Reminiscences of Confederate Service, 1861-1865
There is only one footnote in this book, and it has been placed atthe end of the section with its anchor [A].
Some minor changes to the text are noted at the end of the book.
Capt. FRANCIS W. DAWSON, C. S. A.
CHARLESTON, S. C.
THE NEWS AND COURIER BOOK PRESSES.
[PRINTED FOR PRIVATE CIRCULATION.]
It was in the autumn of 1861 that I made up my mind togo to the Southern States of America, and enter the ConfederateArmy. Looking back more than twenty years, Ifind it difficult, as the man of forty-two, to recall the exactfeelings of the boy of twenty. I can say, however, that Ihad no expectation whatever of any gain, or advantage tomyself. I had a sincere sympathy with the Southernpeople in their struggle for independence, and felt that itwould be a pleasant thing to help them to secure their freedom.It was not expected, at that time, that the war wouldlast many months, and my idea simply was to go to theSouth, do my duty there as well as I might, and returnhome to England. I expected no reward and wanted none,and had no intention whatever of remaining permanentlyin the Southern States.
There was much difficulty, of course, in obtaining accurateinformation as to the best way of reaching the seat of warin the South. I found that I could probably go by way ofNassau, N. P., but the expense would have been greaterthan I cared to incur, and the other mode of entering theConfederacy—by going to a Northern port and slippingthrough the lines—was exceedingly troublesome, and was,besides, uncertain in its result. However, I determined togo in some fashion, and just about this time the ConfederateStates steamer Nashville arrived at Southampton. Thisvessel had been one of the regular steamers on the linebetween Charleston and New York, and was seized, I believe,by the Confederate authorities after hostilities began.It had been determined to send the Hon. James M. Masonand the Hon. John Slidell to represent the ConfederateStates in England and France respectively, and the Nashvillewas fitted out for the purpose of taking them toEngland. They changed their plan, unfortunately for them,and went in a small vessel to Havana, where they tookthe mail steamer Trent for St. Thomas. The trip of theNashville was not, however, abandoned, and, under commandof Captain Robert B. Pegram, she ran the blockade atCharleston and reached Southampton in safety, capturingand destroying during the voyage a fine American shipnamed the Harvey Birch.
The arrival of the Nashville at Southampton causedconsiderable stir. By those who were friendly to the Northshe was spoken of as a pirate, and her officers and crew weredubbed buccaneers. While some of the newspapers weredisposed to order out Captain Pegram and his crew forinstant execution, there were others which were quitefriendly in tone. I remember that it became necessary forCaptain Pegram to write a letter to “The Times,” in whichhe explained that, far from being “a pirate,” he was aregularly commissioned officer of the Confederate StatesNavy, and that the Nashville was a vessel of war of the ConfederateStates, entitled to the consideration that wouldbe shewn to the war vessel of any other Government. Thisview was taken by the English authorities, although, underthe proclamation of neutrality which the Queen had issued,the Nashville was not allowed to obtain any sort of equipmentwhich could, by any stretch of the imagination, beconceived to be capable of use in war. The authorities atSouthampton were so strict in their construction of theneutrality proclamation that they objected to our strengtheningthe forward deck, lest it might increase the efficiency ofthe vessel for fighting purposes. No repairs were allowedto be made except such as would place the Nashville in theprecise condition in which she was when she left Charleston.The passage had been rough, or no repairs of the kindallowed would have been necessary. Punch, of course, madefun of the whole business, and had some rhyming verses onthe subject, in which the name of Captain Pegram, thecommander of the Nashville, was made to rhyme with“megrim.”
It occurred to me that if I could in any way secure apassage to the South on the Nashville, it would be muchbetter than trying to get there by way of Nassau or thePotomac. A man named Smith, to whom I was introducedin London by a friend, and who told me that a near kinsmanof his was at that time, or had been, Governor of Arkansas,gave me a letter of introduction to Mr. North,who was one of the Confederate agents in London. Isaw Mr. North and told him what I wanted, but I do notthink that I made a very favorable impression. It seemedto him so extravagant a project that he evidently doubtedmy sincerity and honesty of purpose. The most that Icould accomplish was to obtain from him a note introducingme to Captain Pegram. This was something gained, and afew days afterwards I went to Southampton.
As I neared my destination, I was surprised to find howlarge a share of public attention was given to the Confederatevessel. The appearance of the Nashville, her size, herspeed, and the probable plans of her commander werediligently canvassed by those traveling with me, and I wasgratified to find that every one had a good opinion of theconduct and character of the officers and crew of the vessel.Upon my arrival I went at once to the docks, and far in thedistance saw a flag which was entirely new and strange. AsI drew nearer I found that it was flying from the peak of alarge paddle-wheel steamer, painted black, and with moreupper-works than I had been accustomed to see on sea-goingvessels. The flag that I had seen was the Stars andBars of the Confederacy, and the vessel was the Nashville.I went aboard and to my great annoyance was told that CaptainPegram was in London. The officer on duty was verycourteous and disposed to be communicative, and I had along talk with him. This officer was Lieutenant John J.Ingraham, of Charleston, S. C. I learned that he was agraduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and it ratherdaunted me to be told that one could not expect to attainthe rank of officer in the Navy unless one had had thethorough training of a naval school, or practical educationat sea.
Some days later I went down to Southampton again, andthis time saw Captain Pegram. The sweetness and dignityof his manner impressed me at once, and I unbosomed myselfto him without reserve. I may mention here that hehad been twenty-five or thirty years in the Navy whenVirginia seceded from the Union, and instantly resigned hiscommission to share the fortunes of his native State. Inhis profession he had already gained distinction, and I haveseen the sword of honor presented to him by the State ofVirginia in recognition of his gallantry in an engagementwith pirates in the Chinese Seas. On the golden scabbardof this sword his name and rank are engraved, with thissimple but eloquent inscription:
“The State of Virginia to a devoted son.”
It need not be said that Captain Pegram was exceedinglykind and patient, but he told me frankly that it was impossiblefor him to do what I wished. He said: “I haveno office which I can give you, and this being a Governmentvessel, I cannot take you as a passenger.” Afterwards,I learned that some of the officers suggested that I mightbe a “Yankee spy” endeavoring to get into a position whereI should be able to report the movements of the Nashvilleto her anxious friends on the other side. Amongst otherthings, Captain Pegram told me that there would be plentyof opportunities of reaching the South, as the United Stateswould certainly refuse to surrender Messrs. Mason andSlidell [who had been taken from the English mail steamerTrent by Captain Wilkes of the San Jacinto, on November8th, 1861], and that England’s first act after declaring warwould be to raise the blockade of the Southern ports. Inspite of Captain Pegram’s refusal, I persisted in urging himto take me, and at last he said: “There is only one thingthat can be done; if you like to go as a sailor before themast I will take you, but of course you will not dream ofdoing that.” My answer was “I will do it; and I hope thatyou will let me know when you are about to sail, in order thatI may be here in time.” Captain Pegram told me that hewould do this, but either forgot it or supposed that myintentions must have changed when I realized what I hadundertaken. But I did not realize it, and I did not changemy mind. I ought to say here that, although I was twenty-oneyears old at this time, I did not look more than seventeenor eighteen, which will account for the habit that CaptainPegram has had of saying that I was a mere boy at thetime that he made my acquaintance.
I returned to London, and began at once to make arrangementsfor my departure. My friend from Arkansas told methat the one indispensable thing was a bowie-knife, and heexplained the divers uses to which this weapon could beput, assuring me that I would have no difficulty in seizingthe gun of a Yankee soldier by the muzzle and, with one dexterousblow, severing the barrel in twain. Another way ofusing it was to attach a cord to the handle of this bowie-knifeand, with a skillful throw, to drive the blade into theheart of the advancing foeman, and, when he should havefallen, to haul it back by the string, and repeat the operationon another of the enemy. I had not much faith in myability to use the bowie-knife in this fashion, but I orderedone to be made by a surgical instrument maker, according toa pattern given me by my Arkansas friend. A sanguinarylooking weapon it was. The blade was fifteen inches long andabout three inches wide, at the broadest part, and a third ofan inch thick at the back. I provided myself with a sea-chest,which, according to Marryatt’s novels, was indispensable toa sea-faring man, caused my name to be painted on it in bigwhite letters, and held myself in readiness to start. But nosummons came. The papers would occasionally say that theNashville was to sail in a day or two, and I had many a falsealarm. Tired of waiting, I bade good-bye to my people athome, and went down to Southampton, determined toremain there until the time for going aboard should come.
At Southampton I purchased a sailor’s outfit, and, whenI had rigged myself out in what I considered the properstyle, I went down to the vessel. I wore a blue woolenshirt open at the neck; a black silk handkerchief, with ampleflowing ends, tied loosely around the neck; blue trousers,made very tight at the knee and twenty-two inches in circumferenceat the bottom, and on my head a flat cloth capornamented with long black ribbons. I had besides, in thefamous sea-chest, a pea jacket, sea boots, and the necessaryunder-clothing. As a reminder of my former estate, I retaineda suit of dress clothes, and a black Inverness capewhich I had been in the habit of wearing.
As well as I can remember, it was on New Year’s Day,1862, that I went aboard the Nashville.
I reported to the officer of the deck, and told him thatI had been ordered by Captain Pegram to come aboard forduty. I was turned over to the boatswain, who told me togo down into the “foksle.” Up to this time I was supposedto be, what I appeared to be, a sailor. As a matter of factmy experience in nautical affairs had been confined to sailingminiature yachts on the Serpentine in