|[From the Richmond, (Va.)Dispatch,
December 15, 1895.]
THE PLAN TO RESCUE THE JOHNSTON'S
Why the Daring Expedition Failed.
The following letter from Captain R. D. Minor, Confederate States navy, to Admiral Buchanan, giving the experience of the expedition for the rescue of the Confederate prisoners on Johnson's Island, is taken from advance sheets of "Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion," so called:
MY DEAR SIR,
Before leaving the Confederacy in October last I wrote to say good-by and with the hope that before my return you would have heard of our success abroad, but the fortunes of war were against us, and all the consolation we have is the consciousness that we did our best, and that our efforts have been appreciated. You will pardon the prosy I am about to tell you of our expedition, but, as it were one designed to do much good to our poor fellows at the North, and through their release to be of great benefit to our country, I have thought that it would be interesting to you to know something of its details.
Early in February of last year Lieutenant William
H. Murdaugh, of the navy, conceived the
We, together with Lieutenant Walter R. Butt, one of our ward-room mess on board of the old Merrimac, were at last ordered to hold ourselves in readiness to proceed on the duty assigned us, when suddenly the order was changed, it having been decided in Cabinet council that our operations on the lakes might embarrass our relations with England, and thus prevent the completion of the iron-clad and other vessels building for us in the private ship-yards of that country.
So the plan was foiled at the last moment, and, as we learned, by order
of his Excellency, President Davis, who was apprehensive on the score of
foreign complications. With the expedition thus broken up, Murdaugh, dishearten,
and he, Carter, and Butt were ordered abroad, leaving me here on my regular
ordnance duty, as only representative of a scheme
Late in the spring, I believe it was, that our enemies made Johnson's Island, in the Bay of Sandusky, O., a depot for our officers, their prisoners, and after the surrender of the Post of Arkansas, Vicksburg, and Port Hudson, some 1,500 or 2,000 imprisoned there, whom it became an object to release, as the balance was, and still is, strongly against us. With Seddon, Secretary of War, and Mr. Mallory, who asked me to give my views on the contents of a letter, a part of which Mr. Seddon read to me, containing a proposition for the release of our poor fellows.
ASSENTED AT ONCE.
As a cruise on the lakes in the Michigan, and the destruction of the
enemy's very valuable commerce, has been my study for months past, I assented
at once to the plan, and remarked
As soon as it was definitely settled that the expedition was to go (for
the President said it was better to fail than not to make the attempt,
as it had been vaguely talked of in Montreal), our preparations were made.
Thirty-five thousand dollars in gold, or its equivalent, was placed at
The party consisted of twenty-two, all told, and on the 7th of October we left Smithville, N. C., on the Cape Fear river, in the blockade steamer R. E. Lee, with Wilkinson in command; and, after successfully running the gauntlet of the blockading squadron of river vessels (not, however, without getting a shell in our starboard bulwarks, which exploded on board, set the cotton on fire, wounded three men, and broke a small hoisting engine into smithereens), we arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where our arrival was at once telegraphed all over the country as eing en route for England.
Dividing the party, we left Halifax as soon as possible, taking two
routes for Canada-one via
OF VITAL IMPORTANCE.
As it was of vital importance that the utmost secrecy should be observed,
the officers were directed to take lodging in quiet boarding-houses to
avoid the hotels, not to recognize each
This was effected through a lady from Baltimore, a Mrs. P. C. Martin, then residing with her husband and family in Montreal, and whose husband did all in his power to aid us in every way. She brought a letter from Baltimore, which General (J. J.) Archer, who with Major-General (I. R.) Trimble, was a prisoner at Johnson's Island, had sent there to Beverly Saunders Esq., telling us to communicate with him through the personal columns of the New York Herald, which Wilkinson very promptly did, telling A. J. L. W. that his solicitude was fully appreciated, and that a few nights after the 4th of November a carriage wold be at the door, when all seeming obstacles would be removed, and to be ready.
The obstacles alluded to were the United States steamship Michigan
and the prison guard. Our original plan was to go aboard one of the lake
steamers at Windsor, opposite Detroit, as passengers, and when fairly out
on the lake to play the old St. Nicholas game, and, by rising on the officers
and crew, the possession and run her to Johnston's Island, trusting to
He entered into our views with enthusiasm, and we believe that up to
the last moment he
Two small nine-pounders were quietly purchased, colt furnished us with 100 navy revolvers, with an ample supply of pistol ammunition-of course, through several indirect channels; dumb-bells were substituted for cannon-balls, as it would have excited suspicious to have asked for such an article in Montreal; powder, bullets, slugs butcher-knives, in lieu of cutlasses, and grapnels were obtained, and all preparations made to arm the escaped Confederate officers and soldiers who, to the number of 180, we were promised, could be induced to act with us in any way to benefit our cause; but when the time came for them to come forward, only thirty-two volunteered, and, with our party thus augmented to fifty-four, we determined to make the attempt on the Michigan on the following plan:
From Ordensbug, in New York, there is a line of screw steamers plying
to Chicago, in the
Major (W. S.) Pierson, the commanding officer, is said to be a humane man, and seeing the disadvantage at which we would have him, with the prisoners by this time clamorous for their release, he would have been compelled to surrender, and, with the half-dozen steamers at the wharf in Sandusky, we could have speedily landed the whole 2,000 prisoners on the Canada shore, distant only some forty miles; and then, with the Michigan under our command, and she the only man-of-war on the lakes, with a crew composed of our fifty-four and some fifty others of such men as the Berkeley, Randolphs, Paynes, and others among the prisoners, we would have had the lake shore from Sandusky to Buffalo at our mercy, with all the vast commerce of Lake Erie as our just and lawful prey.
So confident were we of success and so admirable were our arrangements,
that we had all assembled at St. Catharines, on the canal, waiting in hourly
anticipation the arrival of the steamer, when the storm burst upon us in
the shape of Mr. Stanton's telegram
to the mayors
Thus, my dear admiral, with victory, and such a victory, within our grasp, we were foiled; and so anxious were the British authorities to keep on good terms with their detested neighbors (for they do detest them) that the troops who were about to be removed from Port Colborne, the Lake Erie terminus of the canal, were ordered to remain at that place, with instructions to arrest any vessel passing through the canal with a suspicious number of passengers on board. With our plan thus foiled, and with the lake cities in a fever of fear and excitement, and with the rapid advance of re-inforcements, both naval and military, to re-inforce the garrison at Johnson's Island against our compact little band of fifty-two Confederates, we had, as a matter of course, to abandon the design, and leave Canada as soon as possible, but to do so in a dignified and proper manner.
Wilkinson, Loyal, and I (Coleman, Kelly, and Brest) remained in Montreal from five to ten days, giving to the Canadian authorities every opportunity to arrest us, if it was thought proper to do so; but Lord Mock was satisfied with having frustrated our plans, and did not care to complicate the matter or show his zeal for the Yankees in any other shape than the very decisive one of informing on us. And thus we came away, leaving our poor fellows to bear the increased hardship of their dreary prison life for months to come.
And now for the sickening part. It appears that McQuaig, whom
I believed to have been earnestly with us, became alarmed at the last moment,
when our success seemed so certain,
So, but for treachery, with no one can guard against, our enterprise
would have been the
Taking the steamer at the small village of Tobique., we came down the
St. John river, and
At Bermuda (where we arrived on the morning of the 17th of December,
in the royal mail steamer Alpha) I found Bob
Carter of the navy in command of the Navy Department blockade-running
steamer Coquette, purchased by Commander Bullock,
of the navy, to run in naval supplies and out cotton for our service. Finding
some cloth on board for you, I brought
On the day of my return to Richmond, with important dispatches from abroad, my former position as lieutenant commanding the ordnance-works was offered me, and accepted, with more work ahead of me than I can do justice to.
I hope, my dear sir, that you have entirely recovered the use of your
leg, and that you suffer
CAPTAIN ROBERT D. MINOR