Suddenly all the pieces came together

An entry in the CSS Ellis’ log for 4 August 1861 states that they found the CSS Weldon N. Edwards and the NCN steamer Beaufort at anchor at Ocracoke. Wait a minute! The Edwards was part of the NC Navy, not the CS Navy. The NC Convention ceded the state’s military forces and installations to the Confederate government effective 20 August 1861. And, James W. Cooke, commanding the Edwards, was never a lieutenant in the NC navy. He initially joined the Virginia navy, then was commissioned in the CS navy when Virginia turned her forces over to the Confederate government in early July. Why was he commanding the Edwards? Surely something was wrong with the entry.

A trip to the NC State Archives and a look at the Military and Naval Board’s Letter Books cleared up my confusion. The state sold the NC Navy to the Confederate government on 3 July 1861. The state convention ceded the ships and forts to the CS government on 12 July 1861. The Edwards wasn’t commissioned until 27 July 1861, 15 days too late to have been the NCN Edwards. The NCN Beufort, however, was in commission on 9 July, 3 days before the navy was ceded.

But why was the Beaufort still recognized as a NC navy ship on 4 August 1861, 23 days after the navy was supposed to be handed over to the CS government? The Winslow was also being referred to as being in the NC navy, while the Raleigh, Edwards, and Ellis were CS vessels. Confusing!

Military Board letterbook to the rescue! Governor Ellis made a deal during the negotiations to sell the NC navy ships: the Winslow and Beaufort, already under NC state commission, would remain under NC control until the 20 August 1861 date when all North Carolina forces were due to be turned over.

The Raleigh, Edwards, and Ellis were bought for use in the NC navy, but they were never commissioned by the state of North Carolina. Therefore, they were always CSS ships commanded by CSN officers.

But wait. William T. Muse commanded the Ellis. He was a commander in the NC navy. How was an NC navy commander in command of a CS Navy ship? Again, the letterbook had the answer. Muse was offered and accepted a CS navy commission on 5 July 1861. Isn’t it surprising what you can find out with a little research?


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