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Letter of Thomas Mann Thompson to his daughter Lily


Letter of Thomas Mann Thompson to his daughter Lily


Thomas Mann Thompson recalls one of his experiences as a pilot for the Atalanta


Thomas Mann Thompson


McNeil, Jim. Masters of the Shoals. Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2003.




Swing, Matt



Original Format



As well as I can remember, I began running the blockade about the last day of February, 1864. left here on str. [steamer] Emma as passenger for Nassau. When we arrived there I was employed as a pilot on her - made three trips in and out making seven times I ran the blockade on the Emma including the time I was a passenger. I then joined the str Flora made two round trips on her. joined the str Florie came out from Bermuda sprang a leak - returned - joined str Thistle ran the blockade one time on her. Then joined the str Atlanta [Atalanta] ran eight time on her - then joined the Armstrong ran three times on her. Joined the Let Her Be ran six times on her. joined str Coquett ran the blockade one time on her - Joined str Index ran three times on her. Went out on steamer Elizabeth and ran the blockade one time on her. I Ran Blockade from Feby 24th 1864 until a few days before the fall of Fisher. made thirty-four trips and was fortunate enough never to have been captured.


(he continues later)


I came in on the Atlanta once when there were thirteen of the Yankee Blockaders in sight all lying around the bar in about two hundred yards of each other. I picked out the widest space between them and came full speed between them. They fired at us but did no damage. Another time i cane in by of them that was anchored in the channel on the bar - so that i had to come within five feet of her and never a sound did i hear from her. I thought at first I would run into her and sink her but saw that I could pass within a few feet without running ashore so thought better to get by if I had room than to take the chance of disabling our ship and being captured by the enemy's launches. Once we were fired upon by a ship and the ball passed between the Commander and myself. We were standing upon the bridge about four feet apart. It staggered both of us - but it was a spent ball or it would have stunned us. It fell about fifty yards beyond the ship.


(He continues later in the letter)


The chief officer was a Virginia man named Charles Nelson. I ordered him to find out the depth of the water, for the Atalanta was getting into shoal water fast. Nelson went to the leadsman, found out the soundings but reported so slowly that I reproached him for it. I said "Can't even a shell make you move faster?" (Two of them had exploded between us a moment before.) His answer was, "What's the use sir? I might go just fast enough to get in the way of one of those damned shells."


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Thomas Mann Thompson, Letter of Thomas Mann Thompson to his daughter Lily, Civil War Era NC, accessed May 21, 2024,