Destruction of the Steam-Packet RoanokeThe Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1289, p. 541-542.
November 26, 1864
The magistrates in session at the Townhall of St. George's, Bermuda, on the 10th ult., investigated a singular charge of piracy against Lieutenant John C. Braine, Acting Master in the Navy of the Confederate States, and a party of men in the same service, who were prosecuted by the Attorney-General of Bermuda for unlawfully seizing and destroying the United States mail-steamer Roanoke upon the high seas. The charge fell to the ground, of course, on the production of Lieutenant Braine's commission and his letter of instructions from Mr. S. R. Mallory, the Secretary of the Navy of the Confederate Government. The prisoners were therefore immediately discharged; but as the capture of this vessel, whether an act of legitimate warfare or not, was effected by most unusual means, it is worthy of a brief narrative and Illustration. It seems that the Roanoke was accustomed to ply regularly between Cuba and New York; and at four o'clock on the afternoon of Sept. 29 she left the port of Havannah, passing the Moro Castle, at five p.m., with twenty-four cabin passengers and sixteen in the steerage, the officers and crew numbering fifty, making in all ninety persons on board. The steamer proceeded on her voyage at a speed of twelve knots per hour, running within sight of the coast for two or three hours, the time passing agreeably and without anything unusual having occurred until 9.20 p.m., when about twenty-five miles off the coast of Cuba. The captain and crew were then surprised by a party of ten men among the passengers, under the command of Lieutenant Braine, who went through the ship dressed in a naval uniform, exclaiming, "In the name of the Confederate States of America, I demand the surrender of this vessel as a lawful prize," and calling upon Captain Drew, the commander of the Roanoke, to surrender as a prisoner of war. The announcement was immediately followed by the discharge of several pistols, with which the attacking party were armed. From that moment the work of capture commenced. Lieutenant Braine, taking the upper deck of the vessel, accompanied by his second officer, the purser, and a seaman, secured the the captain and officers on the deck, placing them in irons, while the first officer, first and second engineers, and the seamen proceeded with the capture of the officers and crew on the main deck, until Lieut. Braine and his second officer, leaving the upper deck in charge of the purser and a seaman, went below to the assistance of the first officer. In the space of fifty-five minutes the capture had been consummated, and the vessel was proceeding on her voyage as the Confederate
Page 542States prize steam-ship Roanoke. There was but little violent resistance made except by the carpenter of the vessel, who, after having surrendered, seized an axe and aimed a blow at the head of the first officer; but, the axe falling short of its mark, four balls pierced the body of the man, from the effects of which he fell and died in a few minutes. In a short time after the capture Captain Drew was released upon his parole. The crew were kept on duty, as before. Some of the officers of the Roanoke were put in irons for a few hours during the night, but the passengers were treated with the utmost civility and friendship. When the vessel arrived off Bermuda, it was Lieutenant Braine's purpose to bring her into the port of St. George's, lay in a stock of provisions and coals, then parole and land the passengers, officers, and crew, and take the vessel to Wilmington; but, it having been found impossible to take the vessel into the British port, the only thing he could do was to burn the Roanoke, and, with his officers and crew, go ashore at St. George's. This he accordingly did (after transferring the passengers, officers, and crew to a brig five miles off the coast) at four o'clock on the morning of Sunday, the 9th of October inst. Our Engraving is made from a sketch taken by one of the passengers, who has sent it to us, with a letter, through Mr. G. T. Fullam, late engineer of the Alabama. The Roanoke, it seems, was built in New York by the New York and Virginia Navigation Company, who were her sole owners; her dimensions being in length 218 ft.; breadth, 32ft.; depth, 10 ft. 6 in.; and measuring 1071 tons.