Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/101

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Capture of the Federal Gunboat Underwriter. 95

all that day, as no fires were permissible under any circumstances ; so all we could do was to keep a sharp lookout for the enemy, go to sleep again, and wish for the night to come.

About sundown one gunboat appeared on the distant rim of the bay. She came up, anchored off the city some five miles from where we were lying, and we felt that she was our game. We began at once to calculate the number of her guns and quality of her armament, regarding her as our prize for certain.

As darkness came upon us, to our great surprise and joy, a large launch commanded by Lieutenant George W. Gift, landed under the lee of the island. He had been, by some curious circumstance, left behind, but with his customary vigor and daring impressed a pilot, and taking all the chances came down the Neuse boldly in day- light to join us in the prospective fight. His advent was a grand acquisition to our force, as he brought with him fifteen men and one howitzer.

We were now called together again, the orders to each boat's crew repeated, another prayer was offered up, and then, it being about nine o'clock, in double column we started directly for the lights of the gunboat, one of which was distinctly showing at each mast- head. Pulling slowly and silently for four hours we neared her, and as her outlines became distinct, to our great surprise we were hailed man-of-war fashion, " Boat, ahoy ! " We were discovered, and, as we found out later, were expected and looked for.

This was a trying and testing moment, but Commander Wood was equal to the emergency. Jumping up, he shouted : " Give way hard! Board at once!" The men's backs bent and straightened on the oars, and the enemy at the same moment opened upon us with small arms. The long, black sides of the gunboat, with men's heads and shoulders above them could be distinctly seen by the line of red fire, and we realized immediately that the only place of safety for us was on board of her, for the fire was very destructive. Stand- ing up in the boat with Commander Wood, and swaying to and fro by the rapid motion, were our marines firing from the bows, while the rest of us, with only pistol in belt, and our hands ready to grasp her black sides, were all anxious for the climb. Our coxswain, a burly, gamy Englishman, who by gesture and loud word, was en- couraging the crew, steering by the tiller between his knees, his hands occupied in holding his pistols, suddenly fell forward on us dead, a ball having struck him fairly in the forehead. The rudder now having no guide, the boat swerved aside, and instead of our