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“The Terror of the Rebels Along the Coast”

Ron Coddington
Nov 25, 2015 · 6 min read

One evening in the spring of 1863, a detachment of Union sailors moved stealthily across the grounds of a South Carolina plantation. 35-strong and heavily armed, they were attracted to the estate by a report of rebel activity. Before long they surprised a picket of nine Confederate cavalry and captured them after a brief fight.

The bluejackets served on the Kingfisher, a sleek bark that operated in and about the Sea Islands below Charleston. Her commander, 42-year-old John Clark Dutch, enjoyed a sterling reputation in these parts — and this exploit added to his luster.

“He is a bold and enterprising man and has thoroughly explored these shores and creeks. He knows every picket and fortified position of the rebels near here. They say he goes in a dugout right under the guns and shoots the pickets of the enemy,” declared Laura Towne, a Northern volunteer with the Freedman’s Aid Society. She added, “Captain Dutch was energetic, hated the enemy, was a good protector to the islands, and made himself the terror of the rebels along the coast.”[1]

Most officers could only hope for such a characterization. Dutch, who had no formal military training, earned his through experience and strict attention to duty. Born in New Hampshire, he went to sea as a young man and rose to become the prosperous captain of the merchant bark S.J. Roberts out of Providence, Rhode Island. A marriage in 1844 resulted in the birth of a daughter, Annie, five years later.[2]

Dutch bid his family farewell and joined the navy in 1861. Commissioned acting master, he continued to be known to friends and acquaintances by his rank in the merchant service. Dutch spent a year as a subordinate officer aboard the steamer Sumpter in the South Atlantic Blockade Squadron and then, in November 1862 took command of the Kingfisher. He maintained an exquisitely orderly and clean ship according to Towne.[3]

Stationed in Saint Helena Sound, Dutch and his crew patrolled islands and inland waterways in search of the enemy. The events that led to the capture of the Confederate cavalry picket began on April 9, 1863. That morning, a group of escaped slaves under Dutch’s protection showed up at the Kingfisher with two other slaves. Dutch interrogated the pair and learned from one, James “Jim” Hutchinson, that an outpost of rebels was stationed on nearby Edisto Island. These rebels monitored federal troop and gunboat movements along the Edisto River.

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Library of Congress.

Dutch decided to go after them. He and 35 of his crew set out in three rowboats from the Kingfisher about 6 o’clock. 10 escaped slaves, including Hutchinson, accompanied them. They rowed some distance up St. Pierre Creek and landed at a plantation in about the center of the island. The men marched about a mile to a house, where they found the picket composed of a sergeant, corporal and seven privates who served in Company I of the Third South Carolina Cavalry. Gunfire erupted — no one knew exactly who fired first — and the Confederates soon surrendered.[4]

Only one injury occurred on the federal side after one of Dutch’s officers suffered a bullet wound in the ankle. The captured Confederates were taken back to the Kingfisher and sent to the North as prisoners of war.[5]

Jim Hutchinson later joined the navy and served on the Kingfisher.

Dutch continued in command of the Kingfisher for another year. On March 28, 1864, the bark ran hard aground in shallow water near Otter Island in Saint Helena Sound. She quickly flooded with water. Efforts to save her failed, and she was declared a total loss. Dutch was not blamed for any wrongdoing — he had alerted his superiors that the Kingfisher had been in need of an overhaul for some time.[6]

The loss coincided with the death of his wife and the end of their 20-year marriage.

Dutch received a new assignment as commander of the light-draft ironclad monitor Chimo and served in this capacity along the North Carolina coast for the rest of the war. He received an honorable discharge in the spring of 1866.[7]

Dutch never returned to the sea, but did return to the South. He moved to Savannah, Georgia, after he left the navy and served a four-year stint as inspector of customs and special agent of the U.S. Treasury Department. He may have owed his position to political friends in New Hampshire, namely Gilman Marston, a Republican congressman and brigadier.[8]

In 1867, Dutch’s daughter Annie married Edmund Rice, a Union colonel at the beginning of a successful post-war career that included the receipt of the Medal of Honor for Gettysburg and active duty in the Spanish-American War. Annie would know none of this, as she succumbed to tuberculosis less than two years into the marriage.

In 1868, Dutch married Harriet “Hattie” Goodman in Washington, D.C. The Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives performed the service. Hattie, two decades Dutch’s junior, provided him a second child, daughter Helen, in 1871. By this time the family had left Savannah and settled in New Hampshire.

The union was short-lived, for Hattie died three years later. Dutch raised Helen as a single father, and established a lucrative business as a wood dealer in the town of Exeter to support her. He also became active in politics on the county and state level with the Prohibitionist Party, which had been established after the war to curb the sale and consumption of alcohol.[9]

In 1895, Dutch died of pneumonia and complications from a heart ailment at age 74.

[1] Towne, Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne, pp. 108–109, 138.

[2] John C. Dutch pension record, NARS.

[3] Boston Evening Journal, February 15, 1895; Towne, Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne, p. 109.

[4] Spencer, Edisto Island, 1861 to 2006, pp. 36–38; Report of Acting Master John C. Dutch of the expedition to Edisto Island. ORN, I, 14, 121–122.

[5] The Confederates were Sgt. Townsend Mikell, Corp. Fred M. Bailey and privates William G. Baynard, Joseph Edings, Arthur C. Lee, Whitmarsh S. Murray, Robert E. Seabrook, Julius J. Westcoat and William B. Whaley.

[6] Reports of the loss of the Kingfisher. ORN, I, 15, 383–388.

[7] John C. Dutch pension record, NARS.

[8] Gilman Marston (1811–1890), a graduate of Dartmouth and Harvard, started his war service as colonel of the Tenth New Hampshire Infantry and suffered a wound at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. He later commanded on the division and district level, including a stint in charge of the Confederate prisoner of war camp at Point Lookout, Maryland. A member of the Republican Party, he served several terms as state representative, three terms as a U.S. Congressman, and was appointed to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat for three months in 1889. The exact relationship of Marston and Dutch is not precisely known, but Dutch’s role as marshal during the funeral procession of Marston suggests that they were well connected.

[9] John C. Dutch pension record, NARS; Boston Evening Journal, February 15, 1895.

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