previous next

Doc. 107.-the escape of the Oreto.

The following letter was written by an officer of the United States fleet:

United States steamer R. R. Cuyler, off east coast of Yucatan, January 21, 1863.
For the first time within the last five days, I have an opportunity to pen you a few lines, which I fancy may possess more interest than any thing I have written heretofore. The work for which the Cuyler was especially appointed, namely, the capture of the rebel steamer Oreto, has been laid out before us, and we have failed to accomplish it, thus adding another to the too numerous instances in which we have been foiled by the superior daring, and neck or nothing pluck of the “dashing buccaneers” of Jeff Davis.

The Oreto has escaped the blockade, and I will give you the particulars as faithfully as I possibly can. Thursday, the fifteenth, and the night and day before, the wind was south-east, which is nearly on shore; at times it was quite a gale, with thick rain or mist most of the time, so that we could not see the land. Thursday P. M., the wind hauled to the north, and cleared up, and we discovered, at anchor behind Mobile Point, a bark-rigged craft, which we knew to be the Oreto, the first time we had seen her since we had been on this station, but had previously seen her at Nassau last August. The circumstance of her showing herself at such a time, so near the outlet of the Bay, was strong evidence that she intended to run the blockade. A sudden change in the wind, and consequent clearing up, revealed him, and we had ample opportunity to prepare for him.

About four o'clock the Pembina ran down to us from the flag-ship and spoke us to the effect that the Commndore expected her out, and ordered us to anchor half-way between our present position and the flag-ship, and if she passed us, we, in company with the Oneida, to give chase. It had been usual for one of the small gunboats to anchor inside the bar every night, but on Wednesday night there was no boat inside. At dark the wind blew a perfect gale. There was no moon and it was very dark. Altogether it was just the night to run the blockade. Two men were stationed at the chains ready to slip at a moment's notice, and other precautionary measures were taken, but it blew too hard for him the first part of the night.

I was awoke about three o'clock by a shout from several voices, which I made out to be--“The Oreto —— beat that drum — quarters.” I was out of my berth, into my clothes, and at quarters before the drum beat its call. The gunner's mate was just burning the signal appointed for such occasions. At this time she must have been astern. Our chain was slipped, and we on her track as soon as possible under the circumstances. In about thirty minutes we were under way with our battery cast loose read for action. The reason of the delay of thirty minutes is this. Formerly our orders were, if a steamer were seen, for the commanding officer to slip the anchor and then report; now more red tape is necessary, and the officer reports to the commander, who comes on deck before any thing can be done.

It still wanted two flours of daylight. The Oreto was in sight with the night-glass. All was excitement on board, and it was evident we were not gaining on her, and doubt was felt if we caught her at all. She was first seen on our port bow, between us and the flag-ship, under steam alone, and passed within three hundred yards of us. Had our port battery been manned, we could have made four ugly holes in her. As soon as she was fairly by us she dropped her sails and was off, with at least half an hour's start. We put on all sail, got ten tons of coal aft, and all hands aft also, to trim the ship by the stern in order to bring the propeller deeper in the water. Our gun-deck was literally afloat. [393]

We continued the chase all day, but at night in the darkness she changed her course and we lost her.

Had the Oneida accompanied us, as ordered to do, our chance would have been double what it was. We concluded to keep on and run down to Cape St. Antonio in hopes to intercept her there, but did not find her. There were seven vessels of us off the port — we had fifteen hours warning — and her only way out was through the main ship channel, which at the bar is less than a mile wide. They ran a big risk and won. I should like to see some such daring displayed on our side once in a while. Every thing was done to increase our speed, but I have seen the ship go fourteen knots an hour with steam alone, and on that day her utmost was twelve and a half knots.

The prime cause of her escape was neglect to prepare for her, and remembering Commodore Preble's case, I think the department will soon decide where the fault lies.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Preble (1)
Doc (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
January 21st, 1863 AD (1)
August (1)
15th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: