Where did the North Carolina Squadron sailors go following the battle of Elizabeth City? For years I have known that around 28 ended up on the CSS Virginia. The crews of the CSS Raleigh and Beaufort were kept intact and fought alongside the Virginia during the battle of Hampton Roads as well. But where did the crews of the CSS Fanny, Forrest, Curlew, Sea Bird, and Ellis end up? Did they just desert?
Ed Milligan may have dug up the answer for me several years ago when he transcribed the 1st Quarter of 1862 payroll for the Receiving Ship United States at Gosport. I recently came across the order (again) that directed Commander Thomas Hunter to place his Curlew crew on the receiving ship. I knew he had been ordered to take his crew to South Mills prior to the battle to repair the broken locks at South Mills. I also ran across Ed’s list. This got me wondering how many actually ended on the receiving ship.
It turns out to be quite a few. Twenty-two out of 27 crewmen of the Curlew turned up on Ed’s list. One ended up on the CSS Virginia. Not a bad showing! This got me thinking about the other NC Squadron crews. How did they stack up?
The CSS Forrest, like the Curlew, did not participate in the battle of Elizabeth City. She was run up on the marine railway for repairs to her displaced propeller shaft after the battle of Roanoke Island and was destroyed to prevent capture. Some of the crew probably helped Midshipman F.M. Harris man the guns on the Black Warrior. William Harwar Parker of the CSS Beaufort reported some of the Forrest crew joined him at Fort Cobb. How did they fare compared to the Curlew in reporting for duty in Norfolk following the destruction of the squadron?
Quite good, actually. Sixteen out of 19 enlisted men from the Forrest’s crew were on the receiving ship payroll for the 1st quarter of 1862 ending 31 March 1862. Eleven of the former Forrest crew members ended up serving on the CSS Virginia.
How about the Ellis, then? She was boarded and her captain, Lt. James Cooke, was captured, as were a couple of black coal heavers that joined the Union navy. Surely her crew got scattered. Well, not really. Seventeen out of 22 enlisted men show up on the receiving ship payroll. Five served aboard the Virginia.
How about the CSS Sea Bird, the flagship of the squadron? She was sunk by the USS Commodore Perry and all but 6 of her crew were captured. Two sailors died from a shell exploding as it left the muzzle of the forward gun early in the battle.
Seventeen Sea Bird crewmen reported to Gosport on 18 February 1862. At least 2 more had reported on the 13th. That’s 19 out of 36 accounted for. Six deserted to the Union during their period of imprisonment at Roanoke Island. Two served on the Virginia. Only five ended up on the receiving ship. Where did the rest go? Many disappeared on 28 February 1862. Was it a mass desertion? Or were they sent home to await exchange?
What happened to the Fanny’s crew? Her captain, James Tayloe, was killed aboard the Beaufort during the first day of the battle of Hampton Roads. One Fanny crewman ended up on the Virginia. Four ended up on the receiving ship. Not a very good showing considering that there were 36 men in her crew. Reportedly, one deserted the night before the battle of Elizabeth City, carrying important information about the construction of the fort and placement of the ships to Union Admiral Goldsborough at Roanoke Island. I wonder where the rest ended up?