Monthly Archives: May 2009


One of the most daring and gallant naval exploits of the war, distinguished by the greatest coolness, presence of mind, and intrepidity of the brave men associated in the enterprise, was performed Monday night, October 6, 1863. This was no less than an attempt to blow up the United States steamer New Ironsides, lying off Morris Island. Though not fully meeting the expectations of those who conceived the plan, and those who carried it into execution, it called forth unbounded admiration for the brilliant heroism of the actors in their dangerous but patriotic and self-sacrificing undertaking.

The torpedo steamer David, with a crew of four volunteers, consisting of Lieut. Wm. T. Glassell, J. H. Toombs, chief engineer, and James Sullivan, fireman of the gunboat Chicora, with J. W. Cannon, assistant pilot of the gunboat Palmetto State, left South Atlantic Wharf between six and seven o’clock in the evening, for the purpose of running out to the Ironsides, exploding a torpedo under that vessel near amidships, and if possible blow her up. The weather, being dark and hazy, favored the enterprise. The boat, with its gallant little crew, proceeded down the harbor, skirting along the shoals on the inside of the channel, until nearly abreast of their formidable antagonist, the New Ironsides.

They remained in this position for a short time, circling around on the large shoal near the anchorage of the object of their visit. Lieut. Glassess, with a double-barrelled gun, sat in front of Pilot Cannon, who had charge of the helm. Chief Engineer Toombs was at the engine, with the brave and undaunted Sullivan, the volunteer fireman, when something like the following conversation ensued:

Lieut. Glassell. “It is now nine o’clock. Shall we strike her?”

Pilot Cannon. “That is what we came for. I am ready.”

Engineer Toombs. “Let us go at her then, and do our best.”

Sullivan, fireman. “I am with you all, and waiting. Go ahead.”

The boat was now put bow on, and aimed directly for the Ironsides. As the little steamer darted forward, the lookout on the Ironsides hailed them with: “Take care there; you will run into us. What steamer is that?” Lieut. Glassell replied by discharging one barrel at the Yankee sentinel, and tendering the gun to Pilot Cannon, told him there was another Yankee, pointing to one with his body half over the bulwarks, and asked Cannon to take care of him with the other barrel.

The next moment they had struck the Ironsides, and exploded the torpedo about fifteen feet from the keel, on the starboard side. An immense volume of water was thrown up, covering the little boat, and going through the smoke-stack, entered the furnace, completely extinguishing the fires.

In addition to this, pieces of the ballast had fallen into the works of the engine, rendering it unmanageable at that time. Volley after volley of musketry from the crew of the Ironsides and from the launches began to pour in upon them. Lieut. Glassell gave the order to back, but it was found impossible. In this condition, with no shelter, and no hope of escape, they thought it best to surrender, and hailed the enemy to that effect. The Yankees, however, paid no attention to the call. It was then proposed to put on their life-preservers, jump overboard, and endeavor to swim to the shore. All but Pilot Cannon consented. The latter, being unable to swim, said he would stay and take his chances in the boat. Lieut. Glassell, Engineer Toombs, and Sullivan the fireman, left the boat, the first two, having on life-preservers, and the latter supporting himself on one of the hatches thrown to him by the pilot. Engineer Toombs, becoming embarrassed with his clothing in the water, got back to the boat, and was assisted in by Cannon.

The boat was then rapidly drifting from the Ironsides. He now fortunately found a match, and lighting a torch, crept back to the engine, discovered and removed the cause of its not working, and soon got it in order. Engineer Toombs and Cannon reached their wharf in the city about midnight, fatigued, and presenting a worn-out appearance, but rejoicing at their fortunate and narrow escape.

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In Norfolk there was a society called “Perfectionists,” and in their behalf some ten or twelve of them addressed a letter to the Commanding General of that department, setting forth their objections to swearing allegiance to any earthly government. The subject was disposed of by Gen. Butler in the following characteristic manner:

FORT MONROE, VA., January 13, 1864.

J. F. Dozier, E. H. Beaseley, and others:

GENTLEMEN: I have read your petition to Gen. Barnes, setting forth your objections to swearing allegiance to any earthly government.

The first reason which you set forth is that “all human governments are a necessary evil, and are continued in existence only by the permission of Jehovah until the time arrives for the establishment of his kingdom, and in the establishment of which all others will be subdued unto it, thus fulfilling that declaration in the eighth of Daniel, fourteenth verse,” &c.

You therein establish to your own satisfaction three points:

First. That government, although an evil, is a necessary one. Second. That for a time it is permitted to exist by the wisdom of Jehovah. Third. That the time at which a period is to be put to its existence is not come.

Therefore you ought to swear allegiance to the government of the United States:

First. Because though an evil, you admit it to be necessary. Second. Although an evil, you admit that it is permitted by the wisdom of Jehovah, and that it is not for his creatures to question the wisdom of his acts. Third. You only claim to be excused when Jehovah’s government is instituted, which period, you admit, has not yet arrived.

Your obedient servant,

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THE squadron is forming, the war-bugles play.
To saddle, brave comrades, stout hearts for a fray!
Our Captain is mounted–strike spurs, and away!

No breeze shakes the blossoms or tosses the grain;
But the wind of our speed floats the galloper’s mane,
As he feels the bold rider’s firm hand on the rein.

Lo! dim in the starlight their white tents appear!
Ride softly! ride slowly! the onset is near!
More slowly! more softly! the sentry may hear!

Now fall on the rebel–a tempest of flame!
Strike down the false banner whose triumph were shame!
Strike, strike for the true flag, for freedom and fame!

Hurrah! sheathe your swords! the carnage is done.
All red with our valor, we welcome the sun,
Up, up with the stars! we have won! we have won!

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Maj. K. V. Whaley, member of Congress from Wayne County, Va., was captured at Guyandotte by H. Clay Pate, at the time of the massacre in that town, and carried to the vicinity of Chapmansville, two days’ journey distant. The prisoner and his captors stopped at a house near Chapmansville. Night coming on, Maj. Whaley, after hanging up his coat and hat by the fire to dry, went to bed with Capt. Wicher. In this room there were eight men, one of whom acted as a guard. About three o’clock in the morning Maj. Whaley awoke, and finding the guard nodding in front of the fire, and all the rest in deep slumber, determined to effect an escape. Leaving his bed as quietly as possible, he approached the guard, and, ascertaining that he was asleep, took Capt. Wicher’s hat, picked up his own shoes, raised the latch of the door, and, seeing all clear outside, ran with all his might about two hundred yards down the Guyandotte River. Here he put on his shoes, and looked about for some drift wood upon which to cross the stream; but, finding none, concluded to swim the river, which he did with considerable ease. He then proceeded down the river about a mile and a half, and commences to ascend a mountain, the summit of which he reached just at daybreak, and just as Wicher was firing his guns as a signal of the escape. The firing was answered from all directions. Maj. Whaley, knowing it would be fatal to attempt to travel in daylight, sought a thicket of red oak brush, in which he found a sort of path. To and fro over this path he walked all day. A bleak wind was blowing; and being wet through, and having no coat, he was compelled to walk rapidly in order to save his life. When night came on he started down the Guyandotte Valley, tracing the foot of the hills, a distance of two miles, when he came upon a camp of about one hundred cavalry; and, knowing it would be folly to attempt to pass, retreated again to the mountains. The next day he took a circuit upon the top of the hill, to try and trace the valley and keep off the river, which he supposed would be guarded.

At last he came upon Hart’s Creek, and supposed himself to be in the vicinity of a Union settlement, at the head of Twelve Pole. He went up Hart’s Creek, and inquired of an old lady named Adkins, who, with her son and son-in-law, were in the house, asking her to direct him to Kyer’s Creek, which he knew to be one of the branches of Twelve Pole. Young Adkins finally agreed to show him the creek for two dollars; and when they started, the Major observed that the son-in-law, Thompson, started in another direction. The Major suspected that Thompson knew him, and feared pursuit; so he hurried young Adkins along a good deal faster than that young gentleman desired to move. Arriving at the creek, the Major, having been robbed of all his money at Guyandotte on the night of the fight, could not comply with his contract with Adkins, but gave him twenty-five cents, all the money he had, and a new pair of soldier’s shoes, taking in exchange the guide’s old moccassons. The Major struck down the creek, along a very narrow road, passing two houses, at one of which he saw a little girl, but had not gone a great distance before he heard the tramp of the cavalry coming in pursuit. The Major was about turning a bend in the road, and had barely time to jump over a fence, and lie flat upon his belly, when along dashed a company, led by the fellow Thompson, before mentioned. The Major was lying not six feet from where his pursuers passed, and could see their eyes peering anxiously forward in search of him.

After the pursuers passed, he crawled up a ravine, and spent another twelve hours, exposed to the hardest kind of a rain, accompanied by the fiercest lightning and the loudest thunder.

(“The Major afterwards learned that the little girl whom he had seen had informed his pursuers that he had just gone around the bend in the road; and in their anxiety to gain the bend and capture him, they never thought of looking to the right nor to the left.)

Being exceedingly weak and feeble, in consequence of having gone three days without food, the Major determined to approach a house a short distance ahead, and ask for something to eat. He was answered by the man of the house, a Union man, who recognized the Major almost at once, and warned him not to remain a minute if he wanted to escape, as the cavalry had been there hunting for him. The Major offered the man five hundred dollars to conduct him to the Queen Settlement, and to the house of Absalom Queen. The man, although avowing himself a good Union man, refused the offer, stating that he would be killed by his cannibal neighbors if discovered. He, however, gave the Major a blanket to throw over his shivering shoulders, and directed him to the house of Queen.

The Major plodded on, and at last reached the house of Queen, where he found a Home Guard of twenty-five men, who had assembled to keep the rebels from driving off the cattle from the Union settlement. Here was the first place he got anything to eat after making his escape. Queen and eleven of his men accompanied the Major, travelling only at night.

The party reached the mouth of Big Sandy on Sunday at twelve o’clock, and there was great rejoicing all along the Ohio River, firing of cannon, &c.

Absalom Queen was a brave soldier in the war of 1812, and as true and loyal a man as lives. There were about two hundred Union men in the settlement in which he resided, one hundred of whom, through his individual influence, joined Col. Zeigler’s Fifth Virginia regiment.

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