Blockade Into Galveston:
A Personal Narrative
The American Civil War produced several excellent
first-hand accounts of blockade running. One of the best was written by William Watson, a
Scotsman who ran the blockade on the Texas coast in his sailing schooner, Rob Roy.
Watson's last trip to Galveston, though, was as pilot of a screw steamer early in 1865.
Watson's account of the voyage comprises a full chapter in his autobiography, Adventures
of a Blockade Runner (New York: MacMillan, 1892). Watson's memoir is an invaluable
record of the personal experiences of a successful blockade runner, and his account of
this particular voyage documents very well the sort of events that Denbigh's crew must
have experienced time and time again.
Watson identifies the steamer as Phoenix, but
there is no record of a blockade runner by that name. It seems almost certain, though,
that Watson was describing Pelican, a 445-ton screw steamer built at Hull in
1863. David Asprey, a researcher in
the U.K., has reconstructed Pelican's activities in late 1864 and early 1865
using Lloyd's List (a daily newspaper) and the Annual Index of Ship Movements
in Lloyd's Collection, Guildhall Library, London. The details of Pelican's career
match Watson's description of Phoenix very closely, including the description of
the ship as a screw steamer -- there was only one known to have run into Galveston during
that period -- her arrival at Havana from London in January, and a change of masters
shortly before running the blockade:
10 November: Arrived Dover from London (Capt Prescott) for Matamoros, with
damage to an engine pipe
11 November: Sailed for Matamoros
13 November: Arrived Southampton with machinery damage
18 November: Arrived Plymouth, leaky
5 December: Sailed for Matamoros (Capt Peters)
-- December: Arrived Madeira
18 December: Put back into Madeira for slight repairs
21 December: Sailed for Matamoros
17 January: Arrived Havana from London
25 March: Sailed Havana for Matamoros (Capt "Sheiffins")
Previous to 4 April: Arrived Galveston [Wise's Lifeline of the Confederacy
estimates March 30]
1 May: Arrived Havana from Galveston (Capt "Sherfine") [Wise estimates sailing
Note that it was normal for blockade runners officially to
list neutral ports like Matamoros as their intended destination when planning to run the
blockade. Pelican's mechanical difficulties coming out from the U.K. may have
played a role in Captain Peters' decision not to test the blockade himself.
Many thanks to David Asprey for unearthing this critical
evidence in establishing the probable identity of Watson's Phoenix.
Watson's narrative begins in late February 1865 in Havana,
just after the sale of Rob Roy. He was planning to sail for Tampico, Mexico, to
deal with some outstanding business when another offer appeared:
I had all arranged to sail [for Tampico] upon the
following evening, when, just as I was going to bed that night, some gentlemen came to the
hotel inquiring for me, and were shown up to my room.
They proceeded at once to state their business. They were
the owner and agents of a steamer which was then laying in the harbour. She was all ready
and loaded to sail. They wished her to run the blockade into Galveston; but there was some
little difficulty about the management of her in the way of commanding. She had recently
come out from London with the object of running from Havana into Galveston. The captain
who had brought her out had fulfilled his part by bringing her to Havana, and he would not
engage to run the blockade. The owner or acting owner, having learned something of the
powers that captains and consignees had over owners in the Confederacy, and wishing to
have more control over the vessel, wished to be on the articles himself as captain. He had
commanded steamers on inland water, but had not much experience at sea, and knew nothing
of navigation. He had a first and second mate who were thorough seamen, but neither was
proficient in navigation, and they had never sailed in the Gulf, and knew nothing of the
coast of Texas; and as correct navigation was everything in blockade running, they wanted
a man to act as sailing master who was a good navigator, and knew something of the coasts
and the entrance into Galveston.
They had been told that I was the very person to suit
them, but had learned that I was about to leave for Tampico on the following day, and
therefore they apologized for calling upon me at that unseasonable hour; but if I would
accept the position, and undertake to navigate the vessel into Galveston -- dangers of the
seas and enemies, of course, excepted -- they would pay me a bonus in advance of 500
dollars, and at the rate of 150 dollars per month from the beginning to the end of the
trip, and another bonus of 500 dollars when the trip was successfully terminated. I would
not require to take any watch, or any part of the ships duty, except as regarded the
I said I would give them no answer that night, but would
think over the matter, and I would come on board in the morning, and have a, look at the
I somehow felt no great inclination to ship on a steamer
on these terms. It seemed a sort of subordinate position; but when I reflected upon the
time it would be before we could get advices of the proceeds of our cotton and get matters
settled up, I could not brook the idea of hanging about idle till then, and I must find
some active employment in the meantime.
In the morning I went to see the steamer. She lay near the
head of the bay. Her name was the Phoenix. She was not a paddle steamer, but a
double propeller, somewhat larger, and had a little better carrying capacity than most of
the blockade-running steamers. She was of a flat, shallow build, with considerable breadth
of beam, and when loaded would draw a little over seven feet of water. This was just
deep enough to enter Galveston by the Swash Channel, which was the deepest channel that I
was acquainted with; but as she would be lightened up by her consumption of coal before
reaching that port, I thought I could take -her through. She was schooner-rigged, and
would have at a distance the appearance of a United States gunboat. I thought there might
be some advantage in this if we were not called upon to signal.
After a little talk over the matter I agreed to join the
vessel, with the special understanding that the entire conduct of the navigation,
look-out, and strategical movements should be left to me.
I then went to the Consulate, and signed the articles as
The steamer was tolerably well found, and had a good
chronometer, which was at the opticians; but I took my own sextant and charts, the
charts on the vessel being of an old date and not very correct, whereas I had marked on my
own several errors, and anything I had found worthy of note on the Texas coast, and the
entrance to Galveston.
I thought of taking my own chronometer, which I could
better depend upon, but as I knew that I would lose it if captured, and the ships
chronometer seemed a good one, I decided not to risk my own. I took only a very small kit,
merely what clothing I might require for the trip as I knew that, if captured or
destroyed, I would lose everything except what I stood in.
We sailed out of Havana just before sunset about the 1st
of March, standing along the coast to the westward until it was quite dark, and then
shaping the course direct for Galveston.
I found things very different on this vessel from what I
had been used to on the Rob Roy. On that vessel there was but few of us, old
hands well known to each other, and united together, as it were, by our little adventures
and escapes. All had a kind of veneration for the vessel, and seemed to take as much
interest in everything about her as I did myself ; all seemed to agree and were happy, and
took great delight at spare times in talking over little incidents where we had eluded the
vigilance of the Yankees.
On board this vessel it was quite a different state of
things. There was, besides myself, the captain, first and second mates, two
quartermasters, two seamen and a lamp boy, first, second, and third engineers, four
firemen and two trimmers, cook and steward -- some twenty in all. Some of them had come on
the vessel from London; others had joined at Havana, but only two amongst them had ever
run the blockade.
There was on this first night out a sort of reserve and
estrangement over the whole crew. They seemed to be impressed with an idea that they were
going upon some desperate undertaking, and some appeared to be awe-stricken, others seemed
sullen and discontented. The firemen had been drinking and quarreling, and some of them
had begun to find fault with their food and to rebel against their treatment in general,
and wanted to be put ashore. This, of course, was a very usual thing with them after they
had got their advance. Upon the whole, I thought things rather unpleasant and cheerless,
and very different from what it was with us on the Rob Roy.
As it was getting dark, the boy was placing the lights. I
remarked to the captain that as soon as we shaped our course for Galveston they must take
in these things.
"What!" said the captain; "do you intend to
sail without lights? We cant do that; it would be against all regulations."
"When you enter this business," said I,
"you must adopt a new code of regulations; and you know that I am to direct these
"Oh, certainly," said he; "what you say
shall be done. But do you think there will be no danger of collision?"
"Not much without lights," said I, "as
there are but few vessels on these seas; but with lights there would be danger of
collision with a ball, which might be sent across our bows. Our policy is to see, and not
to be seen, to keep a good look-out from the forecastle-head at night, and from the
mast-head by day."
He quite understood me, but did not seem at all easy in
his mind about running without lights.
This was my first trip in a steamer, but I had been often
on board of blockade-running steamers, and had conversations with captains and engineers,
and knew well their policy and system of working. I therefore requested to see the chief
engineer, in order to have an understanding with him. The chief engineer was a tall man of
a military appearance, and sported a military moustache, and wore a foraging-cap. I asked
him at what hours he generally cleaned his fares. He said that he cleaned only one fire at
a time, so that the speed of the vessel was never much affected. I said that on
blockade-running steamers it was necessary to have everything cleaned on the morning
watch, so as always to have a good head of steam, and be ready for a spurt at daybreak, in
case daylight might show 9, cruiser close by, when we would want all the speed he could
put on to get beyond reach of her guns. The next thing to guard against, as much as
possible, was the emission during the day of clouds of black smoke. In this matter the
cruisers bad a decided advantage over the blockade runners. The cruisers used a peculiar
kind of anthracite coal, which emitted very little smoke. This particular kind of coal
could be obtained only in the United States ; and after the war broke out, the strictest
prohibitions were put upon it, and it was not allowed to be exported, or used for any
other purpose but the United States Navy.
Therefore cruisers sent up very little smoke, and were not
so easily observed at a distance as steamers which burnt soft coal, and sent up volumes.
of -black smoke. The engineer seemed to understand and appreciate this, and said he would
do his best to meet the circumstances.
At daylight next morning I went to the masthead with the
glass, and took a good look round the horizon, but nothing was in sight.
A man was now stationed at the mast-head, to keep a strict
look-out, and report anything that might appear on the horizon. The weather was calm, and
the sea smooth, but the steamer was making but little over ten knots by the log, at which
the captain was much disappointed, and declared that she bad made thirteen knots on the
passage out from London. When I worked up the position at noon, I found by observation
that we were about 180 miles from Havana, which just agreed with the log. The engineer,
when giving me an extract from his log was also rather disappointed at the speed. I
reminded him of the great difference in the temperature of the water in the Gulf Stream,
which would greatly affect the condensation, and lessen the vacuum. He said he had allowed
for that, and still the speed was deficient. I then referred to the vessels bottom
being foul, and asked how long she had lain in Havana harbour. He said they had lain there
about six weeks. I said her bottom must have fouled considerably in that time, which would
greatly affect her speed, and she ought to have been clocked and cleaned before attempting
to run the blockade. This was one of the chief advantages that the blockade runners had
over the cruisers -- oftener docked.
On talking on this subject to the captain, I learned from
his conversation that he had had a good deal of trouble after coming to Havana, and that
he had been obliged to sell a part of his vessel to raise the necessary funds to make this
trip, and could not afford the means to have the vessel docked. I guessed what his
position would be, as I had bad some of the same kind of experience myself.
Having been accustomed to a sailing vessel, I felt this
steady going along under steam to be somewhat dull and monotonous. There was no variety to
keep the mind occupied, nothing to animate in the way of speeding along under a rattling
breeze, or nothing to fret about in the way of light or baffling winds or calms, no hiding
from cruisers under bare poles, or creeping out of sight by aid of the long oars. I had
often been worried by crosses of that kind, and I now felt unhappy because they did not
It was now a steady, continued state of anxiety; and as
nearly every one on board was new to this kind of business, every object seen betwixt sky
and water caused alarm, until I told them that I believed that they would be startled at
the sight of a sea-gull.
On the third morning an alarm was given at daybreak that a
steamer was on the starboard bow close on. I ran on deck, and saw her about five miles
distant, but she had already altered her course, and was standing away to the eastward;
and from the volume of smoke she was sending up, it was easy to see that she was no
cruiser, but a blockade runner, which had taken us for a cruiser, and was standing away
from us. We kept on our course, and also sending up a column of smoke, she soon resumed
her course, evidently satisfied that we were no cruiser.
We saw nothing more until we were about thirty-five miles
to the south-east of Galveston. Here fires were banked, and we lay to, to await nightfall.
About an hour before sunset we saw a cruiser to the
eastward. She was a long distance off, and we could only see her masts. She seemed to have
come from seawards, and was steering towards Galveston. If she continued on her present
course, she would come a little nearer to us, but if she saw us laying still, she might
take us for another cruiser and pass on, whereas if we started to run, we would send up a
smoke which would betray us.
The captain was a little anxious to know what I intended
to do, but I said just to lay still, and not send up any smoke, and watch closely the
movements of the cruiser.
In the meantime, the sun being about due west, I got a
good observation, which gave me the correct longitude and our exact position, and by a
comparison with the position at noon, showed there to be but a very slight current from
There was no danger of the cruiser overhauling us, even if
she was a faster vessel, as it was so near nightfall that she could not get close enough
to hold sight of us in the darkness, but a chase would put us to a great disadvantage, as
it would put us out of our reckoning if we stood out to sea or to westward, and spoil our
chance of getting in-that night, and not only shorten our supply of coal, but subject us
to danger all the following day while laying to, with cruisers on the alert.
If we stood in, she would be pressing on us when we came
near the blockaded port, and it required a little time and caution to find the entrance to
the channel, which, from our draught of water, would require great caution if the tide
happened to be low.
The cruiser continued on her course for a time, and we
thought she was going to pass without noticing us, but shortly before sunset she altered
her course, and steered direct towards us.
As soon as this was known, the crew were a little
flurried, and the captain was impatient to start. The engineer said he could have a full
head of steam in a few minutes. I was unwilling to alter our position of departure, as I
wished to lay a straight course from there to where I intended to strike the coast, and I
thought if darkness would close in before the cruiser got within six or seven miles, we
would be able to start off on that course without her seeing what direction we took.
As every one seemed impatient to get started, I decided to
proceed and steer a straight course W.S.W. and log correctly the distance run; this would
keep our distance from the cruiser, so that she would lose sight of us in the darkness and
would not see us when we changed our course. This gave satisfaction to all, and the
steamer was soon running along at a good speed with the cruiser fully nine miles astern.
As it got dark I was looking astern ,with the glass to see
if we were losing sight of the cruiser, but the smoke from our own funnel falling astern
obstructed the view. The engineer was standing by, seeming greatly to enjoy the novelty of
a chase. Annoyed at the smoke obstructing my view, I turned to him and said that I wished
him and his black smoke were both in that place where darkness and smoke reigned supreme.
"Where is that? In Glasgow, do you mean?" said
he, with a meaning laugh.
I saw he was hinting at my nationality, anal replied that
I believed he must have learned his business at that place, and delighted to send up black
smoke in memoria of it.
"You are not far wrong," said he; " I
served my apprenticeship not far from it at a place called Greenock, which perhaps you
know; but I can stop that smoke for a short time if you wish."
"I wish you would," said I, "and let me get
a good look astern."
He then called to the firemen to open their doors a little
and the smoke cleared away. I then took a good look astern, but could not through the
darkness discover a trace of the cruiser. The captain also, with his long glass, with
which he thought he could see anything, could see nothing of her.
We had now run about six miles on this course, and it was
about as dark as it would be. I said if the engineer would now send up a good column of
black smoke for a few minutes and then check it quickly, we would under cover of that
alter our course and head away direct for Galveston. The engineer said he could easily do
that, and soon the funnel was sending out quite a cloud. This was continued for a few
minutes, and then suddenly stopped, and at the same moment I brought the steamers
head round and set her course to make the land about five miles west of Galveston.
This would take us clear of the blockading fleet, and we could then work up the coast in
shallow water until we found the entrance to the Swash Channel. I would have kept more to
the westward, and given the fleet a wider berth, had we not been chased by the cruiser,
but I wished to take as short a cut as possible and reach the coast before the cruiser, in
case she might, as soon as it got dark, have steered straight off for Galveston to reach
that port before us and put the fleet on the alert.
The captain, who was very wishful to know the meaning of
every movement, asked what was the object of sending up a dense column of smoke, the thing
I had always been so wishful to avoid.
I pointed to the cloud of smoke which still darkened the
sky astern, and said would it not be pleasing to think that the cruiser would be steering
for that, thinking us away beyond it, while we were now off in another direction.
He seemed greatly pleased with the device, but I told him
it might be of no avail, as the Yankees were not easily deceived, and it was possible that
as soon as the cruiser lost sight of us when darkness set in she would stand away for
Galveston, where she knew we must be bound, and look out for us there; but as she would
very likely make for the main entrance, we would stand more to the westward and crawl up
close to the beach, and he must be prepared for some dangerous work.
The weather, which had been calm and hot for the last few
days, now showed signs of a change. Heavy clouds were banking up to the northward, with
occasional flashes of lightning in that direction. This was all in our favour so far, as
the wind, if it came, would be off the land, while the dark clouds would shroud us like a
It being the second engineers watch, the chief came
on deck, not wishing to go to sleep as we were coming near the critical point. As much
depended upon the engineer, I was desirous of finding out something about his
qualifications and experience, as I thought he had more the appearance of a military man
than an engineer. I got into conversation with him, and referred to the remark he had made
some time before about his having learned his business in Greenock.
He said he had served his apprenticeship in Greenock at
Scott and Sinclairs works; that he had subsequently, through some mad freak,
enlisted in a cavalry regiment, in which he served for some years, which accounted for his
So far as I could make out he seemed to have been a man of
good family and well educated, but something of a scapegrace.
I bad previously warned him of the draught of the vessel
being almost too much for the channel through which we would have to pass, and requested
that in using his coal he would keep the vessel trimmed so as to have her as near even
keel as possible.
He now asked me when we would get into this shallow water,
and if we should be stirring up the mud?
I said if all went well we would be stirring up mud before
He hastened below to get his boilers pumped up before we
got into the muddy water; I saw from this that he knew what he was about, and that gave me
It was now very dark, and we took a cast of the lead and
found we were in thirteen fathoms of water; we kept on, keeping a sharp look on the
starboard bow for the blockading fleet until we got into four fathoms. - We then slowed,
and kept on till we got into three fathoms.
We now changed course to the eastward, and moved along
slowly, keeping in three fathoms, which led us to a course about E.N.E. This was all
right, and I looked with somt3 anxiety for a light on a high building in Galveston known
to blockade runners as the " light on Hanleys [sic., Hendleys]
buildings," but could see nothing of it. I wondered if that light had been
discontinued. There were some reports that the Federal fleet was going to bombard the
building on account of the aid given by the light to blockade runners, but it would be
difficult to get near enough to throw shot with any accuracy.
A contemporary chart showing the events described in Watson's account. Bird
Key, where Denbigh would run aground more than two months later, is at upper
I was just beginning to wonder whether the light had been
discontinued, or I had made a bad landfall, when the light was seen. It was not far off,
but dim, probably from the scarcity of oil. From the direction it bore from where we
were-in three fathoms of water-the entrance to the channel would be about half a mile
distant, and there must be a gunboat at anchor close by on our starboard bow.
For some time there had not been a breath of wind, and the
sea was calm, and there was not much sound of breakers on the beach, but the wind was now
beginning to come in gusts off the land, and there was every appearance of a storm,
probably a norther. This was also favourable to us, as the blockading fleet would have
swung out to seawards, and seeing the weather looking threatening they would be engaged
paying out chain and otherwise making snug.
We drew as close up to the land as we could with safety,
and moved along slowly, keeping the lead going on the port side, and soon got into the
channel, which was perfectly smooth, but with barely eight feet of water, it being nearly
low water. I knew that this was the deepest end of the channel, and that near the inner
end there was a short space where there was nearly a foot less, and very likely we should
there take the ground. However, when there we should be pretty safe from the blockading
fleet, and from the easy way that we had dropped into the channel I suspected the tide was
This I explained to the captain and the engineer that they
might be prepared for it, at the same time I assured them that there was no danger.
We kept on going slow, and the water, as I expected,
shoaled down to seven feet, and the vessel stuck and the engines were stopped. I was not
altogether satisfied at the position we were in, I had never known the water to be so low
in this channel before, and we had not seen, and I could not now make out with the glass,
any of the blockading vessels, and I hoped I had made no mistake and got into the wrong
channel, or some cul de sac. I had gone out twice by this channel, but never before
came in by it. I felt slightly uneasy, and ordered the small boat to be lowered. As soon
as the boat touched the water she swung forward towards the bow of the steamer. This
assured me that the tide was making. I took two hands with me and took soundings. We found
about the same depth of water for about one length ahead, after that it deepened. I could
also, by the aid of the lightning, make out the fort on the port bow. This showed we were
all right, and as the tide was rising we should soon get in.
When I returned on board I told the captain that the tide
was low but rising fast; that by working the engines we could push through into the deeper
water, but I thought it just as well to lay still and make no noise for half-an-hour, when
we would float over quite easy. There was little danger from the enemy, as we were now in
past the fleet, and within three hundred yards of the Confederate guard-boat.
The engineer said he would work the engines if we desired
it, but he did not like stirring up the mud as it would get into his condenser and boilers
if we were long in getting off, and he would rather we would wait a little till the
tide rose, that was if we were quite safe from capture.
"Quite safe," said I, "if you dont
begin sending out your black smoke, or hissing off your steam; but mind, the Yankees are
sharp, and if they smell your smoke or hear steam blowing off we may have a boat with an
armed crew alongside before we can get out of their way, and as I nearly drowned a
boats crew very near this spot not long ago I have no wish to have another such
Just then I heard the captain cry out, "Stop, there;
where are you going? " and ran to stop some men who were making their way to the boat
which had been left alongside. This was some of the firemen and trimmers trying to slip
into the boat and desert the vessel. Their reason for so doing they could not well
explain. They said -they did not want to be captured, made prisoners, shipwrecked, worked
to death, starved, and otherwise ill-treated and abused, all of which they had been on
board of this vessel, and they refused to return to their duty.
On my asking the engineer what they meant, he said that
some of the firemen and trimmers had been picked up about the grog-shops at Havana, and a
more worthless and despicable set he had never seen. They were recent imports into Havana,
of that class of loafers and sea lawyers which infest sea-ports, and had come to Havana to
prey upon the blockade runners. They had never intended to make the trip, but to get their
advance and then desert, but the laws in Havana were strict, and he had been able to
prevent them. They had feigned to be sick, done little work, and caused much trouble and
extra work to others on the passage over, and they now wanted to get ashore to get drink.
I laughed, and said it was evident that they knew nothing
of the place they had come to, or they would not seek to desert their ship. They would
find little drink ashore at this place, and more kicks than sympathy. I told the captain
in their hearing that I thought the best thing he could do was to let them go; when they
got ashore the Provost-guard would take charge of them and conscript them into the
Confederate service, which was an excellent place for straightening up into good behaviour
such fellows as them, and ha, the captain, would be a fool if he afforded them any
protection or plea for exemption as being a part of his crew.
This rather abashed them, and the captain, seeing this,
told them that as they had refused to obey him and do their duty, they were quite at
liberty to go, and he added, at my instigation, that if they did not go now he would hand
them over to the Provost-guard as soon as the vessel got into Galveston. On hearing this
they sneaked off and went down to the stoke hole.
The rising tide had now caused the steamer to float, and
the engines were set in motion and we were soon into nine feet of water, and soon after
into thirteen feet. This was the main channel, and the course was changed to north-west.
The storm which had been threatening had now come on, and the rain was pouring down in
torrents, and we soon reached the guard-boat, which we hailed in the midst of a violent
There was now nothing exciting in the arrival of a
blockade runner at Galveston, there had been so many of them lately. Having satisfied
themselves that we were all right, they told us to anchor and await the boarding officers.
We passed on a little further to give room for a good
swing of chain, keeping clear of the Westfield wreck, where I told the mate to
anchor, warning him at the same time that it would very likely blow hard for a few hours,
and to give her plenty of chain, as if she drifted she would drift right into the midst of
the Yankee fleet. The mate, I believe, put down every anchor he had.
It was now about 2 a.m., the rain had ceased, but a strong
northerly gale was blowing, and it had become bitter cold. I had been drenched to the skin
by the rain, and as soon as I saw everything all right, and the anchor watch set, I went
below to get some dry clothes on.
The captain whose mind had been in such a state of
suspense during the passage, that he had seldom entered into anything like conversation,
now came down to the cabin quite relieved and in high spirits, and after some
congratulations began to throw off his oilskins, observing at the same time that he
wondered why I was not provided with those things. "You see," said he, "if
you had had a suit like that it would have saved you that drenching you got."
I said that I found them too hot for this climate.
"Hot!" said he, "you dont call this
hot; this is surely a cold climate you have brought us to."
"It is rather colder in winter than in Havana,"
said I, "but this is not the usual climate here even in winter, this is one of those
cold winds called northers, which sweep over the country and the Gulf occasionally during
winter; and I have just now been thinking it a strange coincidence, that the last time I
came in here in December last, we had one of the same, and a hard time of it we had
warping up that channel in the very teeth of it, till we came to anchor in this very
"How often have you run the blockade into
"This makes my fourth trip into Texas, and my third
"Well, I can assure you, that I am glad that we have
got in safe. Do you know that I think I never endured such a painful suspense, as I have
done during the last few days?"
"What would you think," said I, "of a
passage of eighteen days as I had in the middle of last summer, with fourteen hours
daylight out of the twenty-four?"
"That would have killed me altogether," said he.
"What was you doing all that time?"
"Laying becalmed, with our sails down about half of
the time, keeping a look out from the masthead, and when we saw anything upon the horizon,
pulling out of sight with the sweeps."
"Well," said he, "dont you think we
have been fortunate in getting in so easily?"
"We have been very fortunate," said I. "We
saw only one cruiser, and that at a time when we could easily get out of her way, and this
dark night favoured us in getting past the fleet. We never saw any of the blockading
"I hope we may get out as easily. Is there as much
danger in going out as in coming in?"
"Not near so much," said I, and when I explained
to him the difference, he seemed so happy that I thought he would have talked the whole
night; but I reminded him that he might have a busy time when daylight came, and I
suggested that he should take a few hours sleep, and we both retired.
Shortly after daylight the boarding-officers came on
board, and the usual formalities were gone through, and we steamed up to the harbour.
There wag now much more stir about the harbour at
Galveston than what had been during the past summer, although there was no substantial
improvement of things in general, rather the opposite. The general scramble seemed to have
become more desperate, and blockade running was now carried on to a reckless degree. Some
five or six steamers were loading at the wharfs, and arrivals and sailings were quite
At this time I often heard it remarked, and it was perhaps
worthy of remark, how a profitable investment or enterprise might be for a long time
overlooked or neglected, because no one chooses to make the venture, but when once started
a general rush is made and it is often pushed to a reckless extent, and often persevered
in long after it has ceased to be safe or profitable.
During the early part of the war, and prior to the capture
of Galveston by the Federals in 1862, the blockade of Galveston had been little more than
formal. An old sailing vessel named the Santee, little better than a hulk, and said
to be without a rudder, was anchored off the inlet to Galveston to serve as a blockade,
and forbade all ingress or egress to the port. So little experience had the Texans at that
time, of war and its contingencies, that although much privation might have been averted
and large fortunes been realized with very little risk, they never made any attempt at
passage in or out, considering the declaration of blockade and the old hulk an effective
Now, a fleet of from twelve to fifteen heavily armed
steamers lay off the port, and a number of fast cruisers patrolled the waters in the
neighbourhood of the port, and cruised all over the Gulf of Mexico, overhauling and
capturing vessels wherever they found them, yet in the face of all this, notwithstanding,
the number of steamers and schooners that passed in and out was almost incredible.
I have heard much said about the traffic between Nassau
N.P. and Charleston and the other Atlantic ports, but I believe that was far exceeded by
the traffic in the Gulf of Mexico, during the latter part of the war, after the Atlantic
ports had been captured by the Federals. Tis true that many were captured, but still
the proportion that went free was very great.
It was a common expression among blockade runners at that
time that they could afford to give the Yankees a prize now and then to encourage them to
maintain the blockade and keep up the price of cotton, and a common toast at some of their
convivial meetings was:
The Confederates that produce the
the Yankees that maintain the blockade and keep up the price of cotton;
the Britishers that buy the cotton and pay the high price for it.
Here is to all three, and a long continuance of the war,
and success to blockade runners.
At Galveston, Watson took his leave of the crew of Phoenix
and signed on as master of the paddle steamer Jeannette, which he successfully
brought to Tampico. There he contracted smallpox, which kept him incapacitated to the end
of the war.