiting about half a minute, which secured an age, the enemy replied: "The French steamer Abbeiville!" Here was a disappointment—after all this preparation for mortal combat, to find at last that the supposed enemy was a friend! There was not a single man who would not freely have relinquished all the prize-money then due to him could he have transformed the Frenchman into a Yankee. She was nearer the equal of the Sumter than they ever expected to meet again, and the Sumter had captured so many merchantmen that it night be said she did not care to meet any other class of vessels. After the Frenchman had given his name he was asked if be had a pilot. He answered in the negative; and added that it was his intention to go in without one, as he knew the channel well. He did so, and we followed him. Soon after the Sumter anchored one of the Governor's aids came on board to welcome our commander. Several Yankee vessels in port, as soon as the Sumter arrived, ran up the Stars and Stripes.

August 28.—No one belonging to the Sumter has cause to complain of the treatment he has received here. Not a day has passed since her arrival but what some demonstration of sympathy for the cause of the South, or of respect and friendship for the commander of the Sumter, has taken place..... Late advises from Cuba announce that the crew of a small vessel, previously captured by a Southern man-of-war—name not given—had overpowered and murdered the prize crew. It is feared that the "small vessel" alluded to is the brig Cuba.

August 29.—We received intelligence this morning that a gun-boat, bearing the flag of the United States, had been seen cruising off the mouth of the Surinam—the river on which Paramaribo is situated. If this is true, this vessel is no doubt one of the fleet of cruisers sent in search of the Sumter.

August 30.—The Sumter steamed out of the harbor, followed by the most cheering evidences of the friendship of the people.

September 5.—(Maranham.)—After five days' pleasant sailing from Paramaribo, the Sumter arrived, without any thing having occured worthy of note, in the domains of the Emperor of Brazil. Found in port two Brazilian men-of-war—between which, and right abreast of an immense fort, she is now at anchor.

September 14.—The Sumter has been ready to sail for several days, but has been detained on account of the non-arrival of the mail, which was received yesterday. Its advices confirm the recapture of the brig Cuba. The prize crew consisted of two sailors and two marines, the prize-master being Midshipman Hudgins. One of the sailors, Davidson, informed the captain of the brig, who, although a prisoner, was allowed to remain on board the Cuba, that he and the other sailor, Spencer, were willing to lay down their arms and surrender the vessel to him, provided he would guarantee them pardon from the President of the United States. Captain Stroud promised to use his influence to that end, whereupon the sailers delivered up their arms, and tried to persuade the marines to fellow their example. They refused, and informed Mr. Hudgins of the treachery of the two sailors. By this time Captain Stroud, having taken measures for regaining possession of the brig, ordered Mr. Hudgins to give up his weapons. He declined to do so, whereupon Captain Stroud made a signal, which was answered by his own men and the renegades. In the mean time Mr. Hudgins climbed a mast, from which he fired repeatedly at the party on deck, wounding several men, one fatally; however, he himself was wounded in turn, and thus compelled to descend. The two marines gallantly seconded their commander, but were soon overpowered and put in irons—a punishment that was afterward accorded to the two traitors.

September 15.-Sailed front San Jua n de Maranham, Brazil.

September 25.—The Sumter has now ceased to exercise her vocation so long that the Yankee shippers doubtless think she has bidden farewell to the Spanish Main. If Captain Briggs, of the Joseph Park, entertained any such opinion he was undeceived to-day. About three o'clock this afternoon a rakish-looking little bark hove in sight; it was Briggs's brigantine. We were seen alongside of her. When her first-mate made the unpleasant discovery that his neighbor was an armed Confederate vessel he attempted to give his bark more sea-room; but his efforts availed him not, though he handled his vessel in a very seamanlike manner. The Joseph Park, too, was remarkably swift. However, the captain thought it best to heave-to and haul down the once glorious Stars and Stripes. (Next Page)

Pirate Ship Sumter




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