Casualties of War: Two Georgia Coast Pilots and the Capture of the U.S.S. Water Witch
For a slave, Moses Dallas had it made. He was a coastal pilot, guiding passenger and cargo steamers through the shoals and over the bars in the waterways from Savannah south through the sounds, down the coast to Jacksonville, Fla. and up the St. Johns River all the way to Palatka. By 1860, he was in late middle age and at the top of his profession. The steamboat companies knew his reputation, and paid good money for his expertise.
Dallas was owned by a widow named Harriet Ann Elbert, of St. Marys, Ga. on the Florida-Georgia line. Her sister, the widow of a St. Mary’s doctor named Bacon, owned Dallas’ wife (also named Harriet) and their six children. 1 In 1860, the sisters agreed to let Dallas and his family move to Savannah, the center of the area’s shipping business. There, Moses and Harriet Dallas rented five acres and a house out Bryan Street east of town, across the bayou in the rice fields and woods behind Fort Jackson. Moses and Harriet Dallas lived there on their own, like a free family.
Whenever Dallas took a job with a new shipping line, Mrs. Elbert’s agent, G.W. Conn, negotiated the initial contract. But it stipulated that henceforth, Moses Dallas would act as his own negotiator on any contractual changes, including pay. And his salary would be paid directly to him. 2 It was normal for a hired-out slave’s wages to be paid to the owner (who often allowed the slave a small allotment for living expenses). But Dallas kept all his wages. 3 His hiring out earned Mrs. Elbert nothing. Dallas was good with money: His reputation for frugality matched his reputation as a pilot. 4 He knew the value of a dollar, and trusted himself to get the best value for his services. 5
Harriet Dallas also had a part in providing the family’s middle class life style. The family kept some livestock, and she sold milk, butter and eggs in town. But she derived her main income from a successful laundry business, employing some of her black neighbors, both slave and free, as well as her children. While Moses paid Mrs. Elbert nothing for his time, Harriet had to hire her time from Mrs. Bacon. Still, she contributed a substantial share of the family income. 6
Mark Twain thought the pilot’s profession the greatest life on earth. To a young boy on the Mississippi, the steamboats’ pilots were adventure and excitement personified. Like lords they surveyed their domain from their pilot houses high above it all; and they cut a dashing figure as they sauntered uptown to grab a plug or a dram or some other of life’s necessities while the boat took on and discharged passengers and cargo. The pilot’s
pride in his occupation surpasses the pride of kings, Twain said. They were the heroes of his boyhood, and a stretch as a working pilot in young adulthood failed to change his opinion of the life. 7
For a black man, slave or free, being part of the pilots’ profession was an incredible opportunity. When a boat was in the most dangerous part of its voyage, the pilot was in charge. He decided when and if and where the boat could go. When the pilot was working he commanded the vessel, so far as its movement was concerned. 8 Here was one of the few places in antebellum America where a black man could not only work in an integrated profession, but could hold a position of responsibility, authority, and respect.
When the Civil War came, men like Moses Dallas would find even more adventure and opportunity. In the days before the Civil War, the U.S. Navy had cruised the seas, sailing out to hunt down slave smugglers in the Caribbean or off the African coast; charting rivers and harbors on the North and South American coasts; and showing the U.S. flag in the Sea of Japan and the Mediterranean. When these warships left port they took on a pilot to see them down the harbor and over the bar at its mouth. Once clear, the pilot took his pilot boat (a small schooner) back to shore, and the warship sailed a course ordered by her captain and charted by her lieutenants. On arrival off the next port of call, the vessel made signal for another pilot. One of the local guides came off in his pilot boat, boarded the warship, and took her safely in. Then he left ship, his work over until another vessel needed his services.
But when the war started, the contending navies found themselves working mostly along the coasts, in the sounds, and on the rivers of the Confederacy. They did what the prewar coastal steamship concerns did—contracted with skilled coastal pilots as full time employees and kept them aboard ship. The Confederate Navy, blockaded early on inside the sounds and harbors of the coast, was the first to move to full time employment of pilots. And in September of 1861 Commodore Josiah Tattnall of the Savannah Squadron hired Moses Dallas as a first class pilot at first class pilot’s wages—$60 per month. 9
Dallas brought aboard a curiosity—his own servant. He and his wife had acquired the services of a slave named Edward Walden. 10 Dallas had young Walden enlisted in the Confederate Navy as a landsman, but with a peculiar proviso: Whenever Harriet Dallas needed Walden’s help at home, Dallas had the right to send the boy there. Surely, this was a unique innovation in naval/civilian/slave relations. 11
In the Confederate Navy, pilots (even slave pilots) carried the status of officer. Although they received no commissions from the Navy Department (they were “rated” instead), did not command midshipmen or issue orders to sailors, and performed no watch or other officers’ duties, they were routinely listed with the officers—lieutenants, masters, midshipmen, engineers, paymasters, surgeons, etc.— in Confederate official reports and correspondence. 12
Dallas was senior pilot on Commodore Tattnall’s flag boat, the Savannah, a coastal passenger steamer converted to a fragile and not very effective gunboat. 13 From the beginning of his employment by the Confederate Navy until its end in June of 1864, Dallas would only enhance his professional reputation. 14
The U.S. Navy was fortunate to find a number of skilled pilots from the Confederate coast who were willing to help the Union against their Southern countrymen. One of the best was Rufus Murphy, who preferred to be known as R.B.K. Murphy. He was from the little settlement of Wassaw, on the sound of the same name below Savannah, and he was an experienced and knowledgeable pilot for the Georgia coast.
In 1862 the Confederate government passed a conscription act. 15 Murphy, about to be drafted into the Confederate army, instead rowed out to a blockading warship and talked himself into a trial as a pilot for the Union navy. A few weeks later, at night, he was able take a small boat back to Wassaw and rescue his wife and mother-in-law. They took temporary refuge on Sapelo Island, but soon Murphy had them at the U.S. naval repair port at Port Royal Harbor, between Savannah and Charleston. 16
Murphy proved his worth, gaining the trust of U.S. naval officers and serving where his expertise was most needed. In June of 1863 he was awarded the rating “first class pilot” in the U.S. Navy. 17
Just a month before, Moses Dallas had taken advantage of the revolving door of naval high command in Savannah to negotiate a pay raise. William A. Webb had a promotion, a new command, and a mandate to get Savannah’s great ironclad, the Atlanta, into combat. Seeing the young officer preoccupied with that mission, Moses Dallas demands a raise. He wanted $100 per month, the same pay allotted a naval lieutenant. Given Dallas’ reputation, Webb was quick to oblige. He wrote Stephen R. Mallory, Confederate Secretary of the Navy, for permission to raise Dallas’ pay, proclaiming him
the best inland pilot on the coast. The Secretary accepted Webb’s judgement and personally endorsed Moses Dallas’ raise. 18
In January of 1864, with Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont being pushed (against his professional judgement) toward a dangerous ironclad attack on Fort Sumter, R.B.K. Murphy was assigned to the new monitor Montauk (commanded by the hero of the original Monitor, Captain John L. Worden). Murphy was to guide the Montauk into Ossabaw Sound, down the coast from his old home ground of Wassaw. Du Pont had directed the new Montauk to test her offensive and defensive powers against land-based batteries by attacking Fort McAllister on the shores of Ossabaw.
The Montauk carried a new 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbore, a monster of a weapon, just developed for this new class of monitors. In prolonged bombardments the turreted ironclad’s guns blew great divots from the fort’s thick sand and turf walls, and eventually killed McAllister’s commander. The Montauk also destroyed a privateer, the Rattlesnake , aground in a river behind Fort McAllister. But she failed to seriously damage the fort in either attack, and her failure added to Du Pont’s pessimism about attacking Fort Sumter.
As she withdrew from her second battle with Fort McAllister the Montauk struck an anchored “torpedo,” or underwater mine. These torpedoes were death to monitors. When the Tecumseh struck one during the Battle of Mobile Bay, she went to the bottom within minutes, taking most of her crew—and her captain—to their deaths. Off Charleston, the monitor Patapsko struck a torpedo and went to the bottom just as quickly, again drowning nearly all her crew. But in Ossabaw the Montauk seemed scarcely to notice the mine. The explosion under her hull appeared to have little if any effect, and no one was killed.
The difference for the Montauk was the pilot from Wassaw, R.B.K. Murphy. When the torpedo exploded he instantly grasped what had happened and slid the monitor’s fractured hull onto a mud bank, sealing the hole. 19 The Union navy owed Murphy the salvation of their newest, most prized ironclad. Her crew owed him their lives.
As the Montauk lay on the mud bank, her engineers were able to survey the damage and patch her leak. Then she steamed to Port Royal for proper repairs. From there a Charleston pilot took her into the battle against Fort Sumter, where Confederate guns beat the monitors mercilessly. Murphy missed that fight. He’d been assigned to a little side wheel gunboat named the Water Witch , peacefully keeping the blockade in Ossabaw Sound.
The Water Witch had been built in 1852 and had served in the Caribbean on slave patrol and in charting expeditions along the South American coast. She had been a stepping stone for officers on their way up. 20 But now she was a dispatch and supply boat, a place holder on the South Atlantic blockade, and a stop for officers on their way down. Her captain was Lt. Commander Austin Pendergrast. As executive officer of the U.S.S. Congress during the Battle of Hampton Roads in March of 1862, Pendergrast had the duty of surrendering the vessel, aground and under attack by the Confederate ironclad Virginia. The Congress was helpless, unable to escape, and her guns had no effect on the armored Confederate, who could stand off and pound the stranded frigate to pieces. Her captain was dead, and Pendergrast surrendered the vessel to avoid further loss of life. Command of the Water was his punishment.
Though Capt. Pendergrast was determined to rebuild his career, Ossabaw Sound was hardly the place to do it. Nothing happened there. Seldom did blockade runners try to enter, and there was no action whatever. The officers fought boredom by planting gardens and hunting deer on surrounding islands. Pendergrast was determined to let nothing else stain his record. He worked to keep the ship and its crew in a state of readiness, and frequently told his officers that the Water Witch would never be taken.
Blockaders feared torpedoes more than they feared boarders. Torpedo threats bedeviled the blockade off Charleston; they kept the fleet in a constant state of paranoia. Pendergrast feared the Rebels at Savannah might have some Charleston-type torpedo boats. In the isolation of Ossabaw Sound, he was vulnerable to torpedo attack, and to cutting out (boarding and capture) as well.
So he took all the necessary precautions. He ordered all lights extinguished at night, and the ship kept ready to move at a moment’s notice. Every evening officers inspected the guns to insure they were cast loose, loaded, and ready for action. There were sharpened cutlasses in racks, and pistols and carbines loaded and ready in chests below the hurricane deck. The anchor chain had a pin and shackle fitted, with a hammer and punch always at the ready to drive out the pin and slip the anchor. These were inspected nightly. Banked fires kept steam up, and every half hour the engines were turned over. 21
But the crew was unhappy and morale was low. Their enlistments had expired and they wanted to go home. But like sailors throughout the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, they were trapped aboard their ships until replacements arrived. The U.S. Navy had a manpower shortage, and many sailors who had done their duty were still serving long after their enlistments were up. None of them were happy. Aboard the Water Witch , the crew was particularly disgruntled. In May, twenty sailors were allowed to depart without replacement, leaving the ship shorthanded—and the unlucky ones left behind in an angry mood. It didn’t help that there were a number of blacks in the crew. The white sailors didn’t like them. 22
Confederate naval authorities in Savannah recognized the little gunboat’s isolated situation and looked for a way to take advantage. Just as Pendergrast feared, Commodore William W. Hunter tried to borrow a torpedo boat from Charleston to blow the gunboat out of the water. 23 When that failed, he looked to a plan put forth by one of his lieutenants, who proposed slipping up on the ship at night, and boarding and capturing her.
Lt. Thomas P. Pelot
Lt. Thomas P. Pelot, C.S.N. (The State, Columbia, S.C.)
The lieutenant was a South Carolinian named Thomas P. Pelot. He was a disciple of old Commodore Josiah Tattnall’s love of the cutlass and hand to hand combat, and he came to Commodore Hunter with a daring plan. He intended to take a hundred or more volunteers from the Savannah Squadron to board and capture the Water Witch , then use her as a Trojan Horse to capture other blockaders all the way down the Georgia and Florida coast. These blockaders all knew each other by sight; they brought each other mail, orders, and supplies. And Pelot was confident that with the Water Witch , he could sail up to the blockader in St. Catherine’s Sound, capture her before she realized she was in danger, then continue on down the coast to Jacksonville, rolling up the blockade and amassing a flotilla of captured Union gunboats. For such a mission, a trusted pilot with a thorough knowledge of the waters of the region was essential. Lt. Pelot asked for Moses Dallas. 24
Commodore Hunter approved Pelot’s plan, and on May 31, 1864 the lieutenant began making the rounds of the Savannah Squadron’s vessels. He had each crew assembled on deck and asked for volunteers for a dangerous mission. One hundred fifteen Rebel sailors were selected, along with a few officers, and pilot Dallas. 25
The expedition—officers and men, small boats, weapons (cutlasses only, no guns) and a few supplies—was taken down back rivers by a steamer as far as possible, then the sailors manned their boats and rowed down the narrow Skidaway River to an artillery battery on Beaulieu plantation. They would base themselves there for their assault on the Water Witch.
But Pelot found, as he telegraphed Hunter back in Savannah:
The bird has flown. Pendergrast had taken the gunboat south through the sounds on an errand. The next day she was back. And that night Pelot’s expedition set out to board and capture her. But the wily Pendergrast shifted her position after dark, and with the gunboat’s lights out, the Confederates couldn’t find her. They pulled so far down the sound looking for her they were almost discovered out on the water with the coming of dawn.
The expedition stayed at Beaulie battery to try again. Pelot left a petty officer and a sailor on an island at the mouth of Vernon River to watch the gunboat. After 11 p.m. he brought his expedition down. He and Pilot Dallas went ashore and conferred with the lookouts, consulting a chart of the sound under a covered light. The lookouts pointed to a place on the chart called Five Fathom Hole. That’s just where I thought she would be, Dallas said, and told Pelot he could find it in the dark.
It had been raining all day. On this night, June 2, 1864, misting rain punctuated by occasional squalls and thunderstorms covered the sound. Pelot’s men pulled across the water in their open boats in two columns. As they neared Five Fathom Hole, flashes of lightening illuminated the darkened blockader. But as they closed on the gunboat, the watch saw something on the water and hailed. 26
Moses Dallas, in Pelot’s lead boat, answered the hail with:
Contrabands! The Confederate sailors put muscle into their oars and closed the distance. Again the watch hailed, and again Dallas sang out
Contrabands! But the Confederates, their columns of small boats approaching both sides of the gunboat, were close enough that Lt. Pelot responded:
We’re Rebels, damn you!. Then, to his men, he cried
Give way, boys! The first boats bumped against both sides of the Water Witch . Grappling hooks flew from the small boats and snagged in the blockader’s boarding netting. In an instant Pelot and his followers were up in the netting, hacking at it with their cutlasses, trying to cut through and get to the deck. 27
Aboard the gunboat, the watch’s hails brought some of the officers awake. Then, as the Confederates closed, the watch sprang the rattle—a warship’s call to battle stations—and fired his pistol. Officers came awake and looked for their arms. The ship’s assistant paymaster, Luther Billings, came out of his cabin armed with two pistols. He’d taken but a few steps, his eyes adjusting to the dark and rain, when Lt. Pelot dropped out of the boarding netting literally at his feet. Pelot stumbled, regained his balance, and attacked, swinging his cutlass. Billings saw it just in time to catch the blade one of his revolvers. Instinctively, he grabbed Pelot in a bear hug. The lieutenant pounded him on the back with the hilt of his cutlass as Billings cocked his other pistol, pressed it against Pelot’s side, and fired.
The bullet pierced Lt. Pelot’s heart.
I was still hugging him with all my strength, Billings said,
and I remember a feeling of amazement when, at the smothered report he slipped from my encircling arm… and stretched full length on the deck face upward. 28
By now there was pandemonium on deck. Confederates seemed to be everywhere. Several other Union officers were on deck, shooting down into the boats that continued to bump alongside and throw grappling hooks into the rigging.
Capt. Pendergrast came on deck in his night clothes, calling out
All hands repel boarders! Slip the cables—go ahead, full speed! He ducked back into his cabin for pants and weapons, and emerged just in time to have a Confederate seaman strike a blow to his head with a cutlass. Pendergrast went down, unconscious.
Pilot Murphy fought through the melee toward the anchor chain, trying to slip the anchor and let the ship get away from the small boats closing on her. He made it to the shackle and pin, where someone hacked him down.
The gunboat’s engineers began running the ship’s paddle wheels forward, then back. They nearly ran over two of the Confederate boats, keeping their crews from boarding. 29 But five of the seven attacking boats were already clustered around the gunboat, and more boarders were pouring on deck. Paymaster Billings and Acting Master Charles Buck ran to one of the broadside howitzers—shooting their pistols up into the boarding netting and down into the boats as they went—and tried to depress the 12-pounder to sink one of the Rebels’ boats. Caught up in the excitement and fury of the battle, Moses Dallas tried to climb through the gun port where Buck and Billings were working at the howitzer. Billings recalled:
a grinning negro face appeared at the port opening. I remember how ghastly his face grew when his gaze met the leveled pistol I held only a few inches away from it. Again the deadly flash and Moses… also passed away. 30
Other Confederates rushed them. Buck was struck in the head, knocked down, and forced to surrender with a cutlass at his throat. Paymaster Billings was driven across the deck to the arms chests. He found many of the crewmen cowering there, weapons close at hand, but refusing to fight.
One U.S. sailor who fought furiously was Jeremiah Sills, a free man of color from New York who had enlisted, and feared that enslavement was the best he could expect if captured. 31 The Water Witch‘s surgeon said Sills
fought most desperately, and this while men who despised him were cowering near with idle cutlasses in the racks jogging their elbows. The Confederates praised Sills’ courage, and his story made the Savannah Republican. With some embellishment, the newspaper reported that Sills
stood his ground firing revolver after revolver, until he finally fell under a concentrated fire, six or eight balls having penetrated his body. The reporter had previously noted that the Confederates used only
sabres (cutlasses), and that the Union wounds were almost all
sabre cuts, but the Rebels’ tales of Sills’ courage led him to gild the account. He said nothing of the fighting by the Water Witch‘s white officers or crew. 32
The firing dwindled, calls of surrender rose above the din, and finally an order to cease firing brought quiet on deck. The Confederates had won and the boat was theirs. But Lt. Pelot and Pilot Dallas were both dead. The second in command, Lt. Joseph Price, had been wounded in the head and was unconscious, and the victorious Rebels were under the command of Midshipman Hubbard Taylor Minor, a teenager with less than five months’ active duty. Clearly, the Trojan Horse campaign down the coast was out. Now the Confederates’ mission was to save the ship. She had to be gotten up the sound and into the Vernon River, where land batteries could protect her from recapture.
R.B.K. Murphy was too badly wounded to pilot the vessel. The Confederates found the ship’s quartermaster, and as soon as the sun rose they put him at the wheel with a pistol in his ribs, and ordered him to take the ship up the Vernon River. He grounded her around 9 a.m. off Racoon Key at the head of the sound. But the Confederates lightened and refloated the ship, borrowed a black pilot named Ben from ashore, and by 4 p.m. had the Water Witch safely anchored under the guns of Battery Beaulieu. Wagons came from Savannah for the dead and wounded, and a marine guard took the unwounded prisoners to the city.
Lt. Pelot and Moses Dallas were buried the same day, June 4, in a driving rain storm. Pelot’s funeral was conducted at Savannah’s Christ Church. At the naval hospital, Moses Dallas body had been prepared for burial and placed in a $30 plain pine box, like the rest of the Confederate and Union dead. But Commodore Hunter ordered a $100 imitation mahogany coffin instead. Citing Dallas’
distinguished and useful service, he brought the slave’s body to Confederate Naval Headquarters for a funeral service. From there, a hired hearse took him off to the cemetery in the rain. 33
A week after Dallas’s funeral his widow, Harriet Dallas, rowed out to the ironclad Savannah and reclaimed their servant, Edward Walden. Although he was regularly enlisted as a sailor in the Confederate Navy, no one questioned her right to take the boy, as stipulated in the squadron’s agreement with her husband. 34 Harriet Elbert, who had never profited a penny from Moses Dallas’ employment, did succeed in garnering his last paycheck. A refugee from Union-occupied St. Marys, she would have to go through courts in both Live Oak, Fla. and Valdosta, Ga. to validate her ownership of the deceased before the navy would turn the pay over to her. 35
R.B.K. Murphy and the rest of the Union wounded were in the Savannah naval hospital under the care of their own surgeon, W.H. Pierson. Commodore Hunter soon learned the story of Pilot Murphy. Referring to him as
the traitor pilot, Hunter sent evidence against Pilot Murphy to the Bureau of Orders and Detail in Richmond. 36 A week later a Confederate deserter, Jacob Lovett, guided a Union navy expedition across Skidaway Island to try to find and burn the Water Witch . The expedition was captured, and Lovett was tried for desertion and executed. 37 Thus, U.S. naval surgeon Pierson felt he had reason to worry about Murphy’s safety, and wrote (with Commodore Hunter’s permission) to the U.S. Navy Department voicing his concerns. Though the U.S. Navy made no response, no action was taken against Murphy by the Confederate government. He recovered from his wounds, and despite Hunter’s repeated requests for instructions as to his disposition, continued to be held in Savannah until, in early December, 1864, he was exchanged and returned to duty as a pilot in the U.S. Navy’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. On June 15, 1865, he was promoted to Acting Master and Pilot. On September 30 he was honorably discharged. 38
In the 1980s historians discovered Moses Dallas’s name on the rolls of the Union Navy in August of 1864, just a few months after his death during the Water Witch affair. What happened seemed clear: Moses Dallas faked his death on Ossabaw Sound, escaped from Savannah, Ga. and joined the U.S. Navy. He had duped the Confederates, gotten away, and become a fighter for slaves’ freedom. However: Deeper inquiry into Dallas’ U.S. service records showed him to have entered the U.S. Navy well before the Water Witch assault, and later enlisted in the 128th U.S. Colored Infantry. Intent on maintaining the thesis of Dallas’ escape from the Confederates in Ossabaw, historians struggled with his alternating appearances on muster rolls in both U.S. and Confederate service. The leading historian of slavery in wartime Georgia suggests in a biographical sketch that Dallas escaped slavery in Duval County, Florida and joined the U.S. Navy, then deserted, escaped to the Confederacy and hired out to the Savannah Squadron as a pilot; then faked his death during the Water Witch capture; returned to Florida, and late in the war joined the U.S. Army (his desertion from the U.S. Navy apparently undetected and unpunished). 39
A recent serial on Moses Dallas in the Savannah Herald posits that Dallas may have been a black Confederate spy, enlisting in the U.S. Navy to gain information, then returning with it to the Confederacy. 40
The truth is hardly so convoluted. There were two men named Moses Dallas, one a twenty-year old slave (in 1861) owned by James N. Haddock of Duval County, Florida. It was he who ran away to freedom, and served in both the U.S. Army and Navy. 41
The elder Dallas, old enough to be known in the Savannah Squadron as
Old Moses, with a middle aged wife and six children, was the Moses Dallas owned by Harriet Anne Elbert of St. Marys, Ga. It was he who lost his life in Ossabaw Sound, the subject of Paymaster Billings’ graphic account of the killing.
During a program on the two Moses Dallases sponsored by the Bay Area (Fla.) Civil War Round Table in May of 2002, the president of the Round Table asked:
Could they have been father and son? Indeed, they could have been. Dallas piloted vessels up the St. Johns River through Duval County, Fla. for years. The ages of the two are right, and the opportunity was there. The younger Moses Dallas was in fact in Savannah in 1860, where he received a traffic citation for riding an unlicenced horse on the city streets. Could these two have carried out the Civil War’s tradition of a divided family? Perhaps. But that’s another story.
2. Dallas’ civilian employment pattern, and its continuance with his employment by the Confederate Navy, is detailed in a report from the Savannah Station’s assistant paymaster, Charles W. Keim, to Bolling Baker, First Auditor of the Confederate Treasury Department, Sept. 1, 1864 in NARA, RG 45, Subject File NP (Pilots), microfilm reel No. 21, frame # 0498. ↩
3. Although this arrangement was not the norm, it was far from unique. Another of Savannah’s slave pilots who kept all his wages was William Jones. And Bernard E. Powers, Jr., in Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822-1885 (Fayetteville, Ark., 1994), records a number of instances of hired slaves keeping all their wages. For Pilot Jones’ financial arrangements, see Lt. Cmdg. Joel S. Kennard and Assistant Paymaster Dewitt C. Seymour correspondence, May 27, 30, 1864, in C.S. Navy Collection in Hargett Rare Book Room, Richard B. Russell Library, Athens, Ga. ↩
4. After the war, Harriet Dallas recalled:
My husband was a hard working man and careful did not spend any money foolishly that was the way we were able to buy the property and live comfortably.She later clarified:
The house did not belong to me—was a rented house.
See Harriet Dallas and neighbors’ testimony in
Southern Claims Commission, op. cit. ↩
5. Dallas’s negotiating a pay raise with the Confederate Navy has become part of the man’s legend. See below, p. 8. ↩
6. Harriet Dallas, et. al. in
Southern Claims Commission, op. cit. and Whittington B. Johnson, Black Savannah, 1788-1864 (Fayetteville, 1996), p. 104↩
Pilot was the grandest position of all,said Twain. Refused the opportunity to follow the river life as a teenager, he ran away.
I said I never would come home again till I was a pilot and could come in glory.Mark Twain, in his paean to the profession, Life on the Mississippi (New York: Signet Classic Edition, 1961), pp. 40, 376. ↩
8. When the U.S. frigate Constellation changed moorings in Hampton Roads, her sailing master, Richard L. Law , noted:
Ship in charge of pilot.See entry for August 4, 1853 in Journal of Philip Porcher, July 28, 1853-May 20, 1857 in Papers of the Peronneau and Porcher Families, 1786-1818, 1855-1857, in South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina. For wartime instances of pilots exercising control over vessels’ movements at vital times, see report and court martial testimony of Commodore Josiah Tattnall on the destruction of the ironclad Virginia in U.S. Navy Department, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington, D.C., 1894-1931. Hereinafter ORN), Ser. I, vol. 7, pp. 335-38, and R.W. Daly, How the Merrimac Won (New York, 1957) pp. 175-81. Commodore Tattnall’s official report to Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory, with his criticism of the pilots, was published in the Richmond Daily Examiner, eliciting a long rebuttal from pilots William Parrish, George Wright, William T. Clark and Hezekiah Williams. See Tattnall to Mallory, May 14, 1862 in ORN, I, 7, pp. 335-38, and Richmond Daily Examiner, May 24, 1862. For other instances of pilots’ control of vessels’ movements at critical times, see correspondence between Commodore William W. Hunter, Lt. G.W. Gwathmey, and Assistant Adjutant-General T.B. Roy concerning pilot W.W. Austin and the placement and use of the ironclad battery Georgia, and pilots Austin, James Ferguson, and T.N. Philpot on the movements of the ironclad Savannah and gunboat Macon, all during Gen. William T. Sherman’s investment of Savannah in ORN, I, 16, pp. ,467-68, 469, 473-5. ↩
9. Before the war, journeyman pilots made $30 per month. At Savannah, only two white men, pilots Thomas Hernandez and William W. Austin, made more money than Dallas. Dallas’ hire date is listed in U.S. Navy Department, Register of Officers of the Confederate States Navy, 1861-1865 (Washington, D.C., 1931), p. 25. ↩
10. Other than the records of his Confederate service (almost all relating to Moses Dallas), Edward Walden is a mystery. His enlistment as a landsman would indicate that he was at least fourteen. His ownership is known. He was still serving with the remnants of the Savannah Squadron, attached to the gunboat Macon when the squadron was disbanded in May, 1865. See muster rolls for C.S.S. Savannah, Nov., 1862, June to Dec., 1863 in ORN, II, 1, p. 305. ↩
11. Official documentation of this peculiar arrangement is in Commander T.W. Brent to Capt. W.W. Hunter, June 9, 1864 in NARA, RG 45, Subject File NP, microfilm reel 21, frame # 0494. The arrangement is also noted in Paymaster Keim’s summary of Dallas’ services, op. cit., Keim to Bolling Baker, Sept. 1, 1864 in NARA, RG 45, Subject File NP, #0498. ↩
12. For representations of pilots (black and white) as officers, see entries for slave pilots Moses Dallas and Billy Bugg, and white pilots William W. Austin and Thomas Hernandez, in
Register of Officers, pp. 6, 25, 44, 87. For examples of appointments of pilots see Captain R.F. Pinkney to Lt. J.N. Maffitt, Sept. 13, 1864:
The Dept. has instructed me to rate Geo. W. Hobbs…a Second Class Pilotfor the C.S.S. Albemarle, and, in Savannah, Lt. Cmdg. J.S. Kennard to Assist. Paymaster D.C. Seymour, Feb. 14, 1864:
You will rate William Jones (col’d) as pilot of this vessel [C.S.S. Isondiga] from this date, at Sixty Dollars pr monthin NARA, RG 45, Subject File NP, microfilm reel 21, # 0584, # 0602. See also pilots in the lists of officers aboard Confederate naval vessels in J. Thomas Scharf, History of the Confederate States Navy from its Organization to the Surrender of its Last Vessel (New York, 1887), pp. 260-61, 308, 596-97, 644 n. For more on pilots and their officers’ status, see William Harwar Parker, Recollections of a Naval Officer, 1841-1865 (New York, 1883), p. 284; Tom Henderson Wells, The Confederate Navy: A Study in Organization (University, Ala., 1971), pp. 63-64; and Flag Officer William W. Hunter, commanding the Confederate Navy’s Savannah Squadron, to Capt. Sidney Smith Lee, Chief, Bureau of Orders and Detail, June 7, 1864 in U.S. Navy Department, ORN , I, 15, p. 499. ↩
13. Both navies made use of purchased or leased civilian vessels, tearing off cabins meant for civilian accommodation, buttressing their decks, and adding a few guns. U.S. Navy Rear Admiral S.F. Du Pont lamented:
But alas! It is like altering a vest into a shirtto alter one of these commercial steamers into a war vessel. James R. Soley,
The Union and Confederate Navies in the Civil War,in Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buell, eds. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (New York, 1887), I, p. 621. ↩
14. At the time of his death in June, 1864, even Union naval officers were aware of the Confederates’ respect for Dallas’ professional expertise. See Assistant Surgeon W.H. Pierson, U.S.N. to Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, Sept. 10, 1864 in ORN, I, 15, p. 481. ↩
15. See Jennifer Lund, “Conscription,” in Charles W. Ramsdell, ed. Encyclopedia of the Confederacy (New York, 1993), 1, pp. 396-99. ↩
16. Information on Murphy’s arrival in the blockading fleet is in Elinor Barnes and James Barnes, eds., Naval Surgeon: Blockading the South, 1862-1866. The Diary of Dr. Samuel Pellman Boyer (Bloomington, Ind., 1963). P. 21. ↩
17. Rear Admiral S.F. Du Pont to U.S. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, June 13, 1863, in ORN, I, 14, p. 251. ↩
18. See Commander William A. Webb to Secretary Mallory, May 31; and Mallory to Webb June 5, 1863 in ORN, I, 14, pp. 704, 708. ↩
19. Second Assistant. Engineer Thomas A. Stephens to Commander John L. Worden, Feb. 28, 1863 in ORN, Ser. I, Vol. 13, p. 701. ↩
20. ORN, II, 1, p. 237. ↩
21. Memoir of Rear Admiral Luther Guiteau Billings in Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, p. 14; Report of Lt. Cmdr. Austin Pendergrast, Oct. 22, 1864; of Acting Master C.W. Buck, Oct. 23, 1864 in ORN, I, 15, pp. 477, 479. ↩
Jottings by the Way: A Sailor’s Log—1862 to 1864. The Diary of Charles K. Mervine, in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 138, 139, 141; Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren to U.S. secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Oct. 1, 1863, June 6, 1864; report of Lt. Cmdr. Pendergrast, ORN, I, 15, pp. 4, 471, 478; and Billings Memoir, p. 37. For racial animosity within the Water Witch crew, see report of Acting Assistant Surgeon W.H. Pierson, U.S.N., to Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, Oct. 24, 1864, in ORN, I, 15, p. 482. ↩
23. Correspondence between Flag Officers William W. Hunter, C.S.N. and John R. Tucker, C.S.N., Mar. 15, 18, 1864 in ORN, I, 15, pp. 718-19. ↩
24. Just weeks before, Lt. Hamilton Dalton had asked Hunter’s permission to take the ironclad Savannah out through Wassaw Sound on a raid. He, too, specifically asked for Moses Dallas as his lead pilot. Correspondence between Dalton and Hunter, May 12, 13, 1864 in ORN, I, 15, pp. 734-736. ↩
25. Robert Watson Diary (Cornell University Library, typescript in Port Columbus Civil War Naval Center), May 31, 1864;
Hubbard T. Minor diary in the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle Barracks, Pa., reprinted as Hubbard T. Minor, Jr.,
Diary of a Confederate Naval Cadet (conclusion)in Civil War Times Illustrated, Vol. XIII, no. 8 (Dec., 1974), p. 24. ↩
26. The Water Witch’s watch estimated the Rebels were within 30 or 40 yards when he saw them, and the boat he saw
was hardly recognizable as a boat.Acting Assistant Surgeon W.H. Pierson to Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, Sept.10, 1864 in ORN, I, 15, p. 481. ↩
27. The standard sources on the attack are Pelot to Hunter, June 1, 1864 in ORN, I, 15, p. 492; Lt. Joseph Price’s report to Hunter, June 8, 1864 in ORN, I, 15, pp. 501-02; John R. Blocker,
Capture of Blockader, Water Witch,in Confederate Veteran, Vol. XVII, No. 12 (Dec., 1909), p. 604; Robert Watson Diary, May 31-June 8, 1864; Minor, Jr.,
Diary of a Confederate Naval Cadet (Conclusion),Civil War Times Illustrated, pp. 24-28; Alexander A. Lawrence, A Present for Mr. Lincoln: The Story of Savannah from Secession to Sherman (Macon, 1961), pp. 138-144; and William Harden, III,
The Capture of the U.S. Steamer Water Witch in Ossabaw Sound, Ga., June 2-3, 1864,in Georgia Historical Quarterly. Vol. III, no. 1 (Mar., 1919), pp. 12-27. An unpublished resource is an unattributed article (apparently written for publication by Midshipman Minor) titled
Report of the Capture of the U.S. Str.in theWater Witch
Water Witchfolder in Minor Papers, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center. All the original correspondence relating to the mission is in the William W. Hunter Papers, folders 2 and 3, Collection no. 2C486.1, Research and Collections Division, Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Lt. Pelot’s reports to Hunter, written in pencil on blue paper, then telegraphed to Savannah are in this collection. ↩
28. Billings Memoir, p. 36. ↩
The Missing Boats at the Capture of the Water Witch,Savannah Republican, June 7, 1864, p. 1. On microfilm as
Savannah Republican 1861-1866. NOT filmed in date orderat Savannah Public Library, Bull Street Branch. ↩
30. Billings Memoir, p. 37. ↩
31. This was the Confederacy’s official position, and historians have accepted it as the best captured black troops could expect. But the Water Witch’s black crewmen were treated as prisoners of war, and exchanged along with their white shipmates on Nov. 19, 1864. Stephen J. Ramold, Slaves, Sailors, Citizens: African Americans in the Union Navy (DeKalb, Ill., 2002), pp. 125, 136. A list of the exchanged Water Witch men is in R.J.M. Blackett, Thomas Morris Chester, Black Civil War Correspondent: His Dispatches from the Virginia Front (Baton Rouge: 1989), pp. 159-62. See also Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles: Secretary of the Navy Under Lincoln and Johnson (Boston: 1911), vol. 2, pp. 170-71. ↩
TheWater WitchPrisoners,Savannah Republican, June 6, 1864, p. 1. ↩
33. G.W. Conn , attorney for Dallas’ owner, paid the expenses of Dallas’ funeral and was reimbursed by the navy. In addition to the coffin, these expenses included transportation of the body from the naval hospital to naval headquarters, and the hire of a hearse to the cemetery. Together, these amounted to an additional $83.00. See voucher of June 4, 1864 signed by Conn and Paymaster Keim, and approval by Hunter, June 22, 1864, in NARA, RG 45, Subject File NP (Pilots), microfilm reel 21, #0150 and #0493. ↩
34. Brent to Hunter, June 9, 1864 in NARA, RG 45, Subject File NP (Pilots), #0494. ↩
35. The paperwork for this transaction includes April, 1864 voucher by Paymaster Charles W. Keim (#0492); affidavits of Samuel R. Maltain, Clerk of Circuit Court of Columbia Co., Fla. (July 22, 1864, #0496) and Justice of the Peace William B. Ross (same county, same date, #0495); deposition of Elbert neighbor and family acquaintance A.J. Bissent to Joshua W. Griffin, Justice of Inferior Court of Lowndes Co., Ga, Sept. 10, 1864 with endorsement of Clerk of Superior Court George W. Roberts (#500); Paymaster Charles W. Keim to 1st Auditor Bolling Baker, C.S. Treasury Dept. Sept. 1, 1864 (#0498); Dallas’ last quarterly account (#0499), and the record of authorization of disbursement of Dallas’ final pay to Mrs. Elbert, by Bolling Baker, Auditor and A.J. Clark, Acting Comptroller (Sept. 20, 1864, #0502-0504), all in NARA, RG 45, Subject File NP (Pilots), roll 21, and voucher of pay to Harriet Ann Elbert “For wages of Moses Dallas a pilot in the service of the Confederate States & killed in the capture of the Water Witch,” (#0060) in Subject File MN (Deaths-Discharges), roll 16. ↩
36. Hunter to Capt. S.S. Lee, June 10, 1864 in NARA, RG45, Area 8, microfilm reel 414, #0808. ↩
37. Report of Acting Master George R. Durand to Gideon Welles, Dec. 8, 1864 in ORN, I, 15, pp. 566-68. Journal of Col. Edward C. Anderson, June 14, 1864 (typescript in Port Columbus Civil War Naval Museum, Columbus, Ga.). ↩
38. W.H. Hatch, Assistant Agent of Exchange, Charleston, to Capt. W.W. Hunter, Dec. 5, 1864 in Savannah River Squadron Papers, Emory, Box 2, folder 17, #1201, Emory University. Edward W. Callahan, ed., List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900 Comprising a Complete Register of all Present and Former Commissioned, Warranted, and Appointed Officers of the United States Navy, and of the Marine Corps, Regular and Volunteer. (Reprint. New York, 1969), p. 398. ↩
39. Clarence Mohr,
Moses Dallasin Current, ed., Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, 2, pp. 441-42. ↩
40. Richard Riley,
The Odyssey of a Savannah Slave Named Moses Dallas,Savannah Herald, Vol. 58, no. 7 (Feb. 18, 2004). ↩
41. Dallas’ Union service is chronicled in Compiled Service Record of Moses Dallas, No. 343-108, Adjutant General’s Office, NARA, RG 94. When this author endeavored to study the file in the National Archives in June of 2000, it was found to be one of twelve consecutively numbered files missing from the box (in all, twenty-two were missing). The 1881 pension application of Dallas’ widow Adelia was also missing. Prof. Clarence Mohr, who supplied the information on Dallas in On the Threshold of Freedom: Masters and Slaves in Civil War Georgia (Athens, Ga. 1986) (p. 290) and in his Dallas biography in Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, offered to supply his copies of the National Archives service record, but found that
four moves and sixteen yearshad led to misplacement of his copies. ↩