J. Wilkinson, "The Narrative of a Blockade Runner," 1877
Wilkinson, J. Chapter IX We sail for Wilmington.—Thick Weather on the Coast.—Anchored among the Blockading Fleet.—The "Mound."—Running the Blockade by Moonlight.—A Device to mislead the Enemy.—The man Hester in The Narrative of a Blockade Runner. (New York: Shledon & Co., 1877) p. 149-158
The "Mound" was an artificial one, erected by Colonel Lamb, who commanded Fort Fisher. Two heavy guns were mounted upon it, and it eventually became a site for a light, and very serviceable to blockade-runners; but even at this period, it was an excellent landmark. Joined by a long low isthmus of sand with the higher main land, its regular conical shape enabled the blockade-runners easily to identify it from the offing; and in clear weather, it showed plain and distinct against the sky at night. I believe the military men used to laugh slyly at the Colonel for undertaking its erection, predicting that it would not stand; but the result showed the contrary; and whatever difference of opinion may have existed with regard to its value as a military position, there can be but one as to its utility to the blockade-runners, for it was not a landmark, alone, along this monotonous coast; but one of the range lights for crossing New Inlet bar was placed on it. Seamen will appreciate at its full value, this advantage; but it may be stated, for the benefit of the unprofessional reader, that while the compass bearing of an object does not enable a pilot to steer a vessel with sufficient accuracy through a narrow channel, range lights answer the purpose completely. These lights were only set after signals had been exchanged between the blockade-runner and the shore station, and were removed immediately after the vessel had entered the river. The range lights were changed as circumstances required; for the New Inlet channel, itself, was and is constantly changing, being materially affected both in depth of water, and in its course, by a heavy gale of wind or a severe freshet in Cape Fear River.
The "Lee" continued to make her regular trips either to Nassau or Bermuda, as circumstances required, during the summer of 1863; carrying abroad cotton and naval stores, and bringing in "hardware," as munitions of war were then invoiced. Usually the time selected for sailing was during the "dark of the moon," but upon one occasion, a new pilot had been detailed for duty on board, who failed in many efforts to get the ship over the "rip," a shifting sand bar a mile or more inside the true bar. More than a week of valuable time had thus been lost, but the exigencies of the army being at that time more than usually urgent, I determined to run what appeared to be a very great risk. The tide serving at ten o'clock, we succeeded in crossing the rip at that hour, and as we passed over New Inlet bar, the moon rose in a cloudless sky. It was a calm night too, and the regular beat of our paddles through the smooth water sounded to our ears ominously loud. As we closely skirted the shore, the blockading vessels were plainly visible to us, some at anchor, some under way; and some of them so near to us that we saw, or fancied we saw, with our night glasses, the men on watch on their forecastles; but as we were inside of them all, and invisible against the background of the land, we passed beyond them undiscovered. The roar of the surf breaking upon the beach, prevented the noise of our paddles from being heard. The Lee's head was not pointed seaward, however, until we had run ten or twelve miles along the land so close to the breakers that we could almost have tossed a biscuit into them, and no vessel was to be seen in any direction. Discovery of us by the fleet would probably have been fatal to us, but the risk was really not so great as it appeared; for, as I had been informed by a blockade-runner who had been once captured and released, being a British subject, the vigilance on board the blockading fleet was much relaxed during the moonlit nights. The vessels were sent to Beaufort to coal at these times. My informant was an officer of the British Navy, and was the guest, for a few days after his capture, of Captain Patterson then commanding the blockading fleet off the Cape Fear. Speaking of the arduous service, P. remarked to him, that he never undressed nor retired to bed, during the dark nights; but could enjoy those luxuries when the moon was shining. On this hint I acted.
It was about this time that I adopted an expedient which proved of great service on several occasions. A blockade-runner did not often pass through the fleet without receiving one or more shots, but these were always preceded by the flash of a calcium light, or by a blue light; and immediately followed by two rockets thrown in the direction of the blockade-runner. The signals were probably concerted each day for the ensuing night, as they appeared to be constantly changed; but the rockets were invariably sent up. I ordered a lot of rockets from New York. Whenever all hands were called to run through the fleet, an officer was stationed alongside of me on the bridge with the rockets. One or two minutes after our immediate pursuer had sent up his rockets I would direct ours to be discharged at a right angle to our course. The whole fleet would be misled, for even if the vessel which had discovered us were not deceived, the rest of the fleet would be baffled.
While we were lying at anchor in the harbor of St. George's, during one of our trips, I was notified by the Governor of the island, that an officer of the Confederate Navy, then held as a prisoner on board one of H. B. M.'s ships of war at the naval anchorage, would be delivered up to me for transportation to the Confederacy, if I would assume the charge. This officer was charged with the murder of a messmate on board the Confederate States steamer Sumter, while lying at Gibraltar. The demand for his extradition, made by the Confederate Government, had been complied with by the British Government after much delay; and he was turned over to me for transportation to the Confederacy. Although the crime appeared to have been committed under circumstances of peculiar atrocityâ€”it being alleged that the victim was asleep at the time he was shotâ€”I so far respected the commission which the criminal bore, as to place him upon parole. Upon reporting his arrival at Wilmington to the Secretary of the Navy, the latter directed me to release him, upon the ground that it would be impossible to convict him by court-martial, all of the witnesses to the transaction being abroad. The man, Hester, was therefore released, and was never heard of again, I believe, during the war; but he has added to his evil reputation since its close, by plying the infamous trade (under the guise of United States Secret Service agent) of false informer and persecutor in several of the Southern States. The General Government failed to exercise its usual careful discrimination in making this appointment! The base renegades are many degrees worse even than the unprincipled adventurers from the North who have so long preyed upon the South. The latter are only thieves and robbers; the former are, in addition, unnatural monsters, who hate their own people and are guilty of the crime of Judas, who betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver.
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