Captured on Patrol

Ron Coddington
May 31, 2015 · 7 min read

Midshipman Frank Beville was taken prisoner during the evening of March 14, 1863. Hostile forces overpowered the 18-year-old Confederate naval officer as he commanded a guard boat on a patrol off the Georgia coast near Savannah.

Beville was completely surprised, for the captors were his own five-man crew.

He had done nothing to provoke the sailors and they had no grievance against him. The men had simply grown tired of bad pay, food and clothing, and they wanted out of the navy. The deserters navigated the boat under a flag of truce and surrendered to Union forces that occupied nearby Fort Pulaski.

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Acting Master’s Mate Francis Bartow Beville, C.S. Navy, by James Wallace Black of Boston, Massachusetts, about 1863–1864. The Liljenquist Family Collection at the .

Unlike the deserters, Beville’s devotion to the Southern cause had remained solid since the war began. Back in May 1861, he joined the Oglethorpe Light Infantry in Savannah. Organized and commanded by prominent local attorney and state politician Francis S. Bartow, the company was jokingly referred to as “Bartow’s Beardless Boys” for the unmarried young men and boys in the ranks.

Then 15-year-old Beville fit the profile. He was uniquely connected to Bartow, a family friend who was his namesake and legal guardian. Bartow raised young Beville after his father and grandfather died in the early 1850s.

Beville and the rest of the Beardless Boys wound up in Virginia as part of the Eighth Georgia Infantry. The rank and file of the new regiment voted for officers, a common practice by volunteers South and North, and elected the popular Bartow colonel. He advanced to command a brigade in Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Shenandoah.

On July 21, 1861, during the First Battle of Manassas, Bartow was shot and killed as he led a desperate charge against a Union battery. Casualties in the Eighth were heavy, and they included Beville. A minié bullet struck him on the right side of the chest below the collarbone. His comrades carried him from the battlefield and a surgeon operated to cut the Yankee lead out of his back. Beville recuperated from his wound in a private home in Richmond. Nerve and muscular damage limited motion to his right arm and hand, and he received a discharge from the army before the end of the year.

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First Battle of Manassas, or Bull Run, by Kurz & Allison, about 1889–1890. Library of Congress.

No longer able to perform in combat but still eager to serve, Beville found a way back into the military and a return to his Savannah home: In early 1862 he received an appointment to the navy as a midshipman and was assigned to the formidable casemate ironclad Atlanta. Here he received basic training on active duty — the Confederacy would later establish a naval school ship in Richmond for this purpose.

Meanwhile, the Union blockade choked the life out of the Southern economy and slowed the flow of supplies to the Confederacy military. Savannah was no exception. Desertions by soldiers and sailors increased, including one trio that escaped into the marshes below Savannah on or about March 14.

Beville and a five-man search party were dispatched to find the disloyal rebels who were believed to be lurking somewhere in the marshes. The New York Times reported that the men caught Beville off guard and “astonished him by taking away his arms and informing him that he was a prisoner, bound for Fort Pulaski. He protested, but in vain.”

Beville was held at Fort Pulaski for a short time, then transported to the North and held at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, a prison for Confederate officers. A few months later, Beville’s fellow officers from the Atlanta joined him at Fort Warren. They had been captured on June 17, 1863, when the Atlanta ventured out of Savannah to attack Union warships and grounded. Two monitors counterattacked and forced the Southerners to hoist the white flag.

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This detail of a photograph reproduced in Volume 7 of the landmark series Photographic History of the Civil War by Francis Trevelyan Miller shows Beville (6) standing in the center of other Confederate navy and army prisoners of war in Fort Warren. He is identified as “Master Mate J.B. Beville.” .

In October 1864, Beville gained his release from Fort Warren and was formally exchanged. He eventually wound up in Richmond and was present when the capital fell to Union forces. Beville marched out of the city on April 3, 1865, with the naval brigade, a group of about 300 sailors from the defenses of Richmond. Commanded by Flag Officer John R. Tucker, the men joined the rear guard of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. It was attached to Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s corps and assigned to the division commanded by Lee’s eldest son, Custis.

Just a few days later, on April 6, federal cavalry led by Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan effectively surrounded a quarter of Gen. Lee’s army. Three Confederate corps, including Ewell’s, were cut off and attacked by the aggressive Sheridan. “The naval brigade held the right of the line,” according to Tucker’s biographer, “and easily repulsed all assaults on it. A flag of truce was sent by the Federal General commanding at that point to inform Tucker that the Confederate troops on his right and left had surrendered, and that further resistance was useless.”

The biographer added, “Tucker, believing that the battle had only commenced, refused to surrender, and held his position until reliable information, which he could not doubt, reached him of the surrender of General Ewell and his corps.”

The naval brigade was among the last to leave the battlefield. Casualties included Beville, who suffered his second wound of the war, the nature of which went unreported.

The engagement came to be known for the stream that meandered across the battleground, Sailor’s Creek — aptly named considering the participation of Tucker, Beville and the rest of the navy men.

Beville signed the oath of allegiance to the federal government on June 18, 1865, and returned to Savannah. He eventually went to work in the hotel business, and managed several fine inns around the region. “Frank Beville, the popular and well known hotel man of middle Georgia, happy as the day is long, smiles a continued welcome upon his guests,” declared an Atlanta newspaper in 1879. He also worked as a drummer, or traveling salesman, in his home state and neighboring South Carolina.

In 1888, Beville married 17-year-old Anna McIntosh Falligrant, a young woman about 25 years his junior. She had not been born until after the end of the war. The following year, Anna gave birth to their only child, a daughter whom they named Ruth.

Beville lived until 1905, dying of albuminuria, which affects the kidneys. He was about 60. His wife and 16-year-old daughter survived him.


New York Times, March 15, 1863, and March 18, 1863; Daily Constitutionalist (Augusta, Georgia), March 19, 1863.

The sign of New Yorkers who had moved to the South, Savannah-born Francis Stebbins Bartow (1816–1861) was considered one of the foremost legal minds in the state. He was also one of its largest slaveholders. Active in the Georgia secession convention, Bartow championed immediate withdrawal from the Union. He was elected a member of the Provisional Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Alabama. After the outbreak of war he opted to join the military, having been active in the militia since the 1850s. His death was mourned throughout Georgia. The last words reportedly spoken by Bartow, “They have killed me boys, but never give up the field,” are inscribed on his gravestone.

Beville’s father, Gideon Claiborne Beville, died in 1850 ate age 30. Beville’s grandfather, Claiborne Beville, died in 1852 at age 70. Lichliter, Pioneering with the Beville and Related Families in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, pp. 151–152, 1860 census.

Beville, listed on the Oglethorpe Light Infantry roll as F.B. Bevill, is noted as one of five men who joined the company after it arrived in Virginia. Rockwell, Oglethorpe Light Infantry of Savannah, In Peace and In War, p. 8.

Francis B. Beville pension application, Georgia Confederate Pension Office, Georgia Archives.

New York Times, March 15, 1863.

Tucker’s naval brigade is not to be confused with another naval brigade hastily formed by Rear Adm. Raphael Semmes. It was composed of sailors who had served with the James River squadron until the destruction of the warships during the night of April 2–3, 1865. Ordered to link up to Gen. Lee’s army, Semmes’s naval brigade never made the connection and ultimately surrendered with the remnants of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s forces on April 26, 1865.

John Randolph Tucker (1812–1883) of Alexandria, Virginia, began as military career as a midshipman in the U.S. navy in 1826. He left in 1861 with the rank of commander to cast his lot with the Confederacy. He went on to command the Patrick Henry during the historic contest between the Monitor and Merrimac and Hampton Roads, Virginia, on March 9, 1862. He spent the rest of the war on active duty in Charleston, South Carolina, and Richmond. After the war he served as a rear admiral in the Peruvian navy.

Rochelle, Life of Rear Admiral John Randolph Tucker, pp. 52–54.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Daily Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia), September 9, 1879; Francis B. Beville pension application, Georgia Confederate Pension Office, Georgia Archives.


Ron Coddington is a collector of Civil War era images, and the editor and publisher of magazine. He is the author of three books about Civil War soldiers and their stories. His next book will profile men who served in the Union and Confederate navies. Visit for more information and a complete index of past columns. Follow Ron on and .

This profile originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of the .

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