These letters were written by Whitman Chase (1831-1910), the son of Neri Chase (1794-1873) and Sabra Smith (1799-1867) of Harwich, Barnstable County, Massachusetts.
Whitman wrote these letters to his wife, Mehitable Doane (Kelley) Chase (1836-1902). Later in life, after Mehitable’s death, Whitman married a second time to Mary Angeline Goff in 1904 (see footnotes). Whitman died in 1910 and was buried in West Harwich, Barnstable, Massachusetts, next to his first wife. The Chase children included: Whitman Chase, Jr. (1855-1921), Isaiah Chase (1858-1886), Priscilla D. Chase (1859-1861), George Davis Chase (b. 1867), and Myra B. Chase (b. 1867).
By 1880, Whitman and Mehitable had moved from Harwich to Dighton, Bristol County, Massachusetts. They owned their house in Harwich as late as 1895, however, for it was at that time that it was burned to the ground by a 12 year-old arsonist who believed the property to belong to someone else. (see footnotes).
The following biography for Whitman Chase was offered by his son, Whitman, Jr. in 1912. It chronicles his career in the US Navy during the Civil War:
Whitman Chase was born in West Harwich, Barnstable Co., Mass., Jan 5, 1831. He was descended in the ninth generation from William Chase, who settled on Cape Cod about 1638. His father, Capt. Neri Chase, besides engaging in the common occupation of fishing, ran a packet for many years between West Harwich and New Bedford and carried on a profitable business in fish. His nine sons were all trained to follow the sea. Whitman began to earn wages at the age of nine, by going as cook with his father. He was energetic and capable, and rose rapidly. At the age of 22, he was given command of a brig. In 1854, he married Mehitable D. Kelly, of West Harwich. In 1857, he removed to Wisconsin with a colony of neighbors, but soon returned to the East and to the sea.
During the Civil War, he volunteered his services and was given a commission in the Navy. He served for two and a half years, until the close of the war, winning distinction and performing valuable service on a number of occasions. He was at first attached to the gunboat, “Isaac Smith,” which was captured in an inlet off the Carolina Coast. After imprisonment in Columbia jail, South Carolina, he was sent to Libby prison and afterwards exchanged. He returned to the service and was assigned to duty on the Monitor, Patapsco. He was actively engaged in the attacks on Ft. Sumter, and in Butler’s attack upon Ft. Fisher. He was detailed to take Butler’s famous powder boat from Hampton Roads to Wilmington and performed the dangerous task skillfully and successfully. He was later transferred to the frigate, Wabash, from which he resigned his commission at the end of the war.
Although his health had been impaired by the severe service on the Monitor, he immediately engaged in the merchant coasting trade, and in company with his two sons, Whitman Jr., and Isaiah L., carried on a prosperous business until his retirement in 1888. He had settled in Taunton, Mass., on his return from the West, and in 1866, he bought a farm in the adjacent town of Dighton, where he lived, with an interruption of a few years, until his death, January 22, 1910.
In his early years, he had spent his winters at the old academy in West Harwich. He had evinced an unusual aptitude for books and always regretted the lack of opportunity which kept him from a professional career. He was particularly attached to the study of law, for which his readiness of expression and keenness of mind especially fitted him. He had taught school and read law when a young man, and he was long remembered in his native town as a promising advocate. Years afterward, his time in Southern prisons was spent in reading Blackstone and teaching navigation to his fellow officers. He had a lively appreciation of poetry and at one time published a volume of poems, which in parts showed considerable genius and poetic sense.
He was strongly interested in politics, with somewhat radical tendencies. In 1878, he was, like Uncle Solon Chase, a firm adherent of the Greenback Party and ran for congress on the Greenback ticket.
Throughout his career, his business transactions were characterized by the strictest integrity. With all with whom he had business relations he kept his credit unquestioned. In public life he was actuated by high principles. He was unselfish and liberal in all his relations, often impulsive, but always generous. An intense earnestness marked all his words and actions, and his fearlessness in defense and attack, together with a biting power of repartee made even his enemies cautious.
His eldest son, Whitman, continued successfully in the coasting trade until his retirement in 1909. He now resides in Taunton, widely known and highly respected among the business people of our coast. His second son, Isaiah, died in 1886 at the age of 29, after proving himself an able and energetic master. His youngest son, George D., followed the profession of an educator and is now professor of Latin at the University of Maine. His daughter, Myra B., married John M. Ruddoch, and now lives in Taunton.”
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Brooklyn Navy Yard
September 17, 1862
Yours of Sunday was received today & first to business. Please pay Mr. Webster $1.00 & forget about it. I don’t remember any others I owe. If Mr. French is to take the sloop, would like to know so as to fix it before I am ordered away. Can’t you get Mr. Rounds to find out? Give my respects to Mr. & Mrs. Rounds.
I have not received any money yet but have paid away allI had & this morning I didn’t have enough to buy a postage stamp but a man owed me 5 dollars paid me & I came all right again.
Night before last was invited to sword presentation to Admiral [Andrew Hull] Foote ¹ & went & had a nice time. Had to dress in full uniform with side arms so had to buy a sword that day & stand on the stage with the Admiral. He made an excellent speech & all the aristocracy of Brooklyn was there.
In my studies I get along much better than I expected at first. I have to pay 5 dollars a week for my courses but I expect to be ordered away every day. We recite in the class at 9½ to 12 & in the afternoon exercise at sword drill at 2 to 3½ & have the rest of the time to study & leisure. I go over to New York now & then to see who is there.
My greatest anxiety is am afraid some of you will get sick. Want you to close the bargain about the sloop if you can so as to get some money & if you go home, you will have nothing to leave undone. The blocks & rigging are in the loft in care of Capt. Troupe & he will know about the other things.
I wrote the enclosed letter Monday but did not get a chance to send it. Went to see Edward Cole & wife Sunday. Write. I may be able to come home but don’t expect it. You may be disappointed. I shall be sure to write when I am ordered away.
Write. Yours affectionately, — Whitman
¹ The sword was presented to Admiral Foote at the Brooklyn Athenaeum. In his acceptance speech, Foote predicted a “glorious future” for the nation “on the condition that the entire loyal North immediately aries in its might…and concentrates its power to the work of crushing this monster rebellion finally and forever.” The New York Times of 15 September 1862 published the following article regarding the ceremony:
We have already mentioned the fact that a sword, the gift of the citizens of Brooklyn, was to be presented to the gallant Admiral Foote this evening. The weapon has been on exhibition for some days at No. 16 Court-street, and a large number of citizens have called to take a look at it. It is, perhaps, the most magnificent sword that has ever been made in this country — is gracefully proportioned, rich and artistic in design, with scabbard and hilt of gold.
The pummel represents a golden hemisphere, studied with stars, on which rests a branch of olive and oak, beneath a group of trophies. The guard, which is perhaps the chief feature of the whole, is a superb work of art, containing a basso-relievo of Neptune returning triumphant in his car. The figure of Neptune, bold and spirited, stands in the car, leaning upon his trident; at his feet are the spoils of victory; two vigorous sea-horses draw the car of the god, attended by tritons and sea-nymphs, bearing trumpets and wreaths of laurel for the hero. This basso-relievo is encircled by open scroll and ornamental work, forming a rich and harmonious arrangement of lines, whose effect is exceedingly graceful. At the bottom of the guard is a boldly modeled head of a dolphin.
On the scabbard are a series of relievos, illustrating some of the prominent exploits of the bold sailor who is to be the recipient of the gift. First is exhitited Foote’s bombardment of the Chinese forts, with appropriate oriental emblems and scenery surrounding. The second exhibits his skillful and daring operations in the bombardment and capture of Island No. Ten, in which the immense, but uncouth mortar-boats are wrought out in detail, and with great perfection — the slanting sides, port-holes, smoke-stacks, &c. of the bombketches being set forth with an accuracy which indicates the minutest study. There are also various reminders of the Admiral’s never-to-be-forgotten operations on the Cumberland and on the Tennessee rivers, as well as on the Mississippi. Further below, and toward the end of the scabbard, are emblematic allusions to Foote’s experiences and actions on the African coast in bygone years.
The following inscription is also cut in the scabbard in a clear and beautiful character:
“Presented by the citizens of Brooklyn to Flag-Officer Andrew H. Foote, as a testimonial of their high personal regard, of their appreciation of his eminent professional character, distinguished public services and moral influence in a long career of active duty; and especially of his efficiency in the suppression of the Slave-trade on the Coast of Africa; his gallant conduct in the destruction of the Burrie forts in China; his masterly skill and energy in the creation of a flotilla, and of his brilliant and intrepid bombardment therewith of the rebel fortifications in the Tennessee, the Cumberland and the Mississippi.”
The sword blade is no less a master-piece of workmanship and material than the scabbard. It is richly covered with artistic designs, and near the hilt, surrounded with graceful scroll work, is the patriotic motto, “Ducit amor patriae.”
The whole thing, in conception and in execution, is unequaled by any sword ever made in the United States. The exquisite artistic designs on the scabbard and blade were moulded by the distinguished American sculptor of this City. J.Q.A. Ward, who, though heretofore employed in works of greater magnitude and repute, has, in these designs, shown a wonderful flexibility and scope of genius. It is rare indeed that a genuine artist is employed on such labor, as one work is usually assigned to mechanics, who merely adopt old and worn out designs. It reflects the greatest credit on the manufacturers of the sword, Mr. Ames, of Chicopee, (Mass.,) that he has secured the very first order of native artistic talent to model these designs; and the sword will remain no less an evidence of American art and skill than of the heroism of the great sailor to whom this night it will be presented.”
Acting Ensign Whitman Chase has joined the crew of the commercial steamer Isaac Smith which had been purchased by the US Navy and commissioned in October 1861. Whitman no doubt joined the crew when the steamer went north for repairs in August 1862 and sailed with her when she returned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in October. While enroute, she encountered an intense hurricane which compelled the officers to order the guns jettisoned though he makes no mention of it in this letter.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Stono Inlet [South Carolina]
Steamer Isaac Smith
October 26, 1862
Again the mail bag is open and we shall have an opportunity to send letters. While I am writing, the steamer is going down the river where we went up this afternoon. A man ran away the other day & we came up to find him.
Yesterday I took a party of 7 men all armed & went in search of him. Started at daylight. I got back at 3 o’clock. Went about 10 miles. Had to ford a river — water up to my chin. Carried my clothes, cutlass, & pistol on my head. Went to one house where the Secesh had lived but they had gone & left home & all its comforts. The house was ransacked & looked desolate. Three or four old niggers were left whose days of usefulness were past. They made us some dinner of boiled hominy & milk & we started to return. You may rest assured these are not the pleasantest excursions in the world what with trudging 10 or 12 miles through the sand, dodging through briars & brush, in some places being obliged to crawl on hands & knees through palmettos & horns that pierce your flesh at every movement, to be bit by mosquitoes & sand flies till your skin is like a red ___ stocking, with rattlesnakes coiled on boughs above your head with fangs exposed & forked tongue darting venom till every vibration springs a rattle in its tail. And last though not least, the comfortable reflection that some rebel rifle may be then aimed at your breast & I think it may be considered not altogether pleasant.
Sunday, October 26th, 5 o’clock. The mail steamer is in sight & so I will not finish this until the boat returns that has gone to her. How anxiously I look for a letter & how disappointed will I feel if there is none for me as before. I had the letters to read over to the ships company & how my heart throbbed as each & every letter was taken from the bag & none for me. I expect I shall have these to read as it will be my watch.
For several nights I have dreamed of you & once you were sick. I have belonged to the Navy two months yesterday & I like it all but being away from my family. We have every comfort we can ask — good fare & good servants — and its gratifying to feel that we are doing our duty to our country. I have had no trouble with anyone but one officer & the Captain says if anything of the kind occurs again, to report it to him. I think he is the best Capt. in the Navy & the best man I ever knew — faithful to his government & true to himself; treats all with courtesy but reprimands when he has cause. I feel satisfied to trust him with my life. ¹
Monday. The mail steamer yesterday had no mail for us but the tender schooner lying here will go to Port Royal in a day or two & bring the mail for us & then I hope to have a letter. This morning it was very cold; wind N.W. & blowing fresh. Write about once a week & direct your letter:
W. Chase A.E.
Steamer Isaac Smith
South Atlantic Blockading Squadron
I have time to write but little. You know that advertisement in the paper about Naval Officers? I cut it out & left it in your wallet. Will you please send it to me in a letter the first opportunity? If you have not got it, you will find me in the papers of July or August.
Yours truly, — Whitman Chase
¹ The Captain of the Isaac Smith was Francis Stevens Conover (1822-1901). He was the son of Commodore Thomas Anderson Conover. He was born in New York Nov. 24, 1822, but spent his boyhood at Castle Point, Hoboken, at the home of his grandfather, John Stevens. In 1840, he graduated in the first class of the United States Naval Acedemy at Annapolis, Maryland. He sailed with Comodore Perry on his expedition to Japan in 1852. He resided at at South Amboy, Middlesex County, New Jersey, before 1862. He resided at Princeton, New Jersey, in 1862; He resided in the old Bainbridge house on Bayard’s Lane which his father had purchased. He commanded the steamer Isaac Smith and was taken prisoner at Stono Inlet, kept a prisoner for three months, and then exchanged.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Steamer Isaac Smith
Stono Inlet [South Carolina]
November 8, 1862
I am happy to say I have received three letters from you dated the 11th, one 17th, one 22 of October. The last one I have just received & the word has just been passed that the mail bag will close in half an hour. I am well in body but homesick enough. I sent you several letters from New York with money in one. I wrote you the amount I sent you in all. Did you get them & how much money did you receive? And have you sold the sloop & got your pay &c. And have you got any Naval buttons to put on my clothes? You had better send my coat, I think, as I am out of a coat. The vest & pants I can get along without.
Have you sent any newspapers? I have not received any. Please to send some about once a week. Send the Patriot. Please pay father fifty dollars if you have it to spare but don’t cut yourself short. I have no time to write more. I got the postage stamps. This is a very unpleasant life for me.
Your affectionate husband, — Whitman Chase
Need a spare envelope inside every letter.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Steamer Isaac Smith
November 18, 1862
Not five minutes ago the order was passed as follows: All you men who want to send letters to the North, have them ready tomorrow. So I will obey the order. The mail schooner arrived today & after being absent 10 or 12 days, brought no mail whatever. So she will go back tomorrow but she leaves like a riddle & I doubt whether she comes back at all.
I have nothing new to write. Your last letter was dated the 17th, I think — more than a month ago — & I have written you two since before this.
The other day we had target firing & the Capt. said we fired very good shots indeed. The distance was ¾ of a mile & the target was six feet square. We hit it once & fired 13 shot within ten feet of it. Fired 21 shots in all. ¹
I want you to send me newspapers f some kind about once a week. Write me if you have sent the clothes & how you sent them & if you got a receipt. She shall probably be here a year from the time we came here as the crew are most all shipped for that time. It is getting much pleasanter on board here than it was one time but take it together, it is rather disagreeable mode of life.
Our pilot belongs to Battletown & is a regular Battletowner. The Capt. of the Mail Schooner belongs oblong over towards Brewster. Our Paymaster is a son of Mr. Hills who lectured on the Cape winter before last. We have an Act. Master from Cape Ann & one from Portland. The rest from New York & you know I love New Yorkers.
Write me what the folks are doing on the Cape but I will write you no more at present but write a letter to brother. So you can go there for the rest of the news.
Goodbye for this time. Yours, — Whitman
¹ The steamer Isaac Smith carried one 30-pounder Parrott gun and eight 8-inch heavy Columbiads. [Charlestown Mercury, 2 February 1863]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
U. S. Steamer Isaac Smith
Stono Inlet, South Carolina
November 22, 1862
I have the please to inform you that yesterday your box of clothing was received and also to say that it was very joyfully received. All the officers say that it is the best flannel they have seen & I think I could not have got a better fit if I had been at home & measured a dozen times. The coat is a little loose & it is just what I wanted for I can use it as an overcoat & it will not be necessary to have another made while at the same time it is not too large to wear alone & then again I needed it so much. It came just in time & you will receive my very best thanks for it. The pants I have not tried on but presume they will fit. The pictures I have looked at at least a hundred times & it is almost equal to a visit home. Tete looks as roguish as ever & Whittie looks scared. May their shadows never be less about the mosquito bar. I shan’t need it before next July & so that is all right. The mosquitoes left here about two weeks ago — joy go with them.
The letter was in the pocket & it is there now. I also received by the same mail two letters from you & one from Di. You want to know if I have plenty to eat & all about it. I will tell you. We have 9 officers & our provision bill in New York was $600 & buy more when we get a chance & so you see we ought to live pretty well. We have a good cook & steward & three Nigger waiters. The one takes care of my room is a very good one & keeps everything straight so as far as fare goes, I have no fault to find which is a great deal for me.
My business is to be “Officer of the Deck” 8 hours in twenty-four which means that for that time I have the whole care of everything on board the ship during that time & to exercise my division once a week in loading & firing great guns twice a week & in broad sword small arms & pistols. There are thirty men in my division. The rest of my time I have to do what I like except now & then to go in the boats so you need not worry about me. I don’t have much hopes of any fighting as I see no prospect of it. Once in a while we have a little row but I don’t mean it shall worry me & shall be as saucy as circumstances will admit which is the only way to get along without being imposed upon. We have no rum nor spirits of any kind which is the best part of it.
My best wishes are with you always & may the choicest blessings of Heaven rest upon you & yours forever & if I know my family are comfortable & happy, I ask no greater blessing for myself. Remember me to your father & mother & the family. Tell the girls not to have any beaux unless they have good ones. Tell Benny he can go Master’s Mate if he chooses to apply & make a good one.
I am faithfully yours, — Whitman
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
U. S. Steamer Isaac Smith
Stone Inlet, South Carolina
Sunday, January 12, 1863
As the mail went before the time set & I was asleep, I did not send the letter so I send it with this. Nothing new has transpired. We have been here three months the 10th. We are doing nothing & there are two other steamers here helping us. Our Executive Officer has applied to be transferred to some other vessel & if he gets it, I will be the Second Mate instead of the Third. But all that & the rest of the matters on board of a Man-of-War seem so foolish, I don’t know what to write about it. The only thing I have done was to take 30 men & go ashore & dig sweet potatoes while the Rebels were firing at us with great guns & rifles & the balls whistled over our heads. But let them whistle, says I. Life is not worth preserving if I must live on board a Man-of-War.
I see by the papers that Neil Hathaway of Taunton who left home about the time I did to command the Bark James Andrews is lost together with Bark & all hands.¹
Don’t let anybody fool you out of your allotment ticket for fifty dollars a month is not to be laughed at.
A mail came in here today & I got three newspapers but no letters. I got 1 Patriot, 1 Mercury, and 1 [Boston] Traveller.
I don’t know what to write about. I want to see you & the children — that’s the most — but when will that be?
I slep in a little room 5½ by 3¼ & another big man in besides your humble servant nearly as large as I am. Last night I dreamed of you & that is all the pleasure I have enjoyed since I have been in the Navy. When will my dreams be realities? When will I sit under my own vine & fig tree & enjoy the pleasures of home what God intended man should enjoy? But alas, man has sought out many invention & is too ready to sacrifice happiness to pride and ambition. If I had my books, I would study law which would give me some hope at least. If I come home, I shall get them or if t’would not be too much trouble to you, I should write you to send them but I think you would have enough to do to take care of yourself & the children. But if I could get Blackstone’s Works, it might be worth hundreds of dollars to me when I get home & give me a livelihood.
Excuse the pencil. With this I can write as fast as I think, but with the pen I forget it before I get it down.
Yours faithfully & affectionately, — Whitman
¹ The Springfield Republican (Springfield, Mass.) of 15 November 1862 reported the bark James Andrews “lost with her crew off Barnegat, November 8th.” She was “commanded by George Edward Hathaway of Dighton. Nathaniel Marston was first, and Warren W. Benton second mate, both of Taunton. One of the crew was Darius White of Dighton. There is no reason to believe that a single should escaped.”
A notice published in the Boston Traveler (Boston, Mass) of 11 November 1862 reported that, “the barque James Andrews of Boston went ashore on Barnegat Shoals [on the] night of the 8th inst., became a total wreck, and that all hands perished. The James Andrews was built at Newcastle, Maine in 1847, was 275 tons, and is owned by Messrs. Phillips & Staples of Taunton, Mass.”
George Edward Hathaway (1839-1862) was the son of Enoch Briggs Hathaway (1805-1860) and Myra B. Burt (1807-1873) of Dighton, Bristol County, Massachusetts.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN
U. S. S. Iron Age
Navy Yard, Boston [Massachusetts]
July 17, 1863
Your letter of the 18th came duly to hand and I take the first opportunity I have had for a week at least to relieve your anxiety. I am safe on board this ship at present. I have been humbugged till I am most dead but I think now I shall live till night. I have been ordered to first the Iron Age, then the Cambridge, back again to the Iron Age, & do duty on board of her 16 hours & 9 hours is in the Navy Yard which about makes out the twenty-four hours of the day. The rest of the time I have to sleep & tend to my personal affairs generally. I never knew what it was to have my time all taken up before.
For two nights we have expected an attack on the Navy Yard by the rioters and I have taken 38 men ashore with arms to defend the yard every night & stood watch myself about all night, & expect to go tonight. ¹
We are waiting for orders to go to sea at any moment. Our men are aboard & we may go some night or we may not go in a month, but I shall not be able to come home. If you could leave the children to come to Boston, I should be pleased to see you. You can write me upon receipt of this and come along & stop at the Marlboro Hotel. When you get out of the cars, take a carriage for the hotel & then hire a boy to come to the Navy Yard & let me know — that is, if you think best. Before I go to sea, I will send you some money [and] also my allotment ticket.
No more time at present. Yours &c as usual, — Whitman Chase
¹ This is a reference to the Boston Draft Riots that never received as much publicity as those that occurred in New York City. See: The Boston Draft Riots.
The Boston Herald (16 December 1905) contained an interesting article regarding Whitman Chase, then nearly 75 years old:
Married at 75 to a bride of 45, the marital troubles of Whitman Chase — one of the wealthiest residents of Dighton [Massachusetts] — and his wife, Mary A., were rehearsed in the probate court this afternoon. Mr. Chase was the respondent in a suit for separate support brought by his wife, who alleged cruel and abusive treatment, failure to support, and refusal to pay bills of her contracting. Mrs. Chase said that she was engaged as housekeeper by Mr. Chase and after she had served in that capacity a week, Mr. Chase proposed marriage. Mrs. Chase was a widow with four children, but this was no obstacle to their union, Mr. Chase agreeing to take the entire family. They were married in May 1894.
Married life went along smoothly enough until Chase insisted that they live and eat in one room, and increased the family with four calves which he brought in from the barn.
There was a man named Brown who lived in the upper part of the Chase house, and Mr. Chase intimated to his wife that her relations with this man were not proper. Finally things got so bad that she removed to the upper part of the house and Chase “posted” her, stating over his signature that she had “left his board and gone into business on her own hook” and he would not pay her bill no longer.
The respondent, Whitman Chase, said that he was 75 years of age, and that he was very excitable. On the frigate Wabash, at the engagement at Fort Fisher, he received an injury to his brain.
Asked to state why he could not live with his wife, Chase said that there were several reasons, one of them being that in the very hottest weather his wife persisted in keeping three fires burning and as he was obliged to saw and split the wood he objected. When he was asked to specify any incident in which his wife had acted improperly, Chase refused. He did not care to live with her because she once gave a calf cold milk when he was away and the calf immediately died. Again, he would sit down to supper, none of the best, an, when he was finished, she would “entertain the man from upstairs” with frosted cake and a good time. At another time there was a great racket upstairs in his wife’s apartments and when he inquired the cause, Mrs. Chase said it was rats. “Rats don’t wear shoes,” commented Mr. Chase. The court reserved decision.
The Springfield Republican (November 22, 1895) reported:
George A. Kelley, 12 years old, of Harwich, confessed yesterday to Fire Marshal Whitcomb that he set fire to the house of Whitman Chase in Harwich October 21, when it burned to the ground. Love of excitement and a desire to see the engines prompted him to do the act. He will be arraigned today.
The Boston Herald (February 9, 1896) reported:
At the next meeting of the Kearsarge Association, Boatswain William Jones, USN, will transfer to Boatswain David King all the paraphernalia and stores connected with the department he has had charge of for the past eight years.
Capt. Robert Tarr, Whitman Chase, Stephen B. Clapp, and Fred C. Hills, members of the Kearsarge [Association], lost their ship, the Isaac P. Smith, in the fight at Stono River, S.C. January 30, 1863, were taken prisoners, and had months of life in Libby Prison. Shipmate Hills had the remarkable experience of reading his own obituary notice. The annual reunion of the survivors will be omitted this year on account of the serious illness of Capt. Tarr, who was an acting master on the steamer at the time of the fight….
The Boston Traveler (February 25, 1863) reported:
Officers of the Gunboat I. P. Smith and other Confined in Jail at Columbia, S.C. New York, Feb. 25. — S. P. Riddell and C. C. Howley, sutlers of the 7th N. H. Regiment who have just been exchanged at Richmond, state that the officers of the gunboat Isaac P. Smith are kept in confinement in Columbia, S. C., a list of whom they give as follows: J. S. Conniver, Lieut. Commanding; John W. Sacks, Executive Officer; Acting Master Robert Fair, Acting Master Whitman Chase, Acting Ensign Francis Brenton, Acting Ensign F. C. Hills, Acting Assistant Paymaster Jacob Tucker, 1st Assistant Engineer G. H. Marvin. Acting Assistant Surgeon of the boat is separated from his brother officers in misfortune, being confined in Richmond and held hostage for the safety of a rebel surgeon in one of the northern prisons…
On the 1st of February Admiral Dupont received notice of the capture of a gunboat. It seems that the Isaac Smith, Acting-Lieutenant-Commander F. S. Conover, was sent up Stone River to make a reconnaissance. No enemy was seen; but when the vessel was on her way back three concealed batteries opened a concentrated fire on her from — heavy rifle-guns. The gun-boat McDonough, Lieutenant-Commander Bacon, was at anchor down the river, and on hearing the firing got underway, and went to the assistance of the Isaac Smith; but owing to the number, position and weight of the enemy’s guns could render no aid without the certainty of losing his own vessel. The Isaac Smith was aground and enveloped in a cloud of vapor, and the McDonough was soon  driven off by the superior range of the enemy’s fire.
The commanding officer of the Isaac Smith endeavored to get out of the trap in which he found himself by dropping below the batteries; but for upwards of a mile, on account of a bend in the river, the vessel was subjected to a raking fire of 30 guns, and was only able now and then to answer with her pivot-gun. To add to the difficulty, a large number of concealed riflemen were firing upon the vessel. Eight of the gunboat’s crew were killed and 17 wounded. But for the latter, the commanding officer would have set fire to his vessel and escaped with his officers and men; but to escape with the vessel was impossible, and she was therefore surrendered.