Monday July 1st 1861
Well! Our secret expedition has returned.
Yesterday afternoon we heard a steam whistle and knew that no boat was expected here for a week. In a few minutes all Fredericksburg was at the wharf. It was the St. Nicholas, a prize! A Yankee steamer that runs between Baltimore & Washington.
Almost two weeks ago Capt Holland and Col Thomas (a man that dresses like a Japanese) went over to Maryland and arranged with friends there to take the St. Nicholas by strategy. Col Thomas went to Baltimore and with six or eight friends got on board the steamer as passengers. When they reached Point Lookout Capt Hollins with a few friends came on board as passengers also and when the boat was fairly out in the stream they walked up to the Captain, told him that he was their prisoner and that the boat was in the hands of Confederate officers. He made some show of resistance at first, but soon saw that it was of no use and surrendered. The boat was then run into Coan creek, on the Virginia shore opposite to Point Lookout, where Capt Lewis's party, including the four hundred Tennesseeans were awaiting them. They had left the Virginia near the mouth of the Rappannhack [Rappahannock] and marched across the country to Coan Creek the night before.
The plan was for the whole party to embark and under the Federal Flag go up the Potomac, take the Pawnee and Freeborn at Aquia Creek (they would never have suspected that she was in the hands of Confederate officers until they were boarded) and then come round to the mouth of the Rappannack take the blockading force there and come off with flying colors. But the Secretary of War would not allow the Tennesseeans to embark. Said they might do any fighting that was necessary on shore but not on board ship. The rest of the party -- about a hundred officers and sailors together -- would have attempted it but they had only a few hours of coal on board and the Pawnee and Freeborn had left the Creek. As it was all embarked, except Capt Hill and a few others. Capt L thought it was wrong to risk the lives of so many officers unnecessarily and went out into the bay to see what they could find. The first vessel they met was a brig laden with coffee. It made no resistance. Some of the men were dreadfully frightened and begged on their knees for their lives. The Captain and crew were ordered on board the Steamer; and two officers and five men were detailed to man the brig. They then met a schooner filled with ice and another with coal, both of which were taken in the same way.
Mr. Thorburn and Dick were detailed for the coal schooner. Two of the Captains had their wives with them. One of them begged most piteously that her husbands life might be spared. There were thirty nine prisoners in all. Cousin Jack took down the larger part of them this morning. Dick went down in the eleven o clock train with the remainder. I saw them as they came by. They thought they were to be hung. The Mayor went down last night to relieve their minds and say that no harm would be done them.
The passengers that were on the St. Nicholas were put off at Coan Creek. Clarence Helen of Washington – Alice's old beau – was among the number. He was returning from a fishing excursion. expressed much surprise at seeing Dick. The two Captains wives were at work yesterday cutting up their flags and making them into Confederate flags. The bunting at the South has given out. Col Thomas went on board the St. Nicholas dressed as a woman. The party on board did not know each other very well. Each one suspected the other and all suspected the woman. It was Capt Lewis's scheme. Papa only helped to carry it out. Capt L was to have commanded the expedition. The President never fully approved of it. It has been 'hanging' in Richmond for more than a month.
Cousin Jack and Dick are both army officers. I suppose Papa got them ordered in this expedition.
There was no blockading vessel at the mouth of the Rappannock when the prizes came in. Suppose she had gone for provisions.