Queen of the West Runs the Vicksburg Blockade


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, February 28, 1863

Welcome to our online archive of Civil War Harper's Weekly newspapers. We have created this online resource to help facilitate a more in depth understanding of this important period in American History. We hope you enjoy this incredible collection.

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Joe Hooker

General Hooker



Slaves Paid

Slaves to be Paid

Colored Troops

Colored Troops

Blockade Runner

Queen of the West Runs Blockade

Slave Chart

Slave Chart

Louisiana Colored Troops

Louisiana Colored Troops

Copperhead Cartoon

Copperhead Cartoon

Queen of the West

Queen of the West

Rappahannock River

Rappahannock River

Southern Map

Southern Slave Map

Army Pay-Day

Army Pay-Day



FEBRUARY 28, 1863.]



for some time the porter had left the lodge in charge of his little boy, while he went in to look after his wife, who was still suffering from the remains of a severe attack of fever. The man was devotedly attached to his wife, and had in this respect unquestionably neglected his duty. As to the boy's evidence, little could be made of that. He said, indeed, that he had seen a man muffled up in a cloak pass into the castle, but that he took no notice of this, as he felt sure at the time that it was Lieutenant Bergfeldt, to whom he knew that the entree of the castle was accorded at all hours. The child stuck to this statement even in the teeth of the lieutenant's own contradiction of the story; but as by his own account he had been asleep part of the time when he ought to have been watching the gate, no importance was attached to his evidence. The lieutenant's word, of course, went for more than that of the porter's little son. I must mention, by-the-by, that no one was more energetic than Lieutenant Bergfeldt in trying to find out the real criminal, but neither his efforts nor any one else's were in this respect successful.

" I will not dwell," Madame Stortzer continued, "on the grief and self-reproach of the countess. Her attachment to her husband had been sincere, and the thought that she had been disobeying his injunctions at the very moment of his death was almost worse to bear than even the death itself, with all its attendant horrors. For some time she refused to see any one, and remained altogether shut up in her rooms, not even going out for air and exercise. Lieutenant Bergfeldt, indeed, she was obliged to communicate with from time to time, as he it was who was foremost in pursuing all those investigations which were necessitated by the peculiar circumstances of the count's death. Old General Bremner, too, it was necessary that she should see occasionally, as he had been appointed by the late count to administer his affairs. The countess was left well off, every thing, with the exception of a few trifling legacies, being bequeathed to her by the will of her late husband.

"I have said that the widow was brought, from time to time, in contact with Lieutenant Bergfeldt. It was impossible to imagine any thing more perfect than the mixture of respect and sympathy with which this young officer approached the bereaved lady. For some time no allusion was made between them to her affliction, and their intercourse was confined almost entirely to matters of business; but after a while, and in a manner insensibly, the lieutenant would allow himself to say some sympathetic word, to make some mention of his respect for the deceased count, to allude to the intimacy which had existed between them. By degrees, too, and after a long interval, he would allow, as if accidentally, some expression to escape him indicative of the intense feeling of commiseration with which he was penetrated as he looked on and saw what were the sufferings of the young widow—feeling all the time so helpless to relieve those sufferings in any way whatever. But why do I speak thus?" said Madame Stortzer, interrupting herself impatiently. "The man laid out his plan like an artist, and day by day, hour by hour almost, the consolation of his presence became more and more necessary to the countess.

"Consolation is a dangerous thing, when the consoler is a man possessed of such qualities as this Lieutenant Bergfeldt, and when the consoled is a young and pretty woman, with large means at her disposal. Before the year was out it became evident to those who stood by and watched that the poor old count would soon have a successor, and ere the second year was half through Lieutenant Bergfeldt was established in the old castle, lord of its mistress and of all the place contained.

"I am near the termination of my part of the story," my friend went on. "His object gained, this unhappy woman in his power, and all her possessions within his grasp, it became unnecessary for him to play his amiable part longer, and very soon this ill-starred lady found to her dismay that she had sacrificed herself to a man whose dark will was unfettered by any restraints such as the heart and the conscience exercise over less cold-blooded mortals. Periods of ill-usage and neglect at home were followed by seasons when the poor woman was altogether deserted by her cruel and unscrupulous master. Sometimes even she would hear nothing of him for months together, and, indeed, there is little reason to doubt that the less she heard of his proceedings at such times the better.

"It was during one of these absences from the castle, no doubt, that Colonel Bergfeldt, as he is now called, made his recent sojourn in Vienna. You yourself were the witness of his success in one society, and you, like every one else, were astonished at his sudden withdrawal from it. When I have accounted to you for that withdrawal all that I have got to tell in connection with this strange and terrible affair will be at an end.

"It is only a few days since that the people about the palace here were a good deal astonished by the arrival at the gates of a certain old priest, who came up from a distant part of the country, and desired to have an audience of the emperor, alleging that he had a communication to make of the very greatest possible importance, and which he could or would only make to the emperor himself. It is one of the curious, apparent inconsistencies of our despotic governments that the sovereign is quite accessible; so it was no great wonder that that petition of the old priest's was granted, and he was admitted to an audience with the emperor. The old man said that he had felt for some time that his own end was near, and that he had traveled, in spite of his many infirmities, a long distance, in order that he might reveal to the Father of the People certain secrets which, as they concerned others, he felt ought not to die with him. And then he spoke at once of this man, the Colonel Bergfeldt. The marriage ceremony, which the priest himself had performed between the countess and Bergfeldt, had been a vain and empty ceremony, the latter having at the moment when it was celebrated a wife still living—an unprincipled woman, who consented to keep the thing secret in

consideration of a certain annual sum paid to her by the colonel. These circumstances had come to the knowledge of the priest under the seal of the confessional; for it was one of the fantastic elements in Bergfeldt's character that he still held to the performance of some of the rites of religion, or, as it should be called in this case, perhaps, of superstition.

"Under the same seal of secrecy, too," continued Madame Stortzer, "there came to the priest's knowledge the true story of the death of the old count. You have no doubt guessed already who was the perpetrator of that cruel murder. When I told you of that temporary absence of the colonel's from the theatre on the night when that crime was committed, you guessed, I have no doubt, that it was no military, or indeed any other duty, that took him away, but that his object in absenting himself was to get that opportunity of taking the life of the man who had admitted him to his house, and given him his confidence and his friendship. You guessed rightly. On that dreadful night this wicked and merciless man, who had long entertained the desire to possess himself of his friend's wife, and of his money too—on that night when he left the theatre he managed—that lucky accident of the porter's absence from his post favoring him—to pass the gate unobserved by every body but the child, whose evidence was not taken in contradiction to the colonel's own statement. It was he who committed that crime which he was afterward so busy in trying to trace. It was he who profited by it, and became possessed of the goods and the wife of the friend whom he had treacherously slain."

"And was this the man," I asked, for I could hardly believe it, "with whom we have all been associating on terms of intimacy?"

"The same," replied my friend. "I have little doubt—for I forgot to mention just now that his first wife is lately dead—I have little doubt that he came now to Vienna with the intention of making some other unhappy girl his victim. He would calculate, and with justice, that a woman of the countess's weak and yielding nature would easily be kept silent, or, as his marriage with her was illegal at the time when it was made, perhaps he thought, being tired of her, that he might now get rid of her altogether. Of these things, however, I know nothing; they may have been in his mind or they may not. At all events his career is cut short."

"And how was his arrest managed?" I asked.

"Oh," replied Madame Stortzer, "I saw it with my own eyes. You were not at the ball at Madame de Merville's, I remember, or you would have seen the arrest yourself, though of course you would not have understood it any more than I did. The colonel was waltzing—you remember how wonderfully he used to dance—he was waltzing with that lovely Baroness Brenn, and many of us, I among the rest, were looking on at them and the other dancers. After a certain time they paused near to where I was standing to get breath and rest a little. An officer in an Austrian uniform, who had also been one of the spectators, came quietly round to the colonel's side, and said a few words which I could not hear. I managed, however, to catch the colonel's reply: 'I suppose there is time for another turn?' His answer was, I suppose, in the negative; for shortly after I heard the colonel say to his partner, 'A friend has arrived at my house on urgent business. It is necessary that I should see him immediately; but I shall be back in a short time, and we will finish this valse after supper.' He handed the baroness to a seat, and left the room in company with the Austrian officer."

"And that was the arrest of a murderer?"

"It was."

"And this is all you know?" I asked.

"All I know now," answered Madame Stortzer.

"But come and see me again to-morrow at this time, and I shall doubtless have more to tell you. But remember," she continued, gravely, "remember your promise."

I pledged myself once more, and left her.

The next day I was punctual to the appointment.

"Well," I said, as I sat down in my old place by the stove, "have you any more to tell me?"

"Yes," answered Madame Stortzer, "I have indeed. The drama is near its termination, and the curtain will soon rise upon the last act."

"He is to die, then?" I asked.

"The council was assembled," Madame Stortzer replied, "by the emperor directly after his first interview with the old priest. The colonel has been condemned, and is to die in a few days. But it was more of the countess that I wished to speak to you just now. She has arrived in Vienna."

"Arrived in Vienna?"

"I know not how," continued Madame Stortzer, "the tidings reached her of her husband's arrest, of his being charged both with the murder of the old count, and of the invalidity of the marriage between the colonel and herself. These tidings have reached her, at any rate; and now that wondrous love which only mothers know, has strengthened her even in this moment of her agony, and she has come up here to petition that a new marriage may take place between her and the colonel before he dies, in order that the two children which have been born to them may not be deprived of the advantages of legitimacy."

"And do you mean to say," I asked, "that such a marriage is to take place?"

"It is to take place," answered Madame Stortzer, "within the very walls of the prison, the night before the execution takes place. The wife and the husband are to meet before the altar. They are not to see each other either before or after the ceremony, nor is one word—except the words of the marriage-service—to be exchanged between them."

"Her strength will break down under such an ordeal," I said.

Madame Stortzer did not answer at first. "I have seen her," she said presently, "and rendered

her what services I could. She is now almost in a state of unconsciousness of what happens around her. Her grief seems to have stunned her. In such a condition she may get through this last terrible trial, but it is a chance. No one could pronounce on it with certainty. I think," Madame Stortzer went on, "that she hardly knew me, though we were school-girls together, and intimate friends before her marriage with Count Vordenberg."

I was very young when the events I am describing took place. I was at that age when, if in Paris, I must always go to the Morgue. I had not had suffering enough to make scenes of misery and horror intolerable to me. A strange desire took possession of me now to be a witness of that last scene which was to end this strange, eventful history. Now I should shrink from such a thing, do any thing, go any where, to avoid it.

I mentioned what was in my head to Madame Stortzer.

"Do you really wish it?" she said. "Why unnecessarily be present at a scene of such unutterable misery and terror?"

My friend argued long and earnestly against my desire, but it was not to be shaken. A strange infatuation it was. I seemed unable to resist it. I dreaded the thing unspeakably, yet felt that it must be done.

At last Madame Stortzer's arguments gave way before my obstinacy. It was not difficult for her to obtain for me what I wanted. Her husband was an excellent man, and may have been, very likely, a wise senator as well; but one quality he certainly did not possess, and that was the power of resisting his wife's will. It was soon arranged that I was to be smuggled into the fortress, and was to be a concealed spectator of all that took place on the night of the wedding. From the moment that this was arranged I think I would have given any thing to have receded from what I had committed myself to so eagerly.

I shall never forget that night, or the scene of which I was the witness. The little chapel of the prison was so situated that it was approached by various passages or corridors communicating with different parts of the main building. Each of these corridors had a separate entrance in the chapel, and it was so arranged, no doubt in order that different classes of prisoners might enter the consecrated building without being necessarily brought in contact with each other. I was placed in a dark corner, close to the altar, from which post I could see every thing that passed without being myself observable. The chapel was dimly lighted by the candles on the altar, and by the faint glimmer of the small hanging lamp which burnt before it, and which was never allowed to go out. On the steps of the rude altar stood the priest, attended by a single chorister, waiting till the moment should come when his office was to be performed. One or two jailers and attendants were about the chapel, but one only knew they were there by hearing the echo of their faint whisperings, the great shadows thrown by the pillars and by the massive stone-work of the building rendering it impossible to see them.

In that dead silence the faintest and most distant sounds were distinctly audible, and it was not long before I heard the grating of bolts and the shutting of a heavy door in a remote part of the building. By-and-by there were more such sounds, and then I heard the trampling of feet, apparently very near to me but behind the wall. In another moment a door opened close to where I stood, and there entered, first some of the superior officers of the prison; and then, walking between two turn-keys and heavily manacled, there appeared the man whom I, as a boy, had admired so much—the man who had seemed to me to unite all the qualities which could make life enviable—the man whom I had last seen caressed and made much of in the gayest saloons in one of the most brilliant capitals of the world.

Just Heaven! what a man this was! Had that inconceivable heroism and strength which belonged to him been employed in some good cause, how glorious his career might have been, and his life, how useful to his fellow-men! He was almost unchanged. He was, as I have said before, always very pale; he may have been a shade paler, and the lines of his face may have been dug a little, a very little, deeper. Otherwise he was unaltered, and but for the difference in his dress he was still the same man who had carried all before him in the drawing-rooms of Vienna. If I could have been seen in my dark corner, I am pretty sure that it would have appeared that I was infinitely more moved by his position than he was himself.

For one moment he flinched, and did seem to feel some part of the horror of the situation. It was when, after he had stood there before the altar for some short time, with the faint light of the hanging lamp upon his terrible face, a sort of strange rumor filled the chapel that some one else was approaching, and presently, by a door opening into the chapel, exactly on the opposite side of the building to that by which he had entered it, his wife, closely veiled, and attended by two ladies, whose features were also concealed, but one of whom I thought was Madame Stortzer, was supported into the chapel.

It seems almost wrong to speak of agony so terrible as this of which I was a witness. Directly she reached the altar the countess lifted her veil, and it was then that that momentary change of which I have spoken did come over the stony features of the man beside her. As to the countess herself, she absolutely seemed lost; there was hardly recognition in the gaze which she fixed on her husband—as I will call him in anticipation—and which never, I believe, throughout the ceremony, which commenced immediately, was removed for a moment from his face. It is my hope that she was in some sort, by long suffering and the horror of the situation, reduced to a state of half-stupefaction. I do not know that during the celebration of the marriage she spoke. She may have done so, the priest must have known, but I heard no sound

of her voice, nor saw a movement of her ashy lips. Her eyes were fixed with a scared, side-long glance on her husband; and I believe she took no more part in what went on than we take in our dreams. But when all was over, and the man stooped down to kiss her forehead—then she awoke. Then she knew all. Then she knew that they were to part, that he was already surrounded by the guards who were to take him away, that that taking away was to death; and then the old love for him broke out, and about his neck and his fettered hands she hung, with such cries and lamentations as made the very walls give back the sounds of agony that woke a keener echo yet in the hearts of those who stood by and listened!

It was mercy to bring such misery as this to an end. The governor of the prison whispered the priest to ask if all was done, and then signing to his men, those two but now united were torn apart, and by those separate ways by which they had come into that terrible place, the husband went his way to death, and the wife back to a home where happiness might never come, but where the voices of her children should bring her comfort in the days that were yet to follow.


WE illustrate on page 132 the attack of the Federal ram Queen of the West upon the rebel ram Vicksburg, off the city of Vicksburg, on February 2. The following letter to the Herald gives a graphic account of the affair:


A very exciting scene was witnessed here this morning. The Union ram Queen of the West, Captain E. W. Sutherland, ran the blockade of the rebel batteries at Vicksburg. Colonel Charles P. Ellet, commander of the ram fleet, was on board of her, and directed all her movements. The event has created great excitement in this vicinity. When the rebels saw the ram run into the rebel steamer, near the city, and then pass down the river uninjured, they were not less astonished than chagrined, because it was believed, by them at least, that no Union steamboat could safely pass their formidable batteries.

The following is a partial list of the officers on board the ram: Colonel Charles R. Ellet, in command; E. W. Sutherland, Captain; J. E. Tuthill, First Lieutenant; Sims Edison, Master; J. C. Duncan, Master; Reuben Townsend, Engineer.

The Queen of the West had been previously provided with all the arrangements deemed necessary to insure the complete success of the dangerous undertaking. Three hundred bales of cotton had been procured further up the river and placed on board, particularly about the machinery, in order to save her from any serious injury by shot and shell from the rebel batteries. Rear-Admiral Porter had given orders that she should proceed down to Vicksburg, destroy the rebel steamboat City of Vicksburg, lying opposite the city, and then run past the lower rebel batteries. The Colonel was directed to keep close to the right bank going down, to have all his lights on board extinguished—as it was intended that she should run the gauntlet in the darkness—and, having safely passed the batteries, to anchor below the mouth of the caual and there wait for further orders.

The Colonel started with the ram from above the bend at half past four o'clock this morning. Soon after getting under way he discovered that the change made in the position of the wheel—which was removed from its former position to a narrow place behind the bulwarks—rendered it almost impossible to steer the boat with sufficient accuracy. Consequently an hour was spent in effecting the necessary alterations. It was about six o'clock, just as the sun was rising, when the ram rounded the point of land lying opposite Vicksburg. She had only men enough on board to work her, it having been arranged that the remainder of the crew would cross the point of land and get on board of her below after she had passed the batteries. When rounding the point she was distinctly seen by the rebels. They immediately opened a heavy fire from several of their batteries, which crown the crests of the bluffs about the city. The Queen slowly and steadily proceeded down the river under a heavy fire from those batteries, until she reached a point opposite the spot where the steamboat City of Vicksburg was lying. Colonel Ellet says that steamboat was lying in almost the same position as was the rebel ram Arkansas when he ran into her with that same Queen of the West. If the rebel steamboat should be struck as the ram was running down the river, the prow, instead of penetrating her, would be inclined to glance, and the full force of the blow would thus be lost. Wishing to make the shock as effective as possible, when the ram had reached the proper position the Colonel turned her partly around, so as to face the city, and then made across the river straight for the fated steamboat. The rebels, who had crowded on the banks, scampered off in the most affrighted manner from the shore and sought safety in the city. The ram still went steadily on to the execution of her destructive errand. She struck the rebel steamboat forward of the wheel-house; but at the moment of collision the current caught the stern of the ram and swung her round so rapidly that nearly all the momentum of the blow was lost. To set the rebel steamboat on fire was part of the arrangement. That portion of the programme was intrusted to Sergeant J. H. Campbell. He was directed to fire the forward guns loaded with combustible balls saturated with turpentine. As the ram swung round he was ordered to fire them. Just at that moment a 64-pound shot from one of the rebel batteries came crashing into the barricade of cotton near him; but the brave Sergeant did not hesitate a moment in the execution of the order. The guns were fired, a tremendous blaze was vomited forth from them, and the rebel steam-boat was in flames.

About the same time the ram was found to be on fire. A shell from shore had set her on fire near the starboard wheel, while the discharge of the guns with the combustible balls had fired the cotton on her bow. Both steam-boats were thus ablaze at the same time. The flames spread rapidly on both vessels. The smoke from the front of the ram rushed into her engine-room and threatened to suffocate the engineers. Those on board the rebel steam-boat did all they could do to extinguish the flames on their boat. This they soon accomplished. Colonel Ellet had intended to strike the rebel steamboat in the stern, and thus finish the work of demolition; but the spreading flames on the Queen of the West made it necessary for him to attend to the safety of his own vessel. He therefore ran down stream, and set all hands on board at work extinguishing the flames. Though the cotton had been wet before starting, the fire was extending rapidly, and several burning bales were thrown overboard in order to save the ram. She then anchored below the mouth of the canal, where she awaited further orders.

All this time, both when approaching the city and leaving it, the rebel batteries were blazing away at the Queen of the West with light and heavy guns. Some of our guns on shore replied to them. When the ram was near the Mississippi shore several regiments of rebels opened on her with musketry from rifle-pits on the bank, and, as opportunity offered, the guns planted in the streets of Vicksburg so as to rake the river fired on her also. It was a very exciting scene. About one hundred and twenty shots were fired from the batteries; but the ram was struck only twelve times, and sustained no injury from the musketry. She was struck twice in the bull above the water-line, the cabin was considerably smashed, and one casemated gun was dismounted and destroyed.

Thus the Queen of the West ran the blockade of Vicksburg by daylight, damaged the rebel steamboat opposite the city, and she herself sustained no material injury. Afterward the rebels endeavored to get steam up on board the City of Vicksburg; but, although she was not sunk, appearances indicate that she has been damaged seriously.




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