Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

have surprised me more," said he to me as I overhauled his papers, "than the appearance of the Confederate flag in these seas." "My duty is a painful one," said I, "to destroy so noble a ship as yours, but I must discharge it without vain regrets; and as for yourself, you will only have to do, as so many thousands have done before you, submit to the fortunes of war yourself and your crew will be well treated on board my ship." The prize bore the name of The Golden Rocket, was a fine bark, nearly new, of about seven hundred tons, and was seeking, in ballast, a cargo of sugar in some one of the Cuban ports. Boats were dispatched to bring off the crew, and such provisions, cordage, sails, and paints as the different departments of my ship stood in need of, and at about ten o'clock at night, the order was given to apply the torch to her.

The wind, by this time, had become very light, and the night was pitch-dark-the darkness being of that kind, graphically described by old sailors, when they say, you may cut it with a knife. I regret that I cannot give to the reader the picture of the burning ship, as it presented itself to the silent, and solemn watchers on board the Sumter as they leaned over her hammock rails to witness it. The boat, which had been sent on this errand of destruction, had pulled out of sight, and her oars ceasing to resound, we knew that she had reached the doomed ship, but so impenetrable was the darkness, that no trace of either boat, or ship could be seen, although the Sumter was distant only a few hundred yards. Not a sound could be heard on board the Sumter, although her deck was crowded with men. Every one seemed busy with his own thoughts, and gazing eagerly in the direction of the doomed ship, endeavoring, in vain, to penetrate the thick darkness. Suddenly, one of the crew exclaimed, "There is the flame! She is on fire!" The decks of this Maine-built ship were of pine, calked with old-fashioned oakum, and paid with pitch; the wood-work of the cabin was like so much tinder, having been seasoned by many voyages to the tropics, and the forecastle was stowed with paints, and oils. The consequence was, that the flame was not long in kindling, but leaped, full-grown, into the air, in a very few minutes after its first faint glimmer had been seen. The boarding officer, to do his work more effectually, had ap

plied the torch simultaneously in three places, the cabin, the mainhold, and the forecastle; and now the devouring flames rushed up these three apertures, with a fury which nothing could resist. The burning ship, with the Sumter's boat in the act of shoving off from her side; the Sumter herself, with her grim, black sides, lying in repose like some great sea-monster, gloating upon the spectacle, and the sleeping sea, for there was scarce a ripple upon the water, were all brilliantly lighted. The indraught into the burning ship's holds, and cabins, added every moment new fury to the flames, and now they could be heard roaring like the fires of a hundred furnaces, in full blast. The prize ship had been laid to, with her main-topsail to the mast, and all her light sails, though clewed up, were flying loose about the yards. The forked tongues of the devouring element, leaping into the rigging, newly tarred, ran rapidly up the shrouds, first into the tops, then to the topmast-heads, thence to the topgallant, and royal mast-heads, and in a moment more to the trucks; and whilst this rapid ascent of the main current of fire was going on, other currents had run out upon the yards, and ignited all the sails. A top-gallant sail, all on fire, would now fly off from the yard, and sailing leisurely in the direction of the light breeze that was fanning, rather than blowing, break into bright, and sparkling patches of flame, and settle, or rather silt into the sea. The yard would then follow, and not being wholly submerged by its descent into the sea, would retain a portion of its flame, and continue to burn, as a floating brand, for some minutes. At one time, the intricate net-work of the cordage of the burning ship was traced, as with a pencil of fire, upon the black sky beyond, the many threads of flame twisting, and writhing, like so many serpents that had received their death wounds. The mizzen-mast now went by the board, then the fore-mast, and in a few minutes afterward, the great main-mast tottered, reeled, and fell over the ship's side into the sea, making a noise like that of the sturdy oak of the forests when it falls by the stroke of the axeman

By the light of this flambeau, upon the lonely and silent sea, lighted of the passions of bad men who should have been our brothers, the Sumter, having aroused herself from her dream of vengeance, and run up her boats, moved forward on her course.

The captain of the Golden Rocket watched the destruction of his ship from the quarter-deck of the Sumter, apparently with the calm eye of a philosopher, though, doubtless, he felt the emotions which the true sailor always feels, when he looks upon the dying agonies of his beloved ship, whether she be broken up by the storm, or perish in any other way.

The flag! what was done with the "old flag"? It was marked with the day, and the latitude and longitude of the capture, and consigned to the keeping of the signal quartermaster, who prepared a bag for its reception; and when this bag was full, he prepared another, and another, as the cruise progressed, and occasion required. It was the especial pride of this veteran American seaman to count over his trophies, and when the weather was fine, he invariably asked permission of the officer of the deck, under pretence of damage from moths, to "air" his flags; and as he would bend on his signalhalliards, and throw them out to the breeze, one by one, his old eye would glisten, and a grim smile of satisfaction would settle upon his sun-burned, and weather-beaten features. This was our practice also on board the Alabama, and when that ship was sunk in the British channel, in her engagement with the enemy's ship Kearsarge, as the reader will learn in due time, if he has the patience to follow me in these memoirs, we committed to the keeping of the guardian spirits of that famous old battle-ground, a great many bags-full of "old flags," to be stored away in the caves of the sea, as mementos that a nation once lived whose naval officers prized liberty more than the false memorial of it, under which they had once served, and who were capable, when it became

of tearing it down.

"Hate's polluted rag,"

The prisoners-what did we do with them? The captain was invited to mess in the ward-room, and when he was afterward landed, the officers generously made him up a purse to supply his immediate necessities. The crew was put into a mess by themselves, with their own cook, and was put on a footing, with regard to rations, with the Sumter's own men.

We were making war upon the enemy's commerce, but not upon his unarmed seamen. It gave me as much pleasure to treat these with humanity, as it did to destroy his ships, and one of the most cherished recollections which I have brought out of a war, which, in some sense, may be said to have been a civil war, is, that the "pirate," whom the enemy denounced, with a pen dipped in gall, and with a vocabulary of which decent people should be ashamed, set that same enemy the example, which he has failed to follow, of treating prisoners of war, according to the laws of war.

CHAPTER XIII.

RAPID WORK-SEVEN PRIZES IN TWO DAYS. -THE SUMTER MAKES HER FIRST PORT, AND WHAT OCCURRED THERE.

WE

E burned the Golden Rocket, as has been seen, on the 3d of July. The next day was the "glorious Fourth"once glorious, indeed, as the day on which a people broke the chains of a government which had bound them against their will, and vindicated the principle of self-government as an inalienable right; but since desecrated by the same people, who have scorned, and spat upon the record made by their fathers, and repudiated, as a heresy fraught with the penalties of treason, the inalienable right for which their fathers struggled. The grand old day belonged, of right, to us of the South, for we still venerated it, as hallowed by our fathers, and were engaged in a second revolution, to uphold, and defend the doctrines which had been proclaimed in the first, but we failed to celebrate it on board the Sumter. We could not help associating it with the "old flag," which had now become a sham and a deceit; with the wholesale robberies which had been committed upon our property, and with the villification and abuse which had been heaped upon our persons by our late co-partners, for a generation and more. The Declaration of Independence had proved to be a specious mask, under which our loving brethren of the North had contrived to draw us into a co-partnership with them, that they might be the better enabled, in the end, to devour us. How could we respect it, in such a connection? Accordingly, the Captain of the Sumter was not invited to dine in the ward-room, on the time-honored day, nor was there any extra glass of grog served to the crew, as had been the custom in the old service.

The weather still continued cloudy, with a few rain squalls

« AnteriorContinuar »