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Chasing a Fox

Contemporary watercolor sketch of the blockade runner Fox

The British paddle steamer Fox was one the many purpose-built blockade runners that appeared in the Gulf during the last months of the war. Built of steel, she was long and lean, with a length of 219 feet (66.8m) and a beam of only 22 feet (6.7m). Fox was a very successful blockade runner, making eight successful round voyages between Nassau and Charleston before entering the Gulf of Mexico and running into Galveston.

Simpson Adkins, master of the blockade runner Fox in 1865. Fox only made one blockade-running voyage to Texas, but as the following newspaper article from the Galveston Daily News of April 16, 1865 describes, it was a memorable one. It is particularly worthwhile to note that, in this case, Fox ran in through the Northeast Channel, which is the same route that Denbigh was taking when she ran aground a few weeks later. Under Pilot Watson's direction, Fox probably passed within 200 yards of the spot where Denbigh lies today. Fox's master was Simpson Adkins (left), an experienced pilot on the Carolina coast. Adkins was an old hand at running the blockade, and well known to the Federal Navy. He was captured at least twice, and both times returned to his old calling. After his second capture, a Federal officer described Adkins as an "old offender" and "one of the most expert pilots on the Southern coast." The officer warned his colleagues to watch Adkins carefully, but it did no good -- by 1865 he was back running the blockade again, this time to Galveston.

Photo sources: (top) U.S. Navy; (left) Charleston Confederate Museum via Ethel Nepveux

 

A Fox Chase

Galveston, April 14, 1865

Dear News: -- The poetically inclined youth, who has read Scott’s description of the chase,* and in fancy heard "the deep-mouthed blood-hound’s heavy bay," the "bark and whoop and wild halloo," following the varying phases of the run till the weary quarry had escaped his pursuers, and heard the baffled dogs howling in rage and chagrin over their long and bootless race, can still have but a faint conception of the exciting chase witnessed on the Gulf, and closing in full view of this city, a few days since.

The game, so fiercely sought, was a fox – not the Reynard of rural sport, or even the Swamp Fox of South Carolina, in the days of the American Revolution; but Fox of English birth and Southern proclivities, and making its run on the sea instead of through the marsh and the brake. He is backed by Jeff Davis against the hungry pack that old Abe Lincoln has set to seek their prey on the coast of the South. The run, not inaptly, took place on the 1st of April, and the hunters were badly fooled.

This fox is steel-clad, iron-lunged, breathes flame and smoke, and goes off with celerity whenever Yankee intruders seek to become too familiar. She is reported to be commanded by one Capt. S. Adkins, of South Carolina origin, and connected intimately with the descendants of Martin’s men. The pilot who guided the devious chase, and baffled the craft and stern pursuit of the Yankees, was a quiet, self-possessed and fearless inhabitant of this city, named Henry Watson. At 6 o’clock in the morning, while the Fox was moving under easy steam, some eighty miles off Galveston harbor, waiting, like the clan of MacGregor, for the night, a column of black smoke was suddenly seen to shoot up some miles astern, where the crafty Yankees had placed cruizers [sic.] to watch for blockade runners, as a point at where the day light might show them approaching or leaving the coast, while the main fleet was set to watch the bar, like dogs at the entrance of a lair. When the chase opened, the pursuer was about eight miles astern. It was immediately decided that it was not necessary to wait for night for the Fox to seek a den but, like Lady Macbeth’s visitors, to "go at once." But here was the difficulty: in running from one foe she must run on or past a dozen more – all dogs of war of the most savage breed. Her course was taken for the coast, about sixteen miles to the eastward of this city, in order, as far as possible, to avoid the fleet. The Fox had a full stomach for a long race: she had not only taken in several hundred barrels of beef and pork, but a miscellaneous stock of saltpetre, lead, iron implements, and other heavy articles of diet, hard to digest, and which she was not bound to carry as an extra weight under any rule known to sportsmen. Sir Walter’s chase was a sort of dead-heat at the close –

Nor nearer might the dogs attain,
Nor farther might the quarry strain

But, in this case, the friends of the Fox might well have repeated the advice given to the flat-boatmen by his friend, "go it, old fellow, he’s a gainin’ on you." The Fox soon began to obey the bible injunction to lay aside every weight that that might retard her progress, and made, apparently, direct for the beach, far to the eastward of the bar, closely pursued by her more fleet antagonist, sanguine either of the capture or destruction of the fugitive. But as, when the poet’s hero "already glorying in his prize" exulted in the anticipated destruction of his game

For the death wound and death halloo,
Mustered his strength, his whinyard drew,
The wily quarry shivered the shock,
And turned him from the opposing rock,
When dashing down a darksome glen,
Soon lost to hound and hunter’s ken.

So our Fox, when apparently about to dash herself on the beach, suddenly turned square off to the Southwest and made for the Pass as if "all the fiends from heaven who fell" had joined the chase – as, in fact, many of them had, for by this time the whole squadron was belching smoke, steam, fire, shot and shell, as though they would tear the fugitive in more shreds than ever poor Reynard was rent into by the largest pack of hounds.

The Fox kept close to the shore, while one or two of her pursuers, forced to remain in deeper water, kept alongside, firing broadsides as fast as they could load; and the whole fleet fired up and hastened from their anchorage to try to intercept the fugitive rebel. Shot, shell, grape, shrapnell [sic.], every missile which the ingenuity of Satan and his children, the Yankees, have invented, was thrown at, around, over, and in the waters beneath the doomed victim. Elongated shell and shot shrieked before, behind and over her, fell and exploded around and above her, or struck the water, and ricochetted [sic.] over her decks like ________, well, like a flock of sheep over a pair of bars. Strange to say, although hundreds of shots were fired, but four took effect. An ugly shell, a foot and a half long, exploded a few yards from the ship, and a portion of it burst the steel plate two feet above the water, but the missile rebounded and fell into the sea. A ten inch shell, nearly spent, came over the rail on one side and passed out beneath it on the other without doing harm, though the wind fanned a couple of persons who stood near. The shrouds were cut beneath another as he ascended, but this Daniel was as little hurt as his namesake in the among the lions. A piece of shell cut the ‘scape pipe above the deck, but "nobody was hurt" and no one scared. There were some old veterans, Morgan’s men and others who has escaped from Fort Douglas, on board, who looked upon the whole affair as a very small one; or, being passengers, took no interest in it, and the officers and crew seemed to liffe [?] it as a matter of course. They received three cheers, which greeted them as they steamed gaily into port with the utmost composure, and did not appear, like a man answering a fulsome toast, to regard it as the proudest moment of their lives; in fact, they do not seem at all proud, though they fill the bill for an old-time Mississippi steamer.

A bully boat and a bully crew,
A dandy mate and a captain too!

*Sir Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake, Canto First, "The Chase."

Thanks to Ethel Nepveux for suggesting this tale.

 

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J. Barto Arnold et al. 1998-2000, The Denbigh Project, World Wide Web,
URL http://nautarch.tamu.edu/PROJECTS/denbigh/denbigh.html,
Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Texas A&M University, E-mail: (barnold@tamu.edu).  
Sunday, July 01, 2001 Revision.

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