Monday, January 24, 2011

A Daring Exploit by Contrabands

OFF CHARLESTON, May 13, 1862.

SIR:  I have the honor to inform you that the Rebel armed steamer Planter was brought out to us this morning and delivered up to this squadron.  Five colored women and three children are also on board.  She carried one 32-pounder howitzer, and has also on board four large guns which she was engaged in transporting.  I send her to Port Royal at once in order to take advantage of the present good weather.  I send Charleston papers of the 12th and the very intelligent contraband who was in charge will give you the information which he has brought off.  I have the honor to request that you will send back as soon as convenient the officer and crew on board.

Commander Dupont, in forwarding this dispatch, says, in relations to the Rebel steamer Planter: She was the armed dispatch and transportation steamer attached to the Engineer Department at Charleston under Brigadier General Ripley, whose bark a short time since was bro’t to the blockading fleet by several contrabands.  The bringing out of this steamer, under all the circumstances, would have done credit to any one.  At 4 in the morning, in the absence of the Captain, who was on shore, she left her wharf, close to the Government office and headquarters with the Palmetto and “Confederate” flags flying, passed the successive forts, saluting, as usual, by blowing the steam-whistle.  After getting beyond the range of the range of the last gun, she hauled down the Rebel flags, and hoisted a white one.  The Onward was the inside ship of the blockading squadron in the main channel, and was preparing to fire when the commander made out the white flag.

The armament of the steamer is a 32-pounder or pivot, and a fine 24-pounder howitzer.  She has besides, on her deck, four other guns, one 7-inch, rifled, which were to be taken on the morning of the escape to the new fort on the middle ground.  One of the four belonged to Fort Sumter, and had been struck in the Rebel attack on the fort on the muzzle.  Robert Small, the intelligent slave and pilot of the boat, who performed this bold feat so skillfully, informed me of this fact, presuming it would be a matter of interest to us to have possession of this gun.  This man, Robert Small, is superior to any who have come into our lines, intelligent as many of them have been.  His information has been most interesting and portions of it of the utmost importance.

The steamer is a quite valuable acquisition to the squadron, by her good machinery and very light draft.  The officer in charge brought her through St. Helena Sound and by the inland passage down Beaufort River arriving here at 10 o’clock last night.  On board the steamer when she left Charleston, were eight men, five women, and three children.  I shall continue to employ Small as a pilot on board the Planter, for inland waters, with which he appears to be very familiar.

I do not know whether, in the views of the government, the vessel will be considered a prize; but if so, I respectfully submit to the department the claims of the man Small, and his associates.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Flag Officer Commanding, &c

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, May 24, 1862, p. 2

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