Account by Lt. William H. Parker

        Commanding C. S. S. Beaufort

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    “The enemy’s squadron consisted of fourteen vessels, mounting 33 guns; to oppose which we had six vessels, mounting 8 guns, and the guns of the fort. The Curlew had been left at Roanoke Island, where she was burned by her crew. The Forrest was hauled up on the ways at Elizabeth City, and the Raleigh was probably in Norfolk. Commodore Stephen C. Rowan was in command of the Federal vessels, and we knew him to be a dashing officer.”

     “We anchored abreast the fort in our position, and spent most of the night dividing the ammunition, so that each vessel should have an equal share. I passed the evening talking over matters with the commodore, and we both concluded that affairs looked blue. The canal being out of order, escape was impossible in that direction, and nothing remained but to fight it out….”

      “The enemy were coming up at full speed and our vessels were underweigh ready to abide the shock when a boat came off the shore with the bearer of a dispatch for me: it read: “Captain Parker with the crew of the Beaufort will at once take charge of the fort – Lynch.” “Where the devil,” I asked, “are the men who were at the fort?” “All run away,” said the messenger….”

     “The enemy’s vessels were by this time nearly in range, and we were ready to open fire. I did not fancy this taking charge at the last moment, but there was no help for it, so I put the men in the boats with their arms and left the Beaufort with the pilot, engineer and two men on board. I directed the pilot to slip the chain and escape through the canal to Norfolk if possible, otherwise to blow the steamer up rather than be captured. He “cut out,” as Davy Crockett says, accordingly. While pulling ashore, the officers and men were engaged in tearing some sheets into bandages to be used for the wounded men: a cheerful occupation under the circumstances! But it was one of the delights of serving in these gunboats that no surgeons were allowed. All the wounded had to be sent to the flag ship for treatment. Upon getting into the fort I hastily commenced stationing men at the guns, and as quickly as possible opened fire upon the advancing enemy. Some of the officers of the Forrest made their way to us upon learning that the militia had fled. I must not forget to say that the engineer officer who had been sent from Richmond for service in the fort remained bravely at his post. He asked me to report this fact in case he was killed. He was a Prussian, and I think his name was Heinrich. He was not the engineer who built the fort. I found Commodore Lynch on shore; his boat had been cut in two by a shot and he could not get off to his ship, as he informed me, and he furthermore said I was to command the fort without reference to his being there; that if he saw an opportunity to get of to the Seabird he should embrace it.”

     “Commander Rowan’s steamers did not reply to our fire until quite close, and without slackening their speed they passed the fort and fell upon our vessels. They made short work of them! The Seabird was rammed and sunk by the Commodore Perry. The Ellis was captured after a desperate defence, in which her gallant commander, James Cooke, was badly wounded. The schooner Black Warrior was set on fire and abandoned, her crew escaping through the marshes on their side of the river. The Fanny was run on shore near the fort and blown up by her commander, who with his crew escaped to the shore. Before the Ellis was captured some of her crew attempted to reach the shore – among them, Midshipman William C. Jackson, a handsome youth of 17 – he was to have joined my ship the next day. He was shot in the water while swimming to shore. I do not blame the enemy for this – it was unavoidable – but it was a melancholy affair. He was taken on board the U. S. steamer Hetzel and received every attention. He died at 10 p.m. the same day , and was buried  on shore. Captain Sims, of the Appomattox kept up a sharp fire from his bow gun until it was accidentally spiked; and he then had to run for it. He had a howitzer aft which he kept in play; but upon arriving at the mouth of the canal he found his vessel was about two inches too wide to enter; he therefore set her on fire, and she blew up. The Beaufort  got through to Norfolk.”


- from “Recollections of a Naval Officer” by William H. Parker, originally published in 1883 by Charles Scribners’ Sons, New York, New York