The Chase After The Steamer Harriet Deford Which Was Captured By Pirates Supposedly To Supply A Means Of Escape To Jefferson Davis From The Crumbling Confederacy
Headquarters, Middle Department,
8th Army Corps.
Baltimore, Apl. 5, 1865.
I have written to Commodore Dornin requesting him to send a
small steamer in pursuit of the "Harriet Deford," if he has
one ready, and to permit Lieut. Smith and his guard to
If Commodore Dornin can not send a steamer
have written to
Colonel Newport, to request him to place a tug at your
You will please see that Smith goes in Command with sufficient
guard and ammunition. If you want a Howitzer, send to C. O.
Fort McHenry, or let the steamer stop there and get it.
Very respy. your obdt. servt.,
SAMUEL B. LAWRENCE,
A. Adjutant General.
Baltimore, Apl. 5, 1865.
I regret that I have no steamer in the proper condition to
start off; if we had it would be furnished promptly.
Very respy. your obdt. servt,
THOS A. DORNIN,
Col. Sam'l B. Lawrence,
A. Adjutant General,
A report had reached us that the steamer "Harriet Deford," plying
between the Patuxent river and Baltimore, had been captured by a gang of
pirates, in Fair Haven bay, which is midway between the Patuxent river
and the Severn river; the passengers were robbed and put ashore.
Richmond had fallen; Jefferson Davis was seeking to escape, and the
theory, quickly arrived at, was that this steamer had been seized to
furnish the means, perhaps, to run him to the Bahamas, or Bermuda.
The bay and its tributaries were alive with anxiety. In a very short
time I was away in a tug. I put the guards below decks, in the
coal-hole, where they were nearly smothered, until night came on.
Early in the evening we arrived at the mouth of Fair Haven bay. Our
pilot did not know the harbor, but soon discovered he could not run his
boat on the mere appearance of water. He ran us onto a bar, where we
thumped and thumped, backed and poled off, and then ran onto another. We
finally concluded to back off, go back to the Severn river and
Annapolis, and wait for daylight.
When we arrived in the Severn, we found the shore and water full of
alertness. We were hailed and threatened until our character was
understood. To my delight I found there a large steamer, with two
hundred men on, that Colonel Lawrence had sent down to support me. A
landlubber feels better on a larger vessel, so I took my men on the
steamer, and we started again for Fair Haven. We arrived there early in
My theory was that I could pick up some clue there to follow up, and
events sustained me. I sauntered up from the dock towards a store. I met
two men, and to my question, one of the men admitted he was pressed into
service by the gang in the mouth of the Patuxent. He said the party had
crossed the Potomac in a small sail boat, and compelled him to pilot
them, to overhaul the "Harriet Deford." He said they steamed down the
bay, after leaving Fair Haven. We held him, and at once ran on down the
Chesapeake, to the mouth of the Potomac. We were then in Commodore
Parker's territory, which he was covering clear across the bay with
gunboats. Our duty was done, and we returned to Baltimore.
I learned afterwards that they ran the "Deford" into Mobjack bay, where
she was burned, after first stripping her joiner work. I visited, and
afterwards married, Aunt Mag, in the region of Mobjack bay, but never
referred to the incident. I thought it might not bring up pleasant
recollections. I have often wondered if some of the "Deford's" saloon
trimmings might be in use in some of the houses there. Let us forget it.
The following account of the affair appeared in the New York papers
under date April 6th, 1865, with big headline: "Another Pirate!"
"Baltimore, April 5th, 1865. A daring act of piracy was
perpetrated at Fair Haven, Herring Bay, about fifty miles from
this city, the Steamer Harriet Deford being seized by a
company of Rebel soldiers in disguise. The Deford had scarcely
left Fair Haven Wharf before a dozen or more of newly received
passengers threw off their overcoats and drawing revolvers
revealed to the astonished gaze of the passengers the uniforms
of Rebel soldiers.
The passengers, about seventy in number, thirty being ladies,
were ordered to the saloon and guards placed over them while
the balance of the pirates proceeded to take command of the
Steamer. Captain and officers were forced into obedience at
the muzzle of the pirates' revolvers. One of the pirates
assumed control of the wheel, the Pilot and Engineer being
compelled to proceed to sea. Mr. A. Donnell, clerk of the
Deford, believing that he had met the leader of the outlaws on
a former occasion, accosted him as Captain Fitzhugh, when the
latter acknowledged the recognition and said he was Captain of
the Fifth Virginia Cavalry and acting under orders of superior
officers. Under the persuasive eloquence of a revolver the
clerk handed over to the pirates nearly twelve hundred dollars
belonging to the owners of the Steamer and different firms in
this City; which Fitzhugh carefully robbed.
When about a mile from Fair Haven, Fitzhugh compelled the
Engineer to sound the steam whistle three times, in answer to
which signal three boats containing thirty-two men put off
from each side of the river and stood for the Steamer. The
crews of these boats having been taken aboard, the Steamer was
headed down Chesapeake Bay. On the way down Captain Leage,
Captain Dayton, officer in charge of the Steamer and several
old gentlemen with ladies and children, were placed on board
of the Schooner Hiawatha, bound for this city. The balance of
male passengers, Engineer, Fireman, and twenty colored
freedmen were retained as prisoners.
The Deford was valued at fifty thousand dollars and had a
cargo of tobacco, potatoes, grain, furs, &c., valued at eighty
thousand dollars. Fitzhugh would not permit his men to rob
The captured Steamer is a fast sailer, having repeatedly made
fourteen knots per hour. The intention of the pirates could
not be learned, but it is supposed they will endeavor to run
outside the Capes, transfer the cargo to a larger vessel, burn
the Deford, and proceed to Nassau.
The paroled passengers arrived here this morning. One of them
positively asserts that Jeff. Davis was among the party who
came out in small boats, but no reliance whatever can be
placed in the possibility of Jeff. having thus escaped from
Richmond. The receipt of this news caused great excitement
here, and measures looking to the defence of the Bay boats are
A steamer has also been despatched to intercept the pirates
before they reach the Capes."