A Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury/Chapter 14

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Torpedo Warfare—Maury Invents an electric torpedo for Harbour and Land Defence—Indifference on the part of the authorities—Maury's experiment—He mines the James River—Maury's plans and drawings fall into the hands of the enemy—Panic caused by fear of torpedoes in the Federal Fleet—Maury on the necessity for a Confederate Navy—The whole South arming for defence—Maury's two sons become volunteers—
Colonel R. L. Maury shot through the, body— Lieutenant J. H. Maury slain at Vicksburg.
Maury in England—Orders from the Confederate Secretary of the Navy to proceed to England—Leaves Charleston with his youngest son—Maury organizes a society in England to promote cessation of hostilities—Petition to the United States for peace—Letter from a chronometer-maker offering Maury a home—Letters about his son at school in England, and on news from home—Congratulation to the Archduke Maximilian on going to Mexico.

Torpedo warfare was re-introduced to the world by our civil war, and it was the practical mind of Maury which appreciated its power and developed its efficiency. The Federal Secretary of the Navy (in his Report, December 4th, 1865) stated that, during the war, their "navy lost more vessels by torpedoes than from all other causes whatever."

In pursuance of his plan for torpedo defence, Maury, soon after his arrival in Richmond, sent an agent to New York to purchase a quantity of insulating wire. The agent was foiled in his mission, and returned empty-handed.

There was neither wire-factory nor insulating material in the South, and though an establishment for the manufacture of the former was soon put in operation, yet, all the Southern ports having been placed under blockade, it was impossible to obtain either gutta-percha or india-rubber from abroad, There was, moreover, a great prejudice against, or lack of appreciation of this undeveloped system of defence, entertained by the officials of the new Confederacy into whose hands the defence of the South had fallen.

Finally, after a year had passed in futile efforts to impress the Confederate authorities with the importance, value, and economy of mining passes and channel-ways with magazines, to be sprung at will by means of the electric spark, Maury procured, in the summer of 1862, two barrels of powder from the Governor of Virginia, who was himself in favour of the plan, and prevailed on the Secretary of the Navy, and the Chairman of the Committee of Naval Affairs in the Congress of the Confederate States, to go down the river and see him explode powder, by an ingenious contrivance, under water.

Two magnificent jets went up; and when the two gentlemen heard the report of a barrel of powder, and saw the water pagodas rising up some hundred feet in the air, they were convinced. The next day $50,000 were placed at the service of Commander Maury (for he now held this rank in the Navy of the Confederate States) for mining the James River.

Still powder was scarce, wire scarcer, and of gutta-percha and india-rubber there was absolutely none, except such as might be collected by calling upon the patriotic women of that noble old State for their india-rubber over-shoes; but, by a remarkable coincidence, it happened that the enemy, in attempting to lay a submarine cable across Chesapeake Bay, from Fortress Munroe to Eastville, had been forced to abandon the attempt and had left the wire to the mercy of the waves.

Maury had the good fortune to secure the prize; it was much cut up and broken by chafing on the rocks, but it was better than anything of the sort that could be made out of old shoes. This flotsam was found just after the first and only attack by the Federal gunboats upon the shore defences at Drewry's Bluff on the James River.

In the summer of 1862, Maury proceeded to mine the James River below all the defences. While engaged on this important work, the success of which was to vindicate the wisdom of his advocacy of this mode of defence, his career in the Confederacy was brought to a summary conclusion.

Without having been consulted, and strongly against his wishes, he received an order to go to Europe to purchase torpedo material in conjunction with another officer—a duty that might have been performed by any junior officer in the service.

The little steamer which he used, and his torpedoes, were placed in the hands of Lieutenant Davidson, who continued in charge of these defences till the end of 1864.

Drawings and plans, with a chart of the torpedoes already planted by Maury, were left in the vessel; and not long after, in attempting to plant others, she grounded during a falling tide, and fell into the hands of the enemy.

At that time the Federals were as ignorant regarding this means of defence as were the Southern officers; but with these captured plans and materials they tried the experiment, "à la James River," at Baltimore on a schooner, and "blew her into tooth-picks," as related in their official report of the transaction.

After this, there was no further attempt made by the powerful Federal fleet to disturb the shore defences of the James River, and General Lee completed them at his leisure. They gave the suspected part of the river a wide berth—till the combined attack in 1864 by Grant on the north, Butler on the south, and the fleet by water.

The fleet, while yet miles below where the torpedoes really were, came up with cutters and launches ahead, dragging and searching for these machines and ascending at the rate of about half-a-mile a day. They caught some of the mechanical torpedoes, for there was wire enough for only a few electric ones.

Finally, after having swept over and passed with their drags one electric torpedo which had been in the water eighteen months, a fine steam corvette, the 'Commodore Jones,' was sent ahead to feel a coppice on the bank for masked batteries and rifle-pits. Davidson, concealed in a marsh on the opposite bank, with the two wires of the galvanic pile in his hand, allowed her to pass, hoping that larger game would follow. She had paused right over the torpedo and waited for the row-boats, with their sweeps and grapnels, to go ahead dragging again. Fearing that these boats might now foul his wires, he determined not to let her pass his magic line. He closed the circuit, and up she went! Engine and boilers were blown clean out of the vessel for fifty feet. The hull was shattered, and fragments of the wreck filled the air; out of a crew of 150 men only three escaped to tell the tale. It was all the work of a minute. The terror-stricken enemy stood still in his tracks, and fearing that the Confederates might come down upon him at night with their torpedo-boats, floating torpedoes, and little ironclad, he proceeded to sink his own ships in the channel, to barricade the river, and to blockade himself out of Richmond. There was, at this time, only one electrical torpedo in the whole river, the first planted having been washed away in a flood of unprecedented violence. The Confederates were quick to take advantage of this blunder with the barricade. They immediately mounted a battery above ("the Hewlett House Battery"), which commanded it and prevented its removal after the panic caused by the fate of the ' Commodore Jones ' should have subsided. This barricade was in the bend of the river.[1] In order to get round it, General B. F. Butler conceived the unsuccessful and much ridiculed plan of cutting "the Dutch Gap Canal." Thus, by a single torpedo with its powers of "moral suasion," that formidable fleet was paralysed and rendered impotent during the whole time that Richmond was beleaguered by Grant with his armies and the whole Federal host on land.

Admiral Porter confessed that, in his first attack with Butler upon Fort Fisher (at Wilmington), it was the fear of these electrical torpedoes which kept him from entering the Cape Fear River with his gunboats. He afterwards entered, found no torpedoes, and carried the place.

Every one knows the dread that sailors have of hidden rocks and sunken dangers; but when those dangers may at any time and at the bidding of an enemy burst out into live volcanoes, the idea of encountering them is simply awful

This James River torpedo was planted on the bottom in seven fathoms of water. It was an old steam-boiler, and contained 1800 pounds of common powder. The battery used was galvanic, and the igniting arrangement was made by cutting the wire and connecting the two ends by a bit of fine platinum wire, which left a space of a quarter of an inch between the two ends of the copper or conducting wire, then lashed firmly to a bit of wood; this was thrust into a small sack filled with fine rifle-powder, which was the exploding charge; but the whole wire, battery, and bursting-charge were mere makeshifts. Much ingenuity was called into play to defend Southern harbours by means of other submarine contrivances; such as mechanical torpedoes which, when struck by a vessel, would explode by means of percussion or some other device. The James River torpedoes, when planted, were daily tested. This can never be done with mechanical torpedoes.

After his arrival in England, Maury made this new method of defence the subject of patient investigation and special study. With means and appliances which the resources of that country enabled him to bring into play, a power has been placed in the hands of military men which has since assumed the proportions that he predicted.

During the first and second years of the war, Maury wrote a series of papers, published in the Richmond Enquirer, over the signature of "Ben Bow," urging upon the Executive the necessity of building a navy without delay, and especially of protecting our bays and rivers with small floating batteries. In the first of these articles he says:—

"At the commencement of our independence we not only find ourselves without a navy, but in the midst of war; with ports blockaded, we are shut out from the marine resources of the world. Nevertheless, we have caught up such watercraft as we could lay hands on, we have strengthened some of them as best we could, and, placing one or more guns upon each, have commissioned them into service.

"These, however, are mere makeshifts. For the most part they are fit only to contend against harmless merchantmen, and they are few in number. If we are to have a navy, surely no statesman would attempt to build it of such material.

". . . . The sums appropriated by the Government for 'building and increase' will indicate its policy touching a navy, and show what, for the present, is proposed to be done.

"Two Navy Bills have passed since Virginia seceded and joined the Confederacy. One was passed in May at Montgomery, and the other in Richmond in August.

"In the Montgomery Bill there is not one dime for construction or increase. The whole appropriation is $278,500, of which $100,000 is for equipment and repairs. Now a navy without vessels is like lamps without oiL The Richmond Bill gives $50,000 to buy and build steamers and gunboats for coast defence, and $160,000 for two ironclad gunboats for the defence of the Mississippi River and the City of Memphis.... We may safely infer that $50,000 will neither purchase nor build a great many steamers or gunboats, nor enable us to provide very efficiently for the defence of all the rivers except the Mississippi, and of all the harbours, bays, creeks, and sounds of our coast all the way from Washington on the Potomac to Brownsville on the Rio Grande.

"Thus we perceive that since Virginia and North Carolina, with their defenceless, open, and inviting sea-front, seceded, the sum of only $50,000 has been voted towards the 'purchase or construction of a navy,' for the defence of the entire sea-coast of the Confederacy!

"From this analysis, and from all that we can see doing on the water, it appears that the Government has not yet decided to have a navy.

"Does the country want a navy? If yea, can we afford to have one? That is the question; and we hope the thinkers and writers and men of the country will bring to bear upon it fair minds and the right spirit.

"The first thing to be done is to get rid of all navy notions, borrowed from the old navy at Washington, as to what constitutes a navy, to cast about us and see what resources we have, and then, considering the means and appliances which, owing to our peculiar situation, we can bring into play, to decide whether the best interests of the country call for a navy or not. In this age, when commerce is king, no nation, though it have cotton and the staples of the South for its nobles, can hope to command the respect of its peers abroad without a navy. Nor can our citizens, with such a neighbour as we are bound to have, be secure from daily outrage unless we have a navy to protect them in peace as well as in war.

"That the country is in great need of a navy now, is patent to the world; and that it will want one in the future is obvious to every statesman. ...

"In the first Revolution we had a navy; it did good service, and experience approves it. This, our second, is more holy than that, and our enemy is close at hand. He is marauding in habit, and far less chivalrous in disposition than the enemy we then had. Moreover, our sea-board country now, while on the one hand it is far more tempting to the robber, on the other it is far less secure from his inroads. We cannot now, as we did then, depend on distance and our faithful old allies, the wind and waves, to protect our citizens from insult and pillage. Moreover, the epoch for 'big guns and little ships' is at hand.[2] Our enemy is not prepared for it. We are. Let us be up and doing, and with craft no larger than steam-tugs and pilot-boats, we may send to the bottom, or chase away from our bays and offings, his tall frigates. In the old war, none but stout ships could be sent against us, for we were separated from the enemy by the most stormy ocean in the world.

". . . . The fact that the mouths of our rivers should be blockaded with an old steam-tug, our shores ravaged, plantations pillaged, and homes burned by a fleet of mere passenger-boats, is neither gratifying to our pride at home, nor will it be held abroad as indicative of any very high degree of national spirit on our part.

"There seems then to be every reason of patriotism and policy why we should set to work 'right off the reel,' and with might and main build up a navy at least sufficient to command our rivers, bays, &c., to defend our shores, and protect our inhabitants against the enemy.

"There are a good many citizens among us who say 'cotton is king;' they hold that this king is to do all and more for us than it is possible for a navy to do. …

"All such are in a delusion. In the first place, cotton and the staples of the South are only some of its nobles; and unless human nature be changed, they, without a navy, will be powerless for protection. Unless we have the national ability to put forth navy strength necessary to support the dignity of the nation, its great staples will be a source of weakness, for mere wealth is weakness, and, like unprotected wealth everywhere, our commercial staples will invite to outrage and wrong.

"There seems to be a vague idea floating in the public mind of the South that, somehow or other, cotton is to enable us to do, if not entirely, at least to a great degree, what other nations require armies and navies to accomplish for them. Because cotton-wool is essential to the industry of certain people, and because we are the chief growers of cotton-wool, therefore, say these political dreamers, we can so treat cotton, in a diplomatic way, as both to enforce obedience to our revenue laws at home and secure respect to our citizens abroad. But can we? Did ever unprotected wealth secure immunity to its owner?

"In the first place, cotton becomes, when handled in any other way than the regular commercial way, a two-edged sword, as apt to wound producer as consumer. Every obstacle which we place between it and the channels of commerce here, operates as a bounty for its production elsewhere.

"It is a very current but mistaken idea to suppose that this is the only country in the world properly adapted to the cultivation of cotton. No such thing. Should even the present paper blockade continue for a few years, and cotton rule at the present New York prices of 22 cents, or even at 15 cents, our political dreamers may wake and find the cotton sceptre, if not entirely lost to our hold, at least divided in our hand.

"Every one can see that in case the supply of American cotton to foreign markets be materially interfered with, the effect will be to enhance the value of other cotton. You will not only stimulate those already engaged in the cultivation of cotton abroad to increased production, but you tempt their neighbours into the fields, and induce others successfully to bring lands under cotton cultivation which, but for such encouragement, would never have been thought of. Our cotton interests cannot be tampered with without danger. …

"Suppose England and France do not choose for a few months to come to break this paper blockade, which we have not the naval strength to force, paper though it be, does it follow that that blockade, weak and ineffectual as, up to this time, it has notoriously been, will continue so until those nations get ready to act?

"The amount appropriated for the Lincoln navy during the current year is upwards of $40,000,000. . . . We cannot, either with cotton or with all the agricultural staples of the Confederacy put together, adopt any course which will make cotton and trade stand us as a nation in the stead of a navy. …

"With two or three millions judiciously expended, it is possible for us to put afloat, in a little while, a navy that will give us the command of our own water. …

". . . . In our present circumstances, the navy which we most require is for smooth water and shallow places. Such a one, consisting of small vessels, can be quickly and cheaply built, and, for the most part, will not be required to keep the sea but for a few days at a time. "A shell from a rifled cannon will, when rightly aimed, tear a hole in the side of the largest ship sufficient to sink her in a few moments.... I do not mean by this that every shell which strikes a ship is bound to sink her. The true relation of a shell to a ship, is that of the musket-ball to the soldier in battle.…

"Our smooth waters and the improvements of the day enable us to send out a class of vessels that shall present little more than a feather-edge as a target to the enemy, and therefore be more invulnerable than the best shot-proof we can build. A little ship intended for the protection of Chesapeake Bay, or elsewhere in Southern waters, need not be more than twenty or twenty-five feet broad, and, with coal, crew, and gun on board, two or three feet above the water. Now, why may not such a vessel engage, at long range, with its rifled gun, the 'Minnesota,' for instance. We can shoot as far and hit as hard as the 'Minnesota.'…

"We, with our big gun and little ship, could watch our opportunity and always be the attacking party. Head on, we would approach the enemy on her beam.

"The cross-section of a vessel twenty feet broad and two feet out of water, measures forty feet. Forty square feet then would be the measure of the target to be presented on our side; on the other hand, the dimensions of the 'Minnesota' are not far from three hundred feet in length by twenty above the water—thus presenting a target, broadside on, of six thousand square feet, or one hundred and sixty times the size of ours.…

"Our necessities cry out for a navy in war; and when peace comes, it will profit us but little to be affluent and free, if we are continually liable to be pillaged by all who seek our custom. The breadth of our plantations and the value of our staples will be of small advantage if the others may have the mastery in our own waters." "Although he argued so wisely and so well, the heads of the Government were unfriendly to Maury, and would not adopt his suggestions. But by this time the whole South was burning with military ardour. Every man was buckling on his sword, and among the rest Maury's two eldest sons, Richard, aged twenty, and John, aged eighteen, volunteered. Richard joined the 24th Virginia Regiment, participated in the gallant charge on Hancock at Williamsburg,[3] was wounded at 'Seven Pines,' was promoted to lieutenant-colonel, and was shot through the body at Drewry's Bluff, from the effects of which wound he has never recovered.

"John went from the University of Virginia with the students when Harper's Ferry was seized. He afterwards went to Vicksburg on General D. H. Maury's staff; and, while making a reconnaissance alone, is supposed to have met his death, for he was never heard of afterwards.[4]

"Of this sad loss, his father writes in the family Bible:—

'Our noble son, John Herndon, went out from Vicksburg Miss., alive, on the 27th day of January, 1863, to reconnoitre the enemy. A few hours afterwards his horse was seen without a rider, but nothing was ever heard of him. From the footprints and other signs and marks on the levee, it is supposed that he was surprised by a scouting-party of the enemy in ambush within our lines and done to death. Comely in person, lovely in disposition, generous and brave, he loved right and hated wrong. Precious in the eyes of his parents, he was very dear to our hearts.'"

In the fall of 1862, Maury was ordered to England by the Secretary of the Navy (Mr. Millory) to purchase torpedo material, &c. He accordingly left Richmond, accompanied by his youngest son Matthew, whom he called "Brave," a lad of some twelve or thirteen years, whom he intended to place at a good school as soon as he should reach the peaceful shores of Old England. He proceeded to Charleston, S.C., where they were detained a week or more awaiting a favourable opportunity to leave the country on a "blockade runner." While in Charleston, he wrote the following letters to his wife:—

My dear Wife, Charleston, October 8th, 1862.

Your short note of the 4th has just come to hand. We devoured it. "Brave" is at Ids lessons. He has an engagement with Mr. Godon for a buggy ride this evening, if we do not sail, of which there seems no prospect at present, for the sky is cloudless. "Brave" read me, from the "Calendar" this morning, that the moon rises Saturday night by eight. We shall certainly get off that night if not before. The 'Hero' will sail soon after, and letters sent here to go by her, care of F. T. & Co., Liverpool, may get there as soon as I do. After her, the 'Kate' will go; so tell all hands to write and keep writing, and to send their letters here to F. & Co. This house is all the time running the blockade. Their vessels generally go by Nassau, and, although by short route, are often a long time in reaching England, Still it is one of the channels of reaching me, and it should not be overlooked. I shall be most anxious to hear about the fighting at Corinth, and to learn how fared my "Davy Jones"[5] and Dabney.[6] I am expecting a telegram from you about them, for Dabney has always been considerate in sending early tidings. I refrain from telegraphing him, because, in the first place, I do not know where he is exactly, and in the next, if either my "Davy Jones" or he have been hit, the telegraphic account would perhaps have things worse than they really are, and so I should sail and be miserable for a month or more in the absence of later information. Wherefore, I have concluded that it is more philosophical to sail thinking "all's well," and wait for letters to dispel the delusion, if delusion this be. Tot's letter, which was mailed before yours, has not been received. The stopping of Corbin with the gunboat timber looks as though the enemy was expected back in Fredericksburg. I don't want them to catch you there again. I shall leave a note behind to be sent you in case the carrier pigeon brings back word "all's well" I am thinking and dreaming about you all the time. I wrote Lucy yesterday; Elie the day before, and Tot's two days ago; also Dick and Betty and Nannie. Kiss them all, and may God Almighty bless and keep you!

After several attempts and failures, Maury and his son finally succeeded in getting off on board the 'Hero' on the 24th of October, and when they were safe beyond the reach of the Federal blockading fleet, he let fly a carrier pigeon with a note tied under its wing, to be forwarded by Mr. F., of Charleston, to his wife. The note contained the vessel's latitude and longitude and "all's well."

My dear Wife, 'Hero,' off Charleston, Oct. 24th, 1862, 3 p.m.

"Brave" and I came off in a row-boat It was a long pull. We left at one, and are hungry. The table is set. We expect to pass the bar at eight, and pray to be clear of the enemy by eleven. We have about fifteen passengers, some of them Jews. "Brave" and I have a nice room, next to the Captain's, two berths in it. The sweetest of boys is "Brave." He has been coursing about on deck, and has come down to say, "Are you writing to ma again?" Yes.... With good luck we shall be in Halifax next Tuesday. I hear the steward discussing dinner. Duck, goose, potatoes, boiled mutton. Our appetite is keen. As soon as "Brave" is over with sea-sickness we will commence our studies. Tell Betty, and Nannie, and Dick, and Sue, and Will, and Corbin, and Tots, and Glum, to write me often, and tell me all the news; and do you also, my precious friend, keep me posted up in public as well as in family affairs. . . .

I shall, you know, very much wish to keep the run of public sentiment, and to be posted up in the various phases of public affairs. Bless my Lucy's heart, I think you have had her long enough—eleven years. I wish she was here, and Tots and Glum were along when we got over the other side.

The Captain is a Scotchman. Farewell! Soup is on the table. God bless and keep us all!

Here are some rose-leaves for L., N. B., and W.


To his Wife.

My dear Friend, Halifax, N.S., Nov. 10th, 1862.

We arrived here last night after a tedious and boisterous passage of five and a half days from Bermuda. "Brave" and I both suffered more from sea-sickness than we did in the passage to Bermuda. The steamer in which we came was quite equal in dirt and all uncomfortableness to that between Calais and Dover. But, thanks be to God, here we are at last, safe and well. This is Monday; Thursday night, at two, we shall take the steamer for Liverpool, and, in nine days more, we are due in "Merrie Old England."

To-day I have been with "Brave" a-shopping, and I have bought him a suit of clothes, which are to be finished tomorrow, and a cap, two pair of flannel drawers. (It has been snowing to-day). Two flannel shirts, a purse, and two pair of gloves. When he gets his clothes he wants to have his "type" taken to send you. We have been in hot weather till now. This morning he was coasting about the room enjoying the fire, and talking about your winter arrangements, and the wood that he had stowed away for you. This is a place of 25 or 30,000 inhabitants. They are strongly "secesh" here. The Confederate flag has been flying from the top of the hotel all day, in honour, I am told, of our arrival. There is a grand review here to-day. It is the birthday of the Prince of Wales. They are celebrating it with unusual pomp, as it is his 21st. "Brave" has gone with some of the passengers to see the review. He wore his overcoat—he is collecting pictures for Lucy; he supposes Willy has collected any amount of old iron. I have let him off from his lessons to-day. This is only to tell you of our welfare; I shall send it, via Boston, and if I get the "type" will send it the same way. The hand-organs have been grinding "Dixie" under my window all day. I sent you a box of shoes, &c., by the 'Harold' from Bermuda. It was directed to R H. M., through F. & Co., Charleston. I have not heard that the 'Harold' has been captured, and therefore presume it got in all safe, and I hope the things reached you safely, and that each one is pleased with her share. Remember, there was no choice, and I had to take what I could get.

Please send Mr. W., of F. & Co., $5 worth of stamps, and write him a note to say they are to pay postage on letters that I intend to send through their firm.

God bless you and us all,


To the same.

My dear Friend, Halifax, Nov. 12th, 1862.

I have written you, via Boston, to tell you of our safe arrival and of our expected departure to-morrow night in the 'Arabia' for Liverpool, that "Brave" is as bright as a lark, and the greatest of comforts to me. He is making fine progress with his Latin. Thinking nothing of doing a page at a sitting. He has a nice new suit of clothes; has gone down now to have a little alteration made in the pants, and to have his "type" taken in them and his new cap, to send to you.

I have been received here with marked attention; I had a constant stream of callers yesterday from 10 till 4½.... The people here are all as much "southern" as we are.

The chances of your getting this are slim. I must content myself with few words....

Accounts from Yankeedom are in by telegraph up to date. They are most encouraging to us. B. has displaced McClellan. I think hourly of Dick and Dave. Hand my letters round to the family and kin. Perhaps S. will copy them for D. and D. Bless their hearts. Love and kisses, and kind messages to Nos. 1, 1½, 2, 2½, 3, 3½, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, and all my good friends. I wonder where you are.


P.S.—We sail to-night at one.

While in England Maury carried the olive branch in one hand and the sword in the other; for he did not cease to cry aloud and make his voice heard on the side of peace, or at least for an amelioration of the horrors of war.

He assisted in organizing a society "for the Promotion of the Cessation of Hostilities in America," which had its office at 215 Regent Street, London, and which numbered among its officers and members, leading men of the army, navy, state, and church.

They drew up the following petition (for the promotion of peace in America), to the people of the United States; but their voice was not listened to, and the bloody strife went on.

The Petition for Peace in America.




"We are of the same race, and many of you are our brothers. Can we not, therefore, come to you as peacemakers, and address you as friends? We would ask you, has there not been of strife and bloodshed, and misery and suffering enough; and is it not time to cease the cruel War in which you are engaged? We believe there is not a Christian man or woman amongst us whose heart does not respond affirmatively to this question. With this conviction we wish to speak to you as plain men, using plain language. We have admired your free institutions, and have gladly witnessed your rise as a people to eminence in wealth and political power. You are of the Saxon blood, and we hoped that you would make the New World renowned for true greatness. You promised to become one mighty people and a great nation, famed for the liberties of its citizens, the triumphs of peace, and the conquests of its commerce. We felt that you were doing honour to the Mother Country. When, therefore, this unfortune War began, our hearts were more inclined towards you than towards your sister States, because we believed with you that the action of the South was but the work of a faction. The events of the struggle, however, have convinced us that a more united people than those of the Southern States never rose up in defence of their rights.

"When you asserted that Secession was the work of disappointed ambition, and promised to quell it within sixty days, we accepted your assurances in good faith, and looked for the speedy restoration of Peace. We did not wish to see the American Union broken up.

"But so far from this promise being fulfilled (and your efforts to accomplish it have been great). Peace and the restoration of the Union are apparently as remote as ever.

"Surely there must be many now among you who share with us the conviction that it is utterly impossible to subdue the South, or to restore the American Union, as it was in the past days of the Republic.

"You have tried sufficiently, and found the gulf between you and the Seceded States to widen with the effort that is made to subdue them.

"Is it not time then to pause, and after calmly reviewing all that you have accomplished, the distance which you have travelled from your well-known landmarks, and the difficulties and dangers that are yet before you, is it not time, we ask, that you should take counsel together as to the best means of restoring Peace?

"We cannot forget that the question of Peace or War was never submitted to you for your serious consideration before hostilities had actually commenced;—that they came upon you little by little;—and that both Government and People found themselves plunged into this fearful Contest almost unawares; nor have you as yet had an opportunity of consulting together in General Convention, for the purpose of making known your opinions and wishes about the War or any of the vast issues growing out of it.

"The war has changed (for the present, at least) the character of your Government. What has become of the freedom of speech, your free press, and the inestimable right of habeas corpus?

"What, permit us to ask, are the Southern people doing beyond following the precepts and examples taught and practised by your Fathers and theirs, when they withdrew their allegiance from the Mother Country, and asserted their right to establish a Government of their own?

"The Declaration of Independence, which you hallow and celebrate every fourth day of July, asserts as self-evident, the right of the Southern people to set up a Government of their own.

"But we would ask, suppose you should at the end of another three years and a half, succeed in subduing the South and restoring the Union by force of arms, might you not then find out, when it was too late, that those pillars upon which rests your form of Government had been violently torn down, and that your own liberties had been buried in the ruins? If you will run the parallel between the South now and the Colonies in 1776, and compare the course pursued by the North now, and the Mother Country then, we think you will discover some striking resemblances; and among them, that with you now, as with the Crown then, rests the privilege of giving Peace to the American Continent.

"Why not then, without further delay, recognise the duty which attaches to your high privilege? We appeal to you in the name of Religion, Humanity, Justice, and Civilisation, and believe that we shall not appeal in vain,

"Peace be unto you."


Maury sent the petition to a cousin in America with the following letter:—

My dear Rutson, Bowden, England, Aug. 30th, 1864.

I have this morning your package of 13, enclosing copies from Will to his sister, his mother to you, of your reply, of Corbin's to you, and reply; also one from B. C. to T. B. Also letters, viâ Bermuda; but none from my people direct. So that Will's, of July 10th, is the latest direct from my own family. Thank you kindly for them.

The enclosed petition "for Peace in America," is what I intended to send you in my last It takes like "wild fire" in Ireland. It was read last Sunday in many of the churches there, and it is to be offered in all for signatures next Sunday. Counting all who are represented by the societies, firms, &c., that have already signed; the signatures obtained in England represent several millions of her Majesty's subjects. It is "bread upon the waters" at best.

Please let it be known, especially if you think good may come of it. I send several copies that the public may, if you think proper, be apprised of this very important move. Liverpool only is against it.

I am quite well again; I hoped to find a report from Dick, or something later from my precious people; but I read in the absence of such, that "no news is good news." Love to all your messmates, those on leave as well, as those at the table.



The great American hydrographer met with much sympathy. His valuable labours and his books had secured for him a host of sincere but unknown friends. Among them must be included the worthy chronometer maker, who expressed his feelings in the following letter:—


To M. F. Maury.

From a chronometer maker, a plain English machinist.
My dear Sir, Leicester, England, July 2nd, 1864.

The watch can scarcely be held in fonder remembrance than your letter, received this morning, will be cherished by me.

Devoted as my life has been to the retired pursuit of mechanical art, it is not often that I have coveted great wealth or worldly position; but there have been times when the possession of these would have enabled me to fulfill the yearnings of my inclination—yearnings that were never more strongly called into action than on your arrival in this country a year ago, when I should have been gratified beyond expression to have had the power to be amongst the first to offer a secure and suitable asylum to yourself, and as many of your family as could be snatched from the frightful war which has devastated so promising a land for the last two years; not that my sympathies were called forth on any political grounds, for whenever either side has been victorious and inflicted great injury on the other, I could only mourn for it as an injury inflicted on itself, and regard it with the same feelings as though a noble form were tearing itself to pieces during the temporary absence of reason. Whatever may be the result of the contest, it must be a source of gratification for you to know, that, although you are not now young, your life has chiefly been spent in the good work of enabling mankind to cross the ocean with less risk from the elements than formerly. I have never met with a scientific man, who did not bear testimony to the great services you have rendered to mankind.

Hoping that you will not think me presumptuous in thus addressing you,

I remain, yours truly,
G. F. Loseby.

The next letter, from a distinguished French scientist and relative, must have been even more gratifying to Maury's feelings:—

To Mr. M. F. Maury.

At Toulouse, Paris, Dec. 25th, 1864.
My dear and honoured Sir,

Permit me to address you from Paris, where the care of my affairs has momentarily called me, my very sincere thanks on the subject of your immortal work. That work bears in the whole world a merited reputation, and I am proud, I avow it to you, to bear a name similar to yours. I regret not understanding the English language, so as to be able to study, in a profound manner, the physical geography of the globe, especially in the new point of view in which you have presented it. It is a real discovery, and your modesty should not allow that the publicity of your work should be restricted. You should, my dear and honoured relative, since you are so kind as to authorise me to give you a title which honours me, translate into the most popular languages of Europe, your nautical studies, the magnificent work which you have published in English science, has no frontiers, and its language should be understood throughout the world, because it is proper that all beings here below should aid each other mutually. Whatever might be the individual value of our life, is it not so short and fragile already, that we should seek with care the occasions of being useful to our fellow men? Your rare merit permits you to render great services to humanity. That surface liquid which covers three-fourths of our planet had been considered by the feebleness of our organs as a mass, awful and inert, where reigned an eternal solitude, such as that which, we believe, to exist in space. You have, sir, carried a shining light into the eternal shades, and there in the depths of the abyss you have rendered to the God of our fathers an homage which, for me at least, is worth all that which men may come every day to deposit at His feet. You have some imitators, and the furrow that you have traced gives emulation to even the incredulous. And you have remarked already in the journals the care the European Governments take to organize their meteorological service.

You ought then, if you have not already done so, to publish in the different languages illustrated editions of your work. I say illustrated, because the cuts speak to the eyes of the multitude, and often bring to notice things passed over without notice.... Now allow me to express to you, at the end of one year that rolls past, and another which approaches in silence, the desire that all your holy vows be fulfilled, the hope that all your family enjoy perfect health, and that they keep constantly in the ways of our Saviour the eternal, our God; because only in these paths can they find peace and light. I wish ardently that your unhappy country may not long be torn by a fratricidal war, that you may take up the course of your useful labours, and from afar you will consider that there is one man at least who esteems you, venerates you, and esteems himself that he has known you. In these sentiments I am, my dear and honoured sir, your devoted servant, whenever you shall please to put me to the proof.

Theodore Maury.


The following is an extract from a letter to the Rev. F. W Tremlett, D.C.L., incumbent of St. Peter's, Belsize Park, N.W., written while Maury was at Bowden, England, where he resided at this time to be near his son Matthew ("Brave"), who was at school there:—

My quiet life here is like the pleasant visions of the night Brave's sweet company at breakfast in the morning at 8; then he to school, and I to the indulgence of that last great blessing that was uttered in the gardens of paradise—work, and the will to work—till 5 p.m., in the solitude of a hermit.

When Brave's smiling face illuminates the enchanted castle for twenty minutes. He says grace before soup, takes his plate, and is back to school again from six to nine; and then the affairs of the family and nation, over a glass of milk and a bit of buttered toast, are discussed till ten; and so to bed. . . . he rising at six. He is just now neck-and-neck with the last of the boys that had reached him by doing "voluntary" during the holidays. . . .

Our hearts were made glad, yesterday, by letters from home. The "petition" (from England to America), praying for the restoration of peace, had been received with great delight and satisfaction. My love to the ladies.

Yours truly,
M. F. Maury.


Maury wrote to his brother-in-law, lamenting the evils that the war was bringing on his country and friends:—

Dear Brodie, Bowden, England, April 22nd, 1863.

War is a great scourge, and this has touched you and me and many a good fellow with a heavy hand. As I look out upon the landscape that lies before my window, and see the men and women working in the fields, and the fields smiling to man's husbandry, when I see no marks of the spoiler, and recognise that each one is safe in his person and secure in his possessions, then it is I see peace, and think of my poor country with a sigh, and, oh, with what reflections!

"Thoughts on thoughts a countless throng," bless your hearts—you and John—for comforting, with so much solicitude and affection, my poor dear wife in her affliction! Good brothers are you both. How lovely and beautiful are the memories of my Johnny! I wonder if all parents think of their dead as I do of mine. Bless that sleeping boy! Never did he, in his whole life, do one single act that either displeased or grieved me or his mother. "He never offended." What an epitaph; and how proudly I write it! But where is the end of this war to find us—where you and yours, me and mine, and where so many that are dear and near to us? Our charming circle of relations and friends is, I fear, broken up, never, never to be restored on this side of the grave.

Where are you? You have a hospital, I know; but where do you live? Where, John? Where, Charles? Both brothers-in-law! When we are done fighting the Yankees, we all, bald pates and gray heads, young and old, have to begin to fight the battle of life over again. Will and Corbin and Dick and my J.——no, he has got his discharge; but you and I, and ours, we all have to begin again; and at what odds! Still, the house is on fire—let's put it out; and then, when it is all over, we can see, not what's best, but what's left. So cheer up, old fellow, let's quit us like men, and trust to God for the rest!

A letter this morning from Rutson Maury of New York... dated 6th April. No tidings of my boy. Send it with this to his mother; it is as much to her as to you, as, indeed, are all the letters I write. Her gentleness has blessed us all, for, with God's help, it was her goodness, her teachings, and her example that made my Johnny the lovely character and faultless son that he was.

Believe me ever, dear Brodie,

Yours lovingly,
M. F. M.

His tender heart was wrung by the sufferings endured by his loved ones—at this time refugees (for the third time). He says in a letter to Dr. Tremlett, written from the Duke of Buckingham's palace at Stow:—

. . . . I had a letter to-day, of May 7th, from my daughter Nannie, and she says "Flour has gone to $100 per barrel—too high for us—but meal is cheaper, thank God!". . . "We had for dinner to-day soup made out of nothing, and afterwards a shin. 'Twas good, I tell you; we all dote on shins." And again, from my little Lucy, "Ham and mashed potatoes to-day for dinner; and, as it was my birthday (9th May), Mamma said I might eat as much as I wanted." Here, you see, there is no complaining, but only a gentle lifting of the curtain, which in their devotion and solicitude they have kept so closely drawn before me. With this pitiful picture in my mind's eye, I felt as if I must choke with the sumptuous viands set before me on the Duke's table. Alas, my little innocents!

  1. Just below the end of Farrar's Island. The Confederate battery erected to prevent its removal was known as the Howlett House Battery, and well performed its work until the close of the war.—R.L.Maury
  2. See "Scraps from the Lucky-Bag," by "Harry Bluff," Southern Literary Messenger of Oct. 1839.
  3. See Report of Battle of Williamsburg, by Col. R. L. Maury.
  4. See Appendix B: Fate of young Confederate Officer.
  5. Son, John.
  6. Nephew, Gen. D. H. Maury.