“Too much d—d science on board”
James Morris Morgan (right, 1845-1928) was a 17-year-old Acting Midshipman in the Confederate Navy, serving aboard the ironclad Chicora at Charleston, when he received orders sending him abroad, where he would later join the crew of the commerce raider C.S.S. Georgia. First, though, he had to get safely out of the Confederacy. One of his fellow passengers on the run to Bermuda was the celebrated naval officer and oceanographer, Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-73). As Morgan would recall decades later in his memoir, Recollections of a Rebel Reefer, Maury’s presence aboard the runner would prove to be a fortuitous circumstance.[George Alfred] Trenholm owned many blockade-runners — one of them, the little light-draft steamer Herald,  was lying in Charleston Harbor loaded with cotton and all ready to make an attempt to run through the blockading fleet. Commodore Maury, accompanied by his little son, a boy of twelve years of age, and myself, whom he had designated as his aide-de-camp for the voyage, went on board after bidding good-bye to our kind friends. About ten o’clock at night we got under way and steamed slowly down the harbor, headed for the sea. The moon was about half full, but heavy clouds coming in from the ocean obscured it. We passed between the great lowering forts of Moultrie and Sumter and were soon on the bar, when suddenly there was a rift in the clouds, through which the moon shone brightly, and there, right ahead of us, we plainly saw a big sloop-of-war! There was no use trying to hide. She also had seen us, and the order, “ Hard-a-starboard,” which rang out on our boat was nearly drowned by the roar of the warship’s great guns. The friendly clouds closed again and obscured the moon, and we rushed back to the protecting guns of the forts without having had our paint scratched. Two or three more days were passed delightfully in Charleston; then there came a drizzling rain and on the night of the 9th of October, 1862, we made another attempt to get through the blockade. All lights were out except the one in the covered binnacle protecting the compass. Not a word was spoken save by the pilot, who gave his orders to the man at the wheel in whispers. Captain [Louis M.] Coxetter, who commanded the Herald, had previously commanded the privateer Jeff Davis, and had no desire to be taken prisoner, as he had been proclaimed by the Federal Government to be a pirate and he was doubtful about the treatment he would receive if he fell into the enemy’s hands. He was convinced that the great danger in running the blockade was in his own engine-room, so he seated himself on the ladder leading down to it and politely informed the engineer that if the engine stopped before he was clear of the fleet, he, the engineer, would be a dead man. As Coxetter held in his hand a Colt’s revolver, this sounded like no idle threat. Presently I heard the whispered word passed along the deck that we were on the bar. This information was immediately followed by a series of bumps as the little ship rose on the seas, which were quite high, and then plunging downward, hit the bottom, causing her to ring like an old tin pan. However, we safely bumped our way across the shallows, and, plunging and tossing in the gale, this little cockleshell, whose rail was scarcely five feet above the sea level, bucked her way toward Bermuda. She was about as much under the water as she was on top of it for most of the voyage. Bermuda is only six hundred miles from Charleston; a fast ship could do the distance easily in forty-eight hours, but the Herald was slow: six or seven knots was her ordinary speed in good weather and eight when she was pushed. She had tumbled about in the sea so much that she had put one of her engines out of commission and it had to be disconnected. We were thus compelled to limp along with one, which of course greatly reduced her speed. On the fifth day the weather moderated and we sighted two schooners. To our surprise Captain Coxetter headed for them and, hailing one, asked for their latitude and longitude. The schooner gave the information, adding that she navigated with a “blue pigeon” (a deep-sea lead), which of course was very reassuring. We limped away and went on groping for Bermuda. Captain Coxetter had spent his life in the coasting trade between Charleston and the Florida ports, and even when he commanded for a few months the privateer Jeff Davis he had never been far away from the land. Such was the jealousy, however, of merchant sailors toward officers of the navy that, with one of the most celebrated navigators in the world on board his ship, he had not as yet confided to anybody the fact that he was lost. On the sixth day, however, he told Commodore Maury that something terrible must have happened, as he had sailed his ship directly over the spot where the Bermuda Islands ought to be! Commodore Maury told him that he could do nothing for him before ten o clock that night and advised him to slow down. At ten o’clock the great scientist and geographer went on deck and took observations, at times lying flat on his back, sextant in hand, as he made measurements of the stars. When he had finished his calculations he gave the captain a course and told him that by steering it at a certain speed he would sight the light at Port Hamilton by two o clock in the morning. No one turned into his bunk that night except the commodore and his little son; the rest of us were too anxious. Four bells struck and no light was in sight. Five minutes more passed and still not a sign of it; then grumbling commenced, and the passengers generally agreed with the man who expressed the opinion that there was too much d___d science on board and that we should all be on our way to Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor as soon as day broke. At ten minutes past two the masthead lookout sang out, “Light ho!”; and the learned old commodore’s reputation as a navigator was saved.