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Chapter 33:

  • Capture of the starlight, Ocean Rover, alert, weather-gauge
  • -- a race by night -- capture of the Altamaha, Virginia, and Elija Dunbar -- a rough sea, Toiling boats, and a picturesque burning of a ship in a gale.

We were running in, while the muster described in the last chapter was going on, for the little town, or, rather, sea-side village of Lagens, on the south side of the island of Flores, and, having approached the beach quite near, we hove the ship to, and hauling alongside, from the stern, where they had been towing, the whale-boats of the captured ship, which we had brought away from the prize for this purpose, we paroled our prisoners, and, putting them in possession of their boats, shoved them off for the shore. I had two motives in thus landing my prisoners in their own boats, or, to speak more properly, in the boats which had once belonged to them. It saved me the trouble of landing them myself; and, as the boats were valuable, and I permitted the prisoners to put in them as many provisions as they desired, and as much other plunder as they could pick up about the decks of their ships —excepting always such articles as we needed on board the Alabama—the sale of their boats and cargoes to the islanders gave them the means of subsistence, until they could communicate with their consul in the neighboring island of Fayal.

We had scarcely gotten through with the operation of landing our prisoners, before the cry of ‘sail ho!’ came to us from the mast-head; and we made sail in chase of a schooner which was approaching the island, hoisting the English colors to throw the stranger off his guard. As the two vessels were sailing toward each other, they approached very rapidly, and [429] in the course of an hour we were within a mile of each other. Still the schooner did not show any colors. The reason was quite plain; she was American in every feature, and could show us no other colors than such as would subject her to capture, in case we should prove to be her enemy, of which she seemed to be suspicious. Indeed, the gallant little craft, with every stitch of canvas set, sails well hoisted, and sheets a little eased, was now edging off a little from us, and endeavoring to gain the shelter of the well-known marine league, the land being distant only about five miles. Perceiving her object, and seeing that I had only a couple of miles to spare, I kept my own ship off, the better to throw myself across the stranger's path, changed my colors, and fired a blank cartridge to heave her to. But she neither hove to, nor showed colors, being evidently intent upon giving me a race. Although I already had the little craft under my guns, I humored her for a few minutes, just to show her that I could beat her in a fair trial of speed, and when I had proved this, by gaining rapidly upon her, I sent a round shot from one of the bow guns between her masts, a few feet only over the heads of her people. If the reader has heard a 32-pounder whistle, in such close proximity, he knows very well what it says, to wit, that there must be no more trifling. And so the captain of the schooner understood it, for in a moment afterward we could see the graceful little craft luffing up in the wind, brailing up her foresail, and hauling her jib sheet to windward. The welcome stars and stripes fluttered soon afterward from her peak. The master being brought on board with his papers, the prize proved to be the schooner Starlight, of Boston, from Fayal, bound to Boston by the way of Flores, for which island she had some passengers, several ladies among the number.

The crew consisted of seven persons—all good Yankee sailors. Having heard, by this time, full accounts of the shameful treatment of my paymaster of the Sumter, which has been described, in a former chapter, I resolved to practise a little retaliation upon the enemy, and ordered the crew of the Starlight put in irons. I pursued this practice, painful as it was, for the next seven or eight captures, putting the masters and mates of the ships, as well as the crews, in irons. The masters would frequently [430] remonstrate with me, claiming that it was an indignity put upon them; and so it was, but I replied to them, that their countrymen had put a similar indignity upon an officer and a gentleman, who had worn the uniform of the navies of both our countries. By the time that the capture of the Starlight had been completed, the sun was near his setting, and it was too late to land the passengers. I therefore sent a prize crew on board the captured ship, directing the prize-master to lie by me during the night, and giving him especial charge to inform the passengers that they should be safely landed in the morning, and, in the meantime, to quiet the fears of the ladies, who had been much alarmed by the chase and the firing, we hoisted a light at the peak of the Alabama, and lay to, all night, in nearly a calm sea. There were some dark clouds hanging over the island, but they had apparently gone there to roost, as no wind came from them. Among the papers captured on board the Starlight were a couple of despatches from the Federal Consul at Fayal, to the Sewards-father and son —in which there was the usual amount of stale nonsense about ‘rebel privateers,’ and ‘pirates.’

The weather proved fine, the next morning, and standing in, within a stone's throw of the little town of Santa Cruz, we landed both passengers and prisoners, putting the latter, as usual, under parole. In the meantime, the Governor of the island, and a number of the dignitaries came off to visit us. They were a robust, farmer-looking people, giving evidence, in their persons, of the healthfulness of the island, and were very polite, franking to us the ports of the island, and informing us that supplies were cheap, and abundant. Their visit was evidently one of curiosity, and we treated his Excellency with all due ceremony, notwithstanding the smallness of his dominions. We talked to him, however, of bullocks, and sheep, fish and turtles, yams and oranges, rather than of the war between the States, and the laws of nations. Bartelli made the eyes of the party dance with flowing goblets of champagne, and when I thought they had remained long enough, I bowed them out of the cabin, with a cigar all round, and sent them on shore, with rather favorable impressions, I do not doubt, of the ‘pirate.’ [431]

Hauling off, now, from the island, and running seaward for a space, we chased and overhauled a Portuguese whaling brig. Seeing by her boats and other indications that she was a whaler, I thought, at first, that I had a prize, and was quite disappointed when she showed me the Portuguese colors. Not being willing to trust to the verity of the flag, I sent a boat on board of her, and invited the master to visit me with his papers, which he did. The master was himself a Portuguese, and I found his papers to be genuine. Thanking him for his visit, I dismissed him in a very few minutes. I had no right to command him to come on board of me—he being a neutral, it was my business to go on board of him, if I desired to examine his papers, but he waived ceremony, and it was for this that I had thanked him. I may as well remark here, in passing, that this was the only foreign whaling-ship that I ever overhauled; the business of whaling having become almost exclusively an American monopoly—the monopoly not being derived from any sovereign grant, but resulting from the superior skill, energy, industry, courage, and perseverance of the Yankee whaler, who is, perhaps, the best specimen of a sailor, the world over.

Later in the same afternoon, we chased a large ship, looming up almost like a frigate, in the northwest, with which we came up about sunset. We had showed her the American colors, and she approached us without the least suspicion that she was running into the arms of an enemy; the master crediting good old Mr. Welles, as the master of the Ocmulgee had done, with sending a flashy-looking Yankee gunboat, to look out for his whalebone and oil. This large ship proved to be, upon the master being brought on board with his papers, the Ocean Rover, of New Bedford, Massachusetts. She had been out three years and four months, cruising in various parts of the world, had sent home one or two cargoes of oil, and was now returning, herself, with another cargo, of eleven hundred barrels. The master, though anxious to see his wife, and dandle on his knee the babies that were no longer babies, with true Yankee thrift thought he would just take the Azores in his way home, and make another ‘strike,’ or two, to fill up his empty casks. The consequence was, as the reader has seen, a little disappointment. [432] I really felt for the honest fellow, but when I came to reflect, for a moment, upon the diabolical acts of his countrymen of New England, who were out-heroding Herod, in carrying on against us a vindictive war, filled with hate and vengeance, the milk of human kindness which had begun to well up in my heart disappeared, and I had no longer any spare sympathies to dispose of.

It being near night when the capture was made, I directed the prize to be hove to, in charge of a prize crew until morning. In the meantime, however, the master, who had heard from some of my men, that I had permitted the master of the Ocmulgee, and his crew, to land in their own boats, came to me, and requested permission to land in the same manner. We were four or five miles from the land, and I suggested to him, that it was some distance to pull. ‘Oh! that is nothing,’ said he, ‘we whalers sometimes chase a whale, on the broad sea, until our ships are hull-down, and think nothing of it. It will relieve you of us the sooner, and be of some service to us besides.’ Seeing that the sea was smooth, and that there was really no risk to be run, for a Yankee whale-boat might be made, with a little management, to ride out an ordinary gale of wind, I consented, and the delighted master returned to his ship, to make the necessary preparations. I gave him the usual permission to take what provisions he needed, the whaling gear belonging to his boats, and the personal effects of himself and men. He worked like a beaver, for not more than a couple of hours had elapsed, before he was again alongside of the Alabama, with all his six boats, with six men in each, ready to start for the shore. I could not but be amused when I looked over the side into these boats, at the amount of plunder that the rapacious fellow had packed in them. They were literally loaded down, with all sorts of traps, from the seamen's chests and bedding, to the tabby cat and parrot. Nor had the ‘main chance’ been overlooked, for all the ‘cabin stores’ had been secured, and sundry barrels of beef and pork, besides. I said to him, ‘Captain, your boats appear to me, to be rather deeply laden; are you not afraid to trust them?’ ‘Oh I no,’ he replied; ‘they are as buoyant as ducks, and we shall not ship a drop of water.’ After a detention of a few minutes, during which my clerk was [433] putting the crew under parole, I gave the master leave to depart.

The boats, shoving off from the side, one by one, and falling into line, struck out for the shore. That night-landing of this whaler's crew was a beautiful spectacle. I stood on the horseblock, watching it, my mind busy with many thoughts. The moon was shining brightly, though there were some passing clouds sailing lazily in the upper air, that fleckered the sea. Flores, which was sending off to us, even at this distance, her perfumes of shrub and flower, lay sleeping in the moonlight, with a few fleecy, white clouds wound around the mountaintop, like a turban. The rocky islets that rise like so many shafts out of the sea, devoid of all vegetation, and at different distances from the shore, looked weird and unearthly, like sheeted ghosts. The boats moving swiftly and mysteriously toward the shore, might have been mistaken, when they had gotten a little distance from us, for Venetian gondolas, with their peaked bows and sterns, especially when we heard coming over the sea, a song, sung by a powerful and musical voice, and chorussed by all the boats. Those merry fellows were thus making light of misfortune, and proving that the sailor, after all, is the true philosopher. The echo of that night-song lingered long in my memory, but I little dreamed, as I stood on the deck of the Alabama, and witnessed the scene I have described, that four years afterward, it would be quoted against me as a violation of the laws of war! And yet so it was. It was alleged by the malice of my defamers, who never have, and never can forgive me for the destruction of their property, that miles away at sea, in rough and inclement weather, I compelled my prisoners to depart for the shore, in leaky and unsound boats, at the hazard of their lives, designing and desiring to drown them! And this was all the thanks I received for setting some of these fellows up as nabobs, among the islanders. Why, the master of the Ocean Rover, with his six boats, and their cargoes, was richer than the Governor, when he landed in Flores; where the simple islanders are content with a few head of cattle, a cast-net, and a canoe.

The Alabama had now two prizes in company, with which she lay off and on the island during the night, and she was [434] destined to secure another before morning. I had turned in, and was sleeping soundly, when about midnight, an officer came below to inform me that there was another large ship close on board of us. I was dressed and on deck in a few minutes. The stranger was plainly visible, being not more than a mile distant. She was heading for the island. I wore ship, as quietly as possible, and followed her, but she had, in the meantime, drawn some distance ahead, and an exciting chase now ensued. We were both close-hauled, on the starboard tack, and the stranger, seeing that he was pursued, put every rag of sail on his ship that he could spread. I could but admire her, with her square yards and white canvas, every sheet home, and every leach taut. For the first half hour, it was hard to tell which ship had the heels of the other, but at the end of that time, we began to head-reach the chase very perceptibly, though the latter rather ‘eat us out of the wind,’ or, to speak more conformably with the vocabulary of the land, went to windward of us. This did not matter much, however, as when we should be abreast of her, we would be near enough to reach her with a shot. After a chase of about four hours, day broke, when we hoisted the English ensign. This was a polite invitation to the chase, to show her colors, but she declined to do so. We now felt sure that she was an enemy, and a prize, and as we were still gaining on her, it was only a matter of an hour or two, when she would fall into our hands. Our polite invitation to the chase, to show her colors, not succeeding, we became a little more emphatic, and fired a blank cartridge. Still she was obstinate. She was steering for Flores, and probably, like the Starlight, had her eye on the marine league. Having approached her, in another half hour, within good round-shot range, I resolved to treat her as I had treated the Starlight, and threw a 32-pounder near enough to her stern to give the captain a shower-bath. Shower-baths are very efficacious, in many cases, and we found it so in this, for in a moment more, we could see the stars and stripes ascending to the stranger's peak, and that he had started his tacks and sheets, and was in the act of hauling up his courses. This done, the main-yard was swung aback, and the prize had surrendered herself a prisoner. [435]

Bartelli now came to tell me, that my bath was ready, and descending to the cabin, I bathed, and dressed for breakfast, whilst the boarding-officer was boarding the prize. She proved to be the Alert, of, and from New London, and bound, by the way of the Azores, and Cape de Verde Islands, to the Indian Ocean. She was only sixteen days from port, with files of late newspapers; and besides her own ample outfit for a large crew, and a long voyage, she had on board supplies for the group known as the Navigators' Islands, in the South Indian Ocean, where among icebergs and storms, the Yankees had a whaling and sealing station. This capture proved to be a very opportune one, as we were in want of just such a lot of clothing, for the men, as we found on board the prize; and the choice beef, and pork, nicely put up ship-bread, boxes of soap, and tobacco, and numerous other articles of seaman's supplies did not come amiss. We had been particularly short of a supply of tobacco, this being a costly article in England, and I could see Jack's eye brighten, as he rolled aft, and piled up on the quarter-deck, sundry heavy oaken boxes of good ‘Virginia twist.’ That night the pipes seemed to have wonderfully increased in number, on board the Alabama, and the song and the jest derived new inspiration from the fragrance of the weed. We paroled the officers and crew of the Alert, and sent them ashore, in their own boats, as we had done the others.

I had now three prizes on my hands, viz.: the Starlight, the Ocean Rover, and the Alert, with a prize crew on board of each, and as I could make no better use of them than to destroy them, thanks to the unfriendly conduct of neutrals, so often referred to, it became necessary to think of burning them. They were lying at distances, ranging from half a mile to three miles from the Alabama, and were fired within a short time of each other, so that we had three funeral pyres burning around us at the same moment. The other whalers at a distance must have thought that there were a good many steamers passing Flores, that day. It was still early in the afternoon, and there was more work before us ere night set in. I had scarcely gotten my prize crews on board, and my boats run up, before another sail was discovered standing in for the island. We immediately gave chase, or rather, to speak more correctly, [436] proceeded to meet the stranger, who was standing in our direction. The ships approached each other very rapidly, and we soon discovered the new sail to be a large schooner, of unmistakable Yankee build and rig. We hoisted the United States colors, and she responded soon afterward with the stars and stripes. She came on quite unsuspiciously, as the two last prizes had done, until she arrived near enough to see that the three mysterious cones of smoke, at which she had probably been wondering for some time past, proceeded from three ships on fire. Coupling this unusual spectacle with the approach toward her of a rakish-looking barkentine, she at once smelt rather a large rat, and wheeled suddenly in flight. But it was too late. We were already within three miles of her, and a pursuit of half an hour brought her within effective range of our bow-chaser. We now changed colors, and fired a blank cartridge. This was sufficient. She saved us the expenditure of a shot, and hove to, without further ado. Upon being boarded, she proved to be the Weathergauge, a whaler of Provincetown, Massachusetts, six weeks from the land of the Puritan, with other files of newspapers, though not so late as those captured on board the Alert.

In running over these files, it was wonderful to observe the glibness with which these Massachusetts brethren of ours now talked of treason, and of rebels, and traitors, at no greater distance, in point of time, than forty-five years, from the Hartford Convention; to say nothing of certain little idiosyncrasies of theirs, that were developed during the annexation of Texas. There were some ‘Sunday’ papers among the rest, and all the pious parsons and deacons in the land were overflowing with patriotism, and hurling death and damnation from their pulpits, against those who had dared to strike at the ‘Lord's anointed,’ the sainted Abraham Lincoln. But as the papers contained little or no war news, we had no time to bestow upon the crotchets of the Yankee brain, and they were promptly consigned to the waste-paper basket. Another sail being discovered, whilst we were receiving the surrender of the Weathergauge, we hastily threw a prize crew on board this latter vessel, directing the prize-master to ‘hold on to the island of Corvo,’ during the ensuing night, which was now falling, until we [437] should return, and started off in pursuit of the newly discovered sail.

Chasing a sail is very much like pursuing a coy maiden, the very coyness sharpening the pursuit. The chase, in the present instance, seemed determined to run away from us; and as she was fast, and we were as determined to overhaul her as she was to run away, she led us a beautiful night-dance over the merry waters. The moon rose bright, soon after the chase commenced, and, striking upon the canvas of the fleeing vessel, lighted it up as though it had been a snow-bank. The American vessels are distinguished, above all others, for the whiteness of their canvas; being clothed, for the most part, in the fibre of our cotton-fields. The cut of the sails, and the taper of the spars of the chase looked American, and then the ship was cracking on every stitch of canvas that would draw, in the effort to escape—she must surely be American, we thought. And so we ‘looked on her, to lust after her,’ and gave our little ship the benefit of all our skill in seamanship. The speed of the two ships was so nearly matched, that, for the first hour or two, it was impossible to say whether we had gained on her an inch. We were both running dead before the wind, and this was not the Alabama's most favorable sailing-point. With her tall lower masts, and large fore-and-aft sails, she was better on a wind, or with the wind abeam. The chase was leading us away from our cruising-ground, and I should have abandoned it, if I had not had my pride of ship a little interested. It would never do for the Alabama to be beaten in the beginning of her cruise, and that, too, by a merchantman; and so we threw out all our ‘light kites’ to the wind, and gave her the studding-sails ‘alow and aloft.’ To make a long story short, we chased this ship nearly all night, and only came up with her a little before dawn; and when we did come up with her, she proved to be a Dane! She was the bark Overman, from Bankok, in Siam, bound to Hamburg. There had been no occasion, whatever, for this neutral ship to flee, and the long chase which she had given me was evidently the result of a little spleen; and so, to revenge myself, in a goodnatured way, I insisted upon all my belligerent rights. Though satisfied from her reply to my hail, that she was what she proclaimed [438] herself to be, I compelled her to heave to, which involved the necessity of taking in all that beautiful white canvas, with which she had decoyed me so many miles away from my cruising-ground, and sent a boat on board of her to examine her papers. She thus lost more time than if she had shortened sail earlier in the chase, to permit me to come up with her.

It was late next day before I rejoined the Weathergauge off Corvo, and I felt, as I was retracing my steps, pretty much as Music or Rover may be supposed to feel, as he is limping back to his kennel, after a run in pursuit of a fox that has escaped him. Bartelli failed to call me at the usual hour, that morning, and I need not say that I made a late breakfast. We now landed the crew of the Weathergauge, in their own boats, with the usual store of provisions, and traps, and burned her. Two days elapsed now without a capture, during which we overhauled but one ship, a Portuguese bark homeward bound. Having beaten the ‘cover’ of which Flores was the centre, pretty effectually, I now stretched away to the north-west, and ran the island out of sight, intending to skirt it, at the distance of forty or fifty miles. On the third day, the welcome cry of ‘sail ho!’ again rang from the masthead, and making sail in the direction indicated by the look-out, we soon discovered that the chase was a whaler. Resorting to the usual ruse of the enemy's flag, the stranger did not attempt to escape, and in an hour or two more, we were alongside of the American whaling brig Altamaha, from New Bedford, five months out. The Altamaha had had but little success, and was comparatively empty. She did not make so beautiful a bonfire, therefore, as the other whalers had done.

In the afternoon, we overhauled a Spanish ship. Our position, to-day, was latitude 40° 34′ N., and longitude 35° 24′ 15″ W. The barometer stood at 30.3 inches, and the thermometer at 75°; from which the reader will see that the weather was fine and pleasant. It was now the middle of September, however, and a change might be looked for at any moment. On the night after capturing the Altamaha, we had another night-chase, with more success, however, than the last. It was my habit, when there was no ‘game up,’ to turn in [439] early, usually at nine o'clock, to enable my physique to withstand the frequent drafts upon its energies. I was already in a sound sleep, when about half-past 11, an old quartermaster came below, and giving my cot a gentle shake, said: ‘There has a large ship just passed to windward of us, on the opposite tack, sir.’ I sprang out of bed at once, and throwing on a few clothes, was on deck almost as soon as the quartermaster. I immediately wore ship, and gave chase. My ship was under topsails, and it took us some little time to make sail. By this time the chase was from two and a half to three miles distant, but quite visible to the naked eye, in the bright moonlight. We were both close-hauled on the starboard tack, the chase about three points on the weather bow. The stranger, who was probably keeping a better look-out than is usual with merchant-ships, in consequence of the war, had discovered our movement, and knew he was pursued, as we could see him setting his royals and flying jib, which had been furled. The Alabama was now at her best point of sailing. The sailors used to say, when we drew aft the sheets of those immense trysails of hers, and got the fore-tack close aboard, that she was putting on her seven-league boots. She did, indeed, then seem

To walk the waters like a thing of life,

and there were few sailing ships that could run away from her.

We gained from the start upon the chase, and in a couple of hours, were on his weather-quarter, having both headreached, and gone to windward of him. He was now no more than about a mile distant, and I fired the accustomed blank cartridge to heave him to. The sound of the gun broke upon the stillness of the night, with startling effect, but the chase did not stir tack or sheet in obedience to it. She was evidently resolved to try conclusions with me a little farther. Finding that I had the advantage of him, on a wind, he kept off a little, and eased his sheets, and we could see, with our nightglasses, that he was rigging out his studding-sail booms preparatory to setting the sails upon them. We kept off in turn, bringing the wind a little forward of the beam, and such good use did the Alabama make of her seven-league boots, that [440] before the stranger could get even his foretopmast studdingsail set, we had him within good point-blank range of a 32-pounder. The moon was shining very poetically, and the chase was very pretty, but it was rather ‘after hours,’ and so I I resolved to shift the scenes, cut short the drama an act or two, and bring it to a close. I now fired a second gun, though still unshotted, and the smoke had hardly blown away before we could see the stranger hauling up his courses, and bringing his ship to the wind, as much as to say, ‘I see you have the heels of me, and there is no use in trying any longer.’ I gave the boarding-officer orders, in case the ship should prove to be a prize, of which I had but little doubt, to show me a light as soon as he should get on board of her. The oars of his boat had scarcely ceased to resound, before I saw the welcome light ascending to the stranger's peak, and knew that another of the enemy's ships had fallen into my power. It was now nearly daylight, and I went below and finished the nap which had been so unceremoniously broken in upon. I may as well observe here, that I scarcely ever disturbed the regular repose of the officers and crew during these night operations. Everything was done by the watch on deck, and ‘all hands’ were never called except on emergencies.

When I came on deck the next morning, there was a fine large ship lying under my lee, awaiting my orders. She proved to be the Benjamin Tucker, of New Bedford, eight months out, with three hundred and forty barrels of oil. We received from her an additional supply of tobacco, and other small stores. As early as ten o'clock, the crew of the Tucker, numbering thirty persons, were on board the Alabama, and the ship was on fire. The remainder of this day, and the next, passed without incident, except the incidents of wind, and weather, which have so often been recorded. We improved the leisure, by exercising the men at the guns, and caulking the decks, which were again beginning to let water enough through them, to inconvenience the men in their hammocks below. Just as the sun was setting, on the evening of the second day, we caught a glimpse from the mast-head of the island of Flores, distant about forty miles.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, with a smooth [441] sea, and summer clouds sailing lazily overhead, giving us just breeze enough to save us from the ennui of a calm. As soon as the morning mists lifted themselves from the surface of the waters, a schooner appeared in sight, at no great distance. We had approached each other unwittingly during the night. We immediately gave chase, hoisting the United States colors, for the schooner was evidently Yankee. She did not attempt to escape, and when, as early as half-past 7 A. M., we came near enough to fire a gun, and change colors, she hove to, and surrendered. She was the whaling-schooner Courser, of Provincetown, Massachusetts. Her master was a gallant young fellow, and a fine specimen of a seaman, and if I could have separated him, in any way, from the ‘Universal Yankee Nation,’ I should have been pleased to spare his pretty little craft from the flames; but the thing was impossible. There were too many white-cravatted, long-haired fellows, bawling from the New-England pulpits, and too many house-burners and pilferers inundating our Southern land, to permit me to be generous, and so I steeled my heart, as I had done on a former occasion, and executed the laws of war.

Having now the crews of the three last ships captured, on board, amounting to about seventy, who were not only beginning, on account of their number, and the limited accommodations of the Alabama, to be uncomfortable themselves, but were inconveniencing my own people, and hindering more or less the routine of the ship, I resolved to run back to Flores, and land them. I had eight whale-boats in tow, which I had brought away from the burning ships, for the purpose of landing these prisoners, and, no doubt, the islanders, as they saw my wellknown ship returning, with such a string of boats, congratulated themselves upon the prospect of other good bargains with the Yankees. The traffic must now have been considerable in this little island; such was the avalanche of boats, harpoons, cordage, whales' teeth, whalebones, beef, pork, tobacco, soap, and jackknives that I had thrown on shore. When we had reached sufficiently near, I shoved all the boats off at once, laden with my seventy prisoners, and there was quite a regatta under the lee of Flores that afternoon, the boats of each ship striving to beat the others to the shore. The fellows seemed to be so well [442] pleased, that I believe, with a little coaxing, they would have been willing to give three cheers for the Alabama.

We had some sport ourselves, after the prisoners had departed; for we converted the Courser into a target, before setting fire to her, and gave the crew a little practice at her, with the battery. They did pretty well for green hands, but nothing to boast of. They were now becoming somewhat familiar with the gun exercise, and in the evolutions that are usually taught sailors at general quarters. Not only my excellent first lieutenant, but all the officers of the divisions, took great pains with them, and their progress was quite satisfactory.

We again stood away to the northward and westward, under easy sail, during the night, and the next day, the weather being still fine, and the breeze moderate from the south-west, in latitude about 40°, and longitude 33°, we chased a large ship which tried her heels with us—to no purpose, however—as we overhauled her in about three hours and a half. It was another American whaling ship, the Virginia, only twenty days out, from New Bedford. She brought us another batch of late newspapers, and being fitted out, like the Alert, for a long cruise, we got on board some more supplies from her. The master of this ship expressed great surprise at the speed of the Alabama, under sail. His own ship, he said, was fast, but he had stood ‘no chance’ with the Alabama. It was like a rabbit attempting to run away from a greyhound. We burned the Virginia, when we had gotten our supplies on board, and despoiled her of such cordage, and spare sails as we needed, and stood away to the north-west again. The torch having been applied to her rather late in the afternoon, the burning wreck was still visible some time after nightfall.

The next morning the weather had changed considerably. It was cloudy, and rather angry-looking, and the wind was fresh and increasing. We overhauled a French brig, during the day, and after detaining her no longer than was necessary to examine her papers, permitted her to depart. We had barely turned away from the Frenchman, when a bark was announced from the mast-head. We immediately gave chase. We had to wear ship for this purpose, and the bark, which seemed to have descried us, quite as soon as we had descried [443] her, observing the evolution, made all sail at once in flight. Here was another chase, and under different circumstances from any of those that had preceded it. It was blowing half a gale of wind, and it remained to be proved whether the Alabama was as much to be dreaded in rough weather as in smooth. Many smooth-water sailers lose their quality of speed entirely, when the seas begin to buffet them. I had the wind of the chase, and was thus enabled to run down upon her, with a flowing sheet. I held on to my topgallant sails, though the masts buckled, and bent as though the sticks would go over the side. The chase did the same. It was soon quite evident that my gallant little ship was entirely at home in the roughest weather. She seemed, like a trained racer, to enjoy the sport, and though she would tremble, now and then, as she leaped from sea to sea, it was the tremor of excitement, not of weakness. We gained so rapidly upon the chase, that in three hours from the time the race commenced, we had her within the range of our guns. By way of a change, I had chased this ship under English colors, but she obstinately refused to show any colors herself, until she was compelled, by the loudmouthed command of a gun. She then ran up that ‘flaunting lie,’ the ‘old flag,’ and clewed up her topgallant sails, and hauled up her courses, and submitted to her fate, with such resignation as she might.

I now not only took in my topgallant sails, and hauled up my courses, but furled the latter, and took a single reef in my topsails, so fresh was the wind blowing. Indeed it was so rough, that I hesitated a moment about launching my boats; but there was evidently a gale brewing, and if I did not take possession of my prize, she would in all probability escape during the darkness and tempest of the ensuing night. I had a set of gallant, and skilful young officers around me, who would dare anything I told them to dare, and some capital seamen, and with the assistance I could give them, by manoeuvring the ship, I thought the thing could be managed; and so I ordered two of the best boats to be launched, and manned. We were lying to, to windward of the prize, and the boats had nothing to do, of course, but to pull before the wind and sea to reach her. I directed the boarding-officers to bring off nothing [444] whatever, from the prize, in the way of property, except her chronometer, and her flag, and told them when they should have gotten the prisoners on board and were ready to return, that I would run down to leeward of the prize to receive them. They would thus, still, only have to pull before the wind, and the sea, to regain their ship. The prize was to be fired just before leaving her. This was all accomplished successfully; but the reader may well conceive my anxiety, as I watched those frail, tempest-tossed boats, as they were returning to me, with their human freight; now thrown high on the top of some angry wave, that dashed its foam and spray over them, as though it would swamp them, for daring thus to beard it, and now settling entirely out of sight in the trough of the sea. When they pulled under the lee of the Alabama, and we threw them a rope, I was greatly relieved. This was the only ship I ever burned, before examining her papers. But as she was a whaler, and so could have no neutral cargo on board, the risk to be run was not very great. She proved to be the Elisha Dunbar of New Bedford, twenty-four days out.

This burning ship was a beautiful spectacle, the scene being wild and picturesque beyond description. The black clouds were mustering their forces in fearful array. Already the entire heavens had been overcast. The thunder began to roll, and crash, and the lightning to leap from cloud to cloud in a thousand eccentric lines. The sea was in a tumult of rage; the winds howled, and floods of rain descended. Amid this turmoil of the elements, the Dunbar, all in flames, and with disordered gear and unfurled canvas, lay rolling and tossing upon the sea. Now an ignited sail would fly away from a yard, and scud off before the gale; and now the yard itself, released from the control of its braces, would swing about wildly, as in the madness of despair, and then drop into the sea. Finally the masts went by the board, and then the hull rocked to and fro for a while, until it was filled with water, and the fire nearly quenched, when it settled to the bottom of the great deep, a victim to the passions of man, and the fury of the elements.

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