Friday, October 4, 1861
The USS South Carolina, a steamer carrying five naval guns, captured the Joseph H. Toone in the South West Pass of the Mississippi River. Captain James Alden suspected her of being a Confederate blockade runner, bringing arms and contraband of war into the Southern States via New Orleans. He was not mistaken.
The Rebel ship was five days out of Havana and trying to enter Barataria Bay. When she drew to within ten miles of the inlet, she spotted the USS South Carolina. Her commander, Captain Pennington, changed from the northerly to a southwesterly course.
Before long, the ship was captured and boarded in the waters between the South West Pass and the Timbalier lighthouse. The Joseph H. Toone claimed to be a British ship bound from Havana to Tampico, Mexico. The Mississippi Delta was about 450 miles off course.
The Toone‘s Captain Pennington and the ship itself were from New Jersey, while the crew was indeed from Britain. Her cargo, however, betrayed their peaceful disguise. She carried various contraband of war and 4,000 – 5,000 muskets to be used by Confederate troops. The Toone‘s crew were sent to New York as prisoners of war. The ship and her cargo became a prize for the United States Navy.
This wasn’t the USS South Carolina‘s first capture. Five days previous, the Confederate blockade runner Ezilda was captured thirteen miles from Timbalier lighthouse. She was commanded by a former US Navy officer, Captain William Anderson Hicks, late of the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
It was claimed that the Ezilda was a British ship, but there was not one Englishman on her crew. She had also been over 400 miles off course and carrying contraband of war (though not arms). She, like the Toone of this date, became a price for the US Navy.1
The Chicamacomico Races
On Roanoak Island, Col. A.E. Wright, commander of a Georgia and North Carolina regiment, heard that a Union Indiana regiment had landed near Chicamacomico, thirty-five miles north of Union-held Fort Hatteras. Quickly, Wright devised a plan to surround and capture the Yankees.
The Georgians would land north of the Union troops, while the North Carolinians would land south of them, cutting off their escape to the fort. With the Union regiment disposed of, they would turn on and recapture Forts Clark and Hatteras.
Both the Georgians and Carolinians were loaded onto the small “Mosquito Fleet” and transported to the Outter Banks. By dawn, the Georgians had made landfall, but were spotted by the Indiana troops. Instead of putting up a fight, shooting the Confederates as they filed off the boats, the Yankees began their retreat south towards Fort Hatteras.
The Georgians, after gathering on the shore, made a hasty march after the Indiana boys. The Confederate fleet, in turn, sped down the shore to land the Carolinians and cut off the fleeing Federals. The Chicamacomico Races were on!
By 9am, the sun shown on the white sand, “heating the air as if it were a furnace,” as reported by a Union soldier. The Federals had no water, as the vessel carrying their supply had been captured a few days prior. “The first ten miles was terrible,” continued the Federal. “As the regiment pushed along, man after man would stagger from the ranks and fall upon the hot sand…. It was maddening. The sea rolling at our feet and nothing to drink.”2
By the middle of the afternoon, the Confederate fleet had pulled ahead of the Union troops and attempted to land the North Carolinians to cut them off. The ships, however, ran aground two miles from land. “We got out of our boats and tried to get ashore,” wrote a North Carolina soldier, “but after wading about a mile, the water got too deep and we had to go back.”
To avoid a possible capture, the Indiana troops moved to the ocean side of the island, where they made better time and the sound of the waves drowned out their marching. By midnight, they made it to Hatteras lighthouse.
The Georgians, unaware that the North Carolinians were still on the boats, made their camp between Keneekut and the lighthouse. Along the way, they had captured forty prisoners. The next day, thought Col. Wright, he and the Carolinians would bag the rest as well as the forts.3