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The Cruise of the Nashville.

By Judge Theodore S. Garnett, Jr.

[from facts furnished by Lieutenant W. C. Whittle.]

In 1861 the Nashville, then used as a freight and passenger steamer, was seized in the port of Charleston, S. C., by the Confederate authorities and soon fitted out for the purpose of taking Messrs. Mason and Slidell to Europe. She was a side-wheel, brig-rigged steamer, of about one thousand two hundred or one thousand four hundred tons, and was therefore deemed by them too large a vessel to run the blockade. That purpose was accordingly abandoned. Captain R. B. Pegram, then in command of the Nashville, fitted her with two small guns and made her ready for sea, with a full crew of officers and men. The following is a list of her officers: Captain, R. B. Pegram; Charles M. Fauntleroy, First Lieutenant; John W. Bennett, Second Lieutenant; William C. Whittle, Third Lieutenant; John H. Ingram, Master; Jno. L. Ancrum, Surgeon; Richard Taylor, Paymaster; James Hood, Chief Engineer; Assistant Murray, and two others, and the following Midshipmen: W. R. Dalton, William H. Sinclair, Clarence Cary, J. W. Pegram, W. P. Hamilton,—— Thomas and —— McClintock.

Early in the fall of 1861 she ran out of Charleston, touched at Bermuda for coal and soon arrived at Southampton, England, having ] [330] captured and burned en route the American ship Harvey Birch. Here we remained until the latter part of January, 1862. About the 1st of February, 1862, we sailed for the Confederacy, evading the United States steamer Tuscarora, which had for some time been watching an opportunity to capture the Nashville, having been sent for that purpose. The manner of our escape is worthy of mention. The Queen's proclamation of neutrality required that neither belligerent should leave port until twenty-four hours after the hour set for the sailing of the other. The Tuscarora immediately got under way and lay off the port to avoid the restriction, awaiting our departure, but one evening came to anchor near the Isle of Wight, within the limit of British jurisdiction. Captain Pegram, learning this, at once notified the government that he would set sail at a certain hour the next day, and the Tuscarora was notified that she must remain until the expiration of the twenty-four hours thereafter. A British vessel was sent down to see that this order was not violated and the Nashville, with flying colors, steamed proudly by the Tuscarora and passed out to sea, leaving her commander and crew to meditate on the delightful uncertainties of the law of nations.

The run to Bermuda was without incident, save that we encountered a gale of wind which did us considerable damage. After repairing and coaling ship we took on board the Master and crew of a North Carolina schooner, which had been wrecked by the gale at Bermuda. The Master agreed to pilot us into the harbor of Beaufort, N. C., and we made for that port. On the way the schooner Gilfillan was captured and destroyed. Arriving off Beaufort we found one United States blockade steamer and determined to pass in by a ruse de guerre. A steamer very much like the Nashville was then employed by the United States navy in carrying the mails and communicating with the blockading squadron. Personating this steamer and flying the United States flag, we ran confidently up to the blockader and made signal to her to come and get her mails. The Nashville was hove to under gentle pressure of steam and the blockader lowered a boat. While pulling towards us we changed our course and ran for port. Before their mistake was discovered the Nashville was out of reach of the enemy's guns, which, however, fired shot after shot in impotent rage, all falling short as we widened the distance under full steam, making safe harbor at Morehead City on the 28th day of February, 1862.

Captain Pegram, after visiting Richmond and reporting to the Navy Department for instructions, returned to the ship, bringing information [331] that the Nashville had been sold to private parties in Charleston. The order to remove all Confederate States property, including armament, charts and instruments from the vessel, were promptly executed, and the ship was left under the command of Lieutenant William C. Whittle, with two midshipmen, Messrs. Sinclair and Hamilton, Boatswain Sawyer, Chief Engineer Hood, three sailors, four firemen, cook and steward, to be kept in order until taken possession of by the agent of the purchasers.

General Burnside's movement upon Newbern, N. C. was then being executed, and Captain Pegram, with the officers and crew of the Nashville, went through on one of the last trains that could escape, after which all communication inland was completely cut off. Burnside's expedition was moving upon Morehead City and the capture of the Nashville seemed inevitable. The blockading fleet had been increased to two steamers and one sailing vessel, and the Federal troops were on the march to seize the vessel as she lay tied up at the wharf.

To most minds escape would have appeared an absolute impossibility. Without a crew or means of defense, without even a chart or chronometer, short of coal and provisions, the idea of saving the ship was simply vain. But to Lieutenant Whittle there seemed a single chance, and he gallantly determined ‘to take that chance.’ The fall of Fort Macon he thought only a question of time, and a very short time at that; the blockade must therefore be broken and Whittle prepared to do it. Quietly and secretly he set to work, and being assured by his Chief Engineer (Hood) that with his small force and the assistance of the deck hands he could keep the vessel under steam, he made ready to run through the blockading fleet. He was fortunate in securing the services of Captain Gooding, an excellent coast pilot, who was then in command of a sailing ship blockaded in the harbor. He brought with him a chart, chronometer and sextant, and such instruments as were deemed absolutely necessary for navigation, with the promise from Lieutenant Whittle that if his efforts were successful the ultimate command of the ship would be given him by the purchasers.

From this point the writer prefers to give the story in Lieutenant Whittle's own words:

Having made all my preparations to destroy the ship, if necessary, to prevent her capture in passing out, I dropped down under the guns of Fort Macon. Colonel White, in command of the fort, came on board and told me of the efforts that were being made for my capture. He suggested that, as I had no [332] means of defense, I should, on the approach of the expedition, destroy my vessel and come into his fort as a reinforcement to him. I then divulged to Colonel White my plan of escape and notified him of my intention to run out that evening, requesting him to see that I was not fired upon by his command. He was delighted with the plan and wished me God-speed. On the evening of March 17, 1862, between sunset and moonrise, the moon then being nearly full, I tripped my anchor and ran out. As soon as I was under way a rocket was sent up from the lower side of Bogue Island, below Fort Macon, by an enemy's boat, sent ashore from the blockaders for the purpose of watching me, giving me the assurance that my movement had been detected.

Steaming towards the entrance at the bar, I found the three vessels congregated close together under way and covering the narrow channel. Just before reaching the bar I slipped my anchor, which in hoisting had caught under the forefoot, in order to prevent its knocking a hole in the ship's bottom, as I knew we would strike in going over the bar. We were going at full speed, say fourteen knots per hour. I was in the pilot house with Gooding and two others were at the wheel. The blockaders, under way and broadside to me, were across my path. I ran for the one farthest to the northward and eastward, with the determinatfon to go through or sink both ships. As I approached rapidly I was given the right of way and passed through and out under a heavy fire from the three vessels. They had commenced firing as soon as I got within range and continued until I passed out, firing in all, as well as we could determine, about twenty guns. The moon rose clear and full a short time afterwards and found us well out to sea, no attempt being made to pursue us that we could discover.

We ran on out to the inner edge of the Gulf Stream, where we remained until the next day, and in the afternoon of the 18th of March shaped our course for Charleston. Arriving in the midst of the blockading fleet there before dawn of the 19th, we discovered their position by the great number of rockets which they were sending up to signal the fact that our presence was known. This, together with the fact that the stone fleet had been sunk in the channel, leaving only the Maffitt's channel open, and not knowing how far even that was obstructed, made me conclude not to attempt to run in. With an exhausted crew and short of coal, I put back and ran clear of the blockaders. At daylight on the 19th made Cape Roman, steaming close in to land, and tracked up the beach, intending to try to enter [333] Georgetown, S. C.; but seeing the smoke of two steamers to the northward, I stopped the engines and made ready to destroy the vessels on their approach, as we were in a condition too exhausted to run successfully.

Fortunately, the smoke of the blockaders disappeared on the horizon, and we steamed on up to the entrance of Georgetown, but on going in got aground on the bar. Sending out a boat to take soundings, I observed a boat pulling around a point of land inside, filled with armed men. At the same moment a body of horsemen came down on the beach. Not knowing but that this port also had fallen into the hands of the enemy, I called my boat alongside and made such preparations for defence as I could devise. When close enough, the boat hailed us to know what ship it was. I answered by asking whether they were Federals or Confederates. Their reply was: “We are South Carolinians,” and I answered: “This is the Confederate States steamer Nashville,” which at first they seemed to discredit. Finally they approached, and I was told by the officer in command that Colonel Manigault, who was commanding ashore, had directed that if I was a Confederate vessel I should hoist another flag under the one already up. I told him I had no other except the United States flag, and this might mislead him. I then told him I needed a pilot. He readily and very quickly pulled ashore, and returned with one, bringing me a message from Colonel Manigault that I could place implicit confidence in him, to let him take the ship up to Georgetown, and requesting me to come ashore and confer with him. In the meantime the Nashville, having been got afloat by me, was placed in charge of this pilot and steamed up to Georgetown.

I went ashore and was received by Colonel Manigault, of the South Carolina forces, with a hearty welcome and cheers from his troops. Colonel Manigault inquired whether I had seen the blockaders off Georgetown. I replied that I had seen their smoke going off up the coast, whereupon he informed me that this was the first day for many weeks that they had absented themselves from their post in front of the harbor. I proceeded at once to Richmond and reported to S. R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy, who directed me to return to Charleston and confer with Messrs. Fraser, Trenholm & Co., the purchasers of the vessel, and to take all necessary steps to effect her transfer to them as speedily as possible. I went to Charleston and in concert with them or their agents the business was closed, they giving the command of the ship, at my request, to Captain Gooding. Being unable to carry out any cargo on account of the [334] bar, she sailed in ballast, having taken in coal and such crew as could be secured for her. She left Georgetown in the broad light of day, flying the Confederate flag, before the blockaders returned to port.

After this she made several successful trips through the blockade and later was transferred to other parties, and subsequently she was attacked by the enemy and destroyed at the mouth of the Ogechee river. I am persuaded that the Federals did not know that the Nashville went into Georgetown until it was revealed to them by my capture below New Orleans in April, 1862. I had then among my private papers the rough draft of my report to Secretary Mallory, in which I had announced to him the escape of the vessel from Morehead City and her entrance into Georgetown. The Federal officer who read this rough report seemed to have the impression that the Nashville had sailed direct to Nassau, and so expressed himself to me. On my telling him that I had taken her into Georgetown he was greatly surprised, and the circumstances of her escape were thus for the first time communicated to the Federal Government.

Norfolk, Va., 1882.

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