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Captain Thomas Jefferson Page. [from the Richmond, Va., Times, October 29, 1899.]

How this intrepid officer Defied superior numbers. Two against the Stonewall.

The Niagara and the Sacramento feared to give her Battle—Captain Craven, U. S. N., Court-Martialed for Cowardice.

Died in Rome, Italy, October 26, 1899, Captain Thomas Jefferson Page, in the 92d year of his age.

Captain, or as he was more familiarly known, Commodore Page, was born at ‘Shelley,’ Gloucester county, and his boyhood was spent there. In 1827 he was appointed a cadet at the United States Naval Academy by President John Quincy Adams, in recognition of the services of his paternal and maternal grandfathers, Governor John Page and Thomas Nelson, Governor, of Yorktown, he being the son of Mann Page and Betsy Nelson. The United States Naval Academy was then a receiving ship stationed in the harbor of New York, and young Page was graduated with the honors of a class of forty-five members.

He was then commissioned a midshipman, and made several notable cruises. One of these was on the old Dolphin to Asiatic waters. All of the officers and many of the crew were stricken down with fever, until Midshipman Page was the ranking officer. He assumed command and brought the ship to a home port, and was rewarded by Congress raising his rank. Captain Page was but 18 years old at that time, but even at this early age was noted for his valor and cool judgment. [220]

Jefferson Page passed through all grades and was commissioned a commander in 1855. In 1861, however, he left the United States Navy and received a commission as Commodore in the C. S. N. He was also made a colonel of heavy artillery in the C. S. A., and was in command of the station at Gloucester Point, and later at Chaffin's Bluff. He was however, relieved from duty in the army and sent as special agent of the Confederacy to European countries to purchase ships for the navy. After the war he went to London, and later went to South America, where he and his son engaged in cattle raising on an extensive scale. In this connection is an interesting story.

In the early fifties he surveyed the Paraguay and Rio de la Plata rivers. His services were recognized by the Argentine government, which offered to commission him commander-in-chief of the navy of that country. This honor, however, he declined, but on his returning to that country after the war, and being in reduced circumstances, he at once became a popular hero, and financial aid was given him without stint. His son had already settled there, and they engaged in stock raising. He, by this means, amassed a considerable fortune, and then migrated to Florence, Italy. Here his daughter became the Countess of Spinola, but on the death of the Count of Spinola, they removed to Rome, where the home of the venerable couple, CommodorePage and Mrs. Jefferson Page, became the Mecca of Americans who visited that city. For a score of years Commodore Page was blind, but retained the full possession of his mental faculties.

Besides his service at sea, Commodore Page surveyed and made soundings for the old Fire Island Channel, New York harbor, and for some years was stationed at the Naval Observatory in Washington.

A widow, a daughter (the Countess of Spinola), Professor Frederick Page, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., and Philip Page, of Buenos Ayres, South America, sons, survive him. He also has many relatives who reside in this State. The Page homestead at ‘Shelley’ is now occupied by his grand-nephew, Richard Page.

The death of Captain Page recalls to the minds of those who knew him many thrilling incidents in connection with his life.

As Mr. Virginius Newton was one of the officers of the Stonewall, commanded by Captain Thomas Jefferson Page, a representative of The Times saw him yesterday evening. Mr. Newton gave the following account of the history of the Stonewall. [221]

In January, 1865, I was serving on board the Confederate frigate Rappahannock, lying in the harbor of Calias, France, detained by the French Government under some technicality. In the early part of January I was detached from this command and ordered to proceed to London, where I joined the blockade-runner City of Richmond, under command of Captain Hunter Davidson. We sailed for the coast of France and anchored in a nook of Quiberon Bay. I knew nothing of what the general purpose of our movement was or the purposes of the Confederate Naval Department in other quarters. We lay in Quiberon Bay until the evening of the next day, the 24th of January, when a steamer came in sight and hailed us. We found it was the Confederate States steamer Stonewall, built in France for Denmark, rejected by Denmark, and sold in Copenhagen by her builders to the Confederate States Government. Captain Thomas Jefferson Page and Lieutenant R. R. Carter, of Shirley, Va., boarded this vessel, at Copenhagen and met the City of Richmond in Quiberon Bay on the day named—the 24th of January, 1865.

A heavy gale.

We kept in touch with the Stonewall during this day, transferring stores, supplies, and a portion of our crew, until the next day at noon. We then got under way, and in the Bay of Biscay encountered a heavy gale, when the Stonewall became short of coal, and orders were given to the blockade-runner, City of Richmond, to proceed to the island of Bermuda, and there await the arrival of the Stonewall.

The Stonewall then proceeded to the harbor of Ferrol, in Spain, for the purpose of taking on coal. Whilst there, the Federal frigate, Niagara, under command of Captain T. T. Craven, and the Sacramento, a vessel of war of the United States navy, commanded by Captain Walke, appeared off this port and anchored at Corunna, nine miles distant, from whence they could watch the Stonewall. The Niagara was one of the fastest ships in the navy of the United States, and carried a battery of ten 150-pound Parrott rifles, while the Sacramento mounted two eleven-inch guns, two nine-inch guns, and one 60-pound rifle. The Stonewall carried a 300-pound Armstrong rifle in her forward turret, and two 70-pound Armstrongs in her stern turret, that being her entire armament.

On March 24th, the Stonewall steamed out of the harbor in plain sight of the enemy, but, to the surprise of Captain Page, who [222] had expected an engagement, they declined this challenge. For the the failure on the part of Commodore Craven to accept this gage of battle, he was brought to trial by court-martial, found guilty, and sentenced to two years suspension; but the Secretary of the Navy annulled the sentence on the ground that it was not sufficiently severe for the offence. On a revision of the proceedings, the court-martial made the same finding, which the Secretary again set aside for the same reason, and Captain Craven was restored to duty.

After this incident the Stonewall crossed the Atlantic for the purpose of raising the blockade at Port Royal and other seaports on the Atlantic coast, but, on entering the harbor of Havana for supplies, there learned of the conclusion of the war and the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox. The vessel was then bonded to the Captain-General of Cuba for the sum of $16,000, with which her officers and crew were paid off and discharged. The Stonewall was subsequently surrendered to the United States government, and by that government sold to Japan. She was for some years in the naval service of Japan, and finally sunk in a typhoon.

‘After leaving the Stonewall, in April, 1865, in the harbor of Havana, I proceeded to Mexico, where I was engaged in engineering on the first line of railway in that country. Returning to this country in the summer of 1866, I visited the Gosport Navy Yard, at Norfolk, and there, to my surprise, found the old Stonewall in dock, refitting for her subsequent voyage around Cape Horn and delivery to the Japanese authorities.’

Dr. Bennett Wood Green, who was a surgeon on board the Stonewall, recalled the career of the Confederate iron-clad ram at his home 504 east Grace street, last evening, and expressed the sadness which Captain Page's death had caused him. He said: ‘Captain Page, when I knew him on the Stonewall, was past three-score years, but he was alive, energetic and brave. His bright eye never faltered, and a more courageous office never trod the deck of a vessel.’

Dr. Green himself is no longer a young man, but he talked with great animation on the subject of the Stonewall, which he said was quite a formidable vessel in her day. She was a ram, clad with four inches of iron, and armed with three Armstrong guns—one 300-pounder and two 70-pounders. The shipbuilding firm of Messrs. Arman, at Bordeaux, France, undertook the contract to build her for the Confederate government, Emperor Napoleon III, granting permission. Before the vessel was completed, however, the Emperor revoked the permission, and refused to allow the delivery of the vessel [223] to the Confederate States agent. However, the vessel was bought by Denmark, which country was then at war with Austria and Prussia. The Danes emerged from hostilities in a bankrupt condition, and the Stonewall, which had never been paid for, was thrown back on the hands of the French firm.

A plan was conceived by the Confederate authorities to obtain possession of the vessel, which lay at Copenhagen. Captain Page and Lieutenant Robert R. Carter, a son of the late Hill Carter, of Shirley, who were in Europe, were directed to proceed to Copenhagen with the agent of the ship-builders, who was sent to take possession of the vessel. Technically the two Confederate officers were passengers when the Stonewall sailed from Copenhagen for France.

The plans of the Confederates contemplated the juncture of another vessel, carrying a crew of fighters, with the Stonewall, off the west coast of France. The City of Richmond, a trading vessel, owned by the Crenshaws, of this city, was then at London. Dr. Green and other officers, together with a crew of 100, boarded the City of Richmond, which proceeded to the west coast of France, reaching Quiberon bay. The Stonewall arrived a day later, and her crew of Danes were put off on the French coast, their places being taken by the crew shipped on the City of Richmond.

Proceeding south, the Confederate vessel, officered, manned and armed, ran into the bay on the coast of Spain, at the head of which was a navy yard at Ferrol, and at the mouth of which the town of Corunna stood guard. While the Stonewall was at Ferrol, the Federal war vessels, the Niagara and Sacramento, under command of Commodore Thomas T. Craven, put into the bay. Leaving ahead of the Stonewall, the two Federal boats cruised about the mouth of the bay, off Corunna, until the Confederate vessel came out. Undoubtedly the Federal commander had intended to give battle, but his heart failed him. Captain Page, on the contrary, beat back and forth in front of the silent enemy, challenging combat. There was no response.

Several days later the Stonewall went into the harbor of Lisbon, and on emerging found Craven's vessels again. In view of his refusal to fight off Corunna, the presence of Commodore Craven at Lisbon was regarded as purely accidental and unintentional. The enemy's boats were prepared for fight—port holes open and men at quarters. Captain Page ordered his vessel cleared for action, too. He then proceeded leisurely past the two Federal vessels, his three guns keeping silent those of the enemy. [224]

Incidentally, Dr. Green told of the court martialing of Commodore Craven, referred to above by Mr. Newton.

The Stonewall, shortly after the incident at Lisbon, started across the Atlantic, intending to touch at Bermuda. High winds, however, carried the vessel out of her course, and she finally anchored at Nassau early in May. Here the officers and crew were plunged into inexpressible sadness, hearing there for the first time that President Davis was in chains, President Lincoln had been assassinated, General Lee had surrendered at Appomattox, and the whole Confederate government had been crushed.

It was with a sad heart that Captain Page headed for Havana, where he hoped to obtain from the Confederate agent at that place money with which to pay off his men. The agent professed to have no funds. In despair Captain Page called on the Spanish Captain-General, to whom he told his story. The Captain-General listened with evident sympathy, and when Captain Page offered to leave his ship and her belongings in the Spanish official's custody as a pledge for $15,000 necessary to pay off the men, the Captain-General said: ‘Why, I will let you have a hundred thousand dollars.’ Captain Page refused, however, to take more than the sum he had named. Captain Page abandoned ship on May 20, 1865.

Subsequently the vessel passed into the possession of the United States government, which sold her to the Japanese government. The Stonewall made the long journey to the Orient, but shortly afterwards foundered off the coast of Japan in a gale.

Of the officers on the Stonewall, three are now living—Dr. Green and Mr. Virginius Newton, of this city, and the master, W. W. Wilkinson, whose home is at Charleston, S. C.

Lieutenant Davidson's account.

The meeting of the City of Richmond and the Stonewall at Quiberon, is thus told by Lieutenant Hunter Davidson, who had charge of the crew of the City of Richmond, in a letter dated February 6, 1865, and printed in ‘The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe.’

‘I left Cherbourg 18th January, and carried out instructions on the way to Quiberon, where we found a snug anchorage on the 20th, and laid quietly, permitting no communication with the shore until the morning of the 24th at 10 o'clock, when the Stonewall hove in sight, to the rapturous delight of all who were in the secret.’ [225]

After explaining the reasons why the Stonewall did not receive the quantity of coal intended for her, and which should have been sent out from St. Nazaire, he proceeds thus:

“She” (the Stonewall) ‘was in a filthy condition, and required more labor to clean her than to get the stores on board and towed afterwards. The weather was very bad and wet, too and prevented us from lying alongside. It was, therefore, hard to work satisfactorily. However, on the 28th January, early, the barometer rising and the weather promising well, the Stonewall and this vessel left the bay and soon ran out of sight of land, going nine and ten knots, for San Miguel. It blew a gale at times, with as heavy a sea as I have ever seen. The Stonewall would often ship immense seas, they seeming at all times to cover her from knighthead to taffrail, but yet she never seemed to be injuriously affected by them, but would keep her course very steadily. On the morning of the 30th January, after a most uneasy night, we became separated about five miles, this ship having forged ahead, and being afraid to run off in such a heavy sea. About noon, however, it moderated for awhile, and the barometer rising steadily, we kept away and ran down to her, signalling, “How do you do?” Answer, “All right.” This was so satisfactory that I signalled, “Shall I go on?” Answer, “Am very short of coal, and I must make a port, Ferrol.” Signalled, “Shall I follow you?” Answer, “Suit your convenience about following.” ’

Davidson then added that the detention of his ship had already caused the loss of one moon for running the blockade, and considering the necessity there was of his getting to Bermuda quickly in order to save the next moon, and considering also that it did not appear necessary to the safety of the enterprise that he should remain any longer in company with the Stonewall, he determined to part company, and signalled ‘Adieu,’ which was answered with ‘Many thanks,’ and then he says: ‘At 1:30 we parted company, and at 3: 30 lost sight of her, she still heading the sea to the northward and westward, facing the gale under easy steam, no doubt waiting for the weather to moderate before running down on the cost of Spain.’

Captain Page also wrote from Isle of d'houat, near Quiberon, giving a full account of his tedious delays and the disappointment he felt at not getting a full supply of coal, but he did not like to wait for the return of the coal-tender from St. Nazaire. He advised me that he had taken charge of the ram on behalf of the Confederate government, and that M. Arman's agent, who was with him, had complied with all engagements satisfactorily, and was therefore entitled [226] to receive the stipulated commission for his services. The Danish crew were discharged and sent to St. Nazaire, and the ram was chartered and commissioned in due form as the Confederate ship Stonewall.

In the heavy weather after leaving Quiberon Bay, the Stonewall made a good deal of water, and it was thought that she must have sprung a leak some where, but owing to the crowded state of the ship, a satisfactory examination could not be made. This apparent defect was an additional reason for making a harbor, and when the gale moderated, Page bore up and ran into Corunna, and the day after arrival there, he took the Stonewall across the bay to Farrol, ‘where all facilities were politely tendered by the officers of the Natal arsenal.’

The Stonewall at Ferrol.

The first advice of the Stonewall from Ferrol was without date, but she arrived there about February 2d, and Page soon began to lighten the ship by discharging some of her heavy weight into ‘a good dry hulk,’ which the naval authorities had kindly put at her disposal, with the purpose of finding the leak.

It appears, however, from his correspondence, that the facilities granted him upon his first application were quickly withdrawn. Writing to me, under date of February 7th, he says: ‘To-day there came off an officer to inform me that in consequence of the protest of the American minister the permission to repair damages had been suspended, and added, however, that the commander told him that his case was under consideration at Madrid, and that he thought that all would be right in a few days. In the end permission was given to make all necessary repairs, but many difficulties were met with, the authorities appearing to be very desirous to hurry the ship off, yet not willing to turn her out of port in an incomplete state.’

On the 10th of February, Page wrote that the United States frigate, Niagara, Captain Thomas Craven, had arrived, and a few days after the United States ship Sacramnto joined the Niagara, and both vessels anchored at Corunna, about nine miles distance, from whence they could watch the Stonewall. Their presence, Page said, gave the Spanish authorities much uneasiness. It was now manifest that the Stonewall's movements were known. The two United States ships at Corunna would either attack her when she attempted to leave Ferrol, or they would follow her across the Atlantic. [227]

Besides, this advice of her being at sea would be sent to New York, and preparations would be made by United States naval authorities to give her a warm reception. The leak was discovered to be in consequence of defective construction in the rudder casing, and this, together with other injuries caused by the rough handling the ship had encountered during the tempestuous voyage from Copenhagen, satisfied Page that the repairs would detain her several weeks at Ferrol. He took also into consideration the latest news from America, which appeared to indicate that the South could not resist much longer. Finally he determined to go to Paris for consultation, and he directed Carter meanwhile to push on with the repairs.

While Page was absent, the Niagara and the Sacramento ran across the bay from Corunna and anchored at Ferrol. In a letter reporting the incident, Carter said: ‘We, of course, got ready for accidents, and, in lighting fire, sparks flew from the funnel.’

In a few minutes a barge from the navy yard, with an officer of rank, came alongside, asking if we meant to attack the Niagara. I replied that we had no such intentions, but proposed to defend ourselves from an attempt to repeat the affair at Bahia. He said: ‘This is not Brazil. The Admiral requests that you will let your fires go out, arid warns you against an attempt to break the peace.’ Two guard boats were also stationed near us, and remained there every night while the Niagara was in port. However, we kept steam all night and the chain was unshackled, so as to get the ram pointed fair in case the Niagara moved our way.

It was decided, after consultation with the Confederate commissioners, that in spite of the gloomy prospects across the Atlantic, no possible effort that could be made from Europe should be abandoned.

Page, therefore, returned to Ferrol with the purpose to pursue his enterprise, which, I may say, in brief phrase, was to go to Bermuda to get some additional advance stores and a few picked men from the Florida, waiting there for him, another attempt to strike a blow at Port Royal, which was then supposed to be the base of General Sherman's advance through South Carolina. Vexatious delays detained the Stonewall at Ferrol until March 24, when Page got to sea.

The United States ships Niagara and Sacramento had manifested every purpose to follow and attack the Stonewall when she left Ferrol. The Niagara was a large, powerful frigate, mounting ten 150-pounder Parrot rifled guns, and the Sacramento was a corvette, very heavily armed for her class, the principal pieces being two 11-inch [228] and two 9-inch guns. The Niagara was also a ship of great speed, and could easily have kept clear of the Stonewall's dangerous beak. The Stonewall was protected by 43-inch armors, and mounted on one 300-pounder and two 70-pounders Armstrong guns, but she was a small ship and low in the water, and the Niagara's battery could have commanded her decks. Page, being quite sure that he would be followed out and attacked as soon as he had passed the line of Spanish jurisdiction, cleared for the action before getting under weigh in full sight of the two United States ships. The upper spars, to the lower masts, were struck and stowed on deck, and the boats were detached from the davits.

In this trim the Stonewall steamed out of Ferrol on the morning of March 24, 1865, accompanied by a large Spanish steam frigate. A: about three miles from the shore the frigate fired a gun and returned to Ferrol. The Stonewall then stood off and on all the remainder of the day with her colors flying in plain view of the two United States vessels which remained at anchor. Carter, in his letter, says: ‘We could see the officers standing in the Niagara's top using spy-glasses.’

At dark the Stonewall stood close on to the entrance of the harbor, and then, being satisfied that the enemy did not intend to come out and fight, Page bore away and steamed down the coast to Lisbon, where he arrived in due course, the Niagara arriving about thirty-six hours after him.

Captain Page's opinion.

Commenting upon the failure of the Niagara and Sacramento to follow the Stonewall and attack her, Page wrote me from Lisbon as follows: ‘This will doubtless seem as inexplicable to you as it is to me and all of us. To suppose that these two heavily armed menof-war were afraid of the Stonewall is to me incredible, yet the fact of their conduct was such as I have stated to you Finding that they declined coming out, there was no course for me but to pursue my voyage.’

Captain Thomas Craven, who commanded the Niagara, was not the officer who is mentioned in another chapter as the commander of the United States ship Tuscarora, and who had a correspondence with the Governor of Gibraltar in respect to the Confederate ship Sumpter.

Captain Thomas Craven was an elder brother of the latter named officer. His conduct in making so much parade of a purpose stopped [229] the Stonewall, and the subsequent failure to accept her invitation to come out and engage her was a good deal criticised at the time. I have no means of knowing what explanation of his conduct he made to his own government, and I should be sorry to repeat any of the gossip of the period which might cast a slur upon his courage. His reputation in the United States navy, while I held a commission in that service, was such as to place him above any suspicion. He was certainly an able and efficient officer, and I mention the incident with the Stonewall as an historical fact, and without the slightest purpose to cast an imputation upon his memory.

At Lisbon, Page was made to feel that he was the representative of the losing cause. He was permitted to get a supply of coal, but it was manifested that the authorities wished him clear of the port.

He got away as soon as possible, proceeding to Santa Cruz, in the Island of Tereriffe, replenished his fuel there, and thence stood down into the northeast trades. On April 25th he hauled up for Bermuda, but encountered northwest winds and heavy head swells immediately after leaving the trade winds, and being in rather short supply of coal, he shaped his course for Nassau, arriving there May 6th. From Nassau he proceeded to Havana.

At the time of Page's arrival at Havana, the war was practically at an end. In a few days he learned of General Lee's surrender, and soon after of the capture of Mr. Davis. Manifestly he could not venture upon offensive operation. The small amount of funds he took from Ferrol was exhausted. Major Helen, the Confederate agent, could do nothing for him in that way. The position was perplexing and quite exceptional. As a last resource, negotiations were opened with the Cuban authorities for the surrender of the ship to them if they would advance money necessary to pay off the crew.

When it was known through a resident merchant that the Captain-General was willing to make the necessary advance and take the ship, Carter was sent to state the requirements and get the money, and his brief report of the interview is as follows:

After five minutes conversation the Captain-General asked for the sum we required. I said ‘$16,000.’ He said, ‘say $100,000.’ I replied that my orders were to ask for $16,000. He then turned to an official at a desk and bid him write, continued asking questions, and then the document was handed to him for perusal. He looked at him and said: ‘Shall we make it $50,000?’ But I obeyed orders, and $16,000 was ordered to be paid. [230]

Upon the receipt of the money, Page paid off the crew to May 19, 1865, and delivered the Stonewall into the hands of the Captain-General of Cuba. In July, 1865, she was delivered to the government of the United States, and the conditions of the surrender are set out in the annexed correspondence between the Spanish Minister at Washington and Mr. Seward, the United States Secretary of State. She was subsequently sold by the United States to the government of Japan.

Technical questions.

It may be thought by those who are inclined to be severely critical that in the arrangements for despatching the City, of Richmond, some liberty was taken with the municipal law of England, and that there was some violation of her neutral territory. Scarcely anyone, however, will maintain that the shipment of arms by the steamer was illegal; and the officers and men from Calais were unarmed in plain clothes, were not above an hour from English soil and merely passed across a minute portion of English territory as ordinary travellers. If it is possible to construe those movements as an offence, it cannot be said that Her Majesty's Government was in any degree chargeable with neglect because neither the customs nor the police authorities could have known of the purpose in advance, and could not therefore have made any arrangements to stop it, even if the state of the law would have justified interference.

At Calais, however, the conditions were wholly different. A Confederate man-of-war was lying at that port. She was in a dock near the railway station, and could be seen by every passenger en route from London to Paris in the daily mail trains. Officers in the Confederate uniform walked her quarter deck, the Confederate flag was hoisted and struck morning and evening, and all the routine and etiquette was preserved on board of her that is commonly practiced in national ships lying in the dockyards of their own countries. Her presence was permitted by the French authorities, and she was openly used as a depot ship, because no disguise was possible. Men were collected on board of her and afterwards distributed to the Florida and other vessels, as on previous occasions, and she was used in the same manner to supply the wants of the Stonewall. If there was any violation of French neutrality, it was done with the tacit consent of the Imperial authorities, and without greater concealment than is practiced in all well regulated business transactions. No information was asked, and none was offered. [231]

The United States urgently pressed at Geneva the charge that Great Britain had been both lax in her neutral duties and partial towards the Confederate States, and commended the rigid exactness of France. The foregoing are some of the facts which may serve to illustrate the true attitude of those two neutral powers, and may help those who are still interested in the subject to determine the foundation upon which the ‘Alabama Claims’ were based.

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