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Chapter 21:

  • The Sumter Pursues her voyage across the Atlantic
  • -- capture and burning of the Arcade, Vigilant, and Ebenezer Dodge -- a leaky ship, and a gale -- an alarm of fire.

The morning of the 26th of November dawned clear, with the wind more moderate, and a smoother sea. A ship of war being seen to windward, running down in our direction, we beat to quarters, and hoisted the U. S. colors. She was a heavy ship, but being a sailing vessel, we had nothing to fear, even if she should prove to be an enemy. Indeed, it would have been only sport for us, to fall in with one of the enemy's old time sailing-frigates. Our agile little steamer, with her single longrange gun, could have knocked her into pie, as the printers say, before the majestic old thing could turn round. It was in the morning watch, when holystones and sand, and scrubbing-brushes and soap were the order of the hour, and we surprised the stranger, consequently, in her morning dishabille, for her rigging was filled with scrubbed hammocks, and a number of well-filled clothes-lines were stretched between her main and mizzen shrouds. She proved to be Spanish; and was steering apparently for the island of Cuba. We observed to-day in latitude 20° 7′; the longitude, as told by our faithful chronometer, being 57° 12′.

By the way, one of my amusements, now, was to wind and compare a number of chronometers, daily. The nautical instruments were almost the only things, except provisions, and clothing for the crew, that we could remove from our prizes. I never permitted any other species of property to be brought on board. We had no room for it, and could not have disposed of it, except by violating the laws of neutral nations, and converting our ship into a trader; neither one of which comported with the duties which I had in hand, viz., the rapid destruction [269] of the enemy's commerce. I should have had no objection to receiving, on deposit, for safe keeping, any funds that I might have found on board the said prizes, but the beggarly Yankee masters never carried any. A few hundred dollars for ship's expenses was all that was ever found, and sometimes not even this—the master having, generally, an order on his consignee, for what moneys he might need. I sometimes captured these orders, and a stray bill of exchange for a small amount, but of course I could make no use of them. The steamship has not only revolutionized commerce, and war, but exchanges. Long before the arrival of the tardy sailing-ship, at her destined port, with her ponderous cargo, the nimble mail-steamer deposits a duplicate of her invoice, and bill of lading, with the merchant to whom she is consigned; and when the ship has landed her cargo, the same, or another steamer, takes back a bill of exchange, for the payment of the freight.

The masters of my prizes frequently remonstrated against my capturing their chronometers; in some instances claiming them as their own individual property. When they would talk to me about private property, I would ask to whom their ships belonged—whether to a private person, or the Government? They at once saw the drift of the question, and there was an end of the argument. I was making war upon the enemy's commerce—and especially upon the ship, the vehicle of commerce, and the means and appliances by which she was navigated. If her chronometers, sextants, telescopes, and charts were left in possession of the master, they would be transferred to, and used in the navigation of some other ship. The fact that these instruments belonged to other parties, than the shipowners, could not make the least difference—ship and instruments were all private property, alike, and alike subject to capture. Silly newspaper editors have published a good deal of nonsense, mixed with a good deal of malice, on this subject. It is only their nonsense that I propose to correct—their abuse was something to be expected under the circumstances. Being dependent upon the patronage of ship-owners and ship-masters, for the prosperity of their papers, abuse of the Sumter, during the war, came as naturally to them, as whittling a stick. [270]

No prisoner of mine was ever disturbed in the possession of his strictly personal effects. Under this head were included his watch, and his jewelry, as well as his wardrobe. Every boarding-officer had orders to respect these, nor do I believe that the orders were ever violated. I will not detain the reader to contrast this conduct, with the shameful house-burnings, robberies, and pilferings, by both officers and men, that accompanied the march of the enemy's armies, through the Southern States. It would be well for human nature, if the record made by these men, lost to every sense of manliness and shame, could be obliterated; but as the wicked deeds of men live after them, our common history, and our common race will long have to bear the disgrace of their acts.

Soon after passing the Spanish ship, sail ho! was cried from the mast-head, in a sharp, energetic voice, as though the lookout had, this time, scented real game. The chase was one of those well-known schooners, twice before described in these pages, as being unmistakable—hence the energy that had been thrown into the voice of the look-out. She soon came in sight from the deck, when we gave chase. In a couple of hours we had come up with, and hove her to, with a gun. She proved to be the Arcade, from Portland, Me., with a load of staves, bound to Guadeloupe, where she intended to exchange her staves for rum and sugar. The owner of the staves had not thought it worth while to certify, that his property was neutral, and so we had no difficulty with the papers. We had not made much of a prize. The little craft was sailed too economically to afford us even a spare barrel of provisions. The number of mouths on board were few, and the rations had been carefully adjusted to the mouths. And so, having nothing to transfer to the Sumter, except the master and crew, we applied the torch to her, in a very few minutes. The staves being well seasoned, she made a beautiful bonfire, and lighted us over the seas, some hours after dark.

During the night, the wind lulled, and became variable, and we hauled down the fore and aft sails, and brought the ship's head to the north-east. The prize had no newspapers on board, but we learned from the master, that the great naval expedition, which the enemy had been sometime in preparing, and [271] about which there had been no little mystery, had at last struck at Port Royal, in South Carolina. An immense fleet of ships of war, with thirty-three transports, and an army of 15,000 men, had been sent to capture a couple of mud forts, armed with 24 and 32-pounders, and garrisoned with three or four hundred raw troops. Our next batch of newspapers from New York, brought us the despatches of Commodore Dupont, the commander of this expedition, exceeding in volume anything that Nelson or Collingwood had ever written. Plates, and diagrams showed how the approaches had been buoyed, and the order of battle was described, with minute prolixity. I cannot forbear giving to the reader, the names of the ships, that participated in this great naval victory, with their loss in killed and wounded, after an engagement that lasted four mortal hours. The ships were the Wabash, the Susquehanna, the Mohican, the Seminole, the Pawnee, the Unadilla, the Ottawa, the Pembina, the Isaac Smith, the Bienville, the Seneca, the Curlew, the Penguin, the Augusta, the R. B. Forbes, the Pocahontas, the Mercury, the Vandalia, and the Vixen—total 19. The killed were 8—not quite half a man apiece; and the seriously wounded 6!

November 27th.—Morning thick, with heavy clouds and rain, clearing as the day advanced. Afternoon clear, bright weather, with a deep blue sea, and the trade-wind blowing half a gale from the north-east. At six P. M., put all sail on the ship, and let the steam go down. We had already consumed half our fuel, and it became necessary to make the rest of our way to Europe under sail. Our boilers had been leaking for several days, and the engineer availed himself of the opportunity to repair them. The weather is sensibly changing in temperature. We are in latitude 22° 22′, and the thermometer has gone down to 78°—for the first time, in five months. We have crossed, to-day, the track of the homeward-bound ships, both from the Cape of Good Hope, and Cape Horn, but have seen no sail. We cannot delay to cruise in this track, as we have barely water enough, on board, to last us across the Atlantic.

November 28th.—Weather changeable, and squally—wind frequently shifting during the day, giving indications of our [272] approach to the northern limit of the trade-wind, crossing which we shall pass into the variables.

November 29th.—Thick, ugly weather—this term ugly being very expressive in the seaman's vocabulary. The wind is veering, as before, blowing half a gale, all the time, and a cold rain is pouring down, at intervals, causing the sailors to haul on their woollen jackets, and hunt up their long-neglected sou'westers. We observed in latitude 25° 51′ to-day; the longitude being 57° 36′.

November 30th.—The morning has dawned bright, and beautiful, with a perfectly clear sky. The boisterous wind of yesterday has disappeared, and we have nearly a calm—the sea wearing its darkest tint of azure. We are, in fact, in the calmbelt of Cancer, and having no fuel to spare, we must be content to creep through it under sail, as best we may. A sail has been reported from aloft. It is a long way off, and we forbear to chase.

December1st.—Another beautiful, bright, morning, with a glassy sea, and a calm. This being the first of the month, the sailors are drawing their clothing, and ‘small stores’ from the paymaster, under the supervision of the officers of the different divisions. The paymaster's steward is the shopman, on the occasion, and he is ‘serving’ a jacket to one, a shirt to another, and a pair of shoes to a third. His assortment is quite varied, for besides the requisite clothing, he has tobacco, and pepper, and mustard; needles, thimbles, tape, thread, and spoolcotton; ribbons, buttons, jack-knives, &c. Jack is not allowed to indulge in all these luxuries, ad lib. He is like a schoolboy, under the care of his preceptor; he must have his wants approved by the officer of the division to which he belongs. To enable this officer to act understandingly, Jack spreads out his wardrobe before him, every month. If he is deficient a shirt, or a pair of trousers, he is permitted to draw them; if he has plenty, and still desires more, his extravagance is checked. These articles are all charged to him, at cost, with the addition of a small percentage, to save the Government from loss. When the monthly requisitions are all complete, they are taken to the Captain, for his approval, who occasionally runs his pencil through a third, or a fourth pound of tobacco, when [273] an inveterate old chewer, or smoker is using the weed to excess; he rarely interferes in other respects. On the present occasion, woollen garments are in demand; Jack, with a prudent forethought, preparing himself for the approaching change in the climate. Much of the clothing, which the sailor wears, is made up with his own hands. He is entirely independent of the other sex, in this respect, and soon becomes very expert with the needle.

The 3d of December brought us another prize. The wind was light from the south-east, and the stranger was standing in our direction. This was fortunate, as we might hope to capture him by stratagem, without the use of steam. The Sumter, when not under steam, and with her smoke-stack lowered, might be taken for a clumsy-looking bark. Throwing a spare sail over the lowered smoke-stack, to prevent it from betraying us, we hoisted the French flag, and stood on our course, apparently unconscious of the approaching stranger. We were running free, with the starboard studding-sails set, and when the stranger, who, by this time, had hoisted the United States colors, crossed our bows, we suddenly took in all the studding-sails, braced sharp up, tacked, and fired a gun, at the same moment. The stranger at once hauled up his courses, and backed his main-topsail. He was already under our guns. The clumsy appearance of the Sumter, and the French flag had deceived him. The prize proved to be the Vigilant, a fine new ship, from Bath, Maine, bound to the guano island of Sombrero, in the West Indies; some New Yorkers having made a lodgment on this barren little island, and being then engaged in working it for certain phosphates of lime, which they called mineral guano. We captured a rifled 9-pounder gun, with a supply of fixed ammunition, on board the Vigilant, and some small arms. We fired the ship at three P. M., and made sail on our course. The most welcome part of this capture was a large batch of New York newspapers, as late as the 21st of November. The Yankees of that ilk had heard of the blockade of the ‘Pirate Sumter,’ by the Iroquois, but they had n't heard of Captain Palmer's rueful breakfast on the morning of the 24th of November. [274]

These papers brought us a graphic description of the gallant ram exploit, of Commodore Hollins, of the Confederate Navy, at the mouth of the Mississippi, on the 12th of October. This exploit is remarkable as being the first practical application of the iron-clad ram to the purposes of war. Some ingenious steamboat-men, in New Orleans, with the consent of the Navy Department, had converted the hull of a steam-tug into an ironclad, by means of bars of railroad iron fastened to the hull of the boat, and to a frame-work above the deck fitted to receive them; a stout iron prow being secured to the bow of the boat, several feet below the water-line. In this curious nondescript, which the enemy likened to a smoking mud-turtle, the gallant Commodore assaulted the enemy's fleet, lying at the old anchorage of the Sumter, at the ‘Head of the Passes,’ consisting of the Richmond, Vincennes, Preble, and Water Witch. The assault was made at four o'clock in the morning, and caused great consternation and alarm among the enemy. The Richmond, lying higher up the Pass than the other ships, was first assaulted— some of her planks being started, below the water-line, by the concussion of the ram, though the blow was broken by a coalschooner, which, fortunately for her, was lying alongside. As the ram drew off, a broadside of the Richmond's guns was fired into her, without effect. After this harmless broadside, the ships all got under way, in great haste, and fled down the Pass, the ram pursuing them, but Hollins was unable, from the effect of the current, and the speed of the fleeing ships, to get another blow at them. The Richmond and the Vincennes grounded, for a short time, on the bar, in their hurry to get out, but the former was soon got afloat again. In the confusion and panic of the moment, the Vincennes was abandoned by her captain, who left a slow match burning. Commodore Hollins, finding that nothing more could be accomplished, threw a few shells at the alarmed fleet, and withdrew. The Vincennes, not blowing up, and the enemy recovering from his panic, her captain was ordered to return to her, and she was finally saved with the rest of the fleet. This little experiment was the avant courier of a great change, in naval warfare—especially for harbor and coast defence. The enemy, with his abundant resources, greatly improved upon it, and his ‘monitor’ system was the result. [275]

December 4th.—Weather clear, and becoming cool—thermometer, 76°. We have run some 140 miles to the eastward, during the last twenty-four hours, under sail, and as we are dragging our propeller through the water, I need not tell the reader what a smacking breeze we have had. It is delightful to be making so much easting, under sail, after having been buffeted so spitefully, by the east wind, for the last five months, whenever we have turned our head in that direction. Ten of the crew of the Vigilant are blacks, and as our ship is leaking so badly that the constant pumping is fagging to the crew, I have set the blacks at the pumps, with their own consent. The fact is, some of these fellows, who are runaway slaves, have already recognized ‘master,’ and whenever I pass them, grin pleasantly, and show the whites of their eyes. They are agreeably disappointed, that they are not ‘drawn, hung, and quartered,’ and rather enjoy the change to the Sumter, where they have plenty of time to bask in the sun, and the greasiest of pork and beans without stint. In arranging the Vigilant's crew into messes, a white bean and a black bean have been placed, side by side, at the mess-cloth, my first lieutenant naturally concluding, that the white sailors of the Yankee ship would like to be near their colored brethren. Caesar and Pompey, having an eye to fun, enjoy this arrangement hugely, and my own crew are not a little amused, as the boatswain pipes to dinner, to see the gravity with which the darkies take their seats by the side of their white comrades. This was the only mark of ‘citizenship,’ however, which I bestowed upon these sons of Ham. I never regarded them as prisoners of war—always discharging them, when the other prisoners were discharged, without putting them under parole.

December 5th.—Weather thick and ugly—the wind hauling to the north, and blowing very fresh for a while. Reefed the topsails. At noon, the weather was so thick, that no observations could be had for fixing the position of the ship—latitude, by dead reckoning, 30° 19′; longitude 53° 02′. During the afternoon and night, it blew a gale from N. E. to E. N. E. Furled the mainsail, and set the reefed trysail instead; and the wind still increasing, before morning we hauled up and furled the foresail. For the next two or three days, we had a series of easterly [276] gales, compelling me to run somewhat farther north than I had intended. We carried very short sail, and most of the time we were shut down below—that is, such of the crew as were not on watch—with tarpaulin-covered hatches, and a cold, driving rain falling almost incessantly. What with the howling of the gale, as it tears through the rigging, the rolling and pitching of the ship, in the confused, irregular sea, and the jog, jog, jog of the pumps, through half the night, I have had but little rest.

December 8th.—This is an anniversary with me. On this day, fifteen years ago, the United States brig-of-war Somers, of which I was the commander, was capsized and sunk, off Vera Cruz, having half her crew, of 120 officers and men, drowned. It occurred during the Mexican war. I was left alone to blockade the port of Vera CruzCommodore Connor, the commander of the squadron, having gone with his other ships on an expedition to Tampico. There being every appearance of a norther on that eventful morning, I was still at my anchors, under Isla Verde, or Green Island, where I had sought refuge the preceding night. Suddenly a sail was reported, running down the northern coast, as though she would force the blockade. It would never do to permit this; and so the little Somers—these ten-gun brigs were called coffins in that day— was gotten under way, and under her topsails and courses, commenced beating up the coast, to intercept the stranger. I had gone below, for a moment, when the officer of the deck, coming to the companion-way, called to me, and said that ‘the water looked black and roughened ahead, as though more wind than usual was coming.’ I sprang upon deck, and saw, at the first glance, that a norther was upon us. I immediately ordered everything clewed down and brailed up, but before the order could be executed, the gale came sweeping on with the fury of a whirlwind, and in less time than I have been describing the event, the little craft was thrown on her beam-ends, her masts and sails lying flat upon the surface of the sea, and the water pouring in at every hatchway and scuttle. I clambered to the weather side of the ship, and seeing that she must go down in a few minutes, set my first lieutenant at work to extricate the only boat that was available—the weather-quarter boat, all [277] the others being submerged—from her fastenings, to save as much life as possible. This was fortunately done, and the boat being put in charge of a midshipman, the non-combatant officers, as the surgeon and paymaster; the midshipmen, and such of the boys of the ship as could not swim, were permitted to get into her. So perfect was the discipline, though death, within the next ten minutes, stared every man in the face, that there was no rush for this boat. A large man was even ordered out of her, to make room for two lads, who could not swim, and he obeyed the order as a matter of course! This boat having shoved off from the sinking ship, the order was given, ‘Every man save himself, who can!’ whereupon there was a simultaneous plunge into the now raging sea, of a hundred men and more, each struggling for his life. The ship sank out of sight in a moment afterward. We were in twenty fathoms of water. Divesting myself of all my clothing, except my shirt and drawers, I plunged into the sea with the rest, and, being a good swimmer, struck out for and reached a piece of grating which had floated away from the ship as she went down. Swimming along, with one arm resting on this grating, I felt one of my feet touch something, and, at the same moment, heard a voice exclaiming, ‘It is I, Captain; it is Parker, the second lieutenant—give me a part of your grating, I am a good swimmer, and we shall get along the better together.’ I, accordingly, shared my grating with Parker, and we both struck out, manfully, for the shore, distant no more than about a mile; but, unfortunately, the now raging gale was sweeping down parallel with the coast, and we were compelled to swim at right angles with the waves and the wind, if we would save ourselves; for once swept past the coast of the island, and the open sea lay before us, whence there was no rescue!

As we would rise upon the top of a wave, and get a view of the ‘promised land,’ the reader may imagine how anxious our consultations were, as to whether we were gaining, or losing ground! In the meantime, the boat, which had shoved off from the ship, as described, had reached the island, halfswamped, and discharging her passengers, and freeing herself from water as soon as possible, pushed out again into the raging caldron of waters, under the gallant midshipman, who [278] had charge of her, in the endeavor to rescue some of the drowning crew. She came, by the merest accident, upon Parker and myself We were hauled into her more dead than alive, and after she had picked up two, or three others—all that could now be seen-she again returned to the shore. My first lieutenant, Mr. G. L. Claiborne, was saved, as by a miracle, being dashed on shore—he having struck out, in the opposite direction, for the mainland—between two ledges of rock, separated only by a span of sand beach. If he had been driven upon the rocks, instead of the beach, he must have been instantly dashed in pieces. The reader will, perhaps, pardon me, for having remembered these eventful scenes of my life, as I wrote in my journal, on board the leaky little Sumter, amid the howling of another gale, theeighth day of December.’

On this eighth day of December, 1861, however, the record is very different, it being as follows: ”At ten A. M. descried a sail from the deck, startlingly close to; so thick has been the weather. The stranger being a bark, taunt-rigged, with skysail poles, and undertop-sails, we mistook him at first for a cruiser, and raised our smoke-stack, and started the fires in the furnaces. Having done this, we approached him somewhat cautiously, keeping the weather-gauge of him, and showed him the United States colors. He soon hoisted the same. Getting a nearer view of him, we now discovered him to be a whaler. The engineer at once discontinued his ‘firing up,’ and the smoke-stack was again lowered, to its accustomed place. Upon being boarded, the bark proved to be the Eben. Dodge, twelve days out, from New Bedford, and bound on a whaling voyage to the Pacific Ocean. She had experienced a heavy gale, had sprung some of her spars, and was leaking badly—hence the easy sail she had been under. Although the sea was still very rough, and the weather lowering, we got on board from the prize, some water, and provisions, clothing, and small stores. The supply of pea-jackets, whalers' boots, and flannel over-shirts, which our paymaster had been unable to procure in the West Indies, was particularly acceptable to us, battling, as we now were, with the gales of the North Atlantic, in the month of December. We brought [279] away from her, also, two of her fine whale-boats, so valuable in rough weather; making room for them on deck, by the side of the Sumter's launch. The crew of the Dodge, consisting of twenty-two persons, made a considerable addition to our small community. We fired the prize at half-past 6, P. M., as the shades of evening were closing in, and made sail on our course. The flames burned red and lurid in the murky atmosphere, like some Jack-oa — lantern; now appearing, and now disappearing, as the doomed ship rose upon the top, or descended into the abyss of the waves.

Having now forty-three prisoners on board, and there never being, at one time, so many of the Sumter's crew on watch, it became necessary for me to think of precautions. It would be easy for forty-three courageous men, to rise upon a smaller number, sleeping carelessly about the decks, and wrest from them the command of the ship. Hitherto I had given the prisoners the run of the ship, putting no more restrictions upon them, than upon my own men, but this could no longer be. I therefore directed my first lieutenant to put one-half of the prisoners in single irons—that is, with manacles on the wrists only—alternately, for twenty-four hours at a time. The prisoners, themselves, seeing the necessity of this precaution, submitted cheerfully to the restraint—for as such only they viewed it—and not as an indignity.

We received another supply of late newspapers, by the Dodge. They were still filled with jubilations over Dupont's great naval victory. We learned, too, that New England had been keeping, with more than usual piety and pomp, the great National festival of ‘Thanksgiving,’ which the Puritan has substituted for the Christian Christmas. The pulpit thundered war and glory, the press dilated upon the wealth and resources of the Universal Yankee Nation, and hecatombs of fat pigs and turkeys fed the hungry multitudes—pulpit, press, pig, and turkey, all thanking God, that the Puritan is ‘not like unto other men.’

December 10th.—The weather remains still unsettled. The wind, during the last five or six days, has gone twice around the compass, never stopping in the west, but lingering in the east. The barometer has been in a constant state of fluctuation, and there will, doubtless, be a grand climax before the [280] atmosphere regains its equilibrium. These easterly winds are retarding our passage very much, and taxing our patience. Observed, to-day, in latitude 32° 39′; the longitude being 49° 57′.

The next day, the weather culminated, sure enough, in a gale. The barometer began to settle, in the morning watch, and dense black clouds, looking ragged and windy, soon obscured the sun, and spread an ominous pall over the entire heavens. I at once put the ship under easy sail; that is to say, clewed up everything but the topsails and trysails, and awaited the further progress of the storm. The wind was as yet light, but the barometer, which had stood at 29° 70′ at eight o'clock, had fallen to 29° 59′ by two P. M. The dense canopy of clouds now settled lower and lower, circumscribing more and more our horizon, and presently fitful gusts of wind would strike the sails, pressing the ship over a little. It was time to reef. All hands were turned up, and the close reefs were taken, both in topsails and trysails; the jib hauled down and stowed, and the top-gallant yards sent down from aloft. The squalls increasing in frequency and force, the gale became fully developed by three P. M. The wind, which we first took from about E. S. E., backed to the N. E., but did not remain long in that quarter, returning to east. It now began to blow furiously from this latter quarter, the squalls being accompanied by a driving, blinding rain; the barometer going down, ominously down, all the while.

As the night closed in, an awful scene presented itself. The aspect of the heavens was terrific. The black clouds overhead were advancing and retreating like squadrons of opposing armies, whilst loud peals of thunder, and blinding flashes of lightning that would now and then run down the conductor, and hiss as they leaped into the sea, added to the elemental strife. A streaming scud, which you could almost touch with your hand, was meanwhile hurrying past, screeching and screaming, like so many demons, as it rushed through the rigging. The sea was mountainous, and would now and then strike the little Sumter with such force as to make her tremble in every fibre of her frame. I had remained on deck during most of the first watch, looking anxiously on, to see what sort of weather we were going to make. The ship [281] behaved nobly, but I had no confidence in her strength. Her upper works, in particular, were very defective. Her bends, above the main deck, were composed of light pine stanchions and inch plank, somewhat strengthened in the bows. Seeing the fury of the gale, and that the barometer was still settling, I went below about midnight, and turned in to get a little rest, with many misgivings. I had scarcely fallen into an uneasy slumber, when an old quartermaster, looking himself like the demon of the storm, with his dishevelled hair and beard dripping water, and his eyes blinking in the light of his lantern, shook my cot, and said, ‘We've stove in the starboard bowport, sir, and the gun-deck is all afloat with water!’ Here was what I had feared; unless we could keep the water out of the between-decks, all the upper works, and the masts along with them, would be gone in a trice. I hurried at once to the scene of disaster, but before I could reach it, my energetic and skilful first lieutenant had already, by the aid of some planks and spare spars, erected a barricade that would be likely to answer our purpose.

The gale lulled somewhat in an hour or two afterward, and I now got some sleep. I was on deck again, however, at daylight. The same thick gloom overspread the heavens, the scud was flying as furiously, and as low as before, and the gale was raging as fiercely as ever. But we had one great comfort, and that was daylight. We could see the ship and the heavens—there was nothing else visible—and this alone divested the gale of half its terrors. At last, at six A. M., the barometer reached its lowest point, 29.32, which, in the latitude we were in, was a very low barometer. Any one who has watched a barometer under similar circumstances, will understand the satisfaction with which I saw the little tell-tale begin to rise. It whispered to me as intelligibly as if it had been a living thing, ‘the gale is broken!’ We had been lying to, all this time, under a close-reefed main-topsail. We now bore up under a reefed foresail, and kept the ship on her course, east by south. She scudded as beautifully as she had lain to, darting ahead like an arrow, on the tops of the huge waves that followed her like so many hungry wolves, and shaking the foam and spray from her bows, as if in disdain and contempt of the lately howling storm. [282]

December 13th.—Weather clear, with passing clouds. Wind fresh from the south-west, but abating, with a rapidly rising barometer. The cyclone, for such evidently the late gale was, had a diameter of from three hundred and fifty to four hundred miles. We took it in its northern hemisphere—the gale travelling north. Hence it passed over us in nearly its entire diameter—the vortex at no great distance from us. Observed in latitude 33° 28′; the longitude being 47° 03′. Repairing damages. The ship leaks so badly as to require to be pumped out twice in each watch. During the heaviest of the gale, the masters and mates of the captured ships offered their services, like gallant men, to assist in taking care of the ship. We thanked them, but were sufficiently strong-handed ourselves.

December 14th.—We had an alarm of fire on the berth deck last night. The fire-bell, sounded suddenly in a sleeping city, has a startling effect upon the aroused sleepers, but he who has not heard it, can have no conception of the knell-like sound of the cry of fire! shouted from the lungs of an alarmed sailor on board a ship, hundreds of miles away from any land. It is the suddenness with which the idea of danger presents itself, quite as much as the extent of the danger, which intimidates. Hence the panics which often ensue, when a ship is discovered to be on fire. Ships of war, as a rule, are not the subjects of panics. Discipline keeps all the passions and emotions under control, as well those which arise from fear, as from lawlessness. We had no panic on board the Sumter, although appearances were sufficiently alarming for a few moments. A smoke was suddenly seen arising through one of the ventilators forward, in the dead hour of the night, when except the sentry's lantern and the lamp in the binnacle, there should be no other fire in the ship. The midshipman of the watch, upon rushing below, found one of the prisoners' mattresses on fire. The flames were soon smothered, and the whole danger was over before the ship's crew were fairly aroused. Some prisoner, in violation of orders, had lighted his pipe for a smoke, after hours, and probably gone to sleep with it in his mouth. The prisoner could not be identified, but there were two sentinels on post, and these in due time paid the penalty of their neglect.

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