Jim Billy Craig's recounts of his capture aboard the Steamer Lilian
Quite a number of the Wilmington pilots had been captured by the enemy, and the force available for ships belonging to the Confederate government waiting in Bermuda and Nassau was in consequence greatly reduced. The regular pilot of the Lilian was Thomas Grissom, and I was one of four extra pilots (the other three being Joseph Thompson, James Bell, and Charles Craig) who were ordered by General Whiting to proceed to Bermuda and take charge of certain ships to be designated by Maj. Norman S. Walker, the Confederate agent at that port.
Trouble began before we got outside. An armed barge from the fleet had come close inside the Western bar and lay in our track in the channel, and immediately upon our approach, sent up a rocket and fired a gun, which was instantly answered by the whole feelt outside, and I remember that we crossed the bar in a bright flash of Drummond lights and rockets which made the night as bright as day. Every one of the blockaders was firing at us or over us as we headed out to sea, and when the next morning, Sunday, dawned, we had just succeeded in dropping the last of the cruisers, which had chased us all night.
We were congratulating ourselves after breakfast that morning that we would have a clear sea toward Bermuda-and. by the way, the sea was as smooth as glass-when the lookout in the crow's nest reported a vessel of war ahead, shortly afterwards another on the starboard bow, and alittle later a third on our port bow, and in a few minutes a fourth on our beam. We had unfortunately run into the second line of blockaders, called the Gulf Squadron, and it was not more than two hours before they were all in range and pelting us with bombshells.
The chase lasted until half-past one in the morning, when a shell from the cruiser on our starboard beam, called the Gettysburg, formerly the blockade runner Margaret and Jessie, struck us below the waterline, making a large hole through which water rushed like a mill-stream.
All our efforts to stop the leak with blankets were unavailing. We had previously thrown over our deck-load of cotton, but it was impossible to reach the aperture from the inside, as the hold was jam full of cotton; and in short time the vessel began to steer badly and gradually sank almost to the level of the deck. Finding further efforts to escape utterly fruitless, the captain stopped the ship and surrendered to the boats that immediately surrounded us.
I remember that when the ship was hove to and the Federal officers came on board, our sullen and dejected commander was standing on the starboard paddlebox, with his arms folded, and his back turned to the approaching Federals. One of them, with a drawn sword, approached and asked if he was in command of the ship, Captain Martin responded with an oath: "I was in command, but i suppose you are captain now."
Although every effort had been made to escape, those of us who knew Captain Maffitt, the former commander of the Lilian, regretted very much his absence on this occasion, as he would most likely have been more fortunate in getting away.
Knowing how eager the Federals were to identify the pilot of the ship, they being in blissful ignorance that there were no fewer than five Wilmington pilots on board, we all agreed to personate firemen or members of the crew, and succeeded in passing ouselves off as such. Subsequently all of us escaped except the ship's pilot, who was detained at Point lookout until the end of the war.
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