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Reminiscences of the old Navy, from the journals and private papers of Captain Edward Trechard, and Rear-Admiral Stephen Decatur Trenchard online

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LIBRARY



V i






UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA.



Class






Edition limited to seven hundred and fifty
copies, and the type distributed.



REMINISCENCES OF THE
OLD NAVY



FROM THE JOURNALS AND PRIVATE PAPERS OF
CAPTAIN EDWARD TRENCHARD, AND REAR-
ADMIRAL STEPHEN DECATUR TRENCHARD



BY

EDGAR STANTON MACLAY

AUTHOR OF "A HISTORY OF THE UNITED
STATES NAVY," ETC.




G. P. PUTNAM S SONS

NEW YORK AND LONDON
fftnicfcerbocfcer press

1898



COPYRIGHT, 1898

BY
G. P. PUTNAM S SONS



Ube fmfcfeerbocfeer press, View



To
CAPTAIN ALFRED THAYER MAHAN, U.S.N. (RETIRED)

OUR FOREMOST WRITER ON NAVAL AFFAIRS
THIS WORK IS RESPECTFULLY

DEDICATED
BY THE AUTHOR



CONTENTS.



I. EARLY LIFE OF EDWARD TRENCHARD
II. ON THE WEST COAST OF AFRICA .
III. CONFESSIONS OF A MIDSHIPMAN
IV. JOLLY MIDSHIPMITES
V. OFF FOR THE CHINA SEA
VI. ON THE SCENE OF TROUBLE .
VII. BATTLE OF THE PEIHO FORTS
VIII. A LAND CRUISE .
IX. EARLY SERVICE IN THE CIVIL WAR
X. FIRST TRIP SOUTH .
XL VERY ACTIVE CRUISING .
XII. ON THE ENEMY S COAST
XIII. AN EXPERIENCE WITH THE "MERRIMAC,
XIV. LAST CRUISES AS A SUPPLY STEAMER
XV. SINKING OF THE "MONITOR"
XVI. ON SPECIAL DUTY .
XVII. LEISURELY CRUISING



PAGE
I

7

2 5
34
47
60

73
94

102

116

148
172

195

208
223

237



vi Contents.

CHAPTER PAGE

XVIIL A ROMANTIC CRUISE . 245

XIX. IMPORTANT CAPTURES . . . 262

XX. CAPTURE OF THE " CRONSTADT " . . 275

XXI. CONVOY SERVICE ... .282

XXII. AT FORT FISHER . - 299

XXIII. LAST CRUISES OF THE " RHODE ISLAND " . 319

XXIV. CLOSING SCENES . 34*

INDEX ...- -35 l




INTRODUCTION.

IT is seldom that the " inside history " of
our navy has been so interestingly re
vealed as it is in the journal and private papers
of the late Rear-Admiral Stephen Decatur
Trenchard, and of his father, Captain Edward
Trenchard. The history of the navy, as taken
from the official reports of our commanders
and other public documents, has been given to
the country in various forms, but they, as a
rule, touch only on well-known actions or er
rands of public service with which the general
reader already is familiar. There are many
acts of heroism, many thrilling episodes, and
many romances wrapped up in the private
lives of our officers which have not been made
public, and are known only to a few of their most
intimate messmates. The records left by the
two Trenchards, covering eighty years of ser
vice in the United States Navy, are singularly
rich in romance and in details of historic inter-



viii Introduction.

est. It is, in truth, an " inside history" of the
navy for the period covered. Both the Trench-
ards were careful writers, and had a keen eye
to matters of human interest. The journal and
various notes of a cruise for the suppression of
the slave trade on the coast of Africa left by
the elder Trenchard are replete with stirring
events, while the extensive journals of the
younger Trenchard, kept while on his cruise
in the China Sea, and during his remarkable
career as commander of the United States
cruiser Rhode Island in the four years of the
Civil War, together with their letters and cor
respondence, throw a flood of light on a side
of our navy s career which has been kept too
much in the dark.

Although the general work of the navy dur
ing the Civil War is familiar to readers of
history and current literature, yet there were im
portant services performed by our seamen and
several gallant fights and heroic episodes oc
curred which have not been made public. The
private journal of Stephen Decatur Trenchard,
kept while in command of the Rhode Island
during the Civil War, contains accounts of
several actions and many interesting incidents
of that struggle that are not generally known.



Introduction. ix

This journal is singularly fortunate in being
one of the extremely few continuous private
narratives of the internecine strife. Nearly all
of our officers during the war were frequently
transferred from one ship to another, so that
their impressions of the struggle are discon
nected and fragmentary. The view of the naval
operations of the war obtained from the private
papers and journal of Rear-Admiral Trenchard
may properly be described as a " bird s-eye
view." During the time he was in command
of \h&Rhode Island, June 10, 1861, to October,
1865, he was constantly hovering on the coast
of the seceding States or making a dash in the
West Indies after some blockade-runner.

From the very nature of this service Trench
ard was able to obtain impressions of the
struggle along the seaboard which are of pe
culiar interest. Probably no other officer of
the navy was so widely known and became
so familiar in the service as the commander of
the Little Rhody. Among some of the nota
ble incidents of his cruises were the spirited
chase and capture of a Confederate vessel by
the Jamestown, the capture of the British ship
Richard O Brien, the landing of a detachment
of seamen and marines near Galveston, when



x Introduction,

the Stars and Stripes for the first time were
replanted on Texan soil by a regular United
States force after the secession of that State ;
the adventure of a boat s crew from the Rhode
Island after the sinking of the Monitor ; the
capture of the Confederate vessels Venus, and
Vixen, and Cronstadt ; the several chases after
the supposed Alabama, and the active partic
ipation in both attacks on Fort Fisher. Besides
these occurrences of more general interest,
there are a number of instances of heroism dis
played by American seamen, which places them
on the plane of the historic Reuben James and
other tars who have become famous in the
American Navy. It is the purpose of this
work to put this invaluable material in narra
tive form, and to give those interested in the
navy an opportunity to see it as it was seen by
an officer actively engaged in the service.

In the preparation of this book, I am in
debted to Edward Trenchard, Esq., of New
York City, who has placed at my disposal all
the papers and correspondence of his father
and grandfather.

E. S. M.

OLD FIELD POINT,

SETAUKET, LONG ISLAND, N. Y.,

January 31, 1898.



REMINISCENCES OF THE OLD NAVY



REMINISCENCES OF THE
OLD NAVY.



CHAPTER I.

EARLY LIFE OF EDWARD TRENCHARD.

BOTH Edward Trenchard and his son,
Stephen Decatur, began life with the
intention of entering callings that were any
thing but warlike. The parents of the former
fondly hoped that he would achieve fame as
an artist, while the latter was to become a
bishop. Each undoubtedly would have made
his mark had not the pugnacious spirit of Dor
setshire asserted itself too early in their careers.
The aesthetic taste of Edward, and the religious
fervor of Stephen Decatur, however, were con
spicuous all through their stormy careers, and
form a striking feature in their writings. Ed-



2 The Old Navy.

ward Trenchard first saw the light of day in
Salem, New Jersey, 1785, and so became a
contemporary of such famous naval heroes as
Perry, Macdonough, Decatur, Bainbridge,Hull,
Lawrence, and Stewart. He inherited a taste
for the fine arts and at an early age began to
study under his uncle, James Trenchard, Edi
tor of the Columbian Magazine, who had won
some distinction as a designer and an engraver
of book-plates.

Going abroad when sixteen years old Edward
met Gilbert Fox, the engraver, and returned
with him to the United States. The voyage
across the Atlantic seems to have completely
upset Edward s idea of becoming a great artist,
as undoubtedly it has done with men of even
more pronounced aesthetic tastes than his. A
visit to the home of his ancestors in Dorset
shire, England, did much to arouse his warlike
enthusiasm, for the Trenchards had long been
noted as sturdy fighters. His grandfather,
George, had been the attorney-general of New
Jersey, under the crown, but on the outbreak
of the Revolution he drew his sword on the
side of the colonies. In after years, when Ed
ward Trenchard had attained the dignity of a
master-commandant, and commanded the cor-



Early Life of Edward Trenchard. 3

vette Adams, an English cousin of his, Colonel
Gustavus Hippesly, wrote December 5, 1815,
seeking a position in Uncle Sam s navy for his
son ; from which it will be seen that English
men even at that early age were anxious to have
their sons enter a service which had become
famous. Trenchard replied : " Happy should
I be if it were in my power to promote the
wishes of yourself and your son by introducing
the latter into the navy of the United States,
but a recent act of Congress closes the army
and navy against all foreigners who have not
been naturalized, and as our naturalization laws
require a residence of five years before the
rights of citizenship can be acquired, I am ap
prehensive that this would prove an insur
mountable objection with the head of the
Department. On this subject, however, I have
communicated freely with the Secretary of
State, Mr. Adams, and from the friendly in
terest which he takes in the affair, the diffi
culty may finally be perhaps surmounted.
Should this be the case, I shall most assuredly
give you the earliest information, and in that
event it will give me great pleasure in receiv
ing him aboard my ship. It is not possible
that he could receive any higher rank than



4 The Old Navy.

that of midshipman, and on his own conduct
and acquirements will his subsequent promo
tion depend. The pay and sustenance of that
class of officers in the navy of the United
States is equal to $26.50 per month, and
with the allowance which you propose to
continue to him would afford him a genteel
support."

On his return from England with Gilbert
Fox, Edward Trenchard seems to have aban
doned all thoughts of becoming an artist, and
on April 30, 1800, a midshipman s warrant was
secured for him. He was ordered to the Adams
for a cruise against the French in the West
Indies. This vessel was then commanded by
Captain Stephen Decatur, Sr., and it was this
fact together with the friendship that sprang
up between young Trenchard and Stephen
Decatur, Jr., that led to the naming of Tren-
chard s son, afterward Rear-Admiral, Stephen
Decatur Trenchard. After the French war
the Adams was ordered to the Mediterranean,
and participated in the engagements before
Tripoli, May, 1803. In the following year
Trenchard was transferred to the Constellation
and was present at the bombardments of Tri
poli, and also was in that ship when she was



Early Life of Edward Trenchard. 5

fired upon by the Spanish batteries near the
Straits of Gibraltar, September 21, 1805.

That the aesthetic nature of Edward
Trenchard had not been blunted by the "stern
realities of war," is seen in a letter dated off
Tripoli, April 5, 1805, to Midshipman Turner.
Like the friendship that sprang up between
Decatur and Somers, a strong attachment
grew up between Trenchard and Midshipman
Turner. Trenchard wrote, " One winter has
elapsed since I had the pleasure of seeing you,
but not one particle of friendship has been
nipped by its killing frost, but still remains like
the hardy sailor who gains strength by braving
the strongest gales that he may not lose his
reckoning in the dark fogs of forgetfulness."

After the Tripolitan war, Trenchard served
in the famous Constitution of the home squad
ron from 1806 to 1810, and in 1811 he was
assigned to duty in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
On August 30, 1812, he began his active serv
ice in the war of 1812, being on that date
ordered to Sackett s Harbor on Lake Ontario,
where he was to superintend the building of
the sloop of war Madison, constructed by
Henry Eckford. He probably left New York,
November 28th, in charge of one of the build-



6 The Old Navy.

ing parties which made the hazardous land
cruise from New York to Sackett s Harbor, in
the most unfavorable season of the year.
Work on the Madison was pushed with extraor
dinary energy. Cooper wrote, " Eight weeks
before [she was launched] her timber was grow
ing in the forest. This unusual expedition is to
be ascribed to the excellent disposition of the
commanding officer, and to the clear head and
extraordinary resources of Mr. Henry Eckford."
Having attained the rank of Master-Com
mandant, Trenchard assumed command of the
Madison and took part in the naval operations
on Lake Ontario. But the most formidable
enemy our seamen had to contend with was
the lake fever, the Madison at one time having
eighty of her two hundred men on the sick
list. Trenchard himself was a victim of the
disease, and on July 21, 1813, left the station
to recover his health. On May i5th of the
following year he rejoined his ship and served
in her to the close of the war, taking part in the
engagement off Kingston, September n, 1814.
On the close of the war he commanded the
John Adams, and took part in the operations
off Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis, which resulted
creditably for the United States.



CHAPTER II.

ON THE WEST COAST OF AFRICA.

IT would be difficult to exaggerate the value
of the services performed by our war
ships in the suppression of the slave trade on
the western coast of Africa early in the cen
tury, and it would be equally difficult to over
estimate the hardships and privations to which
our officers and crews were subjected in this
hazardous service. Many of the slavers were
heavily armed and manned by unusually large
crews, and, as it was shown on more than one
occasion, they were prepared to fight. In
fact, some of these craft turned from piracy to
the slave trade, and vice versa, as circum
stances directed, and were quite as dangerous
to the unarmed merchantman as to the negroes.
An example of the audacity of these traders
is well demonstrated in the following anec-

7



The Old Navy.

dote : A trading vessel on this coast showing
American colors had aroused the suspicions
of the commander of the British gunboat
Contest. The English refrained from making
a search of the trader, contenting them
selves with keeping close by her. Day after
day the vessels sailed in company until the
Yankee skipper finding that he could not
ship his cargo of slaves for in truth he was
a slave-trader challenged the British com
mander to a friendly sailing match to last
twenty-four hours. The challenge was ac
cepted, but under cover of night, when the
cruiser had been allowed to get far enough
ahead to be out of sight, the trader ran in
shore, took on a cargo of slaves and before
daylight was fairly started on her homeward
voyage. In the effort to suppress the slave
trade, the United States early in the century
established a squadron on the west coast of
Africa, and soon after the war of 1812 and the
difficulty in the Mediterranean had been set
tled, turned its attention to this quarter.

One of the first of our cruisers to be sent
over was the 2O-gun sloop-of-war Cyane, the
vessel that had been captured under such
glorious circumstances from the British in 1815



On the West Coast of Africa. 9

off this same coast of Africa, by Capt. Charles
Stewart. There was just a touch of pride notice
able on the part of the government in selecting
this cruiser for such service. When the war
of 1812 broke out the English were loud in
their boasting that in six months " the con
temptible flag of the United States would be
swept from the ocean," that our " arsenals
would be reduced to a heap of ruins," and that
" British war-ships would have no difficulty in
capturing the largest of the American cruisers."
At the same time British agents assured the
several potentates of Barbary that hereafter
Great Britain would not permit the too for
ward Americans to build any war-ship heavier
than a frigate.

The appearance in the Mediterranean of our
magnificent ships-of-line at Gibraltar shortly
after the war closed caused deep humiliation
to our cousins, and made them the butt of
ridicule long after the war, while their cup of
mortification was filled to overflowing by the
appearance of their own war-ships, captured
from them in battle, serenely sailing around
England s greatest fortress with the Stars and
Stripes at the gaff. The presence of these
vessels led to many bitter quarrels between



io The Old Navy.

the American and English officers which fre
quently resulted in duels. It was the exquisite
pleasure of rubbing it into the English " that
undoubtedly led the government to send the
Cyane to cruise on the scene of her capture
from the English, especially as she would
frequently be sailing in company with British
war-ships also engaged in suppressing the slave
trade.

Edward Trenchard was placed in command
of this sloop-of-war and early in 1820 he ap
peared off the fever-laden coast of Africa, and
began the monotonous and irksome search for
slavers. Trenchard had the good fortune to
have an unsually able set of officers to assist
him, nearly all of whom attained distinction
later in life. Among them were Matthew
Calbraith Perry, the hero of the naval opera
tions in the Mexican Gulf ; Silas H. Stringham,
who had the proud distinction of capturing the
forts at Hatteras Inlet early in the civil war ;
William Mervine, who served with great credit
on the coast of California in the Mexican war,
and who commanded the Gulf Squadron early
in the civil war ; John D. Montgomery, and
William Hudson.

The Cyane had not long been on the station



On the West Coast of Africa. 1 1

when she made one of the most important
captures on that coast. It occurred while the
ship was near the mouth of the River Gallinos,
April 10, 1820. Captain Trenchard had reason
to believe that he would find some slave-
traders at this point, and with a view of taking
them by surprise he approached the river
under cover of night and lay to until morning.
His surmises proved to be correct for when
day broke he discovered two brigs and five
schooners at anchor close in shore, and almost
within reach of his guns. The people in these
vessels, excepting those in one of the brigs
and in one of the schooners, made out the
Cyane almost as soon as they were seen by the
Americans, and instantly made sail to escape,
for the massive spars and heavy rigging of the
cruiser, told them plainly enough that they
were in the presence of an enemy. The Cyane
was quickly in pursuit, and for a few minutes
there was the liveliest kind of bustle and con
fusion in the efforts to spread all the canvas
that would draw.

It was no child s play that the Americans
were engaged in when they undertook to come
up with these strangers, for, as has just been
said, many of the slavers were heavily armed,



12 The Old Navy.

and should the seven of them unite in an
attack upon the little Cyane, they might suc
ceed in capturing or destroying her. But
Trenchard knew only one duty, and that was
to fight when he had an enemy in reach, and
away went his ship in full chase. There was a
fresh breeze blowing at the time and all the
vessels were bowling along at a smart rate,
heeling over under clouds of canvas on the
port tack. Trenchard exhibited great skill
and forethought in approaching the strangers.
He took advantage of the formation of the
land so that the fleeing craft could sail only in
one direction, thereby preventing them from
scattering, and enabling the Cyane to come up
with all of them.

After the chase had lasted about an hour
the Cyane, at 7 A.M., tacked, having the
schooners well in shore of her, where there
was little chance of escaping. By this time
the wind had fallen and Captain Trenchard
got his launch, first cutter, and starboard quar
ter-boat out with the intention of carrying the
vessels by boarding. The boats were fully
manned and dashed at the schooners in gal
lant style. At 8 A.M. the first cutter took
possession of the nearest vessel without op-



On the West Coast of Africa. 13

position. She proved to be the American
schooner Endymzon, commanded by Capt.
Alexander McKim Andrew. The commander
of this vessel had been observed to leave his
ship and pull toward the shore, evidently with
a view of escaping. Noticing this, Trenchard
ordered the quarter-boat to make for the fugi
tive. After an exciting race the boat was
overhauled and her people, including Mr.
Andrew, were secured. Midshipman H. C.
Newton was sent aboard the Endymion with
a prize crew to take charge.

Meantime the launch and the first cutter
had returned to the Cyane as it was found that
the breeze was sufficiently strong to enable
the chase to hold her distance. The sloop of
war then resumed the pursuit. At 8.30 A.M.,
the Endymion picked up the quarter-boat with
Lieutenant Montgomery and followed the
Cyane. From 8 A.M. to noon the breeze grad
ually died out, when Trenchard sent the first
cutter commanded by Lieutenant Stringham,
the launch Lieutenant Voorhees, and the second
gig, Lieutenant Mervine, in chase, while the
Cyane followed as closely as the failing breeze
would allow. This time the boats succeeded
in getting alongside the chase, and took posses-



i4 The Old Navy.

sion of the brig Annita, commanded by Pedro
Pushe ; the schooner Esperanza, Lewis Mum-
ford ; the schooner Dasher, Thomas Munro ;
the schooner Eliza, Constant Hastings ; and
the schooner Louise, Francis Sablon. Lieu
tenants Perry, Stringham, Mervine, Montgom
ery, and Sailing-master Hudson, were promptly
ordered to make a survey of these vessels, and
to determine their real character. Captain
Trenchard notes, <( Put on board the Endymion
Midshipman H. C. Newton ; the Esperanza,
Lieutenant Stringham ; the Louise, Midship
man Hosack ; the Dasher, Acting Master s
Mate, Jacob Morris; the Eliza, Midshipman
Sanderson." As soon as these officers and
their prize crews had been placed aboard their
several charges, Captain Trenchard tacked
and stood back for Gallinos, to attend to the
two strangers who had not joined in the fight,
but had remained quietly at their anchors in
dignified composure, as if not troubled with a
guilty conscience. These two vessels were
found to be the Science, or Dechosa, and the
Plattsburg. Captain Trenchard determined to
investigate their character.

Meantime the vessels first captured, were
reported upon by the officers detailed to search



On the West Coast of Africa. 15

them as follows : " In conformity with your
order we have carefully examined the Ameri
can schooner Endymion, commanded by Alex
ander McKim Andrew, and upon a close
scrutiny we are of opinion that the sole object
of her being in this place is the procuring of
slaves ; indeed we have good evidence that
she has her cargo of slaves nearly completed,
and that they are now confined in irons at a town
near the river called Seymoboe. She is com
pletely fitted, for the accommodation of slaves,
has on board several thousand gallons of water,
and a very large quantity of rice, the common
food of negroes. She is owned, per register, by
a Mr. William P. Strike of Baltimore, is under
American colors, and is evidently acting in con
travention to the laws of the United States. We
have also examined the other vessels embraced
in your order, and find that they are all deeply
engaged in the traffic of slaves. There is but
one, however, of those under foreign flags that
we can ascertain as acting in contravention to
the above law. This is the schooner Esper-
anza (formerly the U. S. revenue cutter A lert)
now under Spanish colors. She sailed last
from Charleston, S. C., without a clearance, at
which place she enlisted the major part of her



1 6 The Old Navy.

crew of American citizens. Her apparent cap
tain is a Spaniard by the name of Mumford,
but her real captain and probable owner is a
Mr. Ratcliffe, an American, and who is now on
shore collecting his complement of negroes."

The search of the Dechosa and Plattsburg
result as follows : " In compliance with your
order we have examined the schooner Dechosa
and Maria Gatthreust or Plattsburg detained
by this ship on suspicion of acting in contra
vention to the laws of the United States.
After a close investigation, we find that the
Dechosa, or Science, of New York, is owned by
E. Mallebran of New York ; sailed from that
port in January last, and touched at Porto
Rico, where she changed her name, and came
immediately to this coast, landed her cargo,
and made arrangements for receiving her slaves.
There is little doubt of her being American
property, and consequently we are of opinion
that she is violating the laws of the United
States. We can only learn that the Maria
Gatthreust, or Plattsburg, of Baltimore sailed
from Baltimore in December last where she


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

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