Journal from Officer on the 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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HARPER'S WEEKLY.

[AUGUST 16, 1862.

526

(Previous Page) September 27.—For the past two days the Sumter and her prize have been cruising along under easy sail, both vessels displaying lights at night, and keeping within sight of each other during the day. To-day, however, the Sumter dropped alongside of the Park, and after the transfer of the prize crew and a portion of her stores to the steamer, she was first used as a target, and then made a bonfire of.

October 22.—Nearly one month has elapsed since the capture of the Joseph Park, and not a single sail has been seen during that time. We think of the Yankees' boast, that their sails whiten the ocean!

October 24.—A sail at last! It is a pleasure to see one occasionally, though it may not be one of the kind we are in quest of. To-day a French brig was boarded. The captain being asked the news from the States, replied, "Before I left home I heard they were fighting in America, but I did not learn who were the belligerents, what they were fighting for, or which was the victorious party!" This Gaul certainly takes very little interest in other people's affairs.

October 28.—The cruise of the Sumter, during the last month, has been attended with so little success that it seemed her guardian angel had flown; but to-day she has shown her face again. The blessing she has bestowed on us this time is a pretty little schooner, the Daniel Trowbridge, crammed with every thing in the eating line we could desire.

October 29.—Early this morning a boat was sent off to the prize for a supply of fresh provisions and returned with sheep, pigs, potatoes, and an abundance of fowl—luxuries we had not indulged in for a long time. During the excellent dinner we enjoyed to-day many thanks were expressed for the kindness of Uncle Abe, in thus remembering us in our hour of need—of fresh provisions.

October 31.—Since the capture of the Trowbridge every body has been busy. A portion of the crew has been employed on the prize, breaking out in the hold, to get the provisions required for the ship's use; while another gang has been making room for the reception of new stores. During this time her decks have looked liked a compromise between a provision wareroom and a slaughter-house. Such was the condition of the Sumter when, this morning, at eight o'clock, a sail was descried. Preparation was immediately made for the chase. The prize crew was recalled from the schooner, with instructions to fire her before they left. We had become tired of the routine of the past three days, and were glad of the opportunity for a change. What a pleasure it is to be in chase of a ship, especially if her captain is a plucky fellow and a good seaman, as was he of the Danish brigantine Eliza? After boarding this ship we proceeded on our course.

November 1.—At half past three o'clock this morning a very large and brilliant light was seen from the deck of the Sumter. On nearing it, it was discovered to be the burning wreck of the Trowbridge. The Sumter's course had been changed since she left the schooner in the morning, which accounts for the second meeting of the two vessels —one trim and rakish in appearance, her decks crowded with happy devil-may-care fellows, to whom it mattered not in what direction the prow of their craft was turned; the other a miserable wreck, abandoned to the mercy of the wind and wave, and sending up to heaven masses of smoke and sheets of flame.

November 2.—No fewer than three sail have been overhauled to-day, all carrying the flag of Great Britain. One of them reported the capture of the "pirate" Sumter, off Charleston Harbor, after a most determined resistance, in which she was dismasted, and lost more than half her crew.

November 5.—We meet so many vessels under British colors that the question arises—Are not many of them Yankees in disguise? When we were at San Juan de Maranham it was positively asserted that many Yankee skippers had effected, at that port, a bogus sale of their vessels to English merchants, so that when they sailed they would be under the protection of the British flag! How humiliating it must be to be compelled to resort to these shifts! To-day we boarded the British brigantine Rothsay, the French brig Helene, and the British ship Plover. The captain of the Plover asked the boarding officer if he was in search of the Sumter—having mistaken her for a Yankee gun-boat. The officer, believing the skipper to be in jest, replied affirmatively. "Then," said the skipper, "it will take a smarter-looking craft than yours to catch the Sumter; and even if you find her you can't take her!"

November 7.—Boarded another vessel bearing the British flag—no evidence, nowadays, that she is owned by British subjects: also a French brig.

November 8.—Still another Britisher! The ship-builders of Albion must have been busy lately.

November 9.—This morning the Sumter arrived at Port Royal, island of Martinique. Astern of us is the French gun-boat Acheron, whose captain paid his respects to the commander of the Sumter soon after she anchored.

November 10.—We have learned, since our arrival here, that the United States gun-boat reported cruising off the mouth of the Surinam River was the Keystone State. The commander made diligent inquiries respecting the whereabouts of the Sumter. On learning from one of the pilots that she was up the river at Paramaribo he immediately put to sea. He acted wisely: for the Keystone State is not more than a match for the Sumter. In trying to capture her he might have lost his own ship.

November 12.—Our stay in Port Royal will be an era in the cruise of the Sumter. The crew were permitted to go ashore, and seemed to have enjoyed themselves in the style peculiar to old salts. It has been hinted that the Sumter boys are strong advocates of temperance, inasmuch as they strove to put down every beverage that would intoxicate. They had many furious encounters in endeavoring to enforce their abstemious principles, for several came aboard minus various very necessary articles of wearing apparel. One of them, to show his love

of pure cold water, jumped off the wharf and attempted to wade to the ship. Had not a boat been promptly sent to his assistance he would never more have answered to the muster-roll. After being fished out of the water and deposited in the boat he attempted to jump out of it, and it required the combined efforts of the crew to prevent it. Seeing that there was danger of the boat being capsized, the commander of the Acheron kindly sent his gig to tow the boat alongside of the Sumter.

November 13.—(St. Pierre.)—We arrived here about noon, having left Port Royal in the morning. Being unable to procure coal at the latter port it was necessary to come hither. As there are so many Yankee cruisers around the West Indies the Sumter will not prolong her stay here. A few days before the Sumter reached Port Royal the United States war steamer Iroquoise put in there, but staid only long enough to inquire after the Sumter. She was described as a gun-boat of the largest class, carrying guns of the heaviest calibre.

November 14.—The Iroquoise has arrived! When first opening the harbor she was disguised; her yards were braced every way, the Danish flag flying at her peak. But this ruse did not deceive us, for many of us had seen her before. Having taken her position in front of the harbor she hoisted the Stars and Stripes, while some of her crew set to work at something on her forecastle—doubtless mounting the forward pivot gun, a 120-pounder. The Iroquoise is a magnificent-looking craft, bark-rigged, carrying six heavy guns. As soon as she hoisted the United States flag crowds of people collected on the quays to get a good look at her, some of them even expecting that she would give us battle then and there. Preparations were immediately made for this event. Our ship was cleared for action. The carpenter's gang were set to work making shot-plugs. At twilight all hands were mustered on the quarter-deck, where small-arms were served out; and look-outs were doubled fore and aft.

November 15.—Last night about 11 o'clock the Iroquoise was seen slowly approaching the Sumter. Immediately all hands were called with as little noise as possible. No drum beat to quarters; but "Boys, rouse up, the Iroquoise is alongside ready to grapple us!" was sufficient to clear the gun-deck of hammocks in a remarkably short space of time. The gun-deck, being already cleared for action, was properly lighted; the guns were manned, the magazine was opened, and the surgeon and his assistant "stood by." Our big pivot-gun bore directly on the Iroquoise; and her crew (the picked men of the ship) made a picture not easily forgotten, as they stood about her, every man with a revolver in his belt and a cutlass at his side. It was thought that the Iroquoise would undertake to board us in boats. Had the attempt been made the Yankees would have met with a warm reception. Captain Palmer went ashore directly after his arrival, and boasted that as he had been sent after the Sumter he intended to take her. He even had the assurance to ask permission of the authorities to capture her in the harbor. To this modest request he received for an answer: "The Sumter can remain in our port and receive the protection of our flag during the pleasure of her commander; but if she, or the Iroquoise, violates the neutrality of the port the guns of our forts shall be turned against her." From this we inferred that Captain Palmer might endeavor to carry his point by stratagem. The boys knew that once in the hands of the Yankees they could not expect any other than the most brutal treatment, and, remembering the fate of the Savannah's crew, resolved never to give up the ship. Death is preferable to capture.... Seeing that the commander of the Sumter and his little crew were as wide awake as himself, Captain Palmer wisely concluded to defer the attack. As the Iroquoise wore round and stood out to sea our men were ordered to leave their quarters. Some of them took their hammocks below to finish their night's sleep; others turned into the hammock nettings, or lay upon the deck, all with their arms girded on them or within reach. A few loitered about, discussing the probability of another visit from our friends. The Iroquoise dropped alongside of us about one o'clock, and again at three o'clock in the morning, but attempted nothing. —The French gun-boat Acheron, 8 guns, arrived to-day from Port Royal. The commander paid his respects to our captain, through one of his officers, soon after she came to anchor, which courtesy was reciprocated. It is understood that the Acheron will have no communication with the Iroquoise, nor permit her to communicate with the shore, otherwise than by signals, until she anchors.

November 16.—The Iroquoise dropped anchor to-day. Thereupon the commander of the Acheron sent an officer on board to confer with Captain Palmer. The result of the conference is that the Iroquoise must come to anchor, or else must go three miles outside of the harbor. Immediately after the departure of the officer the Iroquoise hove anchor for a cruise in the harbor.

November 17.—The time having arrived for the Iroquoise either to anchor or leave the harbor, she chose the latter alternative, and is now three miles outside.

November 19.—The Iroquoise still hovers about us. The harbor, like that of New Orleans, is crescent-shaped, but the points are more clearly defined than those of the Crescent City. Between these two points of land, about three miles apart, the Iroquoise has taken her position, and is continually steaming from one to the other. It reminds one of a big bully swaggering in front of a little man's door, and daring him to come out and fight.

November 22.—The Sumter raised steam late this afternoon to test the repairs that have been made on her machinery. Seeing the smoke the Iroquoise, after dark, came in much nearer than usual. We learned to-day that several of the crew of the Joseph Park and Daniel Trowbridge, put ashore at Port Royal by the Sumter, but afterward sent to this place by the United States Consul, are now serving on the Iroquoise. Before they left the Sumter they all spoke gratefully of the treatment

they had received, and solemnly swore not to take up arms against the Confederate States during the present struggle.

November 23.—The Sumter is once more in blue water! Every preparation having been made, the ship being in good sailing trim, a portion of her stores placed on the spar-deck, to be hove overboard to lighten her in case it was necessary, precisely as the eight o'clock gun was fired she slipped her anchor and steamed slowly out to sea, keeping close under cover of the land. Scarcely had her propeller revolved a dozen times before a blue light appeared at the mast-head of the only Yankee ship in port. Then a second signal was displayed on shore, and then another. The engine was stopped. The Sumter was now abreast of the French war steamer, which was under the guns of the fort, but nothing could be seen of the Iroquoise. The engine was again started; our ship moving very slowly, and still closely hugging the land. When nearly opposite the southern point the Iroquoise was seen bearing down on us; but as we were so completely under cover of the land, it was not likely that she saw us. The Sumter's prow was turned in the direction of the other point, but afterward she ran closer into the harbor, all the time watching every movement of the Iroquoise. Seeing that she was still watching the southern point, the Sumter shot across to the northern point at her fullest speed. Just before she reached the point a vessel was seen a little ahead of her. The engine was again stopped to determine the character of this craft. The darkness was so intense that it was impossible to make her out at first. A blundering quarter-master pronounced her to be an armed steamer; after a minute of anxious suspense she was transformed into a sailing frigate, lying broadside on; and finally, while we were in momentary expectation of attack, she proved to be a harmless little fore-and-aft schooner. About a quarter of an hour was lost in making out this vessel. The engine was again set in motion, and in a few minutes the Sumter was rounding the point. After she passed Diamond Rock she gave the land a wider berth, heading for the open sea. Even at this moment we could scarcely realize that the wide-awake Captain Palmer could be foiled so easily. Did he wait until morning watching the southern point? or did he give chase to an imaginary Sumter? It will be hard to convince him now that the rebels did not leave St. Pierre either by the overland or the underground route..... The Sumter passed the Island of Dominique at 10.35. Allowing for the detention at the point, she made the thirty miles in two hours; this is good time, considering that she encountered a head wind and a rough sea. The boys refuse to call this running the blockade; they say it was merely a little Saturday night's frolic, and it would be nothing but right to return and give Captain Palmer another chance of promotion. It should have been stated that a large and brilliant light, which was placed astern of the Sumter, in the window of a building near the Cathedral, every night after the arrival of the Iroquoise, was hauled down as soon as the former got under way. Four lights, seemingly on a flag-staff, were placed one above another, on a house-top, supposed to be that of the United States Consul; after being displayed about five minutes they were put out, one at a time. The vessel that raised a blue light to her mast-head was the same one that hauled down the British flag, which she had flown ever since the Sumter had been in port, and hoisted her proper colors, the Stars and Stripes, as soon as the Iroquoise arrived.

November 25.—To-day we captured the ship Montmorenci, of Bath, Maine, with a cargo of 1800 tons of coal, consigned to British residents in St. Thomas. Her captain executed a bond to the value of the ship in favor of the commander of the Sumter. After taking from her her papers and colors she was permitted to continue on her course.

November 26.—Captured and burned the schooner Arcade, of Portland, Maine.

December 3.—Early this morning a large ship was overhauled—the Vigilant, bound to Sombrero Island for guano. Her crew, all blacks, were terribly frightened at seeing the Sumter. When the prize-crew boarded her the negroes could hardly be prevented from jumping overboard, and when they came aboard the Sumter they acted as though their hour had come. Some of them verily believed that they would have to walk a plank. The Vigilant was stripped of every thing we wanted and then fired. We took from her a 9-pounder rifle-gun, which is mounted on the forecastle, in place of the one hove overboard in running the blockade of the Mississippi.

December 8.—Maine has given us three ships this week; now it is the turn of the old Bay State. A bark, fitted out for a three-years' whaling voyage, was made a bonfire of to-day. She was fourteen days out from New Bedford. She had sprung a leak, which kept the men continually at the pumps; some of them were in an almost exhausted condition. The approach of the Sumter was hailed with joy.

December 14.—For several days past we have had rough weather; and last night it blew a perfect hurricane. Early in the evening all the hatches were battened down, and the guns secured—precautions which were taken not a moment too soon. At midnight the gale raged with extraordinary violence. Winds and waves seemed to have entered into a league to destroy us. At one o'clock this morning a sea struck her forward, staving in the bulwarks on the starboard side of the gun-deck, and carrying away one of the stanchions to which the bow guns were partly secured. The gun, a 32-pounder, finding itself adrift, started off on a cruise on its own account. It was soon captured, however, and carried back to its old quarters. The hole in the ship's side was temporarily repaired, by which time the flying jib-boom was sprung; however, we got it rigged in, and all the gear and the jib were saved in good condition. Just before daylight the storm began to abate, but even now (11 A.M.) the ship is pitching terribly, showing her keel to the skies and her decks to the fishes. The

Sumter, in passing through this ordeal, proved herself a much better sea-boat than many of us even hoped to find her.

December 25.—Christmas! In the South, this year, Christmas is not likely to be celebrated as in the old days. It will probably be turned into a day of fasting and mourning, and prayers will ascend for the repose of the souls of those who have fallen in battle, and for the safety of the thousands of fathers, husbands, and brothers whose lives are staked for their country's cause. We, here in the Western Ocean, have passed a sad day—a miserable imitation of Christmas.

December 28.—The British bark Rouchabuctoo, of Aberdeen, was boarded to-day. She brought intelligence of the burning, in the British Channel, of the American packet-ship Harvey Birch, by a side-wheel steamer carrying the Confederate flag, and supposed to be the Nashville.

December 29.—In the track of vessels again. Today the Southern flag exchanged courtesies with the shipping of many nations—British, French, Dutch, Prussian, etc.—twenty-seven sail in all. Out of this number not a single Yankee! If the terrible Nashville has captured them all on this side of the Atlantic, the Sumter will have to return to her old cruising ground in the Caribbean Sea.

December 30.—The Sumter has been half a year out from New Orleans to-day. Since that date she has run two blockades, and evaded the vigilance of the fleet of gun-boats which have been searching for her all over the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. She has captured sixteen valuable prizes; visited ports in Cuba, Curacoa, Trinidad, Martinique, Venezuela, Dutch and French Guiana, and Brazil. A still more creditable feat is that of crossing the Atlantic in the dead of winter; for the Sumter is any thing but a stanch ship. What a reflection it is on the vaunted efficiency of the United States Navy, that a little bark of less than 500 tons, with a crew of only 114 men, should for six months prey upon its shipping without having once to fight for it! Her success in running the blockade of St. Pierre may be attributed to a lack of vigilance on the part of Captain Palmer. In fact, it was the stupidity of his friends on shore that deceived him. He would have done well by imitating the Sumter in muffling his lights. He should have remembered how that mighty warrior of olden times, Gideon, with only 300 men, put to flight the hosts of Midian: it was merely by the judicious use of lights!

January 3, 1862.—Several vessels have been seen, but the sea was too rough to overhaul them.

January 4.—We have arrived at Cadiz. We steamed in without a pilot, though one towed astern, and gave directions as to the channel, not daring to venture on to her decks until she had been boarded by the health officers. These gentlemen have ordered the Sumter into quarantine for three days.

January 5.—This morning our commander was ordered to leave the port within twenty-four hours. He refused to obey this strange order. The Sumter is not in a sea-worthy condition, being very leaky. It is a flagrant violation of international law to withhold succor from a distressed vessel, even though she belongs to an enemy and in time of war. If any doubt existed as to whether an attempt would be made to enforce this mandate, it is now removed. Toward nightfall a large frigate steamed down from the inner bay—the rendezvous of the Spanish war vessels—and anchored near the Sumter. It is madness to expect that the Sumter would be the victor in an engagement with her. Notwithstanding this our commander will not leave this port until his vessel is repaired.

January 6.—The hour fixed for our departure has come and gone. This morning the authorities informed us that the Spanish Cabinet had refused to sanction their action, and therefore the Sumter would be permitted to remain in the port of Cadiz. Soon afterward the frigate hove anchor and left. Thus ends this miserable farce. Our commander is destined to be popular with the Spaniards: they invariably honor those whom they can not bully.

January 7.—This afternoon the prisoners captured on board the Arcade, the Vigilant, and the Eben Dodge—forty-three in all—were sent ashore, the captains of the respective vessels having previously made arrangements with the United States Consul for sending them away. We heartily wish them a pleasant passage home.

January 12.—Steamed about fifteen miles up the inlet to the Government navy-yard, where the Sumter is to be thoroughly overhauled for repairs.

January 14.—The ship has been carefully inspected, and as she is not so much in need of repairs as was anticipated, she will haul out of dock to-morrow. She looks no less beautiful out of the water than in it. Her great length, in proportion to her beam, gives her the appearance of a much larger vessel than she really is.

January 15.—Hauled out of the dry dock and were towed down to the city,

January 16.—Seven of the crew have deserted here; and so the commander, hearing that much discontent existed in the ship, ordered all hands to be assembled, and addressed them as follows: "I have had you mustered to tell you that I have just received a dispatch from our commissioner in London. He has sent us money and clothing, which are on the way, and will be here in a few days. When they come to hand you will get liberty and money, and will have your run on shore as heretofore. I have endeavored to make you as comfortable as the circumstances of the ship would allow. I am deeply grieved that any of my crew should feel themselves so ill-treated or badly provided for as to desert their colors; not only desert, but to basely sell themselves to the enemy. I will now read to you the law of the Confederate States navy for the punishment of desertion." After reading the clause making desertion punishable with death, he continued: "If I catch any of those deserters I will execute them at the yard-arm. The law leaves me no other alternative. I thought the Sumter had acquired some little reputation that would attach her crew to her. The enemy have been chasing you hither and thither. They have been searching for (Next Page)


 

 

  

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