The Capture of Another “English” Ship; Sherman’s New Command

Sunday, October 6, 1861

As the morning sun rose over Charleston, South Carolina, Captain John Marston of the USS Roanoke spied a schooner sailing towards land, flying the Palmetto Flag. Marston immediately signaled for the USS Flag, a screw steamer, originally named the Phineas Sprague, to give chase.

As the Flag pulled closer to the schooner, the Palmetto Flag was hauled down and the British flag, turned upside down as a signal of distress, was run up in its place. Neither fooled nor daunted the Flag as it pulled along side her and boarded. Her name was the Alert, captained by James Carlin, who claimed that she was in fact a British ship from Nassau, sailing for St. John, New Brunswick. As he pointed to the flag above, the ship’s mate was caught trying to hide both Confederate and Palmetto Flags.

The Flag brought the Alert along side the Roanoke where Captain Marston questioned her cook, a Spaniard by birth. The cook, who had little to gain or lose at this point, told Marston that the Alert was originally from Charleston and named the Adelaide. She was taken to Nassau and then sold to her present owner. While in Nassau, told the cook, she flew only the Confederate and Palmetto Flags, never hoisting the British ensign. She was not bound for St. John, as her Captain asserted, but for Charleston, as Marston figured.

A foremast hand questioned by Marston, confirmed the cook’s version, adding that just before her capture, the mate burned her original papers and quickly drew up new ones, claiming that she was English and bound for New Brunswick.

Both the cook and the foremast hand were released without charge, while the Captain, mate and two others were sent to Fortress Monroe. The Alert‘s cargo consisted of molasses, salt and fruit, “the whole of which remains untouched, not even a banana having been taken.”1


Sherman to Replace Anderson in Kentucky

Brigadier-General Robert Anderson had withstood the strain of the bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter as well as anyone could. As a reward, Lincoln gave him command of the Department of the Cumberland (formerly the Department of Kentucky). More than any other state, except, perhaps Missouri, Kentucky was being torn in two by the war. She wished to remain neutral, but neither side expected that to be possible. After moving his headquarters from Cincinnati to Louisville, the crisis escalated as both sides skirmished and fortified a line that ran from one side of the state to the other. Lincoln had issued a plan of attack on the 1st that was too much for the aging, weary Anderson.

The previous day, he called General William Tecumseh Sherman to come to Louisville. Sherman was in command of the troops on Muldrough’s Hill (near Elizabethtown), was just about to receive reinforcements and was preparing to march south towards Bowling Green. Both Generals had been in daily communication with each other and it was becoming clear to both that Anderson had taken all he could and needed to leave, that if he stayed, it would kill him.2

Together, they wired General-in-Chief Winfield Scott in Washington and on this date, Scott replied with a direct order:

Brigadier-General ANDERSON: To give you rest necessary to restoration of health, call Brigadier-General Sherman to command the Department of the Cumberland. Turn over to him your instructions, and report here in person as soon as you may without retarding your recovery. WINFIELD SCOTT.

Anderson received the telegram and prepared to leave in two days.3

  1. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p295-296. []
  2. Memoirs by William T. Sherman. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p296. []
Creative Commons License
The Capture of Another “English” Ship; Sherman’s New Command by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by