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    John Taylor Wood: Group of Eight Documents Related to the Steamer Tallahassee and the Confederate Raid on New Bern. In late July 1864, Confederate Navy Commander John Taylor Wood, the son of Union General Robert Wood, grandson of former president Zachary Taylor, and nephew of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, whom he served as aide-de-camp, was already the go-to naval officer (though he also held a colonel's rank in the cavalry) for tough missions. When the London-built commerce raider Tallahassee was commissioned for Confederate service on July 20, 1864, she was immediately placed under Wood's command.

    Writing to his wife, Lola, from aboard the ship, dated August 2, 1864, Wood says they have come "down the [Cape Fear] River this afternoon . . . I think she will steam fifteen miles an hour . . . I don't think the Yankees can catch us." He wrote again the following day, anticipating a run through the blockade, saying, "With the assistance of a kind Providence we will try & get out to-night . . . the weather is all we could desire; the officers & men are anxious for the start. . . . I have been drilling & exercising the Crew nearly all the morning, they do partly well considering they are green. . . . Everything is ready for our going out to-night & I hope by this time tomorrow to be well outside [of the blockade]." The next day, he wrote again saying that they "tried to get off last evening at high water & again this morning but without success. . . . The Yankee Blockaders are plainly insight [sic] as I write, about four miles off, our Forts . . . prevent their approaching any nearer. They take us for one of the blockade runners that are going in & out almost every night."

    Two days later, on August 6, the Tallahassee finally ran the blockade and made it into open water, though they were unsuccessfully pursued by four Union vessels. Between August 6 and August 26, she captured or destroyed thirty-three Union ships off the coast of New England. The crew made it as far as Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and put into port to restock their coal supply. Wood was given a twenty-four hour window in which to resupply, but he exceeded the time limit and, on August 19, received a letter from Sir Richard Graves McDonnell, the lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, ordering him off, in full: "I have learnt with much surprised that you are still in the Port of Halifax - not withstanding my having yesterday warned you, that your stay must be limited to twenty-four hours. As you have occupied the excess of time beyond that allowed to you in taking coal on board I am obliged to insist that you will immediately discharge all coals taken in since the lapse of the twenty four hours allowed to you. I much regret that in maintaining the strict neutrality which I am enjoined by Her Majesty's Government I find myself compelled to adopt anything like harsh measures. You must however have been well aware that you were only entitled to sufficient coal to take you to the nearest Confederate Port and any inconvenience which you may suffer is caused by your own act."

    Having returned to Wilmington on August 26, Wood made his report to the Secretary of the Navy, Stephen Mallory, five days later, the working copy of which is enclosed in this lot, providing a detailed description of running the blockade, "We succeeded in getting out on the night of the 6 . . . Sighted first of the blockaders & fired upon by two. The next day were chased at different times by four of the off-shore fleet & fired upon by one. Did not return it as it would betray this ship"; his treatment in Halifax; and his return to North Carolina, "Had I procured the coal needed [while in Halifax] I intended to have struck the coast at the Capes of the Delaware & followed it down to Cape Fear but I had only coal enough to reach Wilmington on the night of the 26 . . . During that day was chased by two of the enemy's cruisers & at night engaged the blockading fleet as we came in. In the darkness the effect of our shot could not be seen."

    Also included is a handwritten list of officers who served on the Tallahassee and a complete list of ships taken during the voyage providing information such as the type of ship, name, home port, fate (burned, scuttled, etc.), and date taken. With a report written several months earlier, likely to Jefferson Davis or Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory, relating the particulars of the "result of the late Expedition near Newbern N.C.," including his capture of the U.S. gunboat Underwriter. This copy contains several corrections so it is likely his working draft.

    Condition: Two of the letters, dated August 2 and August 4, are completely separated along all of the folds. The remaining documents exhibit the expected age toning and scattered foxing.


    More Information:  

    John Taylor Wood (1830-1904), the son of Union General Robert Wood and Anne Taylor, the daughter of twelfth president, Zachary Taylor, began his career in the United States Navy in 1847 and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1852, second in his class. Initially maintaining a neutral stance following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, his sympathies headed South after the Battle of Fort Sumter. On April 21, 1861, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Navy and retired to his Maryland farm. The farming life did not last long, however, as life was becoming too dangerous. Fearing for the safety of his family, the Woods moved south to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the new Confederate States where his uncle, Jefferson Davis, was now president (Jefferson Davis' first wife, Sarah Taylor, was Wood's mother's sister).

    By April 1865, the situation looked grim for the Confederacy. Wood was with his uncle on April 2, attending St. Paul's Church in Richmond, when a telegram from Lee arrived informing the president that Petersburg would soon fall and the government must evacuate. That evening, he, Davis, and other members of the Confederate government boarded a train for Danville, Virginia. They continued their flight south, where, on May 10, 1865, near the town of Irwinsville, Georgia, Davis and Wood were both captured by Union forces. Wood soon made his escape, with his uncle's permission, by bribing one of his captors and hiding in a nearby swamp until the Federals and their prisoners left the area.

    Wood made his way south to Florida and met up with Major General John C. Breckinridge. Acquiring a small boat, Wood, Breckinridge, and several other men first attempted to row east to The Bahamas, but abandoned the plan and decided to instead make their way south toward Cuba. He managed to trade with a crew of Union deserters his boat for their slightly bigger sloop. They reached the north shore of Cuban on June 10. He remained in Cuba for two weeks before heading north to Canada, where his family soon joined him. Reunited, they settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and remained there for the rest of their lives. John Taylor Wood died on July 19, 1904.

    Lots 49094 through 49099 in this auction relate to Wood's service during the war.



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    November, 2015
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