CONCORD, N. H., Feb. 9, 1898. The third adjourned seventy-fifth annual meeting of the New Hampshire Historical Society was held in the Society's rooms in Concord on Wednesday, February 9, 1898, with a large attendance. Met at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, President Stevens in the chair.
Rear Admiral George E. Belknap, now of Boston, was presented to the Society and delivered the following address, the subject of which was "Reminiscent of Service in the Home Squadron, 1859, 1860, and 1861," embracing events on the Gulf coast just before the War of the Rebellion, the participation of New Hampshire in the reinforcement of Fort Pickens and their part in the early stages of the blockade :
REMINISCENT OF SERVICE IN THE HOME SQUADRON, 1859–61.
In the early winter of 1858-59 I was at home in Newport on a brief leave of absence after a long cruise in the waters of India, China, and Japan. One evening close on to New Year's, I entertained a large company at my father's house. Such incident of social life was indelibly impressed upon my memory, because of the extreme coldness of the weather at that time, the thermometer ranging from 34°° to 38° below zero, and from the further fact that when the last midnight guest had gone, my father handed me one of those ominous-looking envelops in which the Navy Department has from time immemorial enclosed its orders to all officers under its control. Tearing open the envelop, I found it covered orders to proceed immediately to New York, and report to Commodore Breese for duty on board the sloop-of-war St. Louis.
Packing my sea belongings, the next day I set forth on my way via Claremont and the Connecticut river railroad, but the weather continued to be so intensely cold that the train occupied double its usual time to make the run for fear of breaking the frost-charged rails.
I found the ship ready for sea, and only awaiting my arrival at New York to sail, for I had been ordered to take the place of another officer who, at the last moment, had gotten off on the plea of illness, in accordance with the previous record of like character he had made in the service. Less than forty-eight hours after I joined the ship we were running past Sandy Hook under all sail bound to Greytown.
The third day out we struck a heavy northeaster in the Gulf Stream, and we came near coming to grief, for the rigging which had been set up in cold weather, became so slack in the high temperature of the Gulf as to make it imperative to set it up at once, if we would not have the masts rolled out of her. Happily steam had not yet emasculated the art and skill of the sailor, and after getting hawsers up round the mastheads, and setting them taut, the lanyards of the rigging were carefully come up and given a fresh pull with the luff tackles, and we were all right again. But it was a ticklish job, for the sea 'was very heavy, and the ship rolled from 30° to 35°. In one of her rolls to windward, a fore-topman in the weather fore-chains lost his grip and fell overboard. At the next weather roll, however, one of his topmates reached down, grabbed him by the collar of his frock and hauled him on board again. It was about as close a call as I have ever seen at sea.
We reached Greytown in about twenty days as the relief of the Jamestown. To our surprise we found her lying at anchor outside, for a few days before our arrival the bar began to shoal rapidly, and the Jamestown had gotten out of the harbor barely in time to save her from being shut in altogether. The mission of our ships there was to prevent Walker and his filibusters from invading Nicaragua. The Jamestown had, been there many weary months, and lost no time in getting away. Alas! the next time we came in contact with her captain and some of her officers it was in the hostile meetings of civil war. But if the Jamestown had had a hard time at that abominable place, she at least had had a quiet anchorage, while we were rolling guns under at the outside anchorage all the while. It may be said, indeed, that one of the most difficult problems to deal with in the construction of the Nicaragua canal is that fickle bar blocking the entrance to Greytown harbor. Finally, after watching for Walker and rolling incessantly for thirteen months with no relief whatever for mind or body, except the semi-monthly arrival of the mail steamer, and casual calls of British men-of-war, we got orders to make a cruise among the West India islands and to ports on the Spanish main a cruise which was a godsend to us, but which would be looked upon at this period by the new navy, so called, as a great hardship.
While engaged in this service, the political conditions at home-of which we heard from time to time—gave the more thoughtful among us great uneasiness. During the fateful ten months that preluded and initiated the Rebellion, there were no citizens more unhappily situated than the officers and men of the army and navy, and particularly as regards the latter, for in the close quarters of shipboard, it is impossible to get away from uncongenial surroundings, or from people with whom you may have a constantly irritating source of disagreement or antipathy.
While as a rule officers of the navy pay but little attention to politics, there were some among them who took in the gravity of the political situation, when in the late spring of 1860 the national Democratic convention broke up at Charleston in hopeless disagreement and disorder, and began to prepare their minds for the worst.
As I had been brought up in the uncompromising faith of Andrew Jackson, in the days when the democracy ruled state and nation, and believed thoroughly in what I had been taught politically after the sturdy fashion of New Hampshire boys fifty odd years ago, when March meeting meant a good, square, stand-up, partisan fight, and supervisors and mugwumps had not yet appeared to plague the political world, I could never divest myself of interest in political matters, whether afloat or ashore.
Wherefore, the occurrences at Charleston filled me with forebodings I could not conceal. There were optimists, however, who looked to see the usual panacea of compromise smooth the ruffled wings of Southern discontent and blunt the fangs of treasonable intent. I recall one of the St. Louis' officers, a Kentuckian, who pooh-poohed the possibilities of war. Said he, " If South Carolina carries out her threat of secession, the people of Kentucky will send a force down there alone and whip them back into the Union." Alas! he little comprehended the forces at work, stealthy in character and persistent in aim, that brought on the greatest civil war of modern times, in which he was to lose his own life.
At this period, the Home Squadron, as our naval force in the North Atlantic was then designated, consisted of the steam frigate Powhatan, flagship of Commodore Pendergrast; the sailing frigate Sabine, the steam sloop Brooklyn, the sailing sloops Cumberland, Macedonian and St. Louis, and the steamers Pocahontas, Wyandotte, Mohawk, and Crusader. The steam frigate Colorado had been the flagship, but she had gone home. Our cruise among the West Indies in the St. Louis ended early in October, 1860, at which time we arrived at the navy yard, at Pensacola, to refit and take on board fresh supplies of provisions, stores, and equipments.
The presidential election was then close at hand. Douglas was making his plucky tour through the Gulf states, and political excitement was at fever heat; so much so that officers avoided political talk as much as possible both ashore and afloat–for the bitter feeling of the Southern officers, suppressed with difficulty, became more pronounced as the conspiracy progressed. Nor was such feeling confined to the Southern-born man, for some of the Northern officers who had married in the South were the most vehement in their denunciations of the North.
Two officers, indeed, in that category, did more to betray Commodore Armstrong, and to turn the navy yard over to the rebels, a few months later, than any other officers on duty there. Congress had enacted a law that summer increasing the pay of the navy, and it was a significant fact in the light of later events, that Senator Toombs and other rampant secessionists had endeavored to persuade President Buchanan to veto the bill. Toombs and his fellows doubtless feared the effect of such legislation upon the Southern officers, whom they proposed to dragoon in a body out of the service the moment their traitorous purposes were put in motion. We had hoped to remain at Pensacola until after the election, but we were hurried off some ten days before with orders to proceed to Vera Cruz.
Upon arrival we found Commodore Pendergrast there with the Powhatan, Sabine, Brooklyn, and Pocahontas, all at anchor at Sacrificios. We made the fifth vessel of the force. a bad season of the year to be at Vera Cruz, for the Northers were frequent, and the anchorage at Sacrificios—the winter anchorage of the port—a bad one at best. Every few days lower yards and topmasts had to be struck to ease the ship in the heavy gales blowing directly on shore and to lessen the chances of dragging the anchors. I recollect that during one blow, one captain of nervous temperament sat up all night between the bitts under the topgallant forecastle watching the cables of his ship which, from their constant heavy surging, he feared might part any moment.
The purpose of assembling so many of the ships of the squadron there at so untoward a season was alleged to be the strengthening of the hands of our minister in pushing some claims of our government against Mexico. It was most unfortunate, however, that such negotiations, attended by the display of so large a naval force, should have been conducted at that critical time, for the ships were sorely needed on our own coasts.
There was no telegraphic communication with Mexico at that period, and the mails were brought to Vera Cruz by British steamers via Havana. The second steamer after our . arrival in the St. Louis brought the news of Mr. Lincoln's election, and of the mad doings at Charleston upon the heels of such pregnant event. I shall never forget the feeling that came over me when the officer sent to board the steamer said, as he stepped over the gangway on his return, "Mr. Lincoln is elected; South Carolina has called a secession convention." The announcement, though not unexpected, was yet startling in its tenor, for to me it seemed the prologue of inevitable war. I well knew, indeed, that we had not the iron hand of Jackson at the national helm to carry us through the rocks and shoals of treason, with unyielding will and resolute purpose, and that no other course could save us without a resort to arms.
In my service association with Southern officers I had carefully observed their bearing, studied their character, taken note of their assumed superiority over their Northern fellows, and drawn out their opinions and beliefs as far as practicable; but as regarded secession, I knew the most aggressive among them but faintly represented the sentiments of the men who were determined to rule the country or divide it, as best suited their purposes, in their dogged determination to retain political power. Hence I felt that the Southern conspirators had at last got what they had long wanted; that they had intentionally and determinedly broken up the Democratic party to insure Mr. Lincoln's election, and give them the long sought opportunity of firing the Southern heart and of destroying the Union. In short, that war was inevitable.
The negotiations at the Mexican capital progressed slowly. The minister was a Southern man, and some of us got the impression that he was making haste slowly in order to keep the ships at Vera Cruz, and so give the secessionists a freer hand in their designs upon our Southern forts and navy yards.
Meanwhile, every mail brought worse and worse tidings of the progress of secession and of the intense excitement throughout the land. This increased the constraint, anxiety, and bitterness of feeling that pervaded the fleet. Many officers there were who, while deploring the questions of allegiance and loyalty confronting them, could not veil their sympathy for the Southern cause, and who intended to throw up their commissions when the inevitable test came. Loyal officers could hardly restrain their indignation at such attitude towards the flag in its dire hour of need, and the utmost reserve had to be observed to avoid personal encounters. When fresh news arrived the officers would gather into hostile groups or camps, as it were, to discuss the situation. Then, as they came together as at the mess table for meals, the bated breath and measured speech with which any allusion was made to the intelligence received, bespoke but too well the strong currents of feeling that ran underneath the surface so cold, so reserved, and so exasperating.
On shore our consul, Mr. John T. Pickett, a Kentuckian and rabid secessionist, fanned the flame of disloyalty. Despite the commission of honor and trust from the government which gave him all the status he had at Vera Cruz, he went about the city proclaiming the disruption of the Republic and warning merchants and bankers of the risk they would run if they continued to deal with its agents. He asserted that the United States were already hopelessly bankrupt and would never pay another dollar of their debts. His condact, in fact, was so traitorous that I thought then and think now that he should have been arrested by the flag-officer and held in custody on board ship until he could have been sent home under charges of high treason.
Finally came the news of South Carolina's secession and the occupation of Fort Sumter by Major Anderson. Almost simultaneously with such news, the minister informed Commodore Pendergrast that his negotiations had been completed. But some mysterious power still held the ships at Vera Cruz, with the exception of the Brooklyn, despatched to Hampton Roads. Towards the end of January, however, the ships were ordered to different points, the Powhatan alone remaining in Mexican waters. Some delay was had in getting off, for Consul Pickett had so demoralized the bankers by his traitorous talk that they hesitated to take the bills drawn on the Baring Brothers, London. At last, however, the fleet paymaster succeeded in getting $30,000 for which he had to pay, if I recollect aright, a premium of eighteen per cent. Our destination, and that of the Sabine, was Pensacola. All sail was crowded in the hope of reaching there in time to save the navy yard from the suspected machinations of the rebels.
The Sabine being the faster sailer we soon parted company. But late one afternoon in the first week of February, we of the St. Louis arriving off the bar of the port, an unwonted sight greeted us. The Sabine, already arrived, was cruising off and on the port; the Wyandotte, Lt.Commander Berryman, was lying at anchor inside with a flag of truce at her fore; an unknown flag was flying over the navy yard and at Forts Barrancas and McCrea, while Fort Pickens, hitherto forlorn and tenantless, displayed the flag over the small garrison of Company G, 1st U. S. Artillery, under command of First Lieut. C. J. Slemmer, which had been transferred there from Barrancas by the aid of the officers and men of the store-ship Supply and the Wyandotte on the roth and 11th of February, 1861.
When Commander Poor of our ship returned from his visit to Captain Adams of the Sabine and senior officer present, we learned that the rebels had full possession inside ; that Senator Mallory of Florida, and chairman of the naval committee of the Senate, had arranged a truce with the secretaries of navy and war, suspending all offensive operations on either side, and, by the special terms of which, the ships were not to attempt to enter the harbor without further instructions from Washington, but that the Wyandotte could continue to make her headquarters inside under flag of truce and be permitted to communicate with the ships in the offing in carrying the mails back and forth, and in such other lines of duty as the situation demanded in the line of peaceful effort. The insurgent authorities were also to allow us, as an act of graciousness, to receive fresh provisions and water from the shore.
To us navy folk, not especially up in the finesse and technicalities of constitutional law, the situation seemed humiliating in the extreme. Plain, blunt sailors, accustomed to see the flag respected in every quarter of the globe where they carried it, could not understand where the people of Florida derived this authority for such impertinent action under the guise of reserved constitutional rights. They knew that every part of Florida's territory had been bought from Spain by the United States at a cost of millions of dollars; that the wars waged against the Indians to make the territory habitable for the white men had cost three times the original amount paid for it; that the people of Florida had been admitted to statehood solely by the grace of the United States, and that in presuming to assume a supreme authority over that domain they were attempting to take what they never really possessed through their own prowess and efforts,—an attempt which from the navy point of view ought to have been met on the instant by the armed forces of the nation for its vigorous suppression.
That the great majority on board the ships were disgusted and angered at such state of affairs goes without saying, but there was no help for it except through disobedience of orders that might bring on a war—a war that both North and South were anxious to avoid—but a war which the pitiful weakness of the one and the truculent action of the other were surely, if unconsciously, doing their utmost to promote.
It had been an old service dogma that to anchor off the coast outside of harbor shelter during the winter months, when southerly gales were likely to spring up at any moment, was to tempt Providence and invite sure destruction to the sailor who attempted it, but after cruising off and on for a few days and tiring out everybody on board the ships, the anchors were let go and a little rest given the ships' companies. Experience soon made it clear that ships could ride at long scopes of their cables along the coast with reasonable safety, and thus one problem of good blockade was solved.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn arrived from the North with Captain Vogdes's company of the First U.S. Artillery on board. Captain Walker, a son of this state, commanding the ship, had sailed with instructions to land the troops at Fort Pickens immediately upon arrival. The assistant surgeon of the Brooklyn was John M. Leach of Newmarket, this state. No sooner had Walker got to sea, however, than the wily Senator Mallory got the ear of the president and had orders telegraphed to Captain Adams, still the senior officer present, to have the company kept on board until further advised, making another act in the drama of weakness, irresolution, and treachery the country was soon to pay for so dearly. The result of these several acts was to tie the hands of the government, while the insurgents were secretly erecting new batteries, strengthening old defenses, and raising and equipping an army for revolutionary purposes.
Suddenly one day the monotony of our humiliating position was broken by the firing of a salute from a field battery at Barrancas. We soon learned that it was in celebration of the Confederate States Government which had been established and proclaimed at Montgomery. The rebels were in high feather, and one of the Sabine's officers who had taken passage on board the Wyandotte for a visit to the shore, happening to meet the northern renegade Renshaw, that worthy held up a piece of parchment and said with great effusion, "See, I have got my commission back again already. I hold the same rank now in the Confederate States Navy that I did in the old service." The loyal officer gave Renshaw a withering look, and then turned his back upon him in contemptuous silence.
Said old Commodore Tattnall, when he saw the Confederate flag raised at Montgomery," I can fight for that flag, but I hate to do it." Tattnall had been fairly forced to resign. A Georgian by birth and citizenship, he had married in Connecticut, and most, if not all, of his children were born on Northern soil; but his native state had given him a sword for his gallantry in the Mexican war, and had always stood by him when he wanted the recognition of the Navy Department in the matter of orders and duty. He did not approve the secession movement, nor did he want to give up his commission, but visiting Washington during the height of the secession whirlwind that swept Georgia into the arms of South Carolina, his compatriots swarned into his room at the hotel one day and, locking the door, swore that he should not go out alive unless he wrote out his resignation then and there. Thus bullied and badgered, cajoled and implored, he wrote in despair the fatal paper; but his heart was not in the act at all, as his service in the Confederate cause fully attested. He was no longer the fiery, dashing Josiah Tattnall of old, whose blood is thicker than water" expres. sion sounded around the world in the heyday of his career under the old flag he ever really loved. His whole career in the rebel service bespoke the blight he must have felt in fighting against the flag to which he had instinctively given his devoted and intrepid service all his life before. He begged his son John, a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, not to resign his commission. Said he to him, " You were born and bred on Northern soil and there is no occasion for you to go South." "But, father, I must follow you ; I cannot stay here at the North and take arms against you." And so he threw up his commission.
Tattnall's old friend, Commodore Armstrong, who had surrendered the navy yard at Pensacola to the rebels in the middle of January, had been betrayed and doubtless bullied into such act by Commodore Farrand and Lieutenant Renshaw, of whom I have spoken, the one from New Jersey, the other a Pennsylvanian.
Armstrong was a veteran of the War of 1812. He was old and infirm and had been but a few months before invalided home from the command of the East India squadron. He suffered continually from a disease contracted in Chinese waters and had protested against being sent to so unfavorable a climate to him as that of Pensacola, but without avail. Compelled to take such orders, he left his family behind at his home in Charlestown, Mass. Thus he was living alone in the big house of the Commandant, with no one to turn to for counsel when the trying days of secession set in, except the officers of the yard and of the ships calling there. Farrand, as executive, stood naturally in closer relation towards him than He was, in fact, intended to be the right arm of the Commandant, and being a man of Northern birth and training, Armstrong could not bring himself to believe that an officer of such status was doing all he could to lead him astray as to the real conditions of affairs. Yet that man was covertly playing into the hands of the rebels every moment of the time.
The Wyandotte, Lieutenant Commander Berryman, and the store-ship, Supply, Commander Walke, had arrived from Key West and New York respectively, a few days before the surrender of the yard. Neither vessel amounted to anything for offensive purposes. The ultimate destination of the Supply was Vera Cruz, but she had called at Pensacola to land some stores en route. The ships had not been in port twenty-four hours, when both Walke and Berryman, as well as their officers, began to suspect the loyalty of Armstrong's staff, and especially of Farrand and his brother-in-law, Renshaw. They saw, too, to their great distress and indignation, how completely the venerable and sorely perplexed old Commodore was in the hands of the traitors hedging him in on every side, among whom the Northern ones were the foulest of all.
On the 3d of January, the army headquarters at Washington had awakened long enough from the ban of lethargy Mr. Secretary Floyd had put upon it, to send an order to Lieutenant Slemmer at Fort Barrancas " to take measures to prevent the seizure of either of the forts in Pensacola harbor by surprise or assault, consulting first with the Commandant of the navy yard who will probably receive instructions to coöperate with you."
The orders reached Slemmer on the 9th, but he took in the fact at once of the utter impossibility of occupying and holding the three forts with foriy-six men, all the force he had. He therefore decided to abandon McCrea and Barrancas and to transfer his command to Pickens if it could be accomplished. But what must we think of the intelligence at Washington that, at the eleventh hour, dictated so absurd an order? Forty-six men to defend three forts, two of which had not been occupied for years!
Calling immediately at the navy yard, Slemmer found that Armstrong was in receipt of orders from the Navy Department to coöperate with him in such measures of defense as he might adopt. Slemmer was assured of naval assistance in every practicable way, including the services of the Supply and the Wyandotte. The Commodore said that he could not attempt to hold the yard, but agreed to have Slemmer and his command, ammunition, provisions, and other needed supplies taken across the bay to Pickens by the Wyandotte at 1 o'clock p. m. of that day--the 9th of January. No sooner had Slemmer left the Commandant's office than the treacherous Farrand slipped in, and so worked upon the mind of the weak and distracted old man, that he failed to keep faith with Slemmer. Farrand inade Armstrong believe that it would be an outrage--a crime, when he intended to surrender the yard, to coöperate with a young officer of artillery like Slemmer, and so provoke a collision with the state troops that would hand his name down to perpetual execration everywhere in the country.
In this strait of failure, Slemmer revisited the Commodore and remonstrated with him for not keeping his promise. Then in presence of Farrand and Renshaw, the Commodore instructed Berryman to be at Barrancas wharf with the Wyandotte at 5 o'clock p. m. of that day prepared to transport the garrison to Pickens. Nevertheless the Wyandotte did not budge from her anchorage that night. Farrand had gotten in his dastardly work again. His game was delay. Communicating constantly with the rebels at Pensacola, nine miles above, he knew that within forty-eight hours the insurgents would march down and demand the surrender of the yard, and he hoped that the way to seize and occupy Pickens would be clear also.
But in the latter villainy he was checkmated, for at 8 o'clock the next morning—the ioth-Lieutenant, now Rear Admiral, John Irwin, then on leave of absence in Washington, near the yard, went to Barrancas with a big scow, which the army folk hurriedly loaded, together with all the other boats they could lay hands on. The Wyandotte then ran down and took all in tow for Pickens. Berryman also carried over 30 ordinary seamen, but without arms and equipments. Later in the day, however, he supplied 30 muskets and 4,800 musket cartridges, which he obtained on the Commandant's order, despite the vehement remonstrances of Farrand.
But now, under the malign influences he could not escape, and distracted by the complications which beset him on every side, Armstrong began to give such erratic and contradictory orders that Walke and Berryman made up their minds that their principal business, at that juncture, was to coöperate with Slemmer in his effort to make Pickens secure; wherefore they gave little further heed to instructions that issued from the Commandant's office.
The same day Pickens was occupied, Lieutenant, now Rear Admiral, Henry Erben went down to Fort McCrea from the Supply with a boat's crew and threw into the sea all the powder stored there—some 22,000 pounds—to prevent it falling into the clutches of the rebels.
When he returned from that good stroke of work that evening, he called upon the Commodore at his quarters and reported what he had done. He then volunteered to go outside and destroy the ammunition in the naval magazine located on the reservation about a quarter of a mile away. The Commodore sent for Farrand. That traitorous officer asserted with great heat that Erben was drunk and advised that he be put under arrest at once and sent on board ship. Armstrong refused, whereupon Farrand sprang up in great rage and, throwing his chair at Erben's head, abruptly left the quarters.
Erben remained talking with the Commodore a little while longer and then bade him good-night. The moment Erben got outside the front door, Farrand, who had been lying in wait on the piazza, rushed up and shaking his fist in Erben's face said, "D-n you ! I'll teach you how to treat your superior officer !" "He was so violent," said Erben, "that I took him by the throat saying, Dyou, I will have you hanged for the traitor that you are.' We clinched, and in the struggle rolled down the Commandant's steps together. Then Farrand cried out for help, and out stepped Renshaw from the hedge in front of the house where he had been playing the spy, but Assistant Surgeon William M. King of the Supply, who had accompanied me, stepped out on my side of the path, when Farrand and Renshaw, the two Dromios of secession villainy, seeing that a row was imminent, ran off to the other quarters, telling the officers' wives as they went along that Erben was going to blow the yard up."
Farrand's whole conduct had been so pronouncedly disloyal and perfidious all through that Erben and other officers arranged a scheme to seize him at the first good chance and carry him on board ship. Berryman said he would receive him on board the Wyandotte, and if necessary put him in the coal bunkers for safe keeping. But Farrand was too wary—too foxy -he felt that he was suspected--an offense in the nostrils of all honest officers and men, and that the best measure for his personal safety was to keep away from the water front of the yard. And so he could not be induced to approach the wharves on any matter of duty whatever. Had he ventured to do so he would have surely been seized and he seems to have had such presentiment. But he carried things with a high hand when at the upper part of the yard, with the infirm old Commodore. When he looked harborward, however, and saw the flag floating from the peaks of loyal ships, his conscience smote him and made him a coward. "He made a narrow escape," said Erben, "for had he been captured and carried on board ship, he would never have got ashore again except as a close prisoner of war."
And Erben goes on to say, "Whatever orders Armstrong gave for the protection of the yard were countermanded without his knowledge by Farrand. He knew the very hour Victor M. Randolph, another traitorous naval captain, would line up his rebel forces at the gate for the surrender, and ordered the punishment of faithful old Quartermaster Conway, the patriotic old salt who had refused to haul down the flag." Conway had obeyed the order to go to the flagstaff, but when the miserable. Renshaw gave him the order to haul down the flag in capitulation, he flatly refused, and Renshaw had to do the rascally work with his own hands. Then Farrand and Renshaw, both still holding their commissions as officers of the navy, set about deliberately to punish the veteran old seaman for his fidelity to the government and country they were betraying. It is a great gratification to record the fact that a few months later some 150 citizens of California, of New England birth, sent the steadfast old petty officer a gold medal of appropriate design in grateful recognition of his courage and fidelity in defying the orders of the officers whose names will ever be a by-word of reproach and shame in the naval annals of our country.
Walke and Berryman continued to send all possible aid to Slemmer in getting his command safely settled at the fort, nor let it be forgotten that without their strong aid Slemmer could never have transferred his troops and stores there.
On the morning of the 12th of January, Slemmer addressed a last note to Armstrong. He wrote, "I have been apprised that the yard is besieged ; in case you have determined to surrender, will you please send the marines to me to increase my force at Pickens?" No reply to such request was received, and a few hours later, or at noon of that day, the flag of the United States was hauled down at the yard and marine barracks and the state flag of Florida hoisted in its stead. The feelings of indignation, mortification, and disgust that pervaded the ships and port at such wanton doings may well be imagined, but cannot be described in words.
Walke showed his defiance of the act by at once hoisting the flag at each mast-head of the Supply, and the fort, as yet without a flagstaff, hung the flag over the parapet where the rebels could best see it.
That afternoon the Wyandotte towed the Supply outside the harbor, and both ships anchored for the night a short distance from the bar.
Two or three days later the ships reëntered the harbor under flag of truce and came to off the navy yard. Now Walke, waiving for the time being the orders of the department and of Armstrong to continue on to Vera Cruz, deemed it to be his duty to take on board the loyal seamen and marines, the families of Slemmer's command, and the employés whom the rebels had failed to corrupt, and carry them North. With such passengers and their personal belongings he sailed for New York on the 16th of January. The department, still dominated by baleful influences, censured him for his action, but a court martial gave him honorable acquittal. His subsequent service during the war was most brilliant. His fighting record on the Mississippi was not surpassed in gallantry by any other officer of the fleet.
The Wyandotte remained in the bay under flag of truce, and when the quasi armistice had been made at Washington, she was allowed to run back and forth without question by the rebels, as we had found upon our arrival from Vera Cruz. Such status we were powerless to change, wherefore we had to settle down and endure the mortifying situation of witnessing the insurgent occupation of the navy yard and Barrancas, and of constantly receiving intelligence of secession, deceit, encroachment, and devastation in every direction, while endeavoring to keep within bounds our indignation at the astounding supineness of the government under such provocative conditions.
One morning H. B. M. ship Gladiator, Captain (now Vice Admiral) Hickley, R. N., appeared off the port. After communicating with Captain Adams of the Sabine, in accordance with international regulations governing naval intercourse, the Gladiator crossed the bar and steamed up to the anchorage off the town.
When he returned outside two days later, he again communicated with Adams, offering to take the mails to the squadron, or to do any other service he could.
We of the St. Louis had met him before off Greytown. He was a fair spoken Englishman of genial manners, and while he marveled at the situation, and was profuse in his expressions of sympathy, it was quite apparent that the facts did not disturb him in the least. Per contra, he doubtless saw in his mind's eye with much satisfaction opening vistas of plentiful British trade and traffic with the Confederacy. Like a bird of prey, John Bull sits enthroned on the British Isles in the North Sea, watching with sleepless eye the affairs of all other peoples, and when troubles arise in any quarter of the globe, he scents the profits of trade afar off, and straightway sends his ships-of-war to spy out the land, and prepare the way for the plentiful flow of British goods. At this present period, however, John's propensity of that nature has become somewhat modified, for having possessed himself of most of the spoils of earth, he wants to keep what he has got without risking its loss through war.
In Lord Palmerston's day, had any European power attempted what the bellicose Emperor of Germany did a few weeks ago by his outrageous seizure of Kiou Chou bay in the China sea, the English admiral in those waters would have been instructed to take the offensive forth with, but to-day, England with her fleet outmatching the fleets of France, Russia, and Germany does not seem to dare to act. The dictum of Manchester and Birmingham is destroying her virility and emasculating her influence. Said Captain Gambier, R. N., in the Fortnightly Review, last July, of England's present status, "Nothing an Englishman can say abroad is ever taken seriously. There is no faith in us anywhere. Foreigners stigmatize us as the most immoral nation in the world as regards political pledges. Even an Italian feels that he is leaning on a reed, while as to the Turk, he knows it is actually a rush!"
But to return from this digression, while we were smarting outside under the conditions I have outlined, the rebels at the navy yard, Barrancas, and the camps were having a jovial time. General Bragg was in command there with largely increased forces, and his headquarters were frequently enlivened by visitors from all parts of Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. Sometimes the parties would come off to the ships to gratify their curiosity as to the construction, organization, and arrangement of men-of-war, discuss the outlook, and express their displeasure because "their share of the navy," as they said, "had not been turned over to them." I recall one visitor from Alabama who boasted that he had been working for thirty years to bring about secession," and said he, "if you were to give us a new pen, and a clean sheet of paper, and tell us to write our own terms, we will not come back into the Union." I ventured to think aloud "that they would; that if they persisted in bringing on a war, they would lose every darkey they had before they got through with it."
One day the wretched Renshaw had the temerity to visit the Sabine. He met with the most frigid reception except from one or two officers who threw up their commissions after their States had seceded. The enlisted men, ever loyal to the Union, were incensed that the officer who had hauled down the flag at the navy yard at the bidding of the rebels, and who had helped to punish steadfast old Conway for his fidelity, should have the impudence to come off to the ships. And when he went over the Sabine's gangway to go down the ship's side into his boat, some one among them threw a bowline out of one of the gun-deck ports, hoping to get it round his neck, and either strangle or jerk him overboard. Renshaw, livid with rage, and trembling for his safety, expostulated and demanded the offender's punishment. It is needless to say that the man could not be identified any more than Sam Weller could see his father in the gallery, in the court-room, on the occasion of the celebrated trial of "Bardell versus Pickwick."
The Mobile Register in those exasperating days was our source of immediate news. It had supported Douglas for the presidency, and had been a moderate-toned conservative paper, but now it quite equaled the Charleston Mercury in its diatribes against the North. Among other things, it said, "The gentlemen of the South in the event of hostilities need not take the field; the ordinary men of the Confederacy can be trusted to do the fighting, for the average Southerner is equal in prowess to three Yankees at any time and under all circumstances." Such talk perhaps nerved the South and fed its vanity; it certainly did the North no harm. The inauguration of Mr. Lincoln now drew nigh. The rebels fondly hoped that his inaugural address would foreshadow the abandonment of Sumter, Pickens, and other public places in the South, and their chagrin knew no bounds when he announced his purpose "to hold, occupy, and possess" all property and places rightfully belonging to the United States.
On the other hand, our spirits in the fleet outside rose like the mercury in a barometer in clearing weather. Nevertheless, we had to wait days and weeks without any material change in the situation. True, a few days after the inauguration, General Scott sent an order to Captain Vogdes to land the troops from the Brooklyn, but no word was sent to Captain Adams of the Sabine that the truce was ended, and he regarded the orders he held from the Navy Department as still in force. He, therefore, would not permit the instructions to his sụbordinate to be carried out, and so the matter rested for weeks.
Meanwhile, Berryman of the Wyandotte died. The strain, excitement, and worry killed him. To be obliged to get General Bragg's permission to bury the remains in the naval cemetery was a bitter pill, but it had to be taken.
Our provisions were now almost gone; the pay officers had no funds, and the days dragged on more heavily than ever. On the 18th of March, Captain Adams had reported to the Department among other things, "There is not a dollar of public money in the squadron. I have been using my own private funds to pay bills, and Lieutenant Belknap and Paymaster Pierce of the St. Louis; Lieutenant Cush, U. S. Marines, of the Sabine, and Lieutenant Gwathmay of the Brooklyn, have tendered me what money they have for the same purpose." But now a ray of relief appeared. At noon, the 12th of April, Lieutenant, subsequently Rear Admiral, Worden of Monitor fame arrived on board the Sabine with orders from the president to land Captain Vogdes's company and all the marines for the reinforcement of Fort Pickens. The order was carried out that evening, the boats of the St. Louis being under my command. As we were rounding the point of Santa Rosa Island to enter the harbor two guns were suddenly fired, and we thought the enemy was opening upon us. It turned out that Lieutenant Commanding Mullany, now in command of the Wyandotte, had grounded on a shoal, and had fired the guns to attract attention to his mishap. It was the one thing he should not have done, as it at once awoke the rebels as to what was going on. They made no sign, however, and the Wyandotte soon floated off with the rising tide. Mullany was a very nervous officer, but a gallant one. He subsequently lost an arm at the battle of Mobile Bay.
The next day Worden, as he was returning to Washington, was arrested at Montgomery, and held as a prisoner of war until exchanged in November, 1861.
The truce was now at an end ; the war had begun, for we knew that the attack upon Sumter was in progress. Then followed in quick succession the reports of Sumter's surrender, the president's proclamation, and the call for men.
A thrill of joy swept like magic through the ships ; suspense was at an end; we felt that we had a government once more and thanked God for it. Trimmers and traitors must now declare their purposes and take their proper places. The arguments to be used henceforth until treason was beaten down were the gun, the musket, and the sword. It was high time. The loyal heart of the nation had been throttled long enough.
On the afternoon of the 16th of April, a most welcome incident still further raised our spirits. It was the arrival of the steamer Baltic with Col. Harvey Brown and more companies of the First artillery for the further strengthening of the garrison at Pickens. Colonel Brown was accompanied by Capt. Montgomery C. Meigs, of the U. S. Corps of Engineers. That evening these fresh troops were landed, the Wyandotte towing the boats in, and close in to Santa Rosa point. To our surprise no opposition came from the rebel camp.
In my boat were Colonel Brown and Captain Meigs, whom I personally piloted to the sally-port of the fort. Leaving them at that point, I pulled back to the Baltic for another load of troops. On returning from this second trip about half past three o'clock in the morning Meigs accompanied me. On the way off he became confidential. Said he, " I am acting under direct orders from the president, verbal and written. Lieut. David Porter of the navy is on the way here in command of the Powhatan. Upon his arrival off the port he is to pay no attention to the fleet, but to steam directly on into the harbor and take control of the waters of the bay. If fired upon by the rebel batteries, he is to return the fire instantly and bring on an engagement. Only four persons have any knowledge of the Powhatan's destination--the president, Mr. Seward, Porter, and myself. She should be here at any moment, for she left New York before we did. But," he continued, "if upon thorough examination of the fort, Colonel Brown and myself decide that it is not yet advisable to draw the fire of the rebels, I have in my pocket instructions from Mr. Lincoln to intercept the ship and hand Porter orders to suspend entrance into the bay until further advised." This was a precious, a very delicious, piece of news, and it need not be added that the advent of the Powhatan was looked forward to with intense satisfaction.
Leaving Captain Meigs on board the Baltic, I repaired on board the Sabine to report the latest news from Pickens to Captain Adams. He appeared to be stolidly indifferent, while the officer of the deck, Lieutenant Murdaugh, a Virginian, was sullen and silent. Adams, though a Pennsylvanian, had large interests in Louisiana, and was too strict a constructionist to suit the stern demands of that portentous time. Murdaugh, who had received me with a studied coldness that bespoke inward wrath, soon resigned, hastened home, and entered the rebel service. Long afterwards he was given an office of trust and emolument under the government he did all he could to destroy. And glad he was to get it.
That afternoon the Powhatan came steaming in at full speed disguised as a British man-of-war. She stood directly across the bar, and was making for close quarters with McRea and Barrancas, amidst the breathless but ardent expectation of the fleet, when suddenly a steam-tug shot out from Pickens, and intercepting the ship, stopped her further progress on the president's order, for Colonel Brown, advised by Meigs, had decided that Pickens was not yet sufficiently prepared to tempt an engagement with the enemy. Porter reluctantly obeyed the order but he did not retreat. He was already within range of some of the enemy's batteries, and hoping to draw their fire, hauled down the British ensign and hoisted the stars and stripes; but Bragg had no idea of firing the initial gun and remained silent. Then Porter, in full view of all that was going on in the bay, dropped an anchor and awaited developments.
The stoppage of the Powhatan was not only a grievous disappointment to the fleet outside, but it was an egregious blunder. Porter had drilled the officers and men night and day on the run from New York, and they were burning for a fight. The ten nine-inch guns of each broadside and the eleven-inch pivot were loaded with grape and canister, and the 20, 12, and 24 pounder howitzers on board charged with shrapnel. There can be no doubt but that a broadside would have demoralized Bragg's green gunners at the first fire, and that two or three, delivered in quick succession, would have driven them from their works. Once past Tartar Point, the Powhatan could have enfiladed the navy yard so that no living soul could have stayed there. Could Porter have had his own way, indeed, he would have brought all the ships inside, and within twenty-four hours there would not have been an armed rebel left either on the army or naval reservation, and the yard would have been re-possessed intact by the government. That nothing was done was due to the indecision of Brown and his lack of qualities that make the successful soldier.
It has always seemed to me a pity, however, that Porter did not become as blind to Meigs's approach as Nelson was at Sir Hyde Parker's signal for him to withdraw from the fight at Copenhagen. Audacity in war is the touchstone of success. Nelson and Farragut were the two great sea exponents in modern times of that high quality.
Some thirty-six hours after Porter's arrival, a number of tugs towing schooners, filled with soldiers, came down from Pensacola and steered for Pickens. That sight was more than Porter could stand, so he fired a nine-inch shrapnel shell in their direction, timed to burst just ahead of them. That monition was enough. The flotilla put about and made back for Pensacola in greatest possible haste. Here was an overt act; a challenge, indeed, to the enemy; the petted rebels had been fired upon in their own sacred waters, yet they remained persistently silent. Bragg well knew that if he opened fire the game would be up with him ; that here was a ship and an officer ready to fight at any moment.
Porter said of this incident that when he saw the rebels approaching he felt like the old fellow at Bunker Hill, who was much amused at the volleys of the approaching British until a ball struck the calf of his leg, when he roared out to his son by his side, "Dang it, Jim, they're firing bullets; we must fire back at them!" So Porter, when he saw such apparent offensive movement, thought it high time to begin gun practice.
Captain Adams, the senior officer outside, was disgruntled at Porter's act, and thought him very reckless in firing that shot, but he could not interfere because Porter had the president's confidential orders in his pocket. On the other hand, Porter began to remonstrate with Adams for the laxity that permitted the rebels to strengthen themselves in every direction unmolested, and he succeeded in getting from him authority to stop the Mobile steamers from entering the port with supplies and ammunition for Bragg's camp.
A few days after this, Captain McKean arrived in the Niagara, and as Adams's senior he assumed command of the feet. I had served as a midshipman under McKean's command in 1851, 1852, and 1853 in the Pacific, and was delighted to meet him again. The first thing he did upon arrival was to signal for the commanding and all other officers to repair on board. At the proper moment McKean addressed the officers assembled in the cabin, saying, that the time had now come for the government to know beyond doubt or question how every officer stood, and he invited them to take anew the oath of allegiance and subscribe to it. Most of the officers eagerly complied, but two or three declined ; Captain Adams subscribed to the oath under protest. The officers who declined to take the oath now resigned. The patient government accepted their resignations instead of sending them to Fort Lafayette. Captain Adams soon went home and was never afterwards given employment, but his son and namesake did most gallant service as a lieutenant during the war.
Captain McKean now dispersed the ships for the establishment of the blockade. We were sent to Key West, via Tortugas, but for blockading purposes against steam vessels the old St. Louis was of little account.
The Mohawk and the Crusader, Lieutenants-Commanding Craven and Maffit, small purchased steamers like the Wyandotte, had been cruising in Cuban and other West Indian waters for the suppression of the slave trade; for after the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court the slave trade had been revived and several cargoes direct from Africa had been landed on Southern soil or captured in the attempt — two such prizes having fallen to the Mohawk. Maffit proved to be a secessionist, and threw up his commission the moment the Confederacy was established. But gallant Craven, a son of New Hampshire by birth, and who was subsequently sunk in the Tecumseh at the battle of Mobile Bay, was loyal to the core. He had assisted Captain Brennan of the First Artillery in the transfer of his command and munitions from the barracks at Key West to the uncompleted Fort Taylor commanding the town, and also in transporting men and supplies to Fort Jefferson at Tortugas to prevent its seizure by the rebels who had organized a force at New Orleans to occupy it. When Craven reported to the Navy Department what he had done his action was disapproved. He was informed, indeed, that the Department had had no information of intention on the part of anybody to occupy those public works. Mr. Secretary Toucey was apparently blind to all passing events, or did he expect the rebels to go about with a brass band proclaiming what they were going to do? After a short stay at Key West, we were ordered to Mobile to take blockade duty at that point; thence to S. W. pass at the mouth of the Mississippi. Finally, in October, we were ordered to proceed to Philadelphia and go out of commission. This was a welcome change, first, because we had been away from home nearly three years, and second, because it gave us opportunity for service on board more effective ships than the old St. Louis a service all looked eagerly forward to.
One officer only had left us to join the rebels — a South Carolinian. We had been more fortunate in that regard than most of the ships.
The officer who had pooh-poohed so flippantly all idea of war, in the summer and fall of 1860, and who had been invalided home from Vera Cruz, was now by special assignment of the president at work in his state of Kentucky to save that state from secession, and to enroll volunteers and organize them into regiments of the Union army. He had found, indeed, that Kentucky instead of whipping South Carolina back into the Union was in part inclined to go out herself. You will doubtless have recognized that this officer was Lieut. Wm. Nelson of the navy, who became a major general of volunteers, and did gallant service in the field until his tragic death at Louisville.
He was a man of commanding presence and great ability, but from his rough speech and brusque manners he had been nicknamed "Bully Nelson" in the navy from the start. His division of Buel's army was the first one to reach the field of Shiloh on the evening of the first day of that memorable battle which, but for the characteristic tenacity of Grant, might have ended in a disastrous defeat for the Union army.
When we were detached from the St. Louis after our three years cruise, we were given ten days leave of absence, but I had been at home barely a week when I received orders to proceed to Boston and report for duty as executive officer of the gun-boat Huron. At that time we had no railroad or telegraphic facilities at Newport, and it was the custom for the mail-stage to call at the houses of passengers in the village and take them on board at their doors.
As I stepped into the coach the crisp December morning that I left home, the solitary passenger inside - Mr. Smart of Concord, who had come on from Claremont where he had been teaching school - said," Have you heard the news?" "What news?" I asked. "Why, a telegram was received at Claremont last night reporting that Captain Wilkes, commanding the steam frigate San Jacinto, had boarded the British mail steamer Trent on the high seas, and taken from her the rebel commissioners, Mason and Slidell, as prisoners charged with high treason." "Well," I replied, "Captain Wilkes has made a great mistake; his action will have to be disavowed, and the rebel commissioners be given up. Captain Wilkes had ample British precedents for what he did, it is true, but his action was directly the reverse of what we always have contended for in the matter of the right of search on the high seas; and there is nothing left for us to do than to return the commissioners to the protection of the British flag. To do otherwise would be to stultify our whole record and contention as a maritime power with regard to the right of visit and of search ever since we have been an independent nation." I need not say that, after some delay and much discussion, the government acted upon a like view. We know, too, that Mr. Lincoln held that opinion from the moment the emergency was brought before him in all its details.
Had conditions been reversed; had Ireland been in armed revolt against Great Britain, and a British ship-of-war had overhauled an American mail steamer and taken from her deck envoys from Ireland to the United States, England would have clung to her old pretension of visitation and search and would never have given them up; but when, in the case of the Trent, she ignored her past claims and procedures, she attracted the support of the other great maritime powers that had hitherto suffered from her imperious acts on the high seas, for it marked out a new line of neutral rights to which Great Britain must henceforth bow and respect. On the other hand, we could afford to be right in such matter of maritime concern, even though it cut to the quick of national pride for the moment in the stress of our grave situation, but we could not afford to go to war with the greatest sea power in the world when a colossal rebellion confronted us, taxing to the utmost all our resources of blood and treasure to crush it out."
Prior to the Rebellion, Mr. Sumner, in common with other captives in Britain's Pecksniffian train, had supposed that in the cause of human rights, the British government would give its fullest sympathies to the cause of the Union in its struggle with the slave power of this country, but had he and his fellow dupes studied English history and character more closely he and they would have seen that pounds, shillings, and pence have ever been the governing factors of the sympathy and policy of official England.
We know that the English slave trade was established by Johu Hawkins in 1562 ; that his first venture was so successful that two years later, "good Queen Bess" loaned him one of her own ships and took shares in the enterprise ; that the British Crown continued to gather profits from that infamous traffic until the reign of George III.
It was two hundred ten years after Hawkins began the slave trade, that Lord Mansfield decided that "a slave becomes free at the moment of setting foot on British soil." Nevertheless, the slave traffic by authority and to the profit of the crown was continued long after.
But in 1807, the trade having become unprofitable as regarded the British West Indian islands, the Parliament, prodded by philanthropists like Wilberforce, Macaulay and others, abolished the traffic by enactment. Slavery continued, however, in the colonies until 1834, when it was also abolished in them. Then England began to throw stones at this country, and to send her emissaries into our midst to sow the seeds of dissension between the North and the South. Her efforts succeeded but too well. The leaven worked so well, indeed, that scarce a quarter of a century passed when the flames of civil war broke forth upon the land.
Did official England then take the side of right and freedom? No! she did all she dared to do to aid the insurgents in their purpose to destroy the Union; and could she have witnessed the overthrow of this government through the triumph of the Confederacy she would have cared not a whit for the blood that reddened our land, nor for the groans of the black men continued in slavery as the result of insurgent success.
When the late General Hurlburt was our minister to Peru in 1881-82, the British minister, Sir Spencer St. John, said to him one day while they were good-naturedly discussing international affairs, "Why do you speak of England as you do? Little more than a hundred years ago you Americans were all Englishmen." "Very true," replied General Hurlburt, " but we are now improved Englishmen—that makes the difference."
Had the governing classes of Great Britain comprehended more fully the effects of climate upon the race, and the greater range of free thought and action this new country afforded in the free states of the North, they would never have made the mistake of siding with the rebellious states in the hope of destroying the Union and the bettering of British commercial and political interests thereby. Had they, indeed, pursued a different policy and given their support to the North, they would have bound themselves by hooks of steel to the loyal heart of this nation, and the bitterness of the past generation and the distrust of the present would have had no place in the annals of either country.
No man recognized such fact more clearly than Mr. Sumner. His faith in the moral integrity of the British people was thoroughly shaken, and he went to his grave believing in the treachery and perfidy of the people he had once looked upon as the leaders in civilization and in humane movement on lines of personal liberty.
It is not too much to say, indeed, that at least one half of our killed and wounded during the war met their death or disablement at the muzzles of British-made muskets and British-rified ordnance shot and shell; nor that the Rebellion was initiated under the belief of British sympathy, and prolonged because of the substantial aid of British shipbuilders and shipowners and blockade runners ; an the further fact that England was the naval base of the Confederacy, from which issued the Alabamı, the Shenandoah, and other vessels to destroy our merchantmen on the high seas.
Of the forty-five officers on the navy list in January, 1861, who had connection with New Hampshire either by birth, appointment, or citizenship, only one resigned his commission, and he was then a citizen of Maryland and had, doubtless, married there. I cannot find, however, that he ever did any active service against the flag.Tweet