Adventures evading Lincoln's stranglehold on the Southern states
During the American Civil War the Union blockade operated to ensure that few trade goods or war materials entered the Confederacy by way of its Atlantic or Gulf Coast ports. The 'runners' themselves were mostly newly built, high speed vessels, with a small cargo capacity, which raced between the Confederacy and neutral ports in the West Indies and Cuba. One thousand five hundred blockade-runners were destroyed, but still 5 out of 6 runners made it through the Union fleet to safety and the delivery of their essential cargoes. This book was written by a serving officer of the Confederate States Navy. He experienced naval battle, the loss of his ship, capture, release and many hairsbreadth escapes as he continued his precarious and perilous vocation until the end of the Civil War.
Everything being in readiness, we sailed on December 26th, 1862. Having on board a Charleston pilot, as well as one for Wilmington, I had not determined, on sailing, which port to attempt; but having made the land near Charleston bar during thick weather on the night of the 28th, our pilot was afraid to venture further. We made an offing, therefore, before daylight; and circumstances favouring Wilmington, we approached the western bar on the night of December 29th. We had been biding our time since twelve o’clock that day close in to the shore about forty miles southwest of the bar and in the deep bay formed by the coast between Wilmington and Charleston.
The weather had been so clear and the sea so smooth that we had communicated with the Confederate pickets at several points along the coast; and no sail was visible even from aloft until about three o’clock in the afternoon, when a cruiser hove in sight to the north and east. As she was coasting along the land and approaching us we turned the Giraffe’s bow away from her, and got up more steam, easily preserving our distance, as the stranger was steaming at a low rate of speed. A little while before sunset the strange steamer wore round, and we immediately followed her example, gradually lessening the distance between us, and an hour or more after dark we had the pleasure of passing inside of her at anchor off New River Inlet. She was evidently blockading that harbour, and had run down the coast to reconnoitre.
Before approaching the bar I had adopted certain precautions against disaster which I ever afterwards followed. Any one who showed an open light when we were near the fleet was liable to the penalty of death upon the spot; a cool, steady leadsman was stationed on each quarter to give the soundings; a staunch old quartermaster took the wheel and a kedge, bent to a stout hawser, was slung at each quarter. All lights were extinguished; the fire-room hatch covered over with a tarpaulin; and a hood fitted over the binnacle, with a small circular opening for the helmsman to see the compass through the aperture.
About ten o’clock we passed inside the first ship of the blockading fleet, about five miles outside the bar; and four or five others appeared in quick succession as the Giraffe was cutting rapidly through the smooth water. We were going at full speed when, with a shock that threw nearly every one on board off his feet, the steamer was brought up “all standing” and hard and fast aground! The nearest blockader was fearfully close to us, and all seemed lost. We had struck upon “the Lump,” a small sandy knoll two or three miles outside the bar with deep water on both sides of it. That knoll was the “rock ahead” during the whole war, of the blockade-runners, for it was impossible in the obscurity of night to judge accurately of the distance to the coast, and there were no landmarks or bearings which would enable them to steer clear of it.