EXPLOITS OF A BLOCKADE RUNNER
 THERE were no more daring adventures and hair-breadth escapes during the Civil War than those
encountered in running the blockade, carrying sadly-needed supplies into the ports of the
Confederacy, and returning with cargoes of cotton and other valuable products of the
South. There was money in it for the successful, much money; but, on the other hand, there
was danger of loss of vessel and cargo, long imprisonment, perhaps death, and only men of
unusual boldness and dare-devil recklessness were ready to engage in it. The stories told
by blockade-runners are full of instances of desperate risk and thrilling adventure. As an
example of their more ordinary experience, we shall give, from Thomas E. Taylor's "Running
the Blockade," the interesting account of his first run to Wilmington harbor.
This town, it must be premised, lies some sixteen miles up Cape Fear River, at whose
principal entrance the formidable Fort Fisher obliged the blockading fleet to lie out of
the range of its guns, and thus gave some opportunity for alert blockade-runners to slip
in. Yet this was far from safe and easy. Each entrance to the river was surrounded by an
in-shore squadron of Federal vessels, anchored
 in close order during the day, and at night weighing anchor and patrolling from shore to
shore. Farther out was a second cordon of cruisers, similarly alert, and beyond these
again gunboats were stationed at intervals, far enough out to sight by daybreak any
vessels that crossed Wilmington bar at high tide in the night. Then, again, there were
free cruisers patrolling the Gulf Stream, so that to enter the river unseen was about as
difficult as any naval operation could well be. With this preliminary statement of the
situation, let us permit Mr. Taylor to tell his story.
"The Banshee's engines proved so unsatisfactory that, under ordinary
conditions, nine or ten knots was all we could get out of her; she was therefore not
permitted to run any avoidable risks, and to this I attribute her extraordinary success
where better boats failed. As long as daylight lasted a man was never out of the
cross-trees, and the moment a sail was seen the Banshee's stern was turned to
it till it was dropped below the horizon. The lookout man, to quicken his eyes, had a
dollar for every sail he sighted, and if it were seen from the deck first he was fined
five. This may appear excessive, but the importance in blockade-running of seeing before
you are seen is too great for any chance to be neglected; and it must be remembered that
the pay of ordinary seamen for each round trip in and out was from £50 to £60.
"Following these tactics, we crept noiselessly along the shores of the Bahamas, invisible
 darkness, and ran on unmolested for the first two days out [from the port of Nassau],
though our course was often interfered with by the necessity of avoiding hostile vessels;
then came the anxious moment on the third, when, her position having been taken at noon to
see if she was near enough to run under the guns of Fort Fisher before the following
daybreak, it was found there was just time, but none to spare for accidents or delay.
Still, the danger of lying out another day so close to the blockaded port was very great,
and rather than risk it we resolved to keep straight on our course and chance being
overtaken by daylight before we were under the fort.
"Now the real excitement began, and nothing I have ever experienced can compare with it.
Hunting, pig-sticking, steeple-chasing, big-game shooting, polo—I have done a little
of each—all have their thrilling moments, but none can approach 'running a
blockade;' and perhaps my readers may sympathize with my enthusiasm when they consider the
dangers to be encountered, after three days of constant anxiety and little sleep, in
threading our way through a swarm of blockaders, and the accuracy required to hit in the
nick of time the mouth of a river only half a mile wide, without lights and with a
coast-line so low and featureless that, as a rule, the first intimation we had of its
nearness was the dim white line of the surf.
"There were, of course, many different plans of getting in, but at this time the favorite
 to run up some fifteen or twenty miles to the north of Cape Fear, so as to round the
northernmost of the blockaders, instead of dashing right through the inner squadron; then
to creep down close to the surf till the river was reached; and this was the course the
Banshee intended to adopt.
"We steamed cautiously on until nightfall; the night proved dark, but dangerously clear
and calm. No lights were allowed—not even a cigar; the engine-room hatchways were
covered with tarpaulins, at the risk of suffocating the unfortunate engineers and stokers
in the almost insufferable atmosphere below. But it was absolutely imperative that not a
glimmer of light should appear. Even the binnacle was covered, and the steersman had to
see as much of the compass as he could through a conical aperture carried almost up to his
"With everything thus in readiness, we steamed on in silence, except for the stroke of the
engines and the beat of the paddle-floats, which in the calm of the night seemed
distressingly loud; all hands were on deck, crouching behind the bulwarks, and we on the
bridge, namely, the captain, the pilot, and I, were straining our eyes into the darkness.
Presently Burroughs made an uneasy movement.
"'Better get a cast of the lead, captain," I heard him whisper.
"A muttered order down the engine-room tube was Steele's reply, and the
Banshee slowed, and then stopped. It was an anxious moment while a dim figure
stole into the fore-chains,—for there is
 always a danger of steam blowing off when engines are unexpectedly stopped, and that would
have been enough to betray our presence for miles around. In a minute or two came back the
report, 'Sixteen fathoms—sandy bottom with black specks.'
"'We are not in as far as I thought, captain,' said Burroughs, 'and we are too far to the
southward. Port two points and go a little faster.'
"As he explained, we must be well to the north of the speckled bottom before it was safe
to head for the shore, and away we went again. In about an hour Burroughs quietly asked
for another sounding. Again she was gently stopped, and this time he was satisfied.
"'Starboard, and go ahead easy,' was the order now, and as we crept in not a sound was
heard but what of the regular beat of the paddle-floats, still dangerously loud in spite
of our snail's pace. Suddenly Burroughs gripped my arm,—
"'There's one of them, Mr. Taylor,' he whispered, 'on the starboard bow.'
"In vain I strained my eyes to where he pointed, not a thing could I see; but presently I
heard Steele say, beneath his breath, 'All right, Burroughs, I see her. Starboard a
little, steady!' was the order passed aft.
"A moment afterward I could make out a long, low black object on our starboard side, lying
perfectly still. Would she see us? that was the question; but no, though we passed within
a hundred yards of her we were not discovered, and I breathed
 again. Not very long after we had dropped her, Burroughs whispered,—
"'Steamer on the port bow.'
"And another cruiser was made out close to us.
"'Hard-a-port,' said Steele, and round she swung, bringing our friend upon our beam. Still
unobserved, we crept quietly on, when all at once a third cruiser shaped itself out of the
gloom right ahead, and steaming slowly across our bows.
"'Stop her,' said Steele, in a moment; and as we lay like dead our enemy went on and
disappeared in the darkness. It was clear there was a false reckoning somewhere, and that
instead of rounding the head of the blockading line we were passing through the very
centre of it. However, Burroughs was now of opinion that we must be inside the squadron,
and advocated making the land. So 'slow ahead' we went again, until the low-lying coast
and the surf-line became dimly visible. Still we could not tell where we were, and, as
time was getting on alarmingly near dawn, the only thing to do was to creep down along the
surf as close in and as fast as we dared. It was a great relief when we suddenly heard
Burroughs say, 'It's all right. I see the Big Hill.'
"The 'Big Hill' was a hillock about as high as a full-grown oak, but it was the most
prominent feature for miles on that dreary coast, and served to tell us exactly how far we
were from Fort Fisher. And fortunate it was for us we were so near. Daylight was already
breaking, and before we were
 opposite the fort we could make out six or seven gun-boats, which steamed rapidly towards us
and angrily opened fire. Their shots were soon dropping close around us, an unpleasant
sensation when you know you have several tons of gunpowder under your feet.
"To make matters worse, the North Breaker Shoal now compelled us to haul off the shore and
steam farther out. It began to look ugly for us, when all at once there was a flash from
the shore followed by a sound that came like music to our ears,—that of a shell
whirring over our heads. It was Fort Fisher, wide awake and warning the gun-boats to keep
their distance. With a parting broadside they steamed sulkily out of range, and in half an
hour we were safely over the bar.
"A boat put off from the fort, and then—well, it was the days of champagne
cocktails, not whiskeys and sodas, and one did not run a blockade every day. For my part I
was mightily proud of my first attempt and my baptism of fire. Blockade-running seemed the
pleasantest and most exhilarating of pastimes. I did not know then what a very serious
business it could be."
On the return trip the Banshee was ballasted with tobacco and laden with
cotton, three tiers of it even on deck. She ran impudently straight through the centre of
the cordon, close by the flag-ship, and got through the second cordon in safety, though
chased by a gunboat. When Nassau was reached and profits summed up, they proved to
 amount to £50 a ton on the war material carried in, while the tobacco carried out netted
£70 a ton for a hundred tons and the cotton £50 a bale for five hundred bales. It may be
seen that successful blockade-running paid.
It may be of interest to our readers to give some other adventures in which the
Banshee figured. On one of her trips, when she was creeping down the land
about twelve miles above Fort Fisher, a cruiser appeared moving along about two hundred
yards from shore. An effort was made to pass her inside, hoping to be hidden by the dark
background of the land. But there were eyes open on the cruiser, and there came the
ominous hail, "Stop that steamer or I will sink you!"
"We haven't time to stop," growled Steele, and shouted down the engine-room tube to "pile
on the coals." There was nothing now but to run and hope for luck. The cruiser at once
opened fire, and as the Banshee began to draw ahead a shot carried away her
foremast and a shell exploded in her bunkers. Grape and canister followed, the crew
escaping death by flinging themselves flat on the deck. Even the steersman, stricken by
panic, did the same, and the boat swerved round and headed straight for the surf. A close
shave it was as Taylor rushed aft, clutched the wheel, and just in time got her head off
the land. Before they got in two other cruisers brought them under fire, but they ran
under Fort Fisher in safety.
One more adventure of the Banshee and we
 shall close. It was on her sixth trip out. She had got safely through the fleet and day
had dawned. All was joy and relaxation when Erskine, the engineer, suddenly exclaimed:
"Mr. Taylor, look astern!" and there, not four miles away, and coming down under sail and
steam, was a large side-wheel steamer, left unseen by gross carelessness on the part of
Erskine rushed below, and soon volumes of smoke were pouring from the funnels, but it was
almost too late, for the chaser was coming up so fast that the uniformed officers on her
bridge could be distinctly seen.
"This will never do," said Steele, and ordered the helm to be altered so as to bring the
ship up to the wind. It took them off the course to Nassau, but it forced their pursuer to
take in her sails, and an exciting chase under steam right into the wind's eye began.
Matters at length became so critical that no hope remained but to lighten the boat by
throwing overboard her deck-load of cotton—a sore necessity in view of the fact that
the bales which went bobbing about on the waves were worth to them £50 or £60 apiece.
In clearing out the bales they cleared out something more, a runaway slave, who had been
standing wedged between two bales for at least forty-eight hours. He received an ovation
on landing at Nassau, but they were obliged to pay four thousand dollars to his owner on
their return to Wilmington.
The loss of the cotton lightened the boat and it
 began to gain in the race, both craft plunging into the great seas that had arisen, yet
neither slackening speed. A fresh danger arose when the bearings of the engine became
overheated from the enormous strain put upon them. It was necessary to stop, despite the
imminence of the chase, and to loosen the bearings and feed them liberally with salad oil
mixed with gunpowder before they were in working order again. Thus, fifteen weary hours
passed away, and nightfall was at hand when the chaser, then only five miles astern,
turned and gave up the pursuit. It was learned afterward that her stokers were dead beat.
But port was still far away, they having been chased one hundred and fifty miles out of
their course, and fuel was getting perilously low. At the end of the third day the last
coal was used, and then everything that would burn was shoved into the
furnaces,—main-mast, bulwarks, deck cabin, with cotton and turpentine to
aid,—and these only sufficed to carry them into a Bahama Island, still sixty miles
from Nassau. They were not there two hours before they saw a Federal steamer glide slowly
past, eying them as the fox eyed the grapes.
The adventure was still not at its end. Mr. Taylor hired a schooner in the harbor to go to
Nassau and bring back a cargo of coal, he and Murray Aynsely, a passenger, going in it.
But the night proved a terrible one, a hurricane rising, and the crew growing so terrified
by the fury of the gale and the vividness of the lightning that they nearly
 wrecked the schooner on the rocks. When the weather moderated the men refused to proceed,
and it was only by dint of a show of revolvers and promise of reward that Taylor and his
passenger induced them to go on. On reaching Nassau they were utterly worn out, having
been almost without sleep for a week, while Taylor's feet were so swollen that his boots
had to be cut off.
Thus ended one of the most notable chases in the history of blockade-running, it having
lasted fifteen hours and covered nearly two hundred miles. Fortunate was it for the
Banshee that the "James Adger," her pursuer, had no bow-chasers, and that the
weather was too ugly for her to venture to yaw and use her broadside guns, or the
Banshee might have there and then ended her career.
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