By Maurice Rigby
Taken from an article that appeared in 'Crossfire', the magazine of the American Civil War Round Table (UK) Issue 48
Before the outbreak of hostilities between the states, he worked as a clerk for the Savannah, Albany and Gulf Railroad Company up until the spring of 1861, when he offered his services to the newly formed Confederate States Navy. He was assigned the post of clerk at the naval paymaster's office in Savannah and that of acting assistant paymaster on board the blockade runner CSS Lady Davis , which was then serving on the Savannah Station as part of the fleet squadron under the command of Commodore Josiah Tattnall.
The Lady Davis was a screw tug of about 250 tons, with an armament consisting of one 24 pounder gun and one 12 pounder rifled gun, and on May 19 1861, while out patrolling the southern Georgia and South Carolina coastline searching for the brig USS Perry , she managed to capture the SS A B Thompson instead.
In November 1861 Yonge was serving at the naval Paymaster's office in Savannah. Captain James Dunwoody Bulloch, who had recently arrived by the steamer Fingal from Liverpool, was looking for a clerk competent enough to assist him in the management of his affairs and was making enquiries to the paymaster about Yonge's qualifications to see whether he was suitable for the post. The paymaster eventually released Yonge into the care of Mr Bulloch who, in January 1862, appointed him to the position of acting assistant paymaster.
Bulloch and Yonge left Savannah for Wilmington, North Carolina, and shortly after arriving they boarded the blockade-runner Annie Childs on the evening of February 5 1862, for their voyage to England. It was a voyage in which, as Bulloch later recalled in his letter to Mr Mallory of June 30 1863, he found Yonge to be "a quiet, modest young man, who was light and trivial in character and disposition, and whose conduct was most exemplary".
The Annie Childs arrived in Liverpool on March 11 1862 and Yonge soon settled into his duties of attending to Commander Bulloch's correspondence with the Confederacy, and in paying those officers who were attached to the CSS Alabama , which included Yonge himself. Yonge remained in Liverpool until receiving orders from Commander Bulloch on July 28 1862 assigning him to the '290'. He was instructed to act on board as its purser, under the temporary command of Captain Matthew James Butcher, but was also appointed to the position of acting assistant paymaster with orders that during the cruise to the Azores "he was to move freely amongst the Warrant and Petty officers taking great interest in their comfort and welfare, and to excite their interest in the southern states and their struggle against great odds for freedom and liberty which every Englishman now enjoys". He was also instructed to "keep account of any money paid out, and to fully acquaint himself with the ship's invoices and that of the 290's tender, the Agrippina , as well in order that everything will be in its proper place when the stores are later transferred".
On August 20 1862, Commander Bulloch, Captain Semmes and some of his officers rendezvoused with the '290' off the Azores via the steamer Bahama , and it was here that Bulloch first informed Semmes about his mistrust of Yonge, remarking that "he was an unsteady and unreliable young man, whose judgement and discretion were not to be trusted", though he had "no reason to suspect his honesty".
After the Alabama's commissioning at the Azores on August 24, Yonge served on board as its paymaster up until her arrival at Port Royal, Kingston, Jamaica on the evening of January 20 1863. It was during her stay here that Yonge had been sent on shore with about £400 in order to settle a few of the Alabama's accounts but he failed to return to the ship and was found that evening in one of his regular drunken bouts at a local inn, talking quite openly to the American consul and some recently paroled seamen of the enemy. In company with an armed party from Alabama , Lieutenants Kell and Low arrested Yonge and brought him back to the ship to await the arrival of Captain Semmes, who had been staying for a few days with an old acquaintance of his at his country seat in the mountains.
Yonge's court martial began on board Alabama on January 25 1863 due to the neglect of his duties "and behaving in a most disreputable manner by talking to the enemy". Within half an hour he was found guilty of all the charges put before him. After refusing Captain Semmes' offer "to remain on board, confined to his room, until they reached a Confederate port", he was deprived of his sword and sent ashore in disgrace, turning his back on the country and flag to which he had sworn allegiance.
The Alabama sailed from Kingston, Jamaica that evening bound for the Brazilian coast and within a few weeks of her departure Yonge, who had been staying at a local lodging house run by a young mulatto widow and her mother, began to make plans to leave the island as well. Before leaving Jamaica he married the young widow, despite the fact that he was still legally married to his first wife; within a few days of their marriage he had managed to convince her to sell the lodging house, and any other property to her name. Along with his wife, her two teenage children, and mother-in-law, he travelled to Liverpool on the steamer Askalon , arriving on March 22 1863. They lodged for a while at the Angel Hotel, on the corner of Dale and North John Street, before Yonge deserted them all on the streets with barely enough money to survive.
Yonge first sought refuge in Lancaster before moving to London on April 1, on advice from Thomas Haines Dudley, the American minister in Liverpool. There he called on the U.S. minister, Charles Francis Adams. He proceeded to inform Mr Adams about his duties as private secretary to Bulloch and about his brief service aboard the Alabama , all of which he later agreed to put down in the form of an affidavit which he duly signed on April 2 at the judges chambers, Rolls Gardens, Chancery Lane, London, before John Payne, the acting commissioner.
Yonge didn't stop here. He became one of a number of paid informers of the U.S. Minister and was dispatched to Liverpool on April 5 in search of evidence of the building of the two Confederate steam ironclads, '294' and '295', which he found upon his arrival to be under construction in the south part of the Laird yards. The following day, at the Liverpool Customs House, and sworn before S.P. Edwards, he duly signed another affidavit over what he had seen at the Laird yards as well as witnessing the plans, drawings and specifications of the rams the previous year at the offices of Fraser, Trenholm and Co. This would now prove instrumental in destroying Commander Bulloch's chances of purchasing the rams for the Confederate Government.
It caused Bulloch to transfer the ownership of the rams to the Paris shipbuilder Messrs Bravay & Co, though this transference of ownership didn't stop the eventual seizure of the Laird rams. The first was boarded on the evening of October 8 1863 as she lay in the great float, Birkenhead, by an officer from the Liverpool Customs House acting on behalf of the crown, and the second the following evening at the Laird yards.
Meanwhile, Yonge had been recalled to London to appear as the crown witness in the case of 'The Seizure Of The Ship Alexandra ', which began at the Court of Exchequer, Westminster, on June 22 1863 before the Lord Chief Baron, Sir Frederick Pollock, Kt, and a special jury. The Alexandra was launched from the Liverpool shipyards of William C. Miller & Sons on March 7 1863, only to be seized on the following mouth as she lay in a Toxteth Dock by Liverpool Customs Officer Edward Morgan, acting on behalf of the crown, on the charges of violating the 7th section of the 1819 Foreign Enlistment Act. This section simply meant that "the Alexandra was fitted out or equipped or permitted to be equipped, to harass and be hostile to the government and citizens of a state with whom her majesty was at peace"
The Attorney general had filed a petition against 12 men alleging forfeiture of the Alexandra , though only 5 names had appeared on the petition, those being the engineers and ironfounders who traded under the name of Fawcett, Preston & Co and who were responsible for the fitting of her engines at the time that she was seized. It was also alleged that agents of the Confederate States had taken an interest in the Alexandra , with those named being Commander Bulloch and Lt J.R. Hamilton, C.S.N. and Captain Eugene L.Tessier who was in the service of Fraser, Trenholm & Co, merchants of Liverpool who were mixed up in the interest of the Confederate Government On June 23, Yonge was called into the witness box to give his evidence on his brief term of service with the Confederate Navy, and as private secretary to Commander Bulloch.
But it was during Yonge's cross-examination from Mr Karslake, QC for the claimants, that his evidence and reliability as a crown witness were to be totally discredited. And this was summed up to the jury at the close of the trial on June 24 by Sir Hugh Cairns acting on behalf of the claimants, when he began by describing Yonge as "this specimen of humanity". Here was "a man who commenced his career by abandoning his wife and child in his native country, who betrayed every one of his friends and fellow officers in the cause of the country to which he had promised allegiance, and who tricked a young widow into marriage in order that he could ruin and plunder her property. And then brought her to Liverpool, where he turned her adrift penniless in the streets before hurrying up to London to pour into the ear of Mr Adams, the American minister, his tale of treachery". Sir Hugh Cairns had also raised the point that Yonge's evidence "had more to do with the career of the Alabama than the actual seizure of the Alexandra , and that at no time did he, or that of the other witnesses called by the crown, prove that the Alexandra was intended for war purposes. In fact she was nothing more than a vessel in the process of being built at the time that she was seized".
With the summing-up completed, his lordship read over some of the evidence that was brought before the trial and turning to face the jury he instructed them "if you think that the object was to furnish, fit out, equip, and arm that vessel in Liverpool, that is a different matter. But if you think the object really was to build a ship in obedience to an order in compliance with a contract, leaving those who bought it to make what use they thought fit of it, then it appears to me that the foreign enlistment act has not been broken". After a brief deliberation the jury reached a verdict for the defendants, and the case over the seizure of the ship Alexandra now moved to the court of appeal.
With the close of the trial certain circumstances prevented Yonge from remaining in England any further. And so with the assistance of the U.S. minister Mr Adams, Yonge was smuggled back into the United States under the assumed name of James Edwards Davies. On September 10 1864 he enlisted in the union army as a private with the 25th Regiment of New York Cavalry, while residing in the town of Ghent, Poughkeepsie, New York.
His military record describes him as a man of 5ft 6in, with blue eyes, brown hair and a fair to dark complexion Though he had enlisted to serve one year with the regiment, he was in fact discharged from the army on November 3 1864 while stationed at Hart Island, New York.
In November of that year 'Davies' received an appointment at the Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., as a clerk. He worked at the General Land Office under Colonel Chester, with whom he took great interest in the study of law in the hope of taking a position at the bar at some later date, in connection with his normal duties.
© ACWRT(UK) 1995 & 2001
Updated with minor changes from the author Jan 2006