Capture of the Steamer "Chesapeake" in the Civil War


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, December 26, 1863

Harper's Weekly was the primary source of news and information for people who lived during the Civil War. Families would eagerly await each issue, hoping to learn of the progress in the war, and perhaps read something of a loved ones unit. Today, these newspapers are a priceless treasure, and an incredible resource for adding color to the Civil War.

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



The Chesapeake



Abraham Lincoln's Amnesty Proclamation

Capture Lookout Mountain

Capture of Lookout Mountain

Fighting Among the Clouds

Fighting Among the Clouds


John Brough

Jeff Davis Cartoon

Lookout Mountain

Battle of Lookout Mountain

Christmas Morning

Christmas Morning






VOL. VII.—No. 365.]



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the Year 1863, by Harper & Brothers, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.



WE give on this page a Portrait, from a photograph by Brady, of the Hon. SCHUYLER COLFAX, who has just been elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. Mr. COLFAX was born in New York City on the 23rd of March, 1823, and is descended from General SCHUYLER and Captain COLFAX, both of whom fought in the Revolution. At thirteen years of age he removed to Indiana, where he soon began life as a printer, in which humble capacity he rose to a position of influence and honor. About twenty years ago he became the proprietor of The South Bend Register, and as a necessity of his position became connected with the politics of his State. His political connection was with the Whig party, so long as it retained its organization, after which he became an earnest Republican.

Mr. COLFAX has now been a member of. Congress for nearly ten years. He was elected Representative from Indiana in 1854, and has held the office ever since. In the thirty-fifth Congress he was chosen Chairman of the Committee on Post-offices and Post Roads, and for one or two years past he has been one of the Regents of the Smithsonian Institute.

In his personal appearance he is a little below the medium height, has dark eyes and hair, and a large forehead. He is a fluent speaker, distinct in his utterance, and impressive. He is very bland and courteous in demeanor, and kind and affable in all his social relations. On the 7th of December, 1863, he was elected Speaker of the House. Although the position was never of greater moment than in the present session, yet only a single ballot was cast, the result of which was the election of Mr. COLFAX by a vote of 101. to 81. This decided vote settles at once all doubt as to the firm purpose of the House to support the Administration.


ON Wednesday, December 9, H. B. Cromwell Co., of this city, received a telegraphic dispatch from the Mayor of Portland stating that the steamer Chesapeake, owned by them, had been captured twenty miles north-northeast from Cape Cod, at half past one o'clock, Monday morning, by British pirates, who had started from New York as passengers. The Chesapeake, of which we publish a sketch on this page, was on her way to Portland, Maine.

From statements made by Captain Willett, who commanded the steamer, we learn that the piratical party consisted of fifteen persons, headed by a Mr. Osborne, a coast pilot from St.

John, New Brunswick. The whole party concerned in the perpetration of this daring outrage—an outrage which did not stop short of cold-blooded murder—was made up of British subjects, residents of St. John and Carleton, New Brunswick. The seizure took place in the following manner :

The Captain had retired for the night. The second engineer (Owen Shaffer) had charge of the engine, and the chief mate (Charles Johnson) held the watch. At a quarter past one the pirates were up and doing. The first notification of their presence was given in the deliberate and unnecessary murder of Shaffer, who had just returned from oiling the engine when he received a mortal wound in the neck. Johnson, the mate, was going to the pantry, and witnessed the deed. On his way to the captain's room he was himself fired at, and received two wounds, one in the arm and another in the knee. He succeeded in arousing the captain, who, soon after his arrival on deck, was put in irons, having been fired at fifteen or twenty times, but, strange to say, without injury. The chief engineer (James Johnson) also was wounded. In all these cases of firing at the officers of the Chesapeake there was no attempt at parley, no warning of any sort : the pirates were sheer cowards. The officers being all secured—one of them killed, two wounded, and the others put in irons—the helmsman and third engineer alone being left at their posts, Osborne took charge of the vessel, and all was quiet again. After the seizure the prisoners were treated with great consideration, and the bona fide passengers, five in number, were left at their liberty, on condition of their non- interference. These five passengers were all old sea-captains. All the ordinary operations usual on shipboard went on as usual until Tuesday morning, when the vessel was brought to anchor in Seal Harbor, off the island of Grand Menan. Thence she was brought up the bay toward St. John, having received on board a new captain, viz., John Parker, of the privateer Retribution. At Dipper Harbor, twelve miles from St. John, the captives were allowed just ten minutes to transfer themselves and their baggage to the pilot-boat, which was towed up to within seven miles of St. John by the Chesapeake, when the latter cast off tow and returned down the bay, picking up on the way a schooner supposed to have had guns, ammunition, coal, etc., on board for the new pirate.

These pirates gave Captain Willett a copy of "Orders from the Confederate Government," which is without official seal—a mere fabrication, which will not save the rogues from hanging if they are caught. Similar plots, it is believed, have been formed against other vessels. The Chesapeake was built in 1852, by J. A. Westervelt, and is 460 tons burden.


Schuyler Colfax
The Captured Steamer "Chesapeake" in the Civil War

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