Part Eleven: The Reminiscences of Captain Thomas Chatfield

… continued from part ten

I went back to my cruising ground, and in due time (early in May) an appointment as Acting Volunteer Lieutenant reached me, and with it order from the Admiral directing me to proceed immediately to Tampa, and relieve Acting Master James Russell in the command of the Steamer Honeysuckle, and to turn over the command of the Two Sisters to him, and to send him to blockade Sarasota Pass, and small inlet halfway between Tampa and Charlotte Harbor: and with the Admiral’s order another note from his Secretary saying that the Admiral, while on his tour of inspection, had found the Honeysuckle in a very filthy and disorganized condition, with no log, no accounts of equipment, and that he commanding officer had then been absent for two days: and that no one on board knew where he had gone, or when he would return: and that as the war was over the Honeysuckle would probably go North, and out of commission in the near future. He (the Admiral) had placed me in command hoping that I would put the ship in a clean and healthy condition and reestablish naval rule and order as soon as possible. A nice task. The year before Admiral Bailey had placed me in charge of the station of Tampa when it was to be used to quarantine yellow fever ships, giving as a reason that my crew was small, consequently fewer men would be exposed, and hoping I would be able to keep my own healthy: and now Admiral Stringham (his successor) had sent me to take charge of the same station, clean up and purify the worst fever stricken ship of the fleet (the Honeysuckle had lain at an isolated wharf at Key West, the previous summer, some of her crew had died, some went to the hospital those not affected were scattered among the fleet: a Master’s Mate was in charge of her but never went on Board, simply went to the wharf each day to see that she was lying safely, and to bring a disorganized mob (fifty-four in number) under naval rule and discipline.

I did not like the task, but I thought if the old Greek could “make the filthy city of Athens so clean and sweet, that the office of city scavenger would ever after be held in high honor” I could, at least, clean one small ship and discipline one small crew: but whether I could destroy possible yellow fever germs was another question. As it turned out that phase of the question gave me no trouble: for the Honeysuckle was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and out of commission, before the fever germs, if any were left, could have developed.

I proceeded to Tampa, read myself commander of the Honeysuckle, and also my orders detaching me from the Two Sisters, and my loyal fellows fairly mobbed me before I could get away from them. Most of them had been with me for eighteen months, and not more than two, or perhaps three, had ever been disciplined, and not one for at least a year. I turned the command of my little craft over to Russell, and got rid of him by sending him to Sarasota Pass as quickly as possible. He grumbled at being sent to guard an insignificant inlet twenty miles from Nowhere: and I imagine that was just the reason the Admiral directed me to send him there, for the further one could get him from the loot the better for the looted.

The Honeysuckle was a large ocean tug, one hundred and fifteen long, drew eleven feet aft, some three feet less forward, with powerful engines, and when in good condition a speed of from eleven to twelve knots. Good speed for those days. She was armed with two thirty pound rifles, parrot guns, small arms in proportion: line officers (subordinates), three Acting ensigns, Hobb (Executive), Perkins and Estabrook, and one Acting Master’s Mate, one Acting 1st Assistant Engineer, Reuben Riley (chief) and three second assistants, Taber, Mattuck, and Peavy: no surgeon, and no paymaster resident on board. Both their departments were in charge of stewards (Deputies, not enlisted men, but subject to naval discipline), and a crew of fifty-four all told. Her boilers were in bad condition, and her bottom was as foul, with barnacles etc., as she with filth inside: and I had never seen one single man of the whole ship’s company when I went on board. It was late in the afternoon when I took command. So after introducing myself to the officers, and getting their names, and positions, I went to my room, simply directing Mr. Hall to care for the ship, in the usual manner, until morning. I slept but little during the night. Instead I law awake planning my campaign against dirt, disease and disorganization: and somewhere between two and three in the morning dressed and went on deck, and found it deserted. Not a single soul in sight anywhere. So I concluded to keep watch myself, and await developments. At four o’clock the Quartermaster, who was asleep in the pilot house, roused up, struck eight bells, and then hustled aft to the ward room, called the officer of the deck, and then, seeing me on deck, hustled himself out of sight as quickly as possible (good discipline). Mr. Estabrook, officer of the deck saluted, saw his relief on deck, then went below, and I went to my room again. Two of the officers and quartermaster now knew that I had found the deck deserted in the night watch. After breakfast I ordered general muster, and then stated that I was fully aware of the filthy condition of the ship, and also of the lax discipline of the past several months: that I was in no way responsible for either, but that I was responsible for the future, and that from this time strict naval rule and discipline must be observed, and that the whole ship’s company would be constantly employed in getting rid of the filth until the ship was as clean as it was possible to make her. As the men went to their quarters I heard the Boatswain’s Mate say: “My God! What a job!” Then I made my inspection. The men’s berth and mess deck were in the bows. Comfortable so far as room was concerned: the sleepers on which the floor rested being some two feet above the keel: the floor itself being on one and one-half inch unmatched board, not caulked, had shrunk to such a degree that the spaces between were from one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch wide, and through these spaces the filth of a berth and mess room had been washed for – no saying how long – and then it lay in a fermenting mass, nearly up to the bottom of the floor. The deck of the coal bunkers – furnaces – and engine was lower, the timbers resting on the keel, and the space beneath was choked with the same sort of filth. Aft was the ward room, and beneath it the shaft alley. As the steamer hung something over two feet by the stern all the water below the level of the engine pumps accumulated there, and the after end of the shaft was entirely submerged in a mass of porridge which smelt to the full as foul as a city sewer, and the wardroom itself was coated with the effects of it. So much for inspection.

I had no trouble bringing the crew into shape, a few sharp lessons, with no fuss, settled their case, and they really were not a bad lot. On the contrary they soon seemed glad of the change.

First of all, I sent an officer with a squad of men to collect a quantity of light wood, pile it on the beach and burn it to ashes. With this I made a quantity of strong lye. Another lot took up the berth deck, shoveled the filth into tubs, and so overboard, and with hoes, formed of a long strip of board, with a cross piece on end, got as much as they could from under the bunkers and furnace decks: and still another party with a draw pump cleared the shaft alley of that mass of filthy porridge. No one slept below that night. The atmosphere was decidedly disagreeable, probably dangerous. Even my own quarters, which were above deck, were unfit to occupy. Then with the engine hose and pump, the one forcing water through forward, the other pumping the filthy water overboard, and a draw pipe near the stern, we finally got the whole dirty mass out of the ship. Then with mops, small ones, with long wooden handles to protect the men’s hands from the burning lye, we washed the inside thoroughly, forcing the hot lye into every crack and cranny within reach, followed that with a rinsing with lime water, and last of all gave her a coat of whitewash throughout, and the bedding and the whole went through a lime bath, the same as I had done the year before at the same place. All this occupied us a full week. After the first day or two the men caught on to the thing, worked with a will, and at the end were as pleased with a clean, sweet-smelling ship as I was myself.

About this time a boat came down from the town containing three of the inhabitants. One was a Colonel Hart, known to us as a staunch Unionist from the beginning. He had received protection soon after the war began in this way: Commodore Semms (Cousin of the Alabama Semms) hearing that Colonel Hart was in danger of ill treatment on account of his sentiments, forced his gunboat (the Tahama) as near the town as shoal water permitted. Then with his big rifled parrot he threw two, or three, shells clear over the town into the woods beyond. Having demonstrated that he could easily destroy the place he sent an officer with his ultimatum “If Colonel Hart is injured or disturbed in any way by anyone, I will not leave a building standing in the town of Tampa, or in its vicinity.” The Colonel told me that for months not a soul except his black boy who lived with him – he had no family. Another of the three was a Mr. Mably – a representative citizen – known as a rabid secessionist – and he was believed to have been one of a party – who had earlier in the war ambushed themselves in tall grass on Gidson’s Point, dressed two of their number to represent negro women – who exhibited a white flag: and when Randall of the sailing bark Rachael sent a boat with two officers to communicate, rose up out of the tall grass and fired at it at short range, killing one of the officers outright, and wounding the other, and two or three of the men. Randall had sprung his broadside on the point, and he opened fire with his heavy guns: but it was not long range, and he never knew as to whether he did the retreating scamps any damage. Whether Mr. Mably was one of that party or not, he was tame enough when he came onboard the Honeysuckle.

The third was a young fellow of the genus Carpetbagger, who had got to Tampa somehow, and was prepared to assist the citizens of Florida in the task of reorganizing the state government. These gentlemen were bearers of a petition from the inhabitants of the town of Tampa and vicinity, setting forth that disbanded Confederate soldiers, mostly armed, and utterly destitute, were drifting into the town, and that the people were afraid that in desperation they would resort to lawlessness to satisfy their needs, and begging me to assign an officer with a body of men sufficient to support him in his authority to control affairs under military rule until their safety was assured.

I was forced to tell them that I had a very limited acquaintance with my officers, and under the circumstances would not consider myself justified in entrusting anyone of them with the arbitrary powers of a military governor. Then Mr (the Carpetbagger) spoke up. He said that he was a graduate of some law school at the North (I forget what law school): that he knew all about law, both civil and military, and proposed that I appoint him my representative, and furnish him with a body of enlisted men to back his authority. He wasn’t a bit afraid but what he could handle the affair successfully. I told him that he had not profited by his studies at the law school, else he would be aware that no person unconnected with the military – and consequently not subject to court martial for alleged misconduct – could exercise the functions of a military governor. But he thought he could convince me that I was mistaken. Then I told him that he must take his seat: that I could not listen to him. Still he persisted. Then I sent for Mr. Hall and directed him to remove the troublesome gentleman from my presence, and not let him come near me again while he was onboard. A more astonished graduate of a law school was never seen. It put me in mind of a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania that was with me on one of my whaling voyages. He told me that his old preceptor used to advise the students that the average college graduate needed seven years knocking about in the world to get the conceit cut of him, and Scot (that was his name) said I’ve been seven months on board this ship, and all the conceit is out of me.” I finally told them that the best I could do was to send a boat to Cedar Keys with a letter to the Colonel commanding advising him of the conditions at Tampa, and requesting him to send a company of troops to that place as soon as he could. Then Mr. Mably spoke up: “But they are black troops, and that will never do.” I told him they were United States soldiers, and it would be well for the people of Tampa to remember that. Then Colonel Hart begged me to give him a letter addressed to the citizens of Tampa telling them what I had promised him, and advising them as to their conduct during the interval. A nice job for poor, half-illiterate me! But the old fellow was very anxious, and I could not refuse him. So I sat down and addressed my letter to the citizens of Tampa, Florida. (I wish I had a copy of that letter) advising them that I had received their delegation, read their instructions, and would see that they had sufficient protection as soon as possible. That it would be well for them to organize a committee of safety, poll the citizens of the town, elect a sheriff and a magistrate with powers to summon a jury of four or six, promptly, to take testimony and to pass upon all cases of lawlessness. But I cautioned them to keep a perfect record of all cases, and not to inflict penalities: but to use one of the old block houses to confine such persons as they deemed necessary until a military officer arrived, when the cases would be looked into by him. And I told them that, in my opinion, the fact that they were organized for self-protection would be sufficient to hold in check all lawless persons. My observations in the mining camps guided me in this). I had already started a boat for Cedar Keys, and I sent another to convey the delegation as far as Godson’s Point. The poor little bateau in which they had drifted down was an unsafe craft to navigate the lower portions of Tampa Bay. It all amounted to nothing. My boat met the transport (a schooner) with Captain Jarrett and his company of the 3rd Regiment on board bound for Tampa: and by sundown she was anchored near us. The next morning she went up the bay, and a few hours after the delegation had returned, and my letter of advise had been read, the troops were landed, and the citizens of Tampa had all the protection they needed. But I suspect the fact that the troops were black was as gall and wormwood to some of them.

Two or three days later having got the steamer clean, and everything running smoothly, I went up to the town myself to look up Jarrett and see how he was getting on. I found him on a camp bed in one of the old block houses suffering with a pretty bad case of intermittent fever. Very glad he was to see me, and very much worried over the situation, for he had no commissioned officer with him. His one lieutenant (Thomson) lost an eye and had his cheek bone crushed in the fight at St. Mark’s: and it was well understood that the plantation blacks would not take orders from their black non-commissioned officers. I asked him to report the situation to Colonel Tanshend, and I would see that the report reached Cedar Keys as soon as possible: but he said he was too sick to write, and asked me to relieve him of his duties while he was sick. Then I sent for the first sergeant, and found that he had been third mate of a New Bedford whaler, crusing in the Ochotsk Sea, and knew me very well. He said he could easily handle the company as long as Captain Jarrett was alive and he could give orders in his name: that the larger number of the privates were Northern men, and quite a number of them had followed the sea. There would be no trouble with them. But in case Jarrett died he was not sure of the plantation fellows: and so he begged me to keep in close touch, and to show myself as often as I could. He said the boys looked upon me as a member of General Newton’s staff, and there would be no trouble when I was around. The upshot was that when the transport Union passed up the next day I sent a letter to Colonel Tanshend, and two days later Major Weeks of the Refugees, came down and took charge of affairs at Tampa.

Calling on Colonel Hart while in town I found, as his guest General Samuel Miller (our opponent at St. Marks). Johnson’s surrender to General Sherman had had the effect to disband the Confederate forces (or perhaps they had simply dispersed themselves) and Gen. Sam, as came to call him, his occupation gone, old, war-worn, and penniless, without kith or kin, a white-haired, gentle-mannered, sweet-faced old man, had wandered down to Tampa to become the guest and accept the bounty of his old friend Hart, but little better off in this world’s goods than himself. And there the two sat when I called, smoking their pipes, and saying little: and a pathetic sight it was. Hart, staunch Unionist from start to finish, had suffered isolation among his own people for months, and but for the interference of Commander Semms early in the war, worse would probably have come to him: and Gen. Sam active, on the opposite side, and had just fought what I think was the last battle in the service, sitting there alone smoking their vile tobacco – the only kind they could get – and having little to say to each other. Hart received me quietly and introduced me to Gen. Sam, who offered me a pipe, grumbling at the vile weed he was obliged to smoke because he could get no other. He was averse to talking about the war, and particularly so about the St. Marks affair: and it was very little I could get out of him at that sitting. Afterwards I learned more. I found out that he was fond of his whiskey, for he apologized for not offering me such miserable stuff as they had: said it was not fit for gentlemen to use, “but beggars musn’t be choosers.”

The next day the transport Union from New York landed on her way up with supplies for the fleet, and I got a quantity of the best tobacco and I coaxed Captain Conroy to let me have a half dozen bottles of good whiskey, which he did, and when Major Weeks (I took him up to the town in my boat, the steamer he came in drew too much to go up the bay) I was glad it came about so, for I wanted to see that the first sergeant stood right with Weeks, he was in a sense under my orders. I took the tobacco and two bottles of whiskey with me, which I gave to Gen. Sam. Weeks had asked me to bring Colonel Hart to him, which I did, and then went back to the General. He had two brimming glasses of cocktail mixed, and two pipes filled with the new tobacco, and was standing in the doorway waiting for me. Then he invited me to sit down, and we puffed our pipes, and supped our cocktails, and proceeded to get acquainted. There was no mistaking his fondness for good whiskey. He easily disposed of two glasses while I disposed of one. I asked him if he liked that brand. He said he did, and wished he had some more. I told him I had four more bottles which I would bring up on condition that he would answer such questions as I chose to ask concerning the St Marks fight. He said he wouldn’t do it: and I told him he’d get no more whiskey. He scolded some at that: said it was too bad to tease an old man that way. I laughed at him. Told him the whiskey would be cheap at that rate, and I would not betray his confidence.

The two cocktails had put the old fellow in good humor. So after a little time he said: the story of that fight will be told by someone and it may as well be told by me.

I asked him when he first heard of our expedition, and he said: “When I got the report of the skirmish at East River bridge at nine the same forenoon. And soon after that a large number of vessels (steamers) were in Spanish Hole landing troops.” And that he immediately began collecting the small bodies of soldiers scattered both up and down the coast, and also telegraphed for reinforcements, and he burned the bridge at Newport, which left the only possible route by way of the Corduroy Road across the swamp. I asked him how many men he had collected when the fight commenced, and he would not tell me, only that he had enough to hold Newton in check until his reinforcements arrived, which he was looking for at any time. When I asked him why he let Newton cross the swamp when he could easily have stopped him at that point, and if he chose to let him cross why he did not wait until he (Newton) had turned to the left on his route to St Marks? When he could have taken him in the rear, and so cut off retreat. He said he had forty-eight hours between the skirmish at East River Bridge and the crossing of the swamp to make his plans: that he had an accurate knowledge as to the number of troops Newton had with him, and that he intended to capture the entire force. What he didn’t know was that the object was to reach Thomasville, but on the contrary he thought that the object was to get possession of the railroad, and that the expedition was in the nature of a flank movement and auxiliary to some larger operations of which he knew nothing. So he placed his men with a view to protect the railroad until his reinforcements (consisting of twenty-four hundred regulars) arrived. When they did arrive one-half went into action on the front, while the other half divided into parties, started to march around each flank, and so envelop his force, cut off his retreat and capture the whole body: and then he said: “Now Captain, I want you to tell me how Newton got his men off the field, and retreated in such good order. He actually carried off my field piece. How did he manage it? It has puzzled me ever since. The fight was still hot, it ceased suddenly, and the men were gone. I thought it was a stampede, and rushed my men after them, expecting to pick them all up before they reached the East River. Then Newton covered that Corduroy with the bodies of my poor fellows, and not another man would enter it. And when I explained how it came about he said: “Well, I was out-generaled, and I’m ashamed of the whole affair. I wish it had never happened.”

I asked him if the rumor that all our poor, wounded fellows that were left on the battlefield were bayoneted where they lay was true, and what possible good could come from shooting Strickland as a deserters. He merely remarked that the Confederate soldiers could not be restrained when opposed by black troops, and he ignored the second question altogether.

A short time after, perhaps a week, the steamer Moluska, Commander Stanton commanding, relieved me, and brought orders for me to proceed to Key West, first emptying my coal bunkers into the Moluska’s retaining only enough to make the passage. I easily obtained permission to visit the town once more while the coal was being transferred. I found all quiet. Jarrett had been moved from the old block house to one of the principal residences, and under the care of Mr Mably – who was an apothecary, and something of a physician, — was somewhat improved. I gave the four bottles of whiskey to General Sam. We had a cocktail and a pipe together. (Colonel Hart was absent from home). Then I bid the old fellow’s eyes as we shook hands: “This miserable war is ended, and you will be going home to your family son: and you have a number of years of active life before you. Be a good boy, and do what you can to keep the country from war in the future.” Then he thanked me for my kindness to a defeated old enemy, and so we parted. Gentle, sweet-faced old general. To look at him one would think he could not destroy a mosquito without hurting himself. And yet the old lion could fight, as we had good reason to know. I called at Weeks’ quarters to say Goodbye, and he walked down to the boat with me. On the way he told me that word had gone out that I was going to leave the station, and that the sergeant had been to him asking that the soldiers have leave to give me a sendoff, and that he had given them permission, provided I was willing. Of course I was willing. We had had some pretty rough experiences together, and I had always found loyalty. Then Major Weeks nodded to the sergeant, and he stepped forward, saluted, and said that several of the boys had served in the whaling fleet, and knew of me as Master of the Massachusetts, and wanted to bid me goodbye, and wish me good luck. I told him I could not very well stop to shake hands with the whole squad (some thirty-five or forty, all that was left after the St Marks fight) but I shook hands with the sergeant, and lifted my cap in acknowledgement of their good wishes: and then how these black fellows did cheer. I suspect it was a new sensation to them to see a naval officer with the rank of their captain shaking hands with their black naval company. I then stepped into my boat and returned to the steamer, found that the coal had been transferred to the Moluska, and that steam was up ready to leave. So I bid Commander Stanton (he was the same who, as Rear Admiral, lost the Kearsage on the Rancaden Reef in the Caribbean sea, a few years ago) Good-bye, and left immediately for Key West.

There was one thing happened soon after I took command of the Honeysuckley that may have some little interest for you. A cracker brought a small bag onboard containing some two dozen letters, with a request that they be sent to their destination. (If one could tell by the addresses what their destination was) Now an occasional letter came to the blockade, all through the war, with the same request: and, of course, each one was examined by the commanding officer to see that nothing improper passed through the lines. As the war ended it would seem as though I might have sent these poor little letters on their journey without examination. As I remember everyone was from some woman, child, or young person, begging husband, father, brother or lover to come home now the war was ended. Two especially impressed themselves on my mind, and in substance were about as follows:

“Dear Jim,

You know I can’t write, but Sally is writing this letter for me, and you can get someone to read it for you. I haven’t heard from you for more than a year: but now the war is over they tell us our men may come home. Do come quick so we can make a crop of next winter. It has been pretty hard getting enough to eat sometimes, but Sam has caught some gophers, which you know are good meat, and I have raised some corn and some potatoes, so we’ve only been hungry part of the time. We should have got along better but the soldiers took our hogs so we could not make any bacon, but we haven’t got hardly any clothes. I am wearing the best dress now, and it needs mending often now. Emma hasn’t got any dress. She wears my old petticoat. She ties it round her neck, and ties a string round the waist, and sticks her arms through slits. I made some trousers out of some bagging I found at the cotton press, but he hasn’t any shirt. He just wears anything he can get over his shoulders. Sometimes nothing. So come home quick as you can, Jim, dear, we need you so bad.”

And another:

“Dear Dick: It is such a long time since I heard from you, but they tell us now the war is ended and you can come home, so come quick as you can, and we will be married right away. I’m a woman now Dick. Pop says we may have the ten-acre lot at the bottom of the hill where the pines grow. We’ll plant a crop just as soon as you get here: and there is lots of trees just the right size to build our house. I’ll help you take them. I’m big and strong and can work lots: and, Dick, dear, I never had a ring, and I’ve always wanted one. Please bring me one, size smaller than this: (and then an ink mark, evidently made by covering one edge of a finger ring with ink and stamping on paper).

Oh, war – the glory of it – of the Hell of it!

I reached Key West the following day, and immediately received orders to take on coal and supplies sufficient for the passage to New York, and as soon as I had done so to proceed to that port, and report to the Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I got away the next day just at dusk. The steamer’s bottom was as foul as it is possible for a bottom to be, and the boilers were in bad condition, so we could not carry enough coal to reach New York, so I put into Port Royal for a supply. I really put into Charleston, lower harbor, first: but Admiral Dahlgren was so afraid of yellow fever that he ordered me back to Port Royal. He did it by signal too. He would not allow me to board the quarantine vessel, or anyone to come within hail of me. At Port Royal it was different. There was a large fleet at that place, but I was allowed free intercourse with all.

Only one other incident worth mentioning happened. When off Hatteras, and about three miles from the shoal, with quite a heavy swell heaving directly towards it, Riley (the chief) reported that one of the water legs was leaking so badly that it was necessary to draw fires and let the boiler cool in order to repair it. I told him that was impossible. The machinery must run until I had got an offing of at least twenty miles unless the fires went out in spite of them. Then I asked him if he could not reach the leak, and stop it with pine plugs, without going into the furnace. He said they could reach it: but as they must work with the furnace door open the heat would drive them away. I told them they must make a trial. I would furnish them a dozen blankets, plenty of water, and men to screen them as much as possible, to cut his strips long, so they could work without getting any nearer the fire than necessary. At the end of the hour (the engine was barely turning then) Riley came aft – his face and hand pretty badly blistered, but smiling. “All right, Captain, the leak is stopped, and the fires are running up again.”

We arrived at New York about the first of July, and on reporting the Commander’s clerk handed me an order from the Navy Department, directing me to pay off all enlisted men whose term expired within six months, to transfer the remainder to the receiving ship North Carolina, and to put the steamer Honeysuckle out of commission.

I completed this at noon of the third, just too late to get the report into the Commandant’s office, which closed at noon that day, but not too late to catch the Cornwall boat, and go up and spend the Fourth with my parents.

I made my report before noon of the fifth, and was handed an order from the Department dated July 3rd, granting me four months’ leave of absence from that date. That night I took the Fall River boat, and arrived the next day, July 8th, 1865. I found your mother in bed with a wee thing four days old lying on her arm. That wee thing will be forty years old next Sunday. We call her Daisy, and she has presented me with two grandchildren – a girl and a boy – of whom any grandparent might well be proud.

At the end of four months I received my last order from the U.S. Navy Department, dated November 3rd, 1865. It hangs on the wall of the sitting room, you have often seen it. It is an Honorable Discharge from the Naval Service of the United States.

My story is finished, children. It covers, in a general way, the first thirty-four years of my life, when most of you were still unborn. Of course it is faulty in construction – that you were prepared to expect. Such as it is I dedicate it to you one and all.

You may wonder if I am satisfied with the life I led during those thirty-four years. Perhaps the best answer I can give is both Yes and No. Many things I would have done differently, could I have foreseen results: but, on the whole, I may say that I am very well satisfied, especially with the years spent in the whaling fishing. As to my service in the Navy I have more reason to say No. I think that as a boy and young man I was something of a hero worshipper, and that the military element (i.e. the officers) were of the elite of the people: but long before my three years’ close contact with them in the club-room and at the mess table, I had become disillusioned, and I had come to look upon them, as a class, as men with a very limited range of ideas, morals below the average of men, conceited fellows, and thoroughly impressed with the spirit of “I am holier than thou”: and the belief grew on me, and still remains with me, that our military training schools are among our most dangerous institutions.

If you ask what single act gave me the most satisfaction, I can say truly that the throwing over of the black list as my first act after being appointed to the position of Executive of the Somerset, and by that act indicating to the enlisted men that as man to man, between me and them, there were to be no superiors or inferiors: that aside from the respect and obedience due to the authority vested in me, we were comrades engaged in a common cause.

It is needless to say that I was gratified at the way my promotion reached me: unsolicited as it was. Nature had equipped me with steady nerves, and also with intellect sufficient to enable me to perform all service required of me by those placed in authority over me, and I could not be other than gratified at receiving promotion as a reward for good service rendered, and coming as it did by way of the War Department, and in consequence of the commendation of General Jack.

You are all familiar with the life I have led during the last forty years, so I will not allude to it. The writing of the story has been a labor of love, and I have had much pleasure in doing it. Old memories have crowded upon me, and I have found it difficult to avoid making tedious by recording minor incidents common to all seafaring men.

With all my love, I am your father ….

AD 1905

Complete manuscript 

3 thoughts on “Part Eleven: The Reminiscences of Captain Thomas Chatfield”

  1. So entertaining. How lucky we have this for his Great Great Grandchildren. My Children! I had the joy of living with Tom Chatfield’s youngest child Florentine with sons David and Thomas Churbuck Summer’s at the
    family homestead in Cotuit. Her memories of her life with him were shared with the family. Florentine ( Oie ) hired me to type the manuscript that she copied from her father’s original hand written notes. Her grandson Alton (Tony) my husband was a student at Harvard Business School 1960 and I did typing to earn extra money for school expenses. Sandra Churbuck Nickerson