Cornubia is the Latinized name for Cornwall, an ancient Celtic kingdom, today the southwesternmost county of England and noted for its rugged coastline and survival of picturesque folkways from pre-Roman times.
(SwStr: t. 411 ; l. 210'; b. 24'6"; dph. 13'3"; sp. 13 k.)
Cornubia was a fast, powerful, iron steamer of 230 h.p., long and low, painted white, with two funnels close together. She was built in Hayle, Cornwall, in 1858 for ferry service from there to nearby St. Ives under the house flag of the Hayle Steam Packet Co. The Confederacy bought her in the United Kingdom and she proved a very good investment, bringing 22 vital cargoes through the blockade in 1863.
Her 23d voyage was disastrous, having repercussions far beyond those stemming from the loss of a precious cargo: Blockader USS Niphon gave chase as she sought to run in to Wilmington, N.C.; Lt. Comdg. Richard H. Gayle, CSN, beached his ship at 0230, 8 November, 11 miles north of New Inlet; the captain, carpenter and one seaman remained on board while the officers, crew and passengers escaped to shore. By 0300, USS James Adger had towed Cornubia free on the flood tide still intact and she was duly sent to Boston as a prize, along with a bag of watersoaked mail which one of her officers had tried to dispose of in the surf and the three captives.
Cornubia was more correctly Lady Davis (confused by Secretary Welles in one letter with Jeff Davis) when captured, having been renamed when a new Cornubia came out in June or July, but she was known to her captors by her old, familiar label while the Cornubia papers quickly became a rosetta stone to unlock the management secrets of the Confederate Army-Navy-Treasury blockade-running fleet on the eve of the Mallory-Trenholm-Bulloch newbuilding program in Britain. The most immediate result was a new, tough policy toward British seamen caught challenging the blockade. U.S. District Attorney Richard Henry Dana, Jr., at Boston, was designated to receive a sealed packet of all papers taken in the prize. Transmitting them to Secretary Welles, 26 December, after study, Dana wrote: "We have found in the prize steamer Cornubia letters which prove that that steamer, the R. E. Lee, and Ella & Annie and others of their class are the property of the Confederate Government and that their commanders are in the service of the Confederate Navy Department. This raises the question whether, in like cases, the Government will detain foreign seamen found on board as prisoners of war. The letters also show that they are under orders to conceal these facts while in neutral ports, in order to escape the rules applicable to public vessels of belligerents." Welles endorsed the letter: "The persons captured on the boats mentioned and others in like cases to be detained as prisoners."
Comdr. Thomas H. Patterson, USN, of James Adger noted, "Her captain remarked to my executive officer that 'though the Cornubia is a small vessel the Confederate Government could better have afforded to lose almost any other vessel.' " He was not referring merely to essential cargo. The operational pattern of the Confederate Army transport service developed as follows: The ship's Confederate register showed the Secretary of War, "James A. Seddon, of Richmond, Va., is her sole owner." Commanders of these transports were C. S. Navy officers—either regulars or officers such as Gayle, commissioned "Lt. for the War, CSN," reporting to Col. Josiah Gorgas, Chief of Ordnance, CSA, through special War Department Agent J. M. Seixas in Wilmington, N.C. "The entire ship's accounts will be forwarded through this agency" (War Dept., Ordnance Bureau, CSA), including monthly reports of stores and quarterly inventories.
Cornubia had been commanded by a Briton, Capt. J. M. Burroughs, to keep her British register, as Commander Bulloch explained to Secretary Mallory the following year: "I would suggest that as fast as the ships are paid for, Navy officers be put in command as a general rule," adding that such vessels "ought to be kept registered in the names of private individuals, otherwise serious embarrassment may arise, as Lord Russell has stated in the House of Lords that if it could be shown that the steamers trading between the Confederate States and the British Islands were owned by the Confederate States Government, they would be considered as transports and would be forbidden to enter English ports, except under the restrictions imposed upon all men-of-war of the belligerent powers."
In accordance with this pattern we read—Gorgas to Gayle care of Seixas, Wilmington, June 1863: "You will assume command of the Steamer Cornubia relieving Capt. J. M. Burroughs ***(whose contract) terminates on reaching Bermuda***you should assume command at Wilmington before starting, making the voyage terminate there hereafter. Captain Burroughs has been requested to accompany you, giving you the benefit of his experience and advice. He will also be able to assist you very much in acquiring good officers and crew. Take immediate steps to change your flag and register under Confederate colors. ***Those who decline to re-ship will be discharged and furnished with free passage to Bermuda." Appended for "the steamers of the War Department" was a scale of wages and bounties (60 to 100% of base wages, earned on completion of voyage) effective 1 July 1863; articles to be signed for six months. The intent of the whole system was revealed in, "Being in the Confederate service, they are entitled to be exchanged as prisoners-of-war."