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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

accompany her.

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.,


A. Adjutant General.


Major Wiegel.

Commandant's Office.

Naval Station,

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,




Col. Sam'l B. Lawrence,

A. Adjutant General,

Middle Department.

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

the morning.

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

being made.

A steamer has also been despatched to intercept the pirates

before they reach the Capes."