Initial Trip Down Chesapeake Bay After Blockade Runners And Contraband Dealers And Goods
My initial trip down the Chesapeake Bay after blockade-runners was made
under the following order:
Headquarters, Middle Department,
8th Army Corps,
Baltimore, Mch. 22, 1864.
Special Order No. 73.
2d Lieut. H. B. Smith, 5th Regt. N. Y. Artillery, is hereby
ordered to proceed down the Eastern shore, Virginia, and
arrest ---- Jacobs (citizen) and such other persons as may be
found in company with him. If Lieut. Smith has reason to
believe that they are engaged in the practice of smuggling or
running the blockade, and seize all contraband goods in their
Lieut. Smith will seize and hold the following named vessels,
viz.: Schooners "Trifle," "Frances E. Burgess," "Despatch,"
"Washington," and "Glib," wherever he may find them, and will
convey them to the nearest place of safety within our lines.
Lieut. Smith will assume command of the steam tug placed at
his disposal by orders from this office, and having
accomplished the object of this order will return to this
city, and make immediate report to the Commanding General.
Lieut. Smith is permitted to use his discretion as to the
disposition of the vessels named in case of emergency. By
Major General LEW WALLACE,
(Signed) SAM'L B. LAWRENCE,
Asst. Adj. Gen'l.
Quinn, the prisoner referred to above was out on parole and was thus
able to pursue his business. He was in the habit of purchasing much of
his supplies from a certain ship chandler on Pratt street, a friend of
mine, and, in fact, a good Union man, who so concealed me in his
premises that I learned much of Quinn's plans from his (Quinn's) own
mouth; and this order was to enable me to develop the matters he had
Blockade running, mail carrying and "spy" carrying, along the Potomac
and Chesapeake, was carried on in such a cute manner as to necessitate a
peculiar service to meet and stop it. Gunboats nor troops could baffle
it; it was done in skiffs, canoes (called cunnas), small sail boats
with dirty sails hardly to be seen in broad day light. These little
"creepers" would run right up under the bows of gunboats unnoticed; as
soon as shore was touched, if a plug was pulled out of the bottom of a
boat it would immediately and entirely submerge itself, until wanted for
The price for carrying one person across the river was fifty dollars in
gold, which tempted to the business the most dare devil men on either
side of the line. As to merchandise, the plan was to "work" the local
storekeepers, for in the North it was perfectly legitimate to allow all
the merchandise desired to go to the line just on the borders of
territory patrolled by us, which might be only an hour's sail with fair
wind to put it at night within the reach of the Confederates. These
stores were not in villages, as was the case further north, but were
isolated, very frequently on a cross road in the woods.
Oystering was a favorite cloak for blockade-runners. Sometimes vessels
of little value (three hundred dollars or so) were loaded in Baltimore
with goods and purposely _swamped_ on the south side of the river to
allow the Confederates to confiscate. I was "on the inside" once when a
Captain was offered fifteen thousand dollars to allow his vessel to be
loaded and to permit its destruction when in reach of the Confederates.
There was some delay in the preparation of my written report which
caused anxiety at headquarters, which was expressed in the following:
Headquarters, Middle Department,
8th Army Corps,
Baltimore, Apl. 5, 1864.
Colonel.--I am directed by Major General Wallace to request
you to inform him what is the latest information you have
concerning Lieut. H. B. Smith, 5th N. Y. Arty., who was sent
with a squad of men on the 22d ult. to make certain seizures.
Please state near what point he was last known to be.
Resp'y your ob'd't serv't,
SAM'L B. LAWRENCE,
A. A. G.
To Col. Porter,
Com'd'g 2d Sep. Brigade.
The above I find among my papers. I cannot understand it in view of the
fact that I reported March 30th (see following), and was appointed Chief
of the Secret Service by General Wallace on April 3d. The years are many
since then and it is hard to remember details, but my present theory is
that as General Wallace had but recently assumed command, the Adjutant
General's office was in confusion. "I am directed by Major General
Wallace" is the usual language for an _Adjutant General_ to use; at any
rate my report is dated March 30th, and I was interviewed by General
Wallace on April 2d, this I clearly remember.
Fort McHenry, Mch. 30, 1864.
To the General Commanding,
8th Army Corps, Middle Department.
General.--I have the honor to report that in compliance with
Special Order No. 73, Mch. 22, 1864, I proceeded with a guard
of 12 men on board the steam tug "Adriatic," but on account of
the weather did not leave until the morning of the 23d.
I was alongside the Cutter (Revenue) and notified the officer
commanding to arrest any of the vessels named in my order. I
was afterwards hailed, and ran back to the Cutter again, and
learned that the schooner "Frances E. Burgess," Capt. J. J.
Lewis, had left just one-half hour before. On the morning of
the 22d, she came in and just touched at the wharf,
immediately dropping out in the stream. This last fact,
connected with the previous one, also the fact that Quinn was
much worried about the "F. E. B." led me to believe that the
"Burgess" was not all right, and that Captain Lewis had
learned of my moves and had attempted to evade me. I made
chase for her.
At Hill's Point (below the Choptank river) I arrested the
schooner "Trifle," and took her in tow to Point Lookout. By
her papers she is with bonds given by E. R. Quinn, T. R.
Quinn, and George G. Nellis, stated in her license, dated
Feb'y 3, 1864. Her enrollment dated Feb'y 3d, 1864, shows that
T. R. Quinn, master, is a citizen of the United States, and
had sworn to it, when he was then on his parole as being a
Her crew consisted of Captain Seward, Farrell, Reddick,
Zervicks, and Bailey, deck hands. Captain Seward has
acknowledged that he ran the blockade, and that he was in
Richmond about last Christmas, but did not go on this vessel.
I believe the balance of the crew are innocent men. I found
Bailey to be of great service to me on the balance of my trip.
I remained at Point Lookout on the night of the 23d. On the
24th, went up to St. Mary's river for a harbor, on account of
a heavy blow. On the evening of the 24th, I started for and
arrived at Pocomoke Sound (Accomac), where we remained that
night. On the 25th, went into Onancock Creek, where I landed
with eight men, and sent the Steamer around to the Pungateague
river to wait for us. In the evening we arrived at the house
of one T. W. Jacobs, on the sea side. We entered and searched
his house; next morning we learned our error, and although he
is undoubtedly a Rebel, I released him.
We then made our way to the house of one William E. Jacobs,
on the bay side, where we arrived at 3 P. M., on the 26th. At
this place I found the schooner "Frances E. Burgess"--Captain
Lewis. I arrested Mr. Jacobs, and found him to be the man
engaged with Quinn. I searched his house and barns but found
nothing contraband, as they had been duly warned by the
arrival of the "Burgess."
Captain Lewis stated that he left Baltimore on the 11th of
March, and arrived at Accomac Creek on the 14th, and said that
was his last trip. Mr. Jacobs made same statement.
Captain Lewis was arrested about last June, about the same
time that Quinn was arrested. He said that he was caught in
the act of leaving the Eastern shore with contraband goods and
that his intention was to run the blockade; he said he was
examined by Captain E. W. Andrews, and afterwards released
after taking the oath of allegiance.
Both Jacobs and Lewis say that Lieut. Andrews, Capt. Andrews'
son, was to go into business on the Eastern shore; that they
engaged two stores for the purpose, but that Andrews did not
come down there.
Mr. Jacobs said that Quinn had often remarked that he could
get anything done at Fort McHenry with the Adjutant General.
At first both Jacobs and Lewis denied all knowledge of any man
Jacobs said that J. J. Hodge (the writer of some of the
letters found in Quinn's possession) was arrested on the
Eastern shore about the same time that he and Quinn were, on
the charge of attempting to go south; said that he heard Quinn
speak of letters that he had from Hodge, but did not know
their contents. Quinn was the first man that employed him
(Lewis) after his release, and said it was Quinn's own seeking
(to employ a man of that character appears rather suspicious).
The creek where we found the "Burgess" is one that no steamer
can enter, or even a sailing vessel, unless piloted by an old
residenter of that neighborhood. The creek is very crooked and
the channel is very narrow.
All the people about that country seem to be very closely
united and watch a stranger's movements very closely. On the
evening of the 27th, we left this creek with the schooner, and
on the afternoon of the 28th, we arrived in the Pungateague,
and started on the steamer, towing the schooner for Point
Lookout, where we arrived at 9 P. M.
On the morning of the 29th we left the Point with the two
schooners, but afterwards let go the "Burgess," and sent her
up under sail to Baltimore, where she arrived at 4 P. M.,
after encountering a very heavy sea. We arrived here at 9.20
I could find nothing of the schooners' "Despatch" or "Glib," I
made many inquiries for the schooner "Washington," but could
not find her.
On our way back to the city Captain Seward, of the "Trifle"
said that there was a sign "Washington" painted on it, in the
hold of the "Trifle," which I afterwards found to be true. I
think by the actions of all connected, that "Washington" was
sometimes substituted for "Trifle"; this sign was hid away and
only by accident found.
Both the "Burgess" and "Trifle" have been confiscated before,
two or three times.
I have this day been on the Cutter, twice, to ascertain to a
certainty if the "Burgess" left on the 23d inst., and the
officers say they will swear she passed out on that day; that
she was in here I know. I then went to the Custom House and
found that she did not enter or clear on that trip but left
without any papers, and did not stay in Port over 24 hours.
I have the honor to be,
Very respy. your obdt. servt,
(Signed) H. B. SMITH,
Lieut. 5th N. Y. II. A.
Lieutenant Andrews and George G. Nellis, "tied up" to Quinn and Lewis,
the blockade-runners, had been, respectively, Provost and Assistant
Provost Marshals at Fort McHenry, prior to the assignment of Captain
Holmes and myself to those offices.
It pleases me to note how vivid my memory is, after forty-seven years,
of the incidents connected with this expedition. Our party of eight,
after landing in Accomac, split up, and straggled over the country about
ten miles, through fields and timber, in snow and slush nearly ankle
deep, avoiding the highways and stopping only at negro huts to inquire
our way. We arrived at T. W. Jacobs' house quite late and began our
search; right here I want to say our search was orderly, endeavoring not
to unnecessarily annoy.
About midnight a great commotion was raised outside the house by the
tramping of horses, rattling of sabres, and loud voices. We were
surrounded by a troop of cavalry (our cavalry). They were very excited,
and they threatened us with everything, until I took the Commandant
aside and made him aware of who we were; even then he soundly upbraided
me for giving him such a scare. He finally departed.
The next day we went over to the Chesapeake Bay side of the peninsula.
When we arrived there we divided into two parties, in order to approach
the harbor from two directions. When we arrived on the bluff (about
twenty feet above water) my party of four was first to discover that
there were a number of sailing vessels at anchor in the little bay.
What to do was the question. I determined that we four must capture the
whole fleet. Which we did in this way: As quietly as possible we
possessed ourselves of one vessel and from it, under the persuasive
influence of our revolvers, we compelled the men on all the other
vessels to go below deck. Then we searched the vessels in detail,
detaining only the "Frances E. Burgess."
This harbor was an ideal place for such "traders," i. e.,
blockade-runners. It was perfectly land-locked, could not be seen from
the bay, and was very hard to get in or out of; it was impassable for
gunboats, and so it was well chosen for the business.
The Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are indented almost continuously
with smaller estuaries, which make excellent hiding places. Beautiful
places for residence, and likely spots for romance.
While laying at Point Lookout on our way home a severe March storm came
up, dreadful to a land lubber like me. The point is where the Potomac
empties into the Chesapeake. Storms are felt there nearly as greatly as
at Old Point. It blew so hard I feared it would blow us over onto the
wharf. The water was up to the wharf's surface, and there was no sleep
for us that night. Next morning, when we started for Baltimore (ninety
miles away), as we were rounding the Point a big boiling sea took the
yawl of the "Burgess," davits and all, throwing it high in the air. But
to turn back spelled death. Our pilot was Captain Cannon, an old bay
pilot. He did not conceal that he was frightened. He said he never had
seen such weather. We breasted that storm for about twelve hours. The
only encouragement from Captain Cannon was that if our boat could live
until we got under the influence of North Point we would be all right;
The heavens were never more unkind in appearance. I did not spend much
time in gazing that way, for the awful waves occupied me. Captain Cannon
kept the vessel as near head on as possible, first on top of the wave
and then in a trough of the sea. Half the time our screw was revolving
in the air. Everything loose on deck washed away. I never had a better
chance to contemplate my past and future than in that twelve hours. I
remember my great regret was that if we should go down, no one could
know what became of us, for I had not reported at Point Lookout and we
were unknown on the peninsula. The severity of this storm became a
matter of history. Seagoing steamers remained tied to their wharves. The
shores of the Chesapeake Bay were strewn with wrecks. The "Adriatic"
(our vessel) was iron bottomed and drew six feet of water. The
Chesapeake can kick up a sea, give it a northeaster, that would gratify
the most hungry tar.
When we were opposite the mouth of the Severn river we saw the steamer
"Nellie Pentz" headed out, her bow tossing up and down in the air like a
cork. She did not dare come out, to certain wreck, dared not turn
around, so she backed up the river again. When we got under the lee of
North Point I became courageous and generous; off towards the west was
in view a schooner, on the rocks. Her crew of four men were in the
rigging. I proposed to Captain Cannon to rescue them. He said it was
impossible, as our boat drew more water than theirs and would be wrecked
before we could reach them. However, we notified the revenue cutter and
they were rescued. When we arrived at Baltimore (nine o'clock P.M.) the
wharves were afloat. The big Bay Line steamers, sea-going vessels, had
not left the wharf. They had not dared to venture out in the storm our
little eighty-foot craft had passed through.