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Running of the blockade. [from the Richmond Dispatch, August 2, 1896.]

Interesting Narrative of Mr. James Sprunt.

Vance kept North Carolina soldiers well provided. A Sketch of Captain Maffitt.

The following is contributed to the Charlotte (N. C.) Observer by James Sprunt:

There exist no records from which computation might be made of the amount and value of goods, arms, supplies and stores brought into the Confederate States during the four years of blockaderunning. But the Hon. Zebulon B. Vance, who was Governor of North Carolina during a large part of the war, has put on record the share, in part, of our State in blockade-running, from which a general idea of the amount of values may be obtained. In an address before the Association of the Maryland Line, delivered in Baltimore February 23, 1885, he said:

By the general industry and thrift of our people, and by the use of a number of blockade-running steamers, carrying out cotton and bringing in supplies from Europe, I had collected and distributed, from time to time, as near as can be gathered from [158] the records of the Quartermaster's Department, the following store: Large quantities of machinery supplies; 60,000 pairs of hand cards; 10,000 grain scythes; 200 barrels of bluestone for wheat-growers; leather and shoes to 250,000 pairs; 50,000 blankets; gray-wolled cloth for at least 250,000 suits of uniforms; 12,000 overcoats, readymade; 2,000 best Enfield rifles, with 100 rounds of fixed ammunition; 100,000 pounds of bacon; 500 sacks of coffee for hospital use; $50,000 worth of medicines at gold prices; large quantities of lubricating oils, besides minor supplies of various kinds for charitable institutions of the State. Not only was the supply of shoes, blankets, and clothing more than sufficient for the supply of the North Carolina troops, but large quantities were turned over to the Confederate Government for the troops of other States. In the winter succeeding the battle of Chickamauga I sent to General Longstreet's Corps 14,000 suits of clothing complete. At the surrender of General Johnston the State had on hand, ready-made and in cloth, 92,000 suits of uniforms, with great stores of blankets, leather, etc. To make good the warrant on which these purchases had been made abroad, the State purchased and had on hand in trust for the holders, 11,000 bales of cotton and 100,000 barrels of rosin. The cotton was partly destroyed before the war closed, and the remainder, amounting to several thousand bales, was captured, after peace was declared, by certain officers of the Federal army.

President Davis in a message to Congress, said that the number of vessels arriving at only two ports—Charleston and Wilmington—from November 1st to December 6, 1864, had been forty-three, and that only a very small portion of those outward bound had been captured; that out of 11,796 bales of cotton shipped since July 1, 1864, but 1,272 bales had been lost. And the special report of the Secretary of the Treasury in relation to the same matter, stated that there had been imported at the ports of Wilmington and Charleston since October 26, 1864, 3,632,000 pounds of meat, 1,507,000 pounds of lead, 1,933,000 pounds of saltpetre, 546,000 pairs of shoes, 316,000 pairs of blankets, 520,000 pounds of coffee, 69,000 rifles, 97 packages of revolvers, 2,639, packages of medicines, 43 cannon, with a very large quantity of other articles. In addition to these articles many valuable stores and supplies had been brought in by way of the northern lines, by way of Florida, and through the port of Galveston, and through Mexico across the Rio Grande. From March 1, 1864, to January 1, 1865, the value of the shipments of cotton on Confederate Government account was shown by the Secretary's [159] report, to have been $5,296,000 in specie, of which $1,500,000 had been shipped out between July 1st and December 1, 1864.

The fleet.

A list of vessels which were running the blockade from Nassau and other ports in the period intervening between November, 1861, and March, 1864, showed that eighty-four steamers were engaged; of these, thirty-seven were captured by the enemy, twelve were totally lost, eleven were lost and the cargoes partially saved, and one foundered at sea. They made 363 trips to Nassau, and sixty-five to other ports. Among the highest number of runs made were those of the R. E. Lee, which ran twenty-one times; the Fanny, which ran eighteen times; the Margaret and Jessie, which performed the same feat. Out of 425 runs from Nassau alone (including schooners) only sixty-two, about one in seven, were unsuccessful. As freights were enormous, ranging from $300 to $1,000 per ton, some idea may be formed of the profit of a business in which a party could afford to lose a vessel after two successful trips. In ten months of 1863, from January to October, ninety vessels ran into Wilmington. During August, one ran in every other day. On the 11th of July, four, and five on the 19th of October.

With the termination of blockade running, the commercial importance of Matamoras, Nassau, Bermuda, and other West India ports departed. On March 11, 1865, there were lying in Nassau thirty-five British blockade-runners which were valued at $15,000,000 in greenbacks, and there were none to do them reverence. Their occupation was gone; their profits at an end, and some other service must be sought to give them employment.

A description of Nassau at the time of which I write will be both interesting and instructive. It was a busy place during the war, the chief depot of supplies for the Confederacy, and the port to which most of the cotton was shipped. Its proximity to the ports of Charleston and Wilmington gave it superior advantages, whilst it was easily accessible to the swift, light-draft blockade-runners, all of which carried Bahama bank pilots, who knew every channel. The United States cruisers having no bank pilots, and drawing more water, were compelled to keep the open sea. Occasionally one of the latter would heave to outside the harbor, and send in a boat to communicate with the American Consul, but their usual cruising-ground was off Abaco light. Nassau is situate upon the island of [160] New Providence, one of the Bahamas, and it is the chief town and capital of the group. All of the islands are surrounded by coralreefs and shoals, through which are channels, more or less intricate. The distance from Charleston to Nassau is about 500 miles, and from Wilmington about 550. Practically they were equi-distant; for blockade-runners bound for either port, in order to evade the cruisers lying in wait off Abaco, were compelled to give that headland a wide berth by keeping well to the eastward. The wharves of Nassau were piled high with cotton during the war, and huge warehouses were stored full of supplies for the Confederacy. At times the harbor was crowded with lead-colored, short-masted, rakish-looking steamers; the streets alive with the bustle and activity of the day, swarmed with drunken revellers at night. Almost every nationality on earth was represented there, the higher wages ashore and afloat tempting adventurers of the baser sort, and the prospect of enormous profits offering equally strong inducements to capitalists of a speculative turn. Monthly wages of a sailor on board a blockade-runner was $100 in gold, and $50 a bounty at the end of a successful trip; and this, under favorable circumstances, would be accomplished in seven days.

A good record.

The captains and pilots sometimes received as much as $5,000, perquisites. On board the government steamers the crew, which was shipped abroad, and under the articles regulating the ‘merchant marine’ received the same wages as were paid on board the other blockade-runners, but the captains and subordinate officers of the government steamers who belonged to the Confederate States Navy, and the pilots who were detailed from the army for this service received their pay in gold. There is a singular fact connected with the blockade-running vessels which speaks well for the Confederate States naval officers. Though many commanded a large number of these vessels, yet down to August 16, 1864, and perhaps later, only one blockade-running vessel was lost.

The Cape Fear pilots have long maintained a standard of excellence in their proffession most creditable to them as a class, and as individuals. The story of their wonderful skill and bravery in the time of the Federal blockade has never been written, for the survivors are modest men, and time has obliterated from their memories many incidents of this extraordinary epoch. Amidst impenetrable darkness, without lightship or beacon, the narrow and closely watched [161] inlet was felt for with a deep-sea lead as a blind man feels his way along a familiar path, and even when the enemy's fire was raking the wheel-house, the faithful pilot, with steady hand, and iron nerve, safely steered the little fugitive of the sea to her desired haven. It might be said of him, as of the Nantucket skipper, that he could get his bearings on the darkest night by a taste of the lead.

Let us recall the names of some of the noted blockade-runners and their pilots, so well known in Smithville about thirty years ago.

A hero indeed.

Steamer Cornubia, afterwards called the Lady Davis, C. C. Morse; steamer Giraffe, afterwards known as the R. E. Lee, Archibald Guthrie; steamer Fannie, Henry Howard; steamer Hansa, J. N. Burruss; steamer City of Petersburg, Joseph Bensel; steamer Old Dominion, Richard Dosher; steamer Alice, Joseph Springs; steamer Margaret and Jessie, Charles W. Craig; steamer Hebe, George W. Burruss; steamer Advance, C. C. Morse; steamer Pet, T. W. Craig; steamer Atalanta, Thomas M. Thompson, steamer Eugenia, T. W. Newton; steamer Ella and Annie, J. M. Adkins; steamer Banshee, Thomas Burruss; steamer Venus, R. Sellers; steamer Don, William St. George; steamer, Lynx, J. W. Craig; steamer Let Her Be, T. J. Burruss; steamer Little Hattie, R. S. Grissom; steamer Lilian, Thomas Grissom; steamer North Heath, Julius Dosher; steamer Let Her Rip, E. T. Burruss; steamer Beauregard, J. W. Potter; steamer Owl, T. B. Garrason, steamer Agnes Fry, Thomas Dyer; steamer Kate, C. C. Morse; steamer Sirene; John Hill; steamer Calypso, C. G. Smith; steamer Ella, John Savage; steamer Condor, Thomas Brinkman; steamer Cognetta, E. T. Daniels; steamer Mary Celeste, J. W. Anderson. Many other steamers might be named, among them the Brittanica, Emma, Dee, Antonica, Victory, Granite City, Stonewall Jackson, Flora, Havelock, Hero, Eagle, Duoro, Thistle, Scotia, Gertrude, Charleston, Colonel Lamb, Dolphin, and Dream, whose pilots' names may or may not be among those already recalled. These are noted here from memory, for there is no record extant. All of these men were exposed to constant danger, and one of them, J. W. Anderson, of the Mary Celeste, died a hero's death. Shortly after leaving the port of Nassau on his last voyage, he was stricken down by yellow-fever. The captain at once proposed to put the ship about and return to the Bahamas, but his brave pilot said: ‘No; you may proceed; I will do my best to get you into port, even if it [162] costs my life.’ On the second day he was delirious; but as the little ship approached one dangerous coast he regained consciousness, and spoke of his home and the loved ones awaiting his coming at Smithville. When darkness drew on his fever increased and his condition seemed hopeless, but with the heart of a lion he determined to take his post on the bridge, and when the soundings were reached he was carried bodily to the wheel-house, where, supported by two of the sailors, he guided by feeble tones the gallant ship through devious ways, until the hostile fleet was passed. As the well-known lights of his home appeared in the distance his voice grew stronger, but tremulous, for he felt that he was nearing the end of life's voyage. ‘Starboard; steady; port; ease her; stop her: let go your anchor—’ with the rattle of the chains he sank to the desk, overcome by the dread disease, and on the following morning breathed his last.

For, thoa from out our bourne time and place,
     The flood may bear me far;
I hope to see my pilot face to face,
     When I have crossed the bar.

Along the coast may still be seen the storm-beaten hulls of some of the unfortunate ships, which, after weathering many a gale at sea, came to grief within sight of a friendly port. The Beauregard and the Venus lie stranded on Carolina Beach; the Modern Greece near New Inlet; the Antonica on Frying Pan Shoals; the Ella on Bald Head; the Spunkey and the Georgiana McCall on Caswell Beach; the Hebe and the Dee between Wrightsville and Masonboro. Two others lie near Lockswood's Folly Bar, and others whose names are also forgotten, lie half buried in the sands, where they may remain for centuries.

John N. Maffitt.

Among that devoted band of United States navy officers whose home and kindred were in the South at the outbreak of the war, and who resigned their commissions rather than aid in subjugating their native State, there were none braver nor truer than our own Captain John N. Maffitt, who, yielding to necessity, severed the strong ties of a service under the old flag in which he had long distinguished himself, and relinquished not only a conspicuous position directly in the line of speedy promotion to the rank of admiral, but sacrificed at the same time his entire fortune, which was invested in the North, and which was confiscated shortly afterward by the Federal Government. [163]

The biography of this modest hero has never been written. I give the following brief sketch prepared by the accomplished Mrs. J. N. Maffitt, at the time of her distinguished husband's decease, who is now writing a more extended memoir of his career.

John Newland Maffitt was born at sea on the 22d of February, 1819. His parents were Rev. John Newland Maffitt and Ann Carnicke, his wife. Rev. Mr. Maffitt, having determined to emigrate to America, left Ireland with his wife and family late in January or early in February, and landed in New York on the 21st of April, 1819, his son having been born on the passage. Their first home was in Connecticut. When John was about five years old, his uncle, Dr. William Maffitt, who had accompanied them to America, visited his brother, Rev. Mr. Maffitt, and finding him in straitened circumstances, begged to adopt their son, and on the consent of his parents, Dr. Maffitt brought his nephew to Fayetteville, N. C. Some years were passed in this happy home of his boyhood, when his uncle determined to send him to school at White Plains, N. Y. As a little stripling, he started by the old-time stage coach, with his ticket tacked to his jacket, and on his arrival much curiosity was shown to see the little boy who had come alone from his distant southern home. He remained at this school, under Professor Swinburn, until he was thirteen years old, when his father's friends obtained for him a commission as midshipman in the United States Navy. His first orders were to the St. Louis, then at Pensacola Navy-Yard. His second sea orders were to the Constitution, the flagship of the squadron, commanded by Commodore Elliott, then fitting out for the Mediterranean. This cruise lasted three years and six months, and it was during that time that most of the incidents related in the Nautilers took place. Having been appointed aide to Commodore Elliott, the young midshipman had many advantages not otherwise obtainable. He was next ordered to the frigate Macedonian as past midshipman, and it was while in port at Pensacola, Fla., that he had his first experience of ‘yellow jack,’ and came near losing his life. His first independent command was the Gallatin. He commanded also the brig Dolphin and several others. He was engaged, under Professor Bache, for some years on the coast survey, and was of great service to the professor, which the latter was not slow to acknowledge. Much of their work was in the harbors of Nantucket, Charleston, Wilmington, and Savannah. A channel in the harbor of Charleston still bears his name. In one of the numerous published sketches this tribute is paid to him:


A splendid officer.

“He was always considered one of the best officers and most high-toned gentlemen of the old service. For some years he was connected with the coast survey, and Professor Bache, the head of the department, declared that if Maffitt was taken from him he could not supply his place in all the navy.” He added: ‘He is not only a thorough seaman and game to the backbone, but a man of superior intellect, a humorist of rare excellence, and one of the most delightful companions. There is no position in his profession which Maffitt is not capable of filling with honor and distinction.’ This was his acknowledged position when the war began. His last command while in the service of the United States, was the Crusader. He was very successful in capturing slavers. In January, 1860, while in command of the Crusader, and also acting as paymaster of the vessel, he was ordered by the Secretary of the Navy to proceed to Mobile, and there cash a check on the collector of the port for prize money due the officers and crew. The city being agitated at the time by the Ordinance of Secession, just passed by the State of Alabama, he was forced to put his vessel in a defensive position, and soon retired to the port of Habana. Here, failing to negotiate with the bank of Habana for the funds requisite for the necessities of the vessel, he advanced from his private funds the money needed to work the steamer to New York, where he was ordered. He turned the steamer over to the proper authorities and went to Washington to settle his accounts. His cash accounts received no attention, though for several months he was a constant applicant for settlement. A trying position was his, as his wife was dead, and his children had no kinsfolk, save in North Carolina; if he remained in the navy his property, which was all in the North, would be secured to him. All that appealed to his interests lay there. Love of his profession was entwined with every fibre of his being. On the other hand, he would have been compelled to fight against his people—perhaps fire upon the very home that had sheltered him, and was then sheltering his defenceless children. One night a friend informed him that his name was down for arrest the next day. His affections drew him South. His resignation having been accepted, he felt free to leave and cast his fortunes with his people. His war record is well known. During the earlier part of the war he commanded the celebrated Confederate corvette Florida, and the ram Albemarle, rendering most valuable service [165] to the Confederacy. Afterwards he was in command of the blockade-runners Lillian, Owl, and other vessels engaged in bringing supplies and munitions of war for the South. At the close of the war, his property confiscated and he an exile, he applied for a command in the English merchant service, and was given the command of a fine steamer, running between Liverpool and Rio Janeiro. She was subsequently sold to the Brazilian Government and used as an army transport. While conveying several hundred soldiers to the scene of action, small-pox broke out among them, and as the well refused to nurse the sick, or bury the dead, those duties devolved upon Captain Maffitt, and a fearful time he had—‘sickening to the last degree,’ he described it—and the soldiers were mutinous and without discipline. He retained command of this steamer for eighteen months, when, at the urgent entreaty of his family, he resigned the command and came home. He soon after purchased a small farm near Wilmington, where he resided for nearly eighteen years. In July, 1885, he moved to Wilmington. For a year or two his health had been failing, but he determined to make a brave effort to retrieve his fortunes and provide for his young family. The disappointment of that hope was too great a shock for his feeble frame; the thought that he could no longer provide for his loved ones broke his heart. After an illness of more than three months, he died on the 15th of May, 1886, in the sixty-eighth year of his age.

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