Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 14.djvu/134
128 Southern Historical Society Papers.
served the reputation. When the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union this vessel was, fortunately, in James river. She was seized by the State, and the Governor and Council determined to fit her out as a man-of-war. She was taken up to the wharf at Rock- etts, Richmond, and the command conferred upon Commander John Randolph Tucker, late an officer of the United States Navy, who had resigned his commission in that service in consequence of the secession of Virginia, his native State. Naval Constructor, Joseph Pearce, with a number of mechanics from the Norfolk Navy Yard, commenced the necessary alterations, and in a short time the passen- ger steamer, Yorktown, was converted into the very creditable man- of-war steamer, Patrick Henry, of ten guns and one hundred and fifty ofiicers and men. The vessel being properly equipped, so far as the limited resources at hand could be used, proceeded down James river and took a position off Mulberry Island, on which point rested the right of the Army of the Peninsula under Magruder. It was dull work laying at anchor off Mulberry Island ; the officers and crew very rarely went on shore, the steamer being kept always with banked fires, and prepared to repel an attack which might have been made at any moment, the Federal batteries at Newport News and the guard vessels stationed there, the Congress, Cumberland, and several gunboats being plainly in sight. After awhile the monotony became so irksome that Commander Tucker took the Patrick Henry down the river to within long range of the Federal squadron and opened on them with his two heavy guns, with the hope of inducing a single gunboat to ascend the river and engage vessel to vessel. The challenge was not accepted, and the enemy having moved a field battery of rifled guns up the bank of the river, and taken a secure position from which they opened an annoying fire, the vessel was steamed slowly back to her station off Mulberry Island. The North- ern papers stated that in this little affair, which took place on Sep- tember 13, 1 36 1, the fire of the Pat^'ick Henry did considerable damage to the frigate Congress. About this time intelligence was received that one or two of the Federal gunboats came up the river every night on picket duty and anchored about a mile and a-half above their squadron at Newport News. Here was a chance ; so on the night of the ist of December, 1861, the Patrick Henry again went down the river, keeping a sharp lookout for the expected picket boat. Not a sign of a vessel was seen, and when day broke there were the Federal squadron and batteries looming up against the dawn with all the gunboats quietly at anchor near the larger vessels. As