Running the Blockade

 

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Civil War Harper's Weekly, December 12, 1863

We have posted our collection of Harper's Weekly newspapers to this WEB site to enable students to gain a better understanding of the key events of the War. Reading these old papers will take you back in time to a day that the cannons were till firing, and the war was still raging.

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

 

Civil War Guerrillas

Guerrillas

Erie Railway

General Morgan Escape

Escape of John Morgan

Pipe Organ

Boston Music Hall Pipe Organ

Supply Depot

Supply Depot

Running Blockade

Running the Blockade

Boston Music Hall

Boston Music Hall

Rev. Turner

Reverend Turner

Stevenson

Stevenson, Alabama

Pack Mules

Pack Mules

Grant's Map

Map of General Grant's Operations

Columbia Cartoon

 

 

 

HARPER'S WEEKLY.

[DECEMBER 12, 1863.

794

BLOCKADE-RUNNING EXPERIENCES.

IN the winter of 1860-'61 I was a resident of a Southern city on the Atlantic coast. I had resided there for nearly fifteen years, except during the very warm months and an occasional business trip to Europe. My business was "cotton commission;" that is, I generally bought the great staple and shipped it to Liverpool, or elsewhere, on order, for the usual charges. Occasionally I purchased on my own account, sometimes realizing large profits, and sometimes suffering large losses. On the whole, my business career was reasonably successful. In the fall of '60 I was in the full tide of prosperity, and felt that a year or two more "just like this" would give me enough on which to live handsomely without business for the remainder of my days. Such hopes were, however, soon and violently blasted.

I have good reasons for feeling that my particular case has been a very hard one. I am a foreigner, and was sent South by a Liverpool house, all my family connections residing in Great Britain. I never "declared my intentions" to become a citizen of the United States; never voted in my life, nor took any special interest in political affairs; neither did I ever have any direct connection with the "peculiar institution." I came to the United States simply to do business, and did it. Consequently, when "my State" went out of the Union in company with several "sisters," I found my career of prosperity suspended, and my entire business and connections threatened with destruction. In the first two or three months of '61 I fervently hoped that matters would be adjusted, and that we should go on again as before. But when Fort Sumter was captured I ceased to hope, and felt that so far as business was concerned the sooner my affairs were closed the better. I therefore converted all my available assets into cotton, and shipped it. Just before the blockade was established against our port I took passage, and sailed for home, leaving behind some debts due me, and some personal property in the shape of bank stock and railway bonds. It was a great consolation, on arriving at Liverpool after a long and tedious voyage, to find that the great staple had been rising in price almost daily while I was on the ocean, and it was some compensation for the loss of my business to have realized very handsomely on the shipments.

On reaching England I determined to settle down among friends, and think no more of my late Southern home; but after a few months' sojourn I became tired and dispirited. The old-fashioned ways of living and doing business there did not suit me. A longing to return to the scene of my labors, and see how my unsettled affairs stood, seized and grew upon me to such an extent that it culminated in my taking passage in the steamship Anglo-Saxon, bound for Quebec and Montreal. It was my intention on reaching Canada to consult with some friends, if they could be found, as to the best and safest means for passing the Federal lines into the Southern States. The steamer was filled with passengers. Quite a number were Southerners, and some, I know, had the same object in view as myself. But there was little or no frank interchange of thoughts and purposes, such as usually prevail among passengers on a sea voyage. The impression pervaded the entire ship that there were Federal spies on board; and every man doubted his neighbor. I did not see any spies myself, though I could not resist the feeling that such were near me.

After a week or two of sojourn in Canada I entered the United States, and proceeded quietly and alone to Cincinnati. Here I rested again for a few days, feeling somehow that I was being watched all the time, though I could not discover any evidences of it. I then went to Louisville, Kentucky, and called on some parties who were "all right," and able to inform me as to the feasibility of getting beyond the military lines, and the best mode of doing it. I soon found that my greatest danger was, not so much in passing beyond the Federal jurisdiction, as in taking care of myself immediately afterward, because there were numerous bands of guerrillas roaming about, who, if they met me, would not stop to investigate closely whether I was friend or foe. Consequently, my chances were excellent for suffering; first, in attempting to pass the Federal lines, and second (supposing I did succeed in that adventure), of being shot and robbed by armed men claiming to act for the Confederacy. The prospect was gloomy. While engaged in reflecting upon it I had the honor of a visit from a very polite, affable gentleman, Mr. F—, who introduced himself by stating that he was a deputy United States marshal; that I must please consider myself under arrest; and that, however repugnant the task was to his private feelings, he felt compelled to take instant possession of my trunk and all the personal property he could find belonging to me. He was very pleasant and affable; not the least oppressive, yet extremely vigilant withal. The entire room was thoroughly searched, and every thing I had, not already in it, was crammed into my trunk, and a couple of satellites were called in, who carried it off without ceremony. I was then courteously requested to follow my captor, and in a very short space of time found myself before the marshal or provost marshal, I don't know which. My personal effects here underwent a thorough examination, and I was asked a great variety of questions. After a week's detention on parole, I was informed by my friend Mr. F— that I was again at liberty, but unless I traveled north or east, the "office" would continue to have an eye on me. I have always thought that the officials mistook me for another person with whom I was very well acquainted, whose relations with the Confederate Government were very close, for I never have believed that such as I am are game worthy of the close attention of the Federal Government. The party I refer to was arrested about two months after I was, in the same hotel at Louisville, and in less than

two days was on his way to Fort Lafayette; and I think he was a legitimate prize.

The warning I received of continued attentions induced me to hasten my departure. In forty-eight hours from the time of receiving the hint I was quietly reposing in my hotel in the city of New York. My attempt to run the land blockade was a miserable failure.

In New York I took passage in the British steamship Corsica, for Nassau, New Providence. Before leaving the dock at Jersey City the customhouse officers were numerous and vigilant, putting sharp eyes on every package, trunk, and person going on board. Some packages were pronounced contraband of war, and taken ashore again. The owners (passengers) were naturally highly indignant, but I do not think the officials exceeded their duty in the least. When a passenger attempts to get surgical instruments and morphine on board, as part of his baggage, it is all very well if he succeeds, but if caught, he has not much ground for complaint if the property only is taken possession of.

The ship was cast loose and adieus were made. I looked around among my fellow-passengers. The scene reminded me strongly of the Anglo-Saxon trip. Some few faces were familiar to me, but scarcely two passengers were standing together. No one seemed desirous of speaking to or recognizing a neighbor. Somehow or other a feeling of nervous constraint crept over me. We were passing the frowning walls of Fort Lafayette. Sandy Hook appeared, and was soon left behind. The engines stopped and our pilot was discharged.

Presto! change. My breath was almost taken away. Friends greeted friends. A great weight seemed to have been lifted off from every man. Hurrah! we were now out on the ocean, under a foreign flag, and perfectly secure from capture. Most of the rejoicing ones were, I think, unduly elated at what they called their escape, for, with perhaps one exception, I do not think the Government would have taken the trouble to detain them. However, I was seized upon by one of a group, and peremptorily invited to go and "take a drink." It did not require much persuasion to induce me to join the party. All restraint had vanished. Before half an hour each knew where the other belonged, and nearly all of those about me were in high spirits at the prospect of soon reaching their homes.

Three or four days' sailing brought us in sight of the Bahama group of islands, and finally we made the harbor of Nassau, Island of New Providence. This Island is about thirty miles in circumference, and is bounded on the northwest by a narrow island, two or three miles long and about half a mile distant. The space between the two forms an excellent and secure harbor for vessels of moderate draught. The town of Nassau is situated near the west end of this channel or harbor, and vessels can pass in and out from either end, as they can from Long Island Sound.

Having received a friendly hint that by expedition in reaching the hotel there might be a chance of securing a room, I found myself among the first arrivals from the steamer, and my only chance even then, which turned out to be a fortunate one, was that some of the guests would probably take passage in the Corsica for Havana. Immediately on registering my name as from —, in the South, I was surrounded by men who eagerly inquired the news. A few copies of the latest New York papers were not enough to leave me in quiet for a full hour.

Very few among our passengers secured accommodations at the hotel, and many of them had the utmost difficulty in finding a resting-place about town even of the most indifferent character.

On finding myself settled, my first inquiries were as to the means of accomplishing the object for which I came to this out-of-the-way part of the globe, and almost immediately I ascertained that there was no possible chance of my being able to get away before two weeks. Steamboat captains and pilots were, it seemed, very particular about their times of sailing. Lovers, it is said, dote on moonlight nights, and sometimes dote on the moon herself. Whether blockade runners have as fond and tender feelings for that luminary as lovers are supposed to have, I am not prepared to say; but certain it is, they have a great respect for, and are largely, nay almost wholly, governed by her movements. It was the first time in my life that I found my actions regulated by her ladyship. However, there was no help for it, and so, having nothing whatever to do except to wait, I endeavored to pick up some information about the business of blockade running.

There were several steamers in the harbor—all of them in "the trade." Each had its own particular history. There lay the Indiana close in to the wharf. She had nearly discharged her cargo, which was chiefly cotton, in a rather indifferent condition. She seemed very dirty, nay filthy, but was a great favorite nevertheless, because she had been very successful, having ran the blockade in and out some twenty times. During her last trip it was said that the crew never even saw a single sail from the time they left Charleston or Wilmington, I forget which, until within a few miles of Nassau! I fear it would be drawing too largely on the credulity of the reader to state even the lowest estimate given me of the amount of money she had made for her owners. It was something fabulous. A little way out, at anchor in the stream, was the Mary Jane. She had made three trips, and had been shot at nearly every time in running in or out. There were four or five tolerably neat patches on her deck, where the shells of the blockaders struck her. She had received nearly all of her cargo, and was almost ready. Her bottom was being scraped, to free her of every impediment possible retarding her speed. This scraping, by-the-way, is done in a very primitive manner.

On reaching the Mary Jane I found her surrounded by small row-boats, and a nearly-nude negro sitting in each one. The sight was somewhat astonishing,

but a few minutes explained the whole operation. Two negroes were attached to each boat. One dived with a scraper in his hand, and worked away at the bottom of the vessel as long as his breath lasted (a most agonizing length of time!), and then, as soon as he came up, his mate took the weapon, and in turn dived down. The Mary Jane was careened a little, so that when I got on board I was enabled to see perfectly all that was done in the water on one side. It was really astonishing how these colored men could perform so much work under such apparently disadvantageous circumstances.

Other steamers, screw and side-wheel, were lying in the harbor—some at the wharves and some at anchor in the stream. Most of them were ready to start, but nearly all were in waiting for a favorable condition of the moon.

The business of conveying goods to and from the Confederate States, as a business, seems to be confined to one or two houses, or rather associations of the great factors of Charleston, Wilmington, and Savannah, nearly all of which is finally concentrated in the house of Fraser, Trenholm, & Co., of Liverpool. With them it is reduced to a regular system. Their vessels are swift, and their pilots and captains are the best and most experienced that money can secure. It has been a comparatively rare thing for them to make losses by capture. Most of the captures of steamers hitherto made have been owned by outside parties, who, after having made a few profitable ventures in the "regular runners," embarked their capital in a steamer of their own; and the result, so far, has generally been that after one, or at most two trips, they have fallen victims to the blockading fleet. Many of them have been captured on the first run.

Although the profits, if successful, are very great, yet it is a very expensive business to run a steamer. I was credibly informed that a first-class pilot alone received four thousand pounds sterling, or say twenty thousand dollars in gold, for the round trip. The captain, engineer, and in fact all hands, were paid extravagant prices. Yet, with all this, if a run is once made to and fro with good cargoes, there is no loss, or very little, if captured on the second attempt. Sometimes these regular runners would take passengers and freight, sometimes not a man or a pound. When they did, the charge for a passenger was one hundred dollars in gold, and two hundred and fifty dollars per ton for freight, paid in advance. Since the commencement of the siege of Charleston I have been informed that these rates were doubled. Generally every steamer takes from five to twenty passengers each way, and as much freight as offers from Nassau; but the shipment of cotton is almost exclusively in the hands of the Frasers of Charleston. However great the competition may be in merchandise introduced into the Confederacy, there is little or none allowed in that which comes out of it.

A couple of days' sojourn at the hotel made me acquainted with nearly every white man in it. The American portion, which was largely in the preponderance, I knew immediately. They were almost to a man rankly secession. So much so, indeed, that any person sojourning there with any thing like what are called "Union" feelings, could not have been any thing else than uncomfortable. For myself, I was known by many there to be from —, and these understood perfectly that I was a foreigner, an Englishman, and never had taken any part whatever in the deadly quarrel between the North and the South. They understood me to feel, as I believed my Government did and does, strictly neutral; consequently I was not regarded with suspicion when I fraternized with the very few Union men around.

There are in Nassau some five or six what are called auction and commission houses. It is unnecessary to mention their names, although some of them are to be found in the United States Diplomatic Correspondence for 1862. These men or firms have been frequently stigmatized in the North as secessionists of the deepest dye, and aiders and abettors of the rebels. It is true that nearly all the business done there passes through one or other of these concerns; but, although I have no personal acquaintance with either of them, I have had a strong suspicion that their regard for the profits or commissions are much greater and stronger than for the cause; and if it had so happened that the Northern instead of the Southern people could have used that port to advantage, they would have been quite as ready to have done business for them, for a consideration. From all I could learn I think the permanent white inhabitants. of the Bahamas are or have become indifferent to the merits of the great and terrible struggle now going on in the United States. The rebellion took away from them a large, nay, almost their only source of revenue, namely, the wrecking business, and Providence (they think) has compensated them for that loss by giving them this blockade-running business. It is a mere question of bread and butter," or dollars and cents, with them.

The hotel, as I intimated, was full to overflowing. There were generals, colonels, adjutants, surgeons, dispatch messengers, and in fact almost every grade of rank from the Confederate army. I saw men there fresh from my own home, who were able to inform me about nearly every thing that had occurred since my leaving it. Representatives of or from every Southern State of the Union abounded. A fresh arrival from foreign parts had but to express a desire to know about this or that, in a particular State or town, and some one would be produced in a very short space able to communicate the minutest information—provided always that the inquirer was a known Southerner.

Every body knows that the negroes in the Bahamas, as well as in all of the other British West Indies, were made free somewhere about 1832. At all events, the colored population in Nassau, which is at least ten to one of the whites, are free. Now I never could understand why a black man, if he behaved himself, was not entitled to as much courtesy as a white one. Consequently, while in Nassau, I, as well as nearly all strangers, gave every

man and woman, white or black, as much of the sidewalk on meeting as would be yielded in New York or London. But some of the newly-arrived "Southern boys" had different ideas. Their notion was, that a "nigger was a nigger, anyhow;" and so, forgetting that they were under a "strong government," would sometimes act toward the colored people as I never saw white men act toward slaves in my own State. It became a noticeable fact, however, that the same individual never committed an offense a second time. One fellow, anxious, perhaps, to uphold the dignity of the white man, or the rights of the Confederacy, was walking along Bay Street. He met a very black negro, who yielded to him as much of the sidewalk as a white man would have done on Piccadilly or Broadway. It was not enough. He should have stood entirely aside. The Southern gentleman considered the negro's conduct insolent in the extreme, and knocked him down without ceremony. The result was that he was arrested by a couple of policemen (who are all negroes) and conveyed at once to the police station. Next morning, after what I regarded as a very fair hearing, the chivalric individual was fined fifteen pounds (seventy-five dollars), or so many days' imprisonment. Some time afterward, at the hotel, I heard him declaiming that there was no justice on that island, except for the nigger against the white man.

The two weeks wore languidly and gradually away. I had selected my steamer, and paid my hundred dollars passage-money. My captain was considered one of the lucky ones. He told me about a day beforehand just when to be on board, and remarked, which I was very glad to hear, that he would land me in Charleston in four days from the hour he was speaking. On the last night of my sojourn at the hotel I went up to the third floor and out on the gallery which surrounds it. In daylight the prospect from this place in clear weather is magnificent. With a good glass a sail could have been seen many miles from port. The entire harbor and shipping lay apparently a few rods below. On that evening, when "darkness was upon the face of the waters," I took a powerful field-glass and looked over the harbor. The small bum-boats, schooners, brigs, and sailing craft generally, were clearly and distinctly visible; and it struck me then as a remarkable circumstance that I could not see a single blockade-running steamer, when I knew that several were there. This, I ascertained, was entirely owing to the peculiar color in which they were painted—a sort of lead-color, or dirty white. The effect is remarkable. On a dark night, on the ocean, it seemed to me, from my limited experience, that the sharpest eye could not see a thoroughly-painted large vessel a hundred yards, when the same craft, if painted black, or any other color, could at the same time be seen half a mile distant. I have been told that the effect is not so apparent in daylight.

It happened while I was in Nassau that a steamer was observed coming in loaded with cotton from Charleston or Wilmington. When about twelve miles from port she was perceived by a Federal cruiser. Those professing to know said it was the Rhode Island. Of course the cruiser made chase at once, and, being a fast sailer, endeavored to get in between the runner and the land. The guests, generally, of the hotel, and many others, rushed up to the galleries. The two vessels had become distinctly visible to the naked eye. The gun-boat appeared to be rapidly approaching her prey, her ports were opened. I could see the men at work on the guns, and shot after shot was thrown at, over, and into the little Anna Eliza. It was the first and only time I had ever seen and heard shots fired in anger, and I, as well as many others, ladies included, were wild with excitement. I could not help throwing all my sympathies in favor of the hunted craft. She had no power to resist her armed pursuer, and would not have dared to use it if she had; her only defense was in her heels. At one moment it was feared that she had been disabled by the terrible shower of shot; at another it was seen that she still held her course and was flying through the water for the land—any where—so as to get away from her pursuer. At length she succeeded in getting within the jurisdiction of the island, or rather into British waters, when pursuit was of course abandoned. The Anna Eliza sailed into the harbor triumphantly with flying colors, and, marvelous to me, uninjured.

But it became time to leave the place, and I did so without regret. My steamer had got all of her cargo and coal on board. Nay, she had left her anchorage, and was lying outside of the bar and light-house. She was waiting for her clearance-papers from the custom-house. Officially speaking we were bound for St. John, New Brunswick! but I, who was a passenger, knew that we would make for Charleston direct. I found myself on deck at nine A.M. one fine morning, in good spirits at the very fair prospect before me of reaching my old scene of operations within four days. From all I had heard recently I had come to regard my chances of capture as very small—scarcely worth thinking about. Had not this very vessel run in and out many times? Was not the captain one of the "lucky" ones? Had he not told me himself, confidentially, that this was his last trip, that when he got through this time his "pile," which he had made in this business, would then be large enough to satisfy him for life? Was not the pilot one of the very best on the whole southern coast? To look at him was to gather confidence, so cool and calm was he. Pooh! I thought. There was no more danger really than in going from Holyhead to Dublin. Of course I was in good spirits. Why should I not have been when so near the goal of my efforts and wishes for weary months?

The bell was rung, the engine moved, and I could see that we were gliding through the water. I turned my glass toward the Royal Victoria, and saw over a hundred people, male and female, on the galleries waving handkerchiefs and watching us as we receded from the shore.

Almost from the moment of our starting the utmost


 

 

 

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