Archive from June, 2024
Jun 9, 2024 - Patriotism, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots, The War at Sea    Comments Off on Fighting for the “Juster Cause”

Fighting for the “Juster Cause”

Fighting for the “Juster Cause”

The following details the first encounter of the revolutionary CSS Virginia with the USS Monitor after the former had sunk the USS Cumberland and severely damaged the USS Congress the previous day. The Virginia was commanded by Commodore Franklin Buchanan, with Lt. Catesby Jones assuming command after Buchanan was injured. Also aboard was the indefatigable Lt. John Taylor Wood.

“When Jones saw that the Virginia’s guns only dented the Monitor’s turret, he ordered his gun commanders to concentrate their fire on her pilothouse. The vessels wore around until the Virginia’s stern was only ten yards from the Monitor’s pilothouse. Wood quickly barked out the necessary orders to his stern gun crew. A lightning flash erupted from the muzzle of the powerful Brooke rifle and a heavy shell seared the air to strike against the front of the Monitor’s pilothouse, directly in the observation slit. The explosion cracked the iron and partially lifted the top. The blow partly stunned the commander and filled his eyes with powder, temporarily blinding him while ordering his ship to disengage the Virginia. The Monitor retired briefly but resumed firing again.

Wood now had an idea that foreshadowed his special place in the war. As a last hope to defeat the Monitor, he called for volunteers to form a boarding party which he intended to lead to the enemy deck. The response was enthusiastic, and Wood organized the group into special forces, each with a specific task. Some collected sledgehammers and spikes to wedge the Monitor’s turret. Others were ready to fling oakum-ball grenades down the pipes and cover all openings with canvas to cut off visibility and air. A few men carried pistols, boarding pikes and cutlasses in the event of hand-to-hand combat. The Confederates intended to win this battle with brains, seamanship, heroism and the “juster cause.”

When all was ready, the Virginia made a run for the Monitor. The boarding party watched from all ports, each man “burning for the signal to swarm around the foe.” The blood was “fairly tumbling through our veins” recalled one crewmember as the hoarse bark of the boatswain called “boarders away.” At that moment, however, the Monitor frustrated the scheme by standing away and steaming to shallow water.

Wood was disappointed, and with good reason, since the would-be-boarders might well have succeeded [in capturing the Monitor].”

(John Taylor Wood: Sea Ghost of the Confederacy. Royce Gordon Shingleton. UGA Press, 1979, pp. 35-36)

Jun 6, 2024 - Black Slaveowners, Slavery in Africa, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on The Capture of a Slaver

The Capture of a Slaver

Published in 1900 by Col. John Taylor Wood, “The Capture of a Slaver” provides a first-hand account of the pre-Civil War efforts to suppress the ongoing slave trade to Brazil, Cuba, and the rest of the Spanish West Indies. Though many slavers were built in England, and also New England. As late as 1860, New York City, Portuguese “blackbirders” bribed customs officials to arrange false identifications for ship bound for Cuba to be outfitted as slave ships. They then sailed for Africa to purchase slaves, then to Cuba and Brazil with their human cargoes.

The abbreviated account below is dated in the late-1840’s when Wood was a junior officer aboard the USS Porpoise, a 224-ton brigantine assigned to hunt slavers on the coast of Africa. After capturing a Spanish slaver and taking its human cargo to Liberia to experience “freedom,” he learned a valuable lesson about the Dark Continent.

The Capture of a Slaver

“We had been cruising off the coast of Liberia when we were ordered to the Gulf of Guinea to watch the Bonny and Cameroon mouths of the great Niger river. We could gather information from the natives through our Krooman interpreter. [Fishermen from the Kroo tribe in Sotta Krou in Liberia]. At Little Bonny we heard that two slaving vessels were some miles upriver and ready to sail, waiting only until the coast was clear.

After a long chase of one departing slaver, it was caught by luck and our cannon shearing the topgallant yard and it was finally boarded. The Spaniard captain spoke English and was violently denouncing the outrage done to his flag; his government would demand satisfaction for firing on a legitimate trader on the high seas. Without a doubt if he had reached his cabin, he would have blown up the vessel, for in a locker over the transom were two open kegs of powder. Asked what his cargo consisted of, he replied: “About four hundred blacks bound for Brazil.”

From the time we boarded we had heard moans, cries and rumblings coming from below. Once the hatches were removed there arose a hot blast from below, sickening and overpowering. In the hold were three or four hundred human beings, gasping and struggling for breath, dying, their bodies, limbs, faces, all expressing terrible suffering. After an hour of work lifting and helping the poor creatures on deck, they were laid out in rows with a little water and whiskey stimulant reviving most of them. Some, however, were too far gone to be resuscitated.

I was anxious to hear their story and our Krooman interpreter assisted in translation. Most were from a long distance and brought to coast after being sold by their kings or parents to Arab traders for firearms or rum. Once at the depots near the coast they were sold to the slaver captains for up to fifty dollars a head. In Brazil or the West Indies, they were worth two to five hundred dollars each. This wide margin of course attracted unscrupulous adventurers, who, if successful in running a few cargoes, would greatly enrich themselves.

On the fourteenth day we reached Monrovia, Liberia, a part of the African coast selected by the US government as the home of emancipated slaves; for prior to the abolition excitement which culminated in war, numbers of slaves in the South had been manumitted by their masters with the understanding that they should be sent to Liberia. The passages of the Negroes was paid, each family given a tract of land and sufficient means to build a house. Many intermarried with the natives, lost the English tongue, and had even gone back to the life and customs of their ancestors, sans clothing, sans habitations, and worship of a fetich.

After much negotiation with the colony king and promising cloth and buttons for his wives), he grunted his approval and asked that he might chose a few of the captives for his own use. Certainly not,” I answered, “neither on board or on shore as these are free men and women.”

When the cargo of liberated Africans was called up from the hold and ordered into the boats to go onshore, not one of them moved. They evidently divined what had been going on and dreaded leaving the safety of the vessel. They could only understand that they were changing master’s and preferred the present ones. By noon the men were all onshore, and then began with the girls. They were more demonstrative than the men, and with looks and gestures begged not to be taken out of the vessel.

I instructed the mate to have a gig manned to go ashore and obtain a receipt from the Governor for my late cargo. After landing, we approached a thick grove of palms surrounded by three or four hundred chattering savages of all ages, headed by the king. With the exception of him and a few of his head men, the clothing of the group would not have covered a rag baby. They were no doubt discussing the appearance of the strangers and making their selections. The king then gave me a receipt for the blacks landed, but said it was impossible for him to prevent the natives from taking and enslaving them.

Then bidding the king good-bye I returned on board, sad and weary after as one feels after being relieved of a great burden. At the same time, I wondered whether the fate of these people would have been any worse if the captain of the Spanish slaver had succeeded in landing them in Brazil or the West Indies.”

(The Capture of a Slaver. John Taylor Wood; Paula Benitez, editor. Create Space Independent Publishing, 2017, excerpts pp. 4-30)

 

Jun 2, 2024 - Myth of Saving the Union, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Americans Besieged

Americans Besieged

The commander of North Carolina’s Fort Fisher, Colonel William Lamb of Virginia, spoke postwar of his men defending the fortress in early 1865: “When I recall this magnificent struggle, unsurpassed in ancient or modern warfare, and remember the devoted patriotism and heroic courage of my garrison, I feel proud to know that I have North Carolina blood coursing through my veins, and I confidently believe that the time will come with the Old North State, when her people will regard her defence of Forth Fisher as the grandest event in her heroic past.” Gen. William Whiting commanded the Cape Fear District and came to the fort after Gen. Bragg’s reluctance to confront the enemy.

Americans Besieged

“In the midst of the whirling shells, he scarcely removed his pipe from his mouth as he stood on the open rampart spattered from the bursting shells. Lieutenant Hunter, of the 36th North Carolina, wrote of Gen. Whiting:

“I saw him standing with folded arms, smiling upon the 400-hundred-pound shell as it stood smoking and spinning like a billiard ball on the sand, not twenty feet away, until it burst, and then moved away quietly. I saw him fifty times a day – I saw him fight and saw him pray; and he was all that a General should be in battle. He was the best-equipped man in the Confederate States to defend the port of Wilmington, and his relief by Gen. Braxton Bragg brought gloom over the entire command.”

Time fails me to relate the details of the great battle of the 13th, 14th and 15th of January 1865. The enemy fleet arrived the night of the 12th, and early the next day began the rain of projectiles, increasing in fury at times to 160 per minute, and directed by converging fire to the destruction of the guns on the land force of Fort Fisher, and in the pounding of the northeast salient to a shapeless ruin.

Again, General Whiting came to the fort, on the first day’s bombardment, and upon his entrance said to Col. William Lamb: “I have come here to share your fate, my boy. You are to be sacrificed. The last thing I heard Gen. Bragg say was to point out a line to fall back upon, when Fisher fell.”

The firing never ceased – all day and all night long the 11-inch and 15-inch fiery globes rolled along the parapet; the palisades were cut to pieces, the wires to the mines were ploughed up in the deep sands. An English officer who had been at Sebastopol declared it was but child’s play to this terrific shaking of the earth and sea, by a fleet whose broadside could throw 44,000 pounds of iron at a single discharge.

The defenders fought on – their quarters having been burned along with their blankets and clothing – in the depth of winter, for three days, with cornmeal and coffee and uncooked rations – for not even a burial party could put its head out of a bombproof without casualties. On the evening of the 13th, some 8,500 troops landed four miles north, and in the language of their commander, as if at some exciting sport, with no one to molest them. Telegram after telegram besought Gen. Bragg to attack; but his troops had been ordered sixteen miles away for an idle review, and when in position again, he refused to attack the two brigades of colored troops which held the land side, though urged repeatedly by telegraph. The fire suddenly increased to inconceivable fury about 3PM pf the 15th, and the air was hot with bursting shells. All at once there was ominous silence, and the column of the enemy, 1,600 picked sailors and 400 marines, were seen approaching the northeast redan.

Whiting and Lamb rallied their gallant band upon the exposed ramparts – the struggle was terrible, but with twenty-one officers killed and wounded, that enemy column was broken to pieces, and a sight never seen in the world before, of two thousand US Naval troops in full flight, leaving four hundred on the sands and their commander, Breese, simulating death among them to escape capture.

But alas, two battles were going on at the same time! Just as the naval attack was beaten back, Gen. Whiting saw the enemy flags planted on the traverses. Calling on the troops to follow him, they fought hand-to-hand with clubbed muskets, and one traverse was retaken. Just as he was climbing the other to remove the enemy flag, General Whiting fell, receiving two wounds – one very severe through the thigh. Colonel Lamb fell with a desperate hip wound a half hour after Whiting, while the enemy poured into the fortress.

It was the struggle of North Carolina patriots. Lamb, in the fort’s hospital, found voice enough, though faint unto death, to say, “I will not surrender!” And Whiting, lying among the surgeons nearby, responded, “Lamb, if you die, I will assume command and I will never surrender.”

(A Memoir of the Late Major-General William Henry Chase Whiting. C.B. Denson. Edwards & Broughton, 1895, pp. 40-42)