This letter was written by Dr. Joseph Rodney Layton (1820-18xx) while serving as Assistant Surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Steamer Flambeau in the Union’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. The steamer was ordered to guard Stono Inlet, one of the entrances to Charleston Harbor, in 1862. Dr. Layton wrote the letter to his father, Hon. Caleb Sipple Layton (1798-1882).
From military service and pension records we learn that Dr. Layton served as Acting Assistant Surgeon aboard the. U.S.S. North Carolina from November 1861 to June (probably May) 1862, the U.S.S. Somerset from July 1863 to June 1865. Following that, Dr. Layton served as Acting Surgeon on the U.S.S. Massasoit until honorably discharged in September 1865. [Note: Military records only credit Layton for service in 1864/5 but this letter clearly shows his service as early as 1862. Other tours of service were extracted from pension files.]
Dr. Layton was an 1846 graduate of the Pennsylvania Medical School in Philadelphia. He was married to Mary Ann Irons (1829-1887) in November 1847 and practiced medicine in Millsboro, Sussex County, Delaware just prior to the Civil War. After the war (in 1870), Joseph and Mary were living in a boarding house in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. He graduated from the University of Georgia Medical Department in 1874. By 1880, the couple was back in Millsboro. Joseph was an “allopath” and renewed his license to practice in Millsboro in 1886, 1890, 1893, 1896, 1900, 1902 and 1904. It is believed that he joined the medical faculty of McGill University in Montreal in 1906 [Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929]. See also: The Layton Family of Delmarva.
Dr. Layton’s letter includes a discussion of the “prize money” to which the officers and crew were entitled under the 1862 Prize Regulations. Even a deck hand could handsomely supplement his monthly wages by taking on the desperate risk of capturing or sinking an enemy vessel.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 1
U.S.S. Steamer Flambeau
Off Charleston [South Carolina]
May 11th 1862
Your favor of the 13th of April was received a few days ago. I have been expecting to hear from you since your return from Rodney’s wedding but have not as yet. Possibly your engagements in court may have prevented your writing. I have received two letters from Mary Ann since the marriage giving me a description of the reception & entertainment. I felt sorry that she missed being present at the marriage, her being alone & a stranger to Dr. Bush’s family. I can well see that she should have felt great diffidence in going to the house alone. I should have been pleased had she received some attention in my absence to have enabled her to have been there in time (she has made no complaint of a want of attention). She spoke of your kindness calling for her and feeling worried at her not being present at the marriage. Cousin Sarah, I think, was to blame for refusing so long to accompany her. I suppose Rod & Mary have returned and paid you a visit ‘ere this. I sincerely congratulate them & wish them all the happiness & prosperity in this life imaginable. I expected I should at least have received their cards before now, but as yet no more notice has been taken of me than if I did not exist.
We have nothing new here. All is quiet. We are playing the deuce with the Rebel vessels trying to run the blockade. This appears to be the principal place for them now. Hardly a night or day passes without someone of the fleet taking or destroying one of them. We have taken or destroyed about thirty within the last five weeks. If they have the chance, they run them ashore. we then send in, burn & sink them so the loss is the same to the Rebels in either case, but different to us. We are now in full chase after a side wheel steamer about twenty miles off shore, standing southeast. She looks very suspicious. I hope she may prove a prize. We are sure to catch her (nothing can out run us in these waters — we are said to be the fastest ship in the Navy). If she should prove a prize, it will be all our own as there are no other vessels in sight.
The latest news up to 6th would tend one to believe that the rebellion is pretty well played out and that the war will soon be ended. I hope so. I for one am tired out of it and being away from home, I begin to want to get home again badly and see my relations & friends again. I suppose McClellan is in Richmond by this time. Our turn for the fun must come soon. The sooner the better. We have sixteen vessels in the fleet off here — thirteen of them steamers. The chance of a vessel getting in or out of the harbor is rather slim though they occasionally slip in and out.
We exchanged a few shots yesterday morning with one of the Rebel tugs or gunboats. They did us no damage. We hit her three times and sent her back to Charleston with a flea in her ear. (We are not allowed to make public any movements or transactions down here by a late order from the Navy Department.) The ship trembles so from the press of steam in running fast I can hardly write. My love to all. Write soon.
Yours affectionately, — J. R. Layton
N. B. We have just overhauled the steamer we have been in chase of for several hours. She proves to be one of our own vessels and said to be one of the fastest we have, but we were too many for her and fairly run her down. We are all disappointed for we had been looking upon her for the last two hours as a prize. We were in chase of her for five hours. She acted very queer — it made our Captain quite nasty. We ran near seventy miles after her and only had the excitement & pleasure of the chase for our trouble.
Yours, — J. R. Layton
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 2
Addressed to Hon. Caleb S. Layton, Georgetown, Sussex County, Delaware
U.S.S. Steamer Flambeau
May 29th 1862
Having an opportunity to drop you a line, I embrace it with pleasure. We are having rather an exciting time here now — hardly a night or rather morning passes without the chase & capture of a steamer attempting to run the blockade into Charleston. The fleets off here have taken four; the Steffin, Cumbria, Patras — all English — and this morning the Elizabeth of Nassau (formerly the [General] Miramon of New Orleans) all deeply loaded with arms, ammunition, drugs, clothing & provisions, & all new steamers from 450 to 1500 tons. The vessels & cargoes are here estimated to be worth $3,000,000 at least. One of them — the Cumbria, 1500 tons — is said to be worth over one third of the amount.
The question has been started here by a few whether the whole fleet share in prizes or only the ship taken here. The senior officer & all the Captains (except one) say we all share alike in the fleet (as he the sr. officer) alone orders what ship shall go in chase of suspicious vessels, and the rest have to remain at anchor. If we are all entitled, as I hope we are, my share of prize money will amount to a ___ little sum. What is your opinion of it?
We have been into Stono River and up to the town of Stono since I wrote you last. Went in to participate in the attack on the batteries five miles from & partly in the rear of Charleston. When we got in, found we were too large to operate with good effect and were ordered to return off here. We struck three times going in and came within an ace of losing the ship as we came out. Nothing but the strength of power of the ship with skillful management saved her. She thumped heavily striking fifty five times in crossing the bar.
Fighting is going on today up Stone River. We have heard heavy firing, seen the smoke of the guns & explosions of the shells from our anchorage all the morning. We have six gunboats up the river all with heavy batteries. I don’t know what will be the result as the engagement is still going on. I have no doubt but what we shall be successful. They have strong batteries both on shore & afloat but our force, I understand, is strong enough to cope with them.
We also this week, in addition to the vessels taken, chased & ran onshore & since destroyed a large steamer — the Nellie — making five vessels & cargoes kept from the rebels within the last six days. This will show whether the blockade is effectual or not. Six more steamers are to sail or have sailed from Nassau this week for Charleston.
I have heard nothing from you letter of 7th inst., I think. Nothing from Mary Ann since her return from the city.
As a sample of the cargo taken, one of them consisted, in part, of 71 tons of powder, 15,000 Enfield Rifles, 200 cases of Quinine.
My love to all. Write often. Yours affectionately, — J. R. Layton