Doc. 245. the capture of Biloxi, Miss.
Boston Journal account.
ship Island, Thursday, Jan. 2, 1862.the expedition to Biloxi was eminently successful, resulting in the surrender of the place to the Federal forces, the reduction of the fortification, and the capture of a schooner laden with lumber, and all without firing a gun. The expedition consisted of the United States gunboats Water Witch, Lieut. Aaron K. Hughes, commanding; New London, Lieut. Abner Reed, commanding; and the Lewis, Lieut. Thomas McKean Buchanan, commanding. In addition to the regular officers and crews of the several steamers, detachments of forty-five marines from the guards of the flagship Niagara and the steamer Massachusetts, and commanded by Lieut. George Butler, of the Niagara, and two boats' crews from the Massachusetts, accompanied the expedition, which was a purely naval enterprise, the whole being under command of Commander Melancton Smith, of the Massachusetts. The Lewis was formerly employed as a freight and passenger boat between New Orleans and Mobile, and, since her capture by the New London, has been fitted up as a gunboat. She carries a crew of one hundred men, and her armament consists of one twenty-pound Parrott gun, rifled, two twelve-pound rifled guns for James' projectiles, one twenty-four-pound Dahlgren howitzer, and two twelve-pound howitzers. She is a lofty steamer, and offers altogether too prominent a mark for the enemy. Being of light draught, however, she can approach nearer the track usually taken by the gunboats and steamers of the enemy. The expedition got under way at seven o'clock on the morning of the 31st ult., and steamed across the Mississippi Sound toward Biloxi. The weather was fine, and every thing bid fair for a brush with the enemy, inasmuch as previous reconnoissances had discovered a battery of apparent strength near the lighthouse, and a few weeks previous armed men had been seen there. As the steamers approached the place, which, like all the towns of any note along the Gulf coast, is incorporated, the inhabitants were seen hurrying to and fro in evident alarm at the demonstration. The Lewis steamed up to within about a mile  of the “city,” while the New London and Water Witch, owing to their heavy draft, were compelled to anchor outside, but within range to cover the movements of the advance force. Not succeeding in drawing the fire of the battery, Commander Smith decided to anchor the fleet, and proceeded with a flag of truce to the shore. Commander Smith, accompanied by Acting-Master Ryder, of the Massachusetts, landed at the wharf, near the light, and were met by two or three men, of whom they requested to see the Mayor of the city. A crowd soon collected, one of whom was armed with a double-barrelled gun, an old cavalry sword, and a silver-mounted Colt's revolver, both of which he persisted in wearing on the same side of his belt, and appeared to be the commander of the battery. While some of the citizens went off in quest of the chief magistrate, some twenty-five or thirty men, armed with shot guns, were seen lurking around the battery and parade-ground in the rear. The sailors entered into conversation with the citizens, some of whom pretended to be loyal, and said they were afraid to express their Union sentiments for fear of being lynched. While the husbands and children were on the wharf, awaiting the result of the demonstration, a few frightened wives and mothers were seen peering from behind buildings, out of windows, and from the cover of the shrubbery, with their hoods drawn over their faces, looking with intense anxiety upon the group at the pier. The citizens, male and female, gathered in knots on the principal street, and discussed the subject of the invasion. They were shy at first, and kept aloof from the Federal officers; but seeing no harm offered them, they gradually became communicative, and when asked the news, said that telegraphic messages had been received announcing that England had declared war against the United States. Finding this intelligence did not surprise the officers, they acknowledged that the reports which they received were very contradictory, and in evidence, said they had heard that there were six thousand troops on Ship Island, and again that there were forty thousand. After a short time the Mayor, an old man about sixty, made his appearance, armed with a shot gun, which he left at the head of the pier, seeing that his visitors wore only their sidearms. He inquired the object of the visit, to which Commander Smith replied: “I have come to demand the surrender of the town, with all the fortifications, battery, and vessels in the waters, and all military and warlike stores.” His honor inquired what length of time would be allowed them to remove the women and children. Capt. Smith replied that there was no necessity for the women and children retiring unless they intended to offer resistance, and he would give him one hour in which to consult the citizens on the subject. The Mayor wanted an armistice of twenty-four hours, but finding Capt. Smith inflexible, he went off to confer with his constituents, returning at the expiration of the hour. The Mayor, on his return, was accompanied by Judge Holley, Dr. Frazer, a French physician, and several citizens. The Mayor, addressing Commander Smith, said: “Sir, I surrender you the town of Biloxi and the battery, owing to the utter impossibility of defending it; but I cannot guarantee you any safety outside the limits of the town.” Commander Smith assured the Mayor and the citizens that we came for the purpose of removing the guns from the battery, and at the same time to protect them in their lawful occupation. He had no desire or orders to interfere with their institutions or to land troops. He told them that he intended to make good Union men of their citizens in spite of themselves, but the Mayor replied: “Don't flatter yourself;” and a rabid secessionist — the cavalry officer — added: “Old Abe Lincoln will never make a Union man of me; I'll pack myself and wife in a buggy and be off for New Orleans.” Some of the other citizens manifested a similar spirit, but, on being shown the folly of their course, concluded to remain. After examining the battery, Commander Smith returned to the Lewis and ordered away two large boats, the same which were brought out on the Constitution, and they proceeded, under command of Acting-Master Ryder, accompanied by Acting-Master Merriam and Midshipman Woodward, of the Lewis, to the wharf, for the purpose of bringing off the guns. The crews dismounted two guns-one light and one heavy six-pounder — and carried them to the boats, and returning took off the carriages — both pivots of “home manufacture” --and plat-forms. While thus engaged, the Union sailors were watching a crowd of about twenty boys and men, mostly foreigners, who sat around; and as the guns were being removed inquired sarcastically: “We expect a thousand men here; will you come and take ‘um then as easy? Do you think you can take the guns at New Orleans as easy?” As the work of dismantling the fort progressed, the rebels grew generous, and exclaimed, seeing the carriages and plat-forms going, “You'd better take these planks and the coffee-bags — we've got a plenty of them.” The battery was constructed of bricks, flanked and faced with sand-bags. It was capable of mounting six or eight heavy guns, but unless more skill is displayed in mounting the batteries in other places than was evinced here, they will not prove very effective in a cross-fire. The guns in this battery were placed upon stationary beds, which received the recoil only in a direct line of fire, any deviation from which would dismount the piece. That the fears of the people of the South have been worked upon by the rebel leaders, is evident from the intense alarm occasioned by the landing of the Federal force at Biloxi. The deepest anxiety was depicted on every countenance, and the people betrayed by their looks  and conversation their fears that all the horrors of a sacked and pillaged town awaited them. The women especially were in the highest state of frenzy, and clung to the skirts of the Mayor for protection and advice as he was going to consult the citizens. They had been told that the Northern soldiers were a set of barbarians, and given to pillage and rapine. But not even a pin's value was taken by the sailors from any private dwelling, not an indecent word spoken, and no intrusion or insult offered to any of the citizens, whose astonishment at the behavior of our men was only equalled by their previous fright. The people appeared to be in a very destitute condition, some wanting shoes, some clothing, and others bread. One smart-looking lad said to his mother, in the hearing of the officers, “I don't care if I do get taken prisoner,” to which the other replied, “Nor I either, for then I shall be sure to get enough to eat.” Another chap of rebellious tendencies said: “I've heard some talk of starving us into submission, but they'll have to put a blockade on the mullet (a kind of fish) before they can do this.” A little boy approached Mid. Woodward, and with a wishful air and beseeching tone said: “Oh, Mister, if you'll only bring me one handful of coffee, I'll give you any thing--‘lasses, sugar or any thing!” An old man made a similar proposal to Mr. Freeman, who asked him if they were short of any thing, to which he made answer: “My God, we are short of every thing. I haven't tasted coffee or tea these four months.” He added: “If you like I'll show you some of the stuff we use for tea,” and going off soon returned with a bunch of dry herbage — large leaves on the stalk, which grows near the ground and resembles oak leaves. Though the town possessed many natural beauties of redeeming qualities, still every thing bore a neglected appearance. The place seemed deserted, and no signs of thrift or business were observed. The male population capable of bearing arms had gone to the war, while old men and boys were enrolled as Home Guards. There were not more than fifty men in the place, and about five hundred women and children. If the towns and hamlets in the North were to make this sacrifice, how long would the rebels defy the power of the Federal Government? While all this was transpiring on shore, a schooner was discovered working her way back of Deer Island into Biloxi Bay. Acting-Master Freeman, executive officer of the Lewis, manned a boat and went in pursuit. After rowing about nine miles, he succeeded in overhauling the vessel, which proved to be the schooner Capt. Speeden, Capt. Francisco Marteniz, who was the sole owner. She was loaded with thirty thousand feet of hard pine flooring boards, (right handy for the tent floors,) and was on her way to New Orleans from Honsboroa, where there are several saw-mills employing a large number of negroes in sawing lumber. The cargo belonged to a secessionist in Biloxi, and was therefore a lawful prize. The Spanish captain and two creoles surrendered without resistance. The captain has a wife and child in New Orleans, from which place he has kept aloof through fear of being impressed into the rebel army. He is a strong Union man, and refuses to fight against the “Stars and Stripes,” although sailing under a Confederate States register to support his family. He plead hard to have his vessel given up to him, as it was all he had in the world, and offered, if released, to return with a cargo of sweet potatoes. All feel that the latter would go far to relieve the severity of camp regimen, but the usages of war rather interfere with the gratification of the appetite, and Signor l'capitano, his mate and cook, will be retained here for the present. While in pursuit of the schooner, Mr. Freeman discovered seven boats filled with men, women, and children, who were making their escape from Biloxi to Ocean Springs and Pascagoula. It not being the design of Commander Smith to hold Biloxi, the expedition returned to Ship Island the same evening, and at the earliest convenience further demonstrations will be made against such movable property of the rebels as is required at this point. The Water Witch and New London did not participate in the affair, the credit of which belongs to the Lewis. It being the first exploit of the steamer since her conversion to the Union cause, her officers are receiving congratulations on all sides.