Page images

costs my life.' On the second day he was delirious; but as the little ship approached one dangerous coast he regained consciousness, and spoke of his home and the loved ones awaiting his coming at Smithville. When darkness drew on his fever increased and his condition seemed hopeless, but with the heart of a lion he determined to take his post on the bridge, and when the soundings were reached he was carried bodily to the wheel-house, where, supported by two of the sailors, he guided by feeble tones the gallant ship through devious ways, until the hostile fleet was passed. As the well-known lights of his home appeared in the distance his voice grew stronger, but tremulous, for he felt that he was nearing the end of life's voyage. "Starboard; steady; port; ease her; stop her: let go your anchor-" with the rattle of the chains he sank to the desk, overcome by the dread disease, and on the following morning breathed his last.

"For, tho' from out our bourne time and place,

The flood may bear me far;

I hope to see my pilot face to face,

When I have crossed the bar."

Along the coast may still be seen the storm-beaten hulls of some of the unfortunate ships, which, after weathering many a gale at sea, came to grief within sight of a friendly port. The Beauregard and the Venus lie stranded on Carolina Beach; the Modern Greece near New Inlet; the Antonica on Frying Pan Shoals; the Ella on Bald Head; the Spunkey and the Georgiana McCall on Caswell Beach; the Hebe and the Dee between Wrightsville and Masonboro. Two others lie near Lockswood's Folly Bar, and others whose names are also forgotten, lie half buried in the sands, where they may remain for centuries.


Among that devoted band of United States navy officers whose home and kindred were in the South at the outbreak of the war, and who resigned their commissions rather than aid in subjugating their native State, there were none braver nor truer than our own Captain John N. Maffitt, who, yielding to necessity, severed the strong ties of a service under the old flag in which he had long distinguished himself, and relinquished not only a conspicuous position directly in the line of speedy promotion to the rank of admiral, but sacrificed at the same time his entire fortune, which was invested in the North, and which was confiscated shortly afterward by the Federal Govern



The biography of this modest hero has never been written. give the following brief sketch prepared by the accomplished Mrs. J. N. Maffitt, at the time of her distinguished husband's decease, who is now writing a more extended memoir of his career.

John Newland Maffitt was born at sea on the 22d of February, 1819. His parents were Rev. John Newland Maffitt and Ann Carnicke, his wife. Rev. Mr. Maffitt, having determined to emigrate to America, left Ireland with his wife and family late in January or early in February, and landed in New York on the 21st of April, 1819, his son having been born on the passage. Their first home was in Connecticut. When John was about five years old, his uncle, Dr. William Maffitt, who had accompanied them to America, visited his brother, Rev. Mr. Maffitt, and finding him in straitened circumstances, begged to adopt their son, and on the consent of his parents, Dr. Maffitt brought his nephew to Fayetteville, N. C. Some years were passed in this happy home of his boyhood, when his uncle determined to send him to school at White Plains, N. Y. As a little stripling, he started by the old-time stage coach, with his ticket tacked to his jacket, and on his arrival much curiosity was shown to see the little boy who had come alone from his distant southern home. He remained at this school, under Professor Swinburn, until he was thirteen years old, when his father's friends obtained for him a commission as midshipman in the United States Navy. His first orders were to the St. Louis, then at Pensacola Navy-Yard. His second sea orders were to the Constitution, the flagship of the squadron, commanded by Commodore Elliott, then fitting out for the Mediterranean. This cruise lasted three years and six months, and it was during that time that most of the incidents related in the Nautilers took place. Having been appointed aide to Commodore Elliott, the young midshipman had many advantages not otherwise obtainable. He was next ordered to the frigate Macedonian as past midshipman, and it was while in port at Pensacola, Fla., that he had his first experience of "yellow jack," and came near losing his life. His first independent command was the Gallatin. He commanded also the brig Dolphin and several others. He was engaged, under Professor Bache, for some years on the coast survey, and was of great service to the professor, which the latter was not slow to acknowledge. Much of their work was in the harbors of Nantucket, Charleston, Wilmington, and Savannah. A channel in the harbor of Charleston still bears his name. In one of the numerous published sketches this tribute is paid to him:


[ocr errors]

"He was always considered one of the best officers and most high-toned gentlemen of the old service. For some years he was connected with the coast survey, and Professor Bache, the head of the department, declared that if Maffitt was taken from him he could not supply his place in all the navy.' He added: "He is not only a thorough seaman and game to the backbone, but a man of superior intellect, a humorist of rare excellence, and one of the most delightful companions. There is no position in his profession which Maffitt is not capable of filling with honor and distinction." This was his acknowledged position when the war began. His last command while in the service of the United States, was the Crusader. He was very successful in capturing slavers. In January, 1860, while in command of the Crusader, and also acting as paymaster of the vessel, he was ordered by the Secretary of the Navy to proceed to Mobile, and there cash a check on the collector of the port for prize money due the officers and crew. The city being agitated at the time by the Ordinance of Secession, just passed by the State of Alabama, he was forced to put his vessel in a defensive position, and soon retired to the port of Habana. Here, failing to negotiate with the bank of Habana for the funds requisite for the necessities of the vessel, he advanced from his private funds the money needed to work the steamer to New York, where he was ordered. He turned the steamer over to the proper authorities and went to Washington to settle his accounts. His cash accounts received no attention, though for several months he was a constant applicant for settlement. A trying position was his, as his wife was dead, and his children had no kinsfolk, save in North Carolina; if he remained in the navy his property, which was all in the North, would be secured to him. All that appealed to his interests lay there. Love of his profession was entwined with every fibre of his being. On the other hand, he would have been compelled to fight against his people-perhaps fire upon the very home that had sheltered him, and was then sheltering his defenceless children. One night a friend informed him that his name was down for arrest the next day. His affections drew him South. His resignation having been accepted, he felt free to leave and cast his fortunes with his people. His war record is well known. During the earlier part of the war he commanded the celebrated Confederate corvette Florida, and the ram Albemarle, rendering most valuable service

to the Confederacy. Afterwards he was in command of the blockaderunners Lillian, Owl, and other vessels engaged in bringing supplies and munitions of war for the South. At the close of the war, his property confiscated and he an exile, he applied for a command in the English merchant service, and was given the command of a fine steamer, running between Liverpool and Rio Janeiro. She was subsequently sold to the Brazilian Government and used as an army transport. While conveying several hundred soldiers to the scene of action, small-pox broke out among them, and as the well refused to nurse the sick, or bury the dead, those duties devolved upon Captain Maffitt, and a fearful time he had—“sickening to the last degree," he described it—and the soldiers were mutinous and without discipline. He retained command of this steamer for eighteen months, when, at the urgent entreaty of his family, he resigned the command and came home. He soon after purchased a small farm near Wilmington, where he resided for nearly eighteen years. In July, 1885, he moved to Wilmington. For a year or two his health had been failing, but he determined to make a brave effort to retrieve his fortunes and provide for his young family. The disappointment of that hope was too great a shock for his feeble frame; the thought that he could no longer provide for his loved ones broke his heart. After an illness of more than three months, he died on the 15th of May, 1886, in the sixty-eighth year of his age.

[From the Richmond Dispatch, April 26, 1896.].


Capture of the Federal Steamer Maple Leaf.


The Plot Carried Out in a Minute. Then the Confederate Yell. Narrow Escapes from being Retaken.

A Series of Adventures. Experiences

in the Dismal Swamp.

To the Editor of the Dispatch:

There occurred many incidents during the late war between the North and the South that are worthy of mention, and among which none are more so than the coup de main enacted on the coast in

1863, by a squad of Confederate prisoners. This interesting incident is known to but few outside of those who took a part in this daring feat. It was on the 8th of April, 1863, that Colonel J. U. Green (who, by the way, is a scion of the Old North State, and is now an honored and highly-respected citizen of Covington, West Tennessee), with four or five other soldiers of the "Lost Cause," was captured near Memphis by the Federal forces, then holding possession of that part of the State. These prisoners were sent on a circuitous route to Norfolk, Virginia, there to remain until an opportunity offered to send them along with other prisoners to Fort Delaware. I here give an extract from the diary of Colonel Green:

"Three days after our arrival at Norfolk, all the prisoners marched on board of the good steamer Maple Leaf, bound for Fort Delaware. Her officers were white men; her crew consisted of negroes entirely, about fifty or sixty in number. We were under the charge of a lieutenant and twelve soldiers, armed with muskets. The two sets of prisoners mingled together, and it soon became known among them that the steamer was to be captured. A low, bulky, heavy-set man, with iron-grey hair and beard was pointed out as captain, whose orders were to be obeyed. He was a sailor and had been captured on board, and in command of a Confederate gunboat. He was suf fering at the time from a severe wound. He had laid his plans while in prison; had appointed a staff to assist him, and now there was nothing to do but to win our crowd to his purpose, which was an easy job, and by the aid of his staff officers to assign every man to his duty. There were thirteen soldiers, including the lieutenant, and about as many white men, officers of the steamer. We were divided into squads of three, each squad to deal with a guard distinctly pointed out. This took about two-thirds of our number. The remaining third was held together under a captain, to overawe the crew, and to give help wherever needed. The signal of attack was to be the ringing of the great bell of the steamer by our captain. All these arrangements were quietly make while we steamed out of James river into Chesapeake bay. Norfolk, the forts on either side of the channel, and the gunboats were all left to our rear. In front of us and to our right, was Cape Henry, and to our left Cape Charles. About the middle of the afternoon, every squad being as convenient as possible to the guard to be attacked, and all chattering among themselves or with the guards, suddenly the great bell began to rattle as if the steamer were on fire. In a twinkling each squad

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »