CONFEDERATE GUN BOAT ON THE ATTACK
Posted By : Manager
Posted : July 7, 2022
By: Mike Thomas
In May 1861 the Confederate Navy was in its infancy with little more than bold and seasoned leadership. One of its few assets was a small iron-hulled vessel, built for use as a steam tug in 1858, named the James Gray. Purchased by the state of South Carolina in March 1861 and renamed the Lady Davis, the vessel was armed with a 24-pounder cannon and a 12-pounder rifled gun.
The Lady Davis was transferred to the Confederacy on May 7th, 1861, and placed under the command of Lt. Thomas P. Pelot [pronounced Pee-low]. A native South Carolinian and an 1857 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Pelot resigned his commission in the U.S. Navy in January 1861 and quickly accepted a commission in the Confederate States Navy.
On May 19th, just twelve days after taking command, Lt. Pelot displayed his mettle by taking his little vessel from Beaufort in search of the armed brig USS Perry, a warship reportedly lurking off the coast of Port Royal Sound. Before sailing, he took aboard Beaufort native & militia Captain Stephen Elliott as his pilot and a detachment of Elliott’s Beaufort Volunteer Artillery armed with muskets to serve as marines for the expected engagement. The Yankee warship was not found but the U.S. flagged merchant vessel A. B. Thompson was intercepted, boarded, and taken to Beaufort as a war prize.
This one-day expedition was the first high seas offensive action of the war by the Confederate navy. The A. B. Thompson was the first war prize taken by either side. While the action was hailed by the South, Northern politicians and their press were enraged. While calling the seizure an act of piracy, they described the Lady Davis as a privateer knowing full well she was a Confederate States of America warship. The A. B. Thompson was quickly sold. The crew of the un-fortunate merchantman, however, was held by Confederate authorities through the summer until exchanged for Southern civilians held captive by the U.S. government.
Lt. Pelot was killed in June 1864 while leading a boarding party that captured the U.S. warship USS Water Witch near Savannah. He is honored in a memorial to South Carolina Naval Heroes in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery. Captain Elliott earned great fame for his masterful defense of Fort Sumter September 1863-May 1864 and rose to Brigadier-General.