Amnesty Petition of Samuel S. Gregory, August 22, 1865
Samuel Gregory was born in the summer of 1844 to a family of wealthy farmers. (United States Naval Academy 1859, 15) His father, Wright Gregory, owned a considerable estate in Turkey, NC that included at least a dozen slaves. (United States Census (Slave Schedule) 1850, lines 24-35) By the late 1850â€™s the Gregory family estate had increased to a value of over $18,000. (Federal Census 1860, lines 26-29) With this wealth they paid for their son to attend the United States Naval Academy, which he entered in September of 1859. (United States Naval Academy 1859, 15) He remained an active midshipman in the U.S. Navy until North Carolina seceded on May 20, 1861.
After resigning his position he enlisted in the Confederate Navy and was made an active midshipman in Norfolk, Virginia on June 20, 1861. (Subject Files for CSN 1984, 53) Sometime before September 9, 1861 French Forrest, the commander of the Norfolk Naval Yard, placed him under the command of Commander Thomas Hunter who commanded the CSS Curlew, a small gunboat that was part of North Carolinaâ€™s â€œMosquito Fleet.â€ (Naval War Record Office 1897, series 1, volume 6, 722) Gregoryâ€™s first taste of action appears to have occurred on October 1, 1861 with the capture of the USS Fanny, an armed steamer that was attempting to resupply Union soldiers on the northern shore of Hatteras Island, N.C. (Trotter 1989, 43-45) The Fanny was the first Union Navy ship to be captured by the Confederacy, and the incident was considered a morale boost, as well as providing needed supplies to the soldiers attempting to defend the North Carolina shores. (Trotter 1989, 45)
The next major engagement that Midshipman Gregory took place in was the Battle of Roanoke Island. On the morning of February 7, 1862 Union general Ambrose Burnside arrived offshore of Roanoke Island, NC with 67 ships and over 12,000 infantry soldiers. During the battle the Curlew and the six other ships of the Mosquito Fleet (including the gunboats CSS Beaufort and the CSS Raleigh) attempted to provide covering fire for the 2000 Confederate troops manning artillery positions on the island. Unfortunately, the Curlew was struck by the artillery of the Union fleet and was forced to run aground in front of one of the principle artillery positions, rendering it unable to fire on the enemy. (Trotter 1989, 79) The defenders of Roanoke held out until the next day when a series of Union amphibious landings on the island forced the Confederates to surrender. At this point the remaining ships of the Mosquito Fleet were ordered to retreat by Commodore William Lynch in order to defend the nearby Elizabeth City. It is likely that at this point Samuel Gregory was transferred to the CSS Raleigh, which was sent to Norfolk by Lynch to ask for reinforcements as well as gunpowder and shot for the Fleet. (Trotter 1989, 88) Unfortunately, Elizabeth City fell on February 10, 1862 before reinforcements could arrive. The remainder of the Mosquito Fleet, except the Raleigh and the Beaufort who managed to escape, was destroyed. With no fleet to return to Samuel Gregory onboard the Raleigh would be reassigned to the James River Squadron on March 31, 1862. (Long) However, before being officially transferred the Raleigh with its new midshipman would join the James River Squadron in the most well known naval engagement of the Civil War.
In early March of 1862 the construction of the CSS Virginia was completed. On March 8, 1862 the Raleigh and the Beaufort escorted the new ironclad from the Gosport Naval Yard to the stretch of water near Newport News Va. known as Hampton Roads. The Virginia immediately began wreaking havoc on the Union Navy ships in the area. After the sinking of the USS Cumberland by ramming, the Virginia spent over an hour firing into the USS Congress after which she surrendered. At this point Commander Franklin Buchanan (onboard the Virginia) ordered the Beaufort and the Raleigh to attempt to assist the crew of the heavily damaged Union ship. However, after Gregoryâ€™s ship hooked on and began to help the wounded the Union batteries on shore began firing on the Raleigh killing two of her officers, Lieutenant Tayloe and Midshipman Hutter. The crew of the Raleigh abandoned their rescue mission and returned with the Virginia and the Beaufort to Norfolk. The next day, March 9, 1861, the Raleigh and the Beaufort once more escorted the Virginia to Hampton Roads in order to again attack the Union fleet there. However, the newly arrived ironclad USS Monitor made military action by the small gunboats impossible and was able to fight off the Virginia. The first battle between ironclad ships was concluded. The James River Squadron would spend the next two months concentrating forces in an attempt to draw the Monitor out into battle, but this would prove unsuccessful, and ultimately they would be driven out of the Chesapeake by the capture of Norfolk by the Union on May 10, 1862. (Holzer et al 2011, 294-300)
The Raleigh and the remaining ships of the James River Squadron were forced to move up the James River to Richmond. However, Samuel Gregory was transferred to a defensive position on the shore of the river called Drewryâ€™s Bluff. There the Union advance toward Richmond was repulsed on May 15, 1862. (Holzer et al 2011, 308) After the battle he continued to serve at Drewryâ€™s Bluff until late 1863 when his rank as midshipman was confirmed. This was likely due to his service at the Battle of Hampton Roads, an action that was highly popular in the South. He would also receive an even more illustrious reward for his services.
Sometime in late 1863 Samuel Gregory was assigned to a commerce raider that was being built in Scotland. The CSS Texas was the latest in a series of ships meant to harass the mercantile fleet of the United States. It was ordered secretly by a Confederate agent named G.T. Sinclair, and its design was based on the infamous CSS Alabama that had been very successful in raiding the Atlantic. (Marsh et al 1921, 516) The Texas was set to launch in late 1863, so when he was appointed to be an officer aboard her Gregory was sent to Paris to await her arrival. However, at this point British authorities began to crack down on Confederate shipbuilding in Britain. The Texas was seized and Gregory was deprived of an excellent career boost, as well as the possibility of a fortune in captured mercantile goods. He was sent back to the Confederacy through Bermuda on August 20, 1863. (Marsh et al 1921, 816-817)
Upon his arrival he was assigned the Battery Buchanan, a redoubt that constituted the southern defenses of Fort Fisher on the Cape Fear River inlet near Wilmington, NC. He was also promoted to the rank of master, and later lieutenant on June 2, 1864. (Office of Naval Records and Library 1931, 76) He would continue to serve as second lieutenant at Battery Buchanan until at least November 1864, and probably took part in the Battles for Fort Fisher that occurred in December of 1864 and January of 1865. (Naval War Record Office 1897, series1 volume2 772) If so, he was lucky enough to escape after the fall of the fort; it appears that he was present at the surrender of the Northern Army of Virginia on April 9, 1865. (Office of Naval Records and Library 1931, 76)
After being paroled at Appomattox Courthouse, Samuel Gregory returned home to Turkey, NC where he petitioned for amnesty on August 22, 1865. Citing reasons of â€œyouth and generous inclination,â€ he asked for leniency for someone who was only 21 at the time and therefore â€œtoo young to originate the folly of this unhappy war.â€ (Item 860) In essence, he claimed that he joined the Confederacy because he wanted to protect his native state and because he was too young to realize the immorality of rebellion and secession. Given Samuel Gregoryâ€™s service record and personal history I do not believe that his assertions hold true. Rather than inclinations of generosity and a wish to protect his home state I think he shared the common pre-war conviction that the North would force abolition upon the South. If that occurred his familyâ€™s slave and farming properties would be severely diminished. I think it likely that Samuel Gregory joined the Confederacy in order to defend the institution of slavery and the lifestyle of his wealthy family. He may also have seen an opportunity to advance in his chosen naval career by effectively selling off his nautical education to his home state. He may have supported secession because he felt that there were more opportunities for advancement in a secessionist navy than he could have found in a hypothetical non-Civil War navy.
President of the United States
Your petitioner Saml S. Gregory a native and resident of Sampson County, and the State of North Carolina, respectfully [showeth?] unto your Excellency, that he received an appointment as Acting Midshipman in September 1859, [and?] entered the U.S. Naval Academy, and remained until the breaking out of the War between the United States, and the Confederate States. His impulses being young led him to espouse the side of his native state. and under his former teaching he left having resigned his position to offer his services to his mother state upon her secession. He received a similar appointment in the Navy of the Confederate States and being promoted from time to time he at the close of the war was a Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy, and during the year 1863 he was ordered to Europe on duty connected with his profession. Your petitioner further shows that he was 21 years of age in June 1865. and that he knows your Excellency will ever look with leniency upon the acts of youth and particularly when his energy has been directed to what he supposes to be the interest and honor of his mother state, in times of peril and danger, when the aged and learned of the land have so widely differed upon the great questions of the rights of the states.
Although these youthful acts may have been in the eyes of older and more calculating men indiscreet and in the eyes of others criminal, yet to the enlightened head and sympathetic heart of a ruler of this nation many indulgences will suggest themselves for the impulses of youth and the generous inclination of the young mind, and particularly where those men have originated in favor of the land of their birth and the home and graves of their [ancestors?]. Your petitioner was too young to [originate?] the folly of this unhappy war and in his generous nature only saw that his state was to be involved in a struggle which required all the nerve and energy of her absent sons. And with this feeling he returned home and joined her services.
The war being at an end and feeling it the duty of every man to be loyal to the Government under which he lives and having taken the required oaths he prays your Excellency's most gracious pardon and that he may be restored to the rights, privileges, and immunities of an American citizen.
I am sir,
With great respect,
Your Excellency's very humble and obedient [servant?].
Samuel S. Gregory
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