Wednesday, August 10, 2011

CSS Sumter Makes a Break For It

CSS Sumter in New Orleans

It was realized early on by Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory that he would have to have actual commissioned warships on the high seas if the Confederate guerre d'course was going to suceed.  Among the first of these Confederate cruisers was CSS Sumter under the command of Raphel Semmes.  Here is Semmes' account of the cruiser's dramatic breakout out from the Head of Passes and into the Gulf of Mexico on June 30, 1861.

Finally, on Sunday morning, the 30th of June, it having been reported to me that the Brooklyn was absent from her station, I caused steam to be gotten up, got underway, and ran down toward the Pass. As we approached the mouth of the river we discovered the Brooklyn with our glasses, standing back under steam and sail to regain her station, and it was for some time a little doubtful whether we could pass the bar before she came up.

To add to my perplexity, the pilot protested that he knew only the bar of the Southwest Pass, and could not undertake to run me out of
Pass a l’Outre [the eastern branch of the Mississippi River delta]. I continued on, however, hoisting a signal for a pilot at the fore.

As luck would have it, a pilot happened to be present at the pilots’ station a little above the light house, and as we ran by it the gallant fellow pushed aboard in his boat, and in fifteen minutes afterwards he had us outside the bar. We discharged him in great haste and all sail and steam, the
Brooklyn being in pursuit about 4 miles distant. The next few hours were of course very anxious ones for me, as the Brooklyn had the reputation of great speed, and our relative powers were to be tested.

By 3:30, Commander Poor gave up the chase. As he bore up, I sent my men into the rigging, and we gave three hearty cheers for the flag of the Confederate States, thus for the first time thrown to the breeze on the high seas by a ship of war.

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